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Physics has found a theory of everything

but you're not part of it

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

September 27, 2023

The following is a philosophical review of the book Lost in Math by Sabine Hossenfelder

Thanks for the enjoyable book Lost in Math.

I wondered if you might be interested in a few thoughts that it has generated for me.

I see the resort to multiple universes as a desperate effort to avoid the "hard problem of consciousness." The assumption of science today seems to be a kind of ontological naturalism, in which consciousness is seen as an epiphenomenon. The double-slit experiment was on the verge of forcing physicists to encounter consciousness, and so in order to avoid that nightmare, they were forced to postulate endless alternate worlds. The whole field of physics was threatened with the bugbear of what looked like subjectivity; otherwise I doubt that such ideas would have been so feverishly pursued. The real passion behind such theories, in my "read," is the staunch desire to keep physics and consciousness separated.

It is customary for scientists to pillory the idea that the universe was made with human beings in mind, but I believe that the evidence for that belief must be surprisingly strong if it compels scientists to postulate extraordinary explanations like these.

I think the fact that physicists dislike dealing with consciousness can be seen, moreover, by their (to me) naive view that they are on the verge of finding the answer to everything. The fact is, everything could fall into place mathematically for physicists tomorrow and the lives of the vast majority of individuals would be completely unchanged. They would not consider the physicists' "breakthrough" as a solution to anything in THEIR world, but rather as an answer whose cold numbers ignore humanity and consciousness altogether.

How do physicists get away with implying that they study "everything"? Apparently because they want to believe with Francis Crick that everything we experience and feel can be explained by reductionism, that we are nothing but tokens moved around by impersonal laws. But as Richard Evans Schultes reports, all tribal peoples have used psychoactive medicines to study THEIR world of consciousness -- and such trips reveal cross-cultural archetypes and deep if controversial insights into the nature of reality, as western society is only grudgingly beginning to acknowledge after having decimated many of these tribes and forced them to use alcohol instead. I am not suggesting that physicists should work with tribes, but it should be remembered perhaps that the reductionist dismissal of the importance of consciousness is a western "given" that might need to be re-examined in light of its philosophical links with past imperialism. The plant-based religions were not just uprooted for religious reasons, but for rational ones as well, based on western beliefs in the primacy of thought over feeling. Surely the least we can do by way of reparations is to think twice before rejecting the holistic and mindful view of tribal peoples out of hand.

Right now, instead of recognizing that consciousness matters, I see physicists promoting exorbitant theories for the express purpose (whether they're doing this consciously or not) of keeping consciousness and physics separate. For once physicists admit that consciousness may matter, they will no longer be able to say so confidently that they are on the verge of a theory of everything. For now, what they mean by that (but never say) is that they are on the verge of a theory of everything as regards objects -- and a world in which human beings are at best poor computers -- a dim view of the world, indeed, for many of us non-physicists.

The search for beauty in theory seems mixed with a penchant to ignore all data that might suggest purpose in the world. That's why we ignore data that looks to us like multiple royal flushes -- not just because it seems improbable to us but because it suggests teleology -- which today's naturalism rules "out of court."

Just some thoughts on your provocative book.

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