Science, magic and heresy.
October 4, 2003 3:00 PM   Subscribe

Folks like Dr. John Dee, Paracelsus, and Comte de St. Germain merged mysticism with science way back when. One could say that the same thing is happening today.
posted by moonbird (8 comments total)
Nice post, moonbird. Here are previous posts on Paracelsus and St. Germain.
posted by homunculus at 3:26 PM on October 4, 2003

>One could say that the same thing is happening today.

Or that the "alchemist" in that link isn't a sign of progress but a leftover from the past when the line between psuedo-science/protoscience and science was very, very blurry. Its been very "in" lately (say post age of aquarius) to mix a wacky understanding of quantum mechanics to come up with half-baked arguments defending old beliefs like spirits, luminiferous ether-like forces, universal conscious forces, etc.

That guy makes a lot of bold statements in that barely readable essay with no footnotes and I haven't see stuff like that emerging as any trend. Looks like just a marginalzed essay doing its best to fight off materialism.
posted by skallas at 3:42 PM on October 4, 2003

I don't see how quantum mechanics could inject a mysterious "free will" back into the system. Yes, quantum mechanics isn't deterministic -- but it's random.
posted by Tlogmer at 3:55 PM on October 4, 2003

Great post. Allow me to add Giordano Bruno.
posted by languagehat at 5:07 PM on October 4, 2003

yes yes skallas. But can you refute quantum immortality?
posted by vacapinta at 6:15 PM on October 4, 2003

The brain can no longer be seen as a vast piece of organic clockwork, but as a subtle device amplifying quantum events.

This article is New Age pap. I've seen this kind of childish amateur philosophy referred to as the "Fallacy of Minimum Mystery": quantum mechanics is mysterious, consciousness is mysterious, so deep down they must be the same mystery. Quantum mechanics is a probablility-based theory that has proven very successful in explaining the observed behavior of the universe, but physicists still have no idea what that might imply in terms of the actual structure of "reality". People who use the behavior of subatomic particles as a justification for their personal metaphysics are just reassuring themselves and snowing others with pseudoscience.

The clockwork vision of the human mind is a straw man. You don't need quantum mechanics to explain how systems can be both deterministic and unpredictable. A materialistic third-person theory of the mind is not incompatible with the first-person subjective experience of consciousness. Mystical experience is subjectively real and can be studied as such, even if it arises out of material causes in the brain.

If you really want to reconcile mysticism with scientific knowledge, don't start by treating the mind as some kind of uniquely special object that must be explained by extraordinary means. The mind is an artifact of nature, just like everything else, and the fact that it can be explained materially makes it more wonderful, not less. A good place to start is Francisco Varela's work on the relationship between Buddhist philosophy and scientific theories of the "embodied mind", which hold that the mind only exists in its relation to the body and the environment.
posted by fuzz at 4:59 AM on October 5, 2003

Well said, Fuzz!
posted by tss at 7:24 AM on October 5, 2003

These are all interesting arguments; whether these ideas are 'new-age pap' or valid propositions, who knows? I think that there's so much we don't know, or at least we have very basic understandings of, that the best anyone can do is have a strong belief in how the Universe works, and maybe some facts. I'd like to think that there's still some deep mystery to our existence, even if it's a little misguided.
posted by moonbird at 7:50 AM on October 5, 2003

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