The mystery of life cannot be solved by science

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The mystery of life cannot be solved by science

Adam Frank

Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester and a leading expert on the final stages of evolution for stars like the sun.

Quote:[*]Reductionism is a successful way to explain the universe, but it is not enough.

[*]The experience of something is always more than the explanation of something.

[*]We should remember Søren Kierkegaard’s famous admonition: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

Quote:But the deeper question remains: will this ongoing process of explanatory refinement exhaust the weirdness of being alive or the mystery of life that I described in the opening? I think not.

Explanation vs. experience

The reason I take that position is because there is a profound and (literally) existential difference between an explanation and experience. We humans invented the marvelous process called science to understand the patterns we experience around us. We did this because we are curious creatures by nature and because we also hope to gain some control over the world around us. But here is the key point: experience is always more than the explanation. (That is the takeaway from a philosophical thought experiment called Mary’s Room.) The direct, unmediated totality of experience can never be corralled by an explanation. Why? Because experience is the source of explanations.

Quote:The key point here is that direct, lived experience is not amenable to explanation. I can theorize about perception and cognition. I can do experiments to test those theories. But even if I gave you an account of what every nerve cell in your brain at every nanosecond was doing, it would still not be experience. It would be nothing more than a list of words and numbers. Your actual and direct experience of the world — of the tart taste of an apple or of looking into the eyes of someone you love — would always overflow the list. There would always be more

That is because explanations always take some particular aspect of lived experience and separate it out. Explanation is like the foreground. But experience is beyond foreground and background. It is an inseparable holism, a totality that does not atomize. It is not something you think in your head; it is what you live as a body embedded in surroundings. That is how every moment of our strange, beautiful, sad, tragic, and fully amazing lives is revealed moment by moment. Explanations may help in specific circumstances, but they can never exhaust that ongoing revelation that is the mystery of life.
'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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