Mind In The Natural World: Can Physics Explain It?

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Mind In The Natural World: Can Physics Explain It?

Alva Noe


Quote:Rovelli wants to resist the thought that we somehow stand outside of nature when we describe it. We, like everything else, are in continuous transaction with the world around us. We carry information about the world in our brains, just as a raindrop carries information about the presence of a cloud in the sky and a footprint carries information about the one who made it. But the raindrop and the footprint, for all they are packed with information, have no knowledge. Why think the brain is any different?

Rovelli seems to appreciate this unbridged gulf, for he resorts to highly poetic language when he addresses exactly this issue: "The primal substance of our thought is an extremely rich gathering of information that's accumulated, exchanged, and continually elaborated." Indeed! But neither Rovelli, nor anyone else, has yet explained how that process of continual elaboration is a physical process or how it is a process unfolding in our brains.

Rovelli's is a beautiful book and I recommend it. But I warn the reader, and I warn him: If he is right that we belong to the very same nature it is the project of physics to understand, then it may be that there is something incomplete or not yet adequate in our physics itself. For we have nothing like an adequate account of ourselves in the natural world.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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