Comments for Life As A Lab

Chapter 1: Exploration

Piet, in this chapter, you outline a history of the universe in which Mind and Consciousness are emergenet properties, so if you suscribe to standard scientific metaphysics, they are not fundamental. On the other hand, in later chapters, you postulate a series of expansions of our "view" (both in a colloquial as well as in the technical Buddhist sense) by invoking Matter, Experience, Appearance etc as more and more inclusive views. There appears to be an apparent contradiction between the matter centric view of the first chapter and the views that come later. I can think of several ways to fix this contradiction, the simplest being to say that emergent properties need not be less fundamental, but saying that requires a defence of why the Mind, emerging in a mindless universe is nevertheless fundamental. Teleological explanations often do so, but I am not sure you intend such an explanation.

-- RK- 31 Mar 2005

That's a nice point RK. I didn't read it as contradictory myself, but I think I might have been bringing a lot of my own interpretation to it. My understanding is that there's something very much the same about the way a drop of water flows into a river and the way we go about our purposeful daily lives. I wouldn't restrict that intuition of sameness to merely mindless matter, however. I was going to try to develop this in ItsAllDownhillFromHere, the idea that emergence and creativity is still a natural way for living energy to flow through some complex space, but I haven't got to it yet. But you're right that Piet should probably explicitly address this somewhere, though without having to decide on matter and mind, which makes it sound too much like it's a decision between non-human and human.

-- JL- 31 Mar 2005

RK, you're right, I have not been very systematic in describing the framework in which I speak, in different chapters. This has been deliberate, since I wanted to focus on the main messages in each chapter. An emphasis on assumptions and framework can only be discussed within a meta-framework, using unstated meta-asumptions; to unearth those, you'd have to go to a meta-meta-level, and so on. So there is a tension between my own desire for clarity, and my reluctance to get drawn into a too theoretical and conceptual approach. For example, if I would mention the word Mind here, each reader would understand that in a different way; clarification at this point could lead to more confusion. I think JL points in a similar direction. This is a thorny issue!

-- Piet Hut - 01 Apr 2005

Hi Piet, I understand your strategy - it might be worthwhile to say something like what you have just done in the book itself, for the benefit of those readers who might notice these meta-meta-meta details. That said, I feel a bit uncomfortable about the introduction (not that it should matter, it is not my book), which seems a bit "rah rah science" in the current form. After all, in the later chapters you are postulating rather radical changes to science if you can call it science at all, wouldn't you want to give some hints about the wild stuff somewhere in the intro?

-- RK- 01 Apr 2005

RK, yes, that is a bit of a dilemma, and I will have to think about it. My underlying motivation is to be understandable, and especially to be understandable for my colleagues. Whether they understand me is their business, but at least I want to write in such a way that I feel that I've done a good-enough job in at least making my position clear. That in itself is a challenge that I've felt for 35 years now, ever since I started studying science, and only with the manuscript do I begin to feel I'm getting there; before that I've fallen way short.

My real target group is much wider than the group of my colleagues, of course. However, if I would reach many people who don't have the ability to critically think about science, and I would not be understandable for my colleagues, I would feel like cheating. Hence my initial emphasis of being understandable for my colleague scientists, as a type of quality control.

Now, in the light of that, I would scare them away if I would start talking about what would come across like mysticism or worse. In all fairness, I want to give them a chance to ease into my way of seeing things, without pushing their buttons right from the beginning by triggering their allergic reactions.

-- Piet Hut - 02 Apr 2005

It would be interesting to write a book that went the other direction, starting off with something contemplative colleagues would recognize, and ending up with something far more scientific. I don't know if that makes any sense or if anyone is prepared to write it. But the point would be that they are two doors that both open up on reality.

That said, I think I actually much prefer starting with science here. Even though it may feel like a bait and switch for some readers potentially, I think there's too much of a pop literature that explicitly sets out to combine East and West right from the getgo. Is there any sense in tying up the project by closing in the last section, perhaps, with some kind of comment about how this free, no holds, way of being in the world may actually have been there all along, rather than just some recent emergence, which puts priority on evolution rather than freedom.

-- JL- 03 Apr 2005

Good point, and actually, Steven Tainer and I are considering starting at both sides, in a joint book we are currently writing, he from the contemplative side and I from the science side. If you take the image of a canyon, you can try to build a bridge, or perhaps better, descend through the canyon, starting at either side. But a third option would be to start at the bottom of the canyon, by plumbing the depths of daily life, and then, after finding a more direct way of touching reality, climbing out and interpreting what you've found in terms of either science or contemplation -- or both.

Ideally, our email group should follow the third option: get some inspiration perhaps from both walls of the canyon, but really plunging the depths ourselves.

As for your closing remarks, yes, absolutely, for something to be real it better should have been there all along -- and also in an atemporal way. A sign of deep contact with reality is a dropping away of time as something that moves, a form of stopping, a departure from a linear past-present-future structure. At that point, our whole worldview will start to shake and drop away, and notions such as evolution will have only a provisional meaning . . .

-- Piet Hut - 04 Apr 2005