What Science Has Been up to in 2022
I recently had an end-of-year browse through the content of New Scientist magazine in 2022. This is a light-hearted review of some of what I found there, on the material relevant to my themes on Medium.
In issue 3380 (April 2nd) there was a feature by Thomas Lewton entitled ‘A new place for consciousness in our understanding of the universe’. This was obviously intriguing. How far would this scientifically conservative magazine be prepared to go? The sub-heading was immediately disappointing: “To make sense of mysteries like quantum mechanics and the passage of time, theorists are trying to reformulate physics to include subjective experience as a physical constituent of the world”. This was therefore going to be an attempt to explain consciousness in terms of physics, not physics in terms of consciousness.
The article began with the obvious material and questions, firstly the problem of qualia — that there is “an insurmountable gap between our subjective experience of the world and our attempts to objectively describe it”. This was said to be the most difficult and confusing question in science.
It then continued: “And yet our brains are made of matter — so, you might think, the states of mind they generate must be explicable in terms of states of matter”. You might think that, but have you seriously considered any alternatives? “The question is: how? And if we can’t explain consciousness in physical terms, how do we find a place for it in an all-embracing view of the universe?” That is of course the million-dollar question.
The article then mentions some new ideas which “amount to an audacious attempt to describe the universe from the inside out, rather than the other way around, and they might just force us to abandon long-cherished assumptions about what everything is ultimately made of”. (That would be helpful.)
So far so good, this sounds interesting. However, there then follows the statement which suggests that any such project is doomed to failure: “These days, precious few scientists would claim to see the mind as inherently separate from matter. Modern neuroscience has left little room inside the brain for an immaterial soul. Instead, physicalism reigns — the idea that everything in nature must be derived from the basic stuff of physics. It follows that consciousness must somehow emerge out of particles, strings, information or whatever you take as fundamental”.
It is a fundamental law of logic that any argument can only be true if built upon true assumptions, thus firm foundations. If your preconceptions are faulty, then how can your conclusions be true? The article continues: “But while neuroscience can explain with growing precision which kinds of brain activity map onto conscious states, it is far from understanding why this brain activity gives rise to conscious experience”. Should we be surprised, given the preconceptions?
In issue 3401 (August 27) there was a feature by Natalie Lawrence entitled ‘The radical new experiments that hint at plant consciousness’. The sub-heading said: “It’s a wild idea, but recent experiments suggest plants may have the ability to learn and make decisions. Are the claims true and if so, what does it mean for our understanding of consciousness and the human mind?”
The article focuses on some experiments by Paco Calvo, the findings of which “though tentative, could disrupt our understanding of consciousness — not to mention our attitudes towards plants”. He “believes that the flexible way in which plants grow, influenced by their surroundings and sensory information, indicates that they have unique, subjective experiences. This, together with the electrical signalling, hints that plants possess something that might be thought of as a sort of consciousness”.
The writer, and indeed the magazine, may believe that these experiments are ‘radical’ and ‘new’, but that is only because (what passes as) science chose to ignore the work of Jagadis Chandra Bose, who was doing similar work, and obtaining similar results, over a century ago. For example the journal Nature rejected his first book on the grounds that it continually aroused incredulity, hardly a scientific statement. I would suggest that the problem therefore was the psychology of the reviewer, rather than the quality of Bose’s work.
The reviewer in Nature of his second book rejected it on the grounds that “it does not start from any place in the existing ‘corpus’ of knowledge” and that there was a “complete absence of precise reference to the work of other investigators”. That would surely be true of any potentially revolutionary breakthrough in science. How otherwise is any progress going to be made? (I wrote about Bose and his work here.)
I was assuming that there would be no mention in this article of Monica Gagliano, and her truly groundbreaking work on human communication with plants. (See her book Thus Spoke the Plant, the subtitle of which is ‘a Remarkable Journey of Groundbreaking Scientific Discoveries and Personal Encounters with Plants’.) As it turned out, there was a brief mention of her, although merely about some experiments she was conducting — no mention of the truly astonishing stuff.
The front cover of issue 3416 (December 10) announced the main feature: ‘Who Are You Really? How to get to know your true self, and why it’s worth the effort’. This was again intriguing. Were we going to read about Carl Jung and his individuation process? About ego-death and rebirth? About meditation, Buddhism, about Hinduism’s concept of atman?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the above. The article inside actually rephrased the title: ‘Self-knowledge: How to know your true personality and why it matters’. Presumably New Scientist equates our true selves with our personality. The article was essentially a comparison between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us, in other words, the extent to which we are self-aware, or are oblivious to our own nature and the effect we have on others. One unsurprising conclusion was that “we tend to be most deluded when it comes to personality traits we consider highly desirable or undesirable”.
You probably won’t be surprised to discover that New Scientist is not at the top of my reading-list for 2023. Instead, here’s a list of the books I’m planning to read, some of them truly groundbreaking:
- Jude Currivan: The Story of Gaia: The Big Breath and the Evolutionary Journey of our Conscious Planet, and The Cosmic Hologram
- Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: Catching the Thread: Sufism, Dreamwork and Jungian Psychology, and Return of the Feminine and the World Soul
- Karen Armstrong: Sacred Nature
- Christopher M. Bache and Ervin Laszlo: LSD and the Mind of the Universe: Diamonds from Heaven
- Richard Grossinger: Dreamtimes and Thoughtforms: Cosmogenesis from the Big Bang to Octopus and Crow Intelligence to UFOs
- Daniel Pinchbeck: Breaking Open the Head
- Roy Abraham Varghese: Cosmos Bios Theos
- Bradley Holt: Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality
- Robert A Johnson: Owning Your Own Shadow
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my lists.