I’ve been Salon-free for a whole week, and then Blake Stacey has to link to the newest tactic in Salon’s courting of the woo demographic. I’m used to the idiot apologists; I can mock the gooey soft religion of the liberal theists; but what they’d done this time is flaunt an incompetent atheist. Yes, it’s an article by an atheist, but it’s so badly written and so waffly and so reliant on stereotypes that I want to just back away slowly and pretend he’s not there.
The author is W.R. Klemm, a neuroscientist who, every time I’ve heard of him previously, has been terribly incoherent. What does this mean?
“Many polls show that most scientists are atheists,” said Dr. W.R. Klemm, a senior professor of neuroscience at the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, in explaining why he created the course. “I think that is unfortunate to say the least.”
I think it just means he’s a full-of-himself contrarian.
His article in Salon is far worse — for one thing, it meanders along forever, saying next to nothing. His premise seems to be that biologists and physicists are “two cultures” (and he cites C.P. Snow!) that don’t get along and don’t understand each other, because physicists are too mathy.
It’s hard for biologists to argue with physicists. Often physicists listen with detached bemusement because biologists can’t explain life with mathematics. Physics could not exist without math. Sometimes I think physicists get too enamored with math. I get the impression that they think that describing and predicting phenomena with equations is the same as explaining why and how such phenomena occur. Take the most famous equation of all, E = mc2. Just what does that equal sign mean? It implies that the variables on each side are the same. But is mass really identical to energy? True, mass can be converted to energy, as atom bombs prove, and energy can even be turned into mass. Still, they are not the same things. Not only are the units of measurement different, but the equation is only descriptive and predictive. It does not explain how mass converts to energy or vice versa.
I am embarrassed. Physicists, I swear, not all biologists are this stupid. Really, we aren’t.
Then, after telling us that he hates it when physicists write about biology, and muddily explaining that the mind has a material, biological basis, and sorta rejecting the silliness of The Spiritual Brain, he proceeds to explain to us that ‘spirit’ might be lurking in physics.
To me, other possibilities for discovering material attributes of “spirit” seem more likely. Modern physics, especially quantum mechanics and the theories of relativity, dark matter, and dark energy, has already shown that not even physicists understand what “material” is. I will now summarize the more likely possibilities for hidden realities of mind.
And then the neuroscientist writes about physics: quantum mechanics, relativity, dark matter, dark energy, string theory, parallel universes, etc., each with a little potted summary to explain how maybe there is a source for spirits within them. For example, bugger thermodynamics:
Also, what about the energy generated as electrons whip through protein chains in mitochondria? Only some of the energy is trapped in phosphate bonds of adenosine triphosphate. We assume that all the other energy is lost as heat. How can we be sure relativity is irrelevant to energy capture? Energy is well established as crucial for consciousness.
Oh, jebus. I am so eagerly anticipating the first creationist to come along and tell me that God is fueled by energy losses in biochemical pathways…because relativity. Or that dark energy is diddling our thoughts.
So what about dark energy? To push galaxies apart, it must impart some of its energy to the cluster of stars and planets to give them a push. What must dark energy be doing to us? Obviously, its push is not greater than the gravity that keeps us fixed to earth. But if that energy is absorbed by the galaxy, surely some of it must be absorbed in us. But what could such absorption do? Would such dark energy interact with the regular energy that we know about—like the energy in our brain? Could it act on consciousness?
Hey, and maybe the gravitational perturbations caused by the motion of the planets affects our brains, too, and astrology is true!
Could it act on consciousness? is such a cheap and meaningless question — replace “it” with anything (frying pans, neutrinos, water, fluttering butterflies in the Amazon rain forest, the color orange, cosmic clouds of sentient formaldehyde, whatever) and it’s just as empty and just as thought-provoking as that noise.
I feel like I have to apologize to all the physicists in the world right now. Please, please, please don’t think all neuroscientists are like that. Neuroscience is a field that actually does use a lot of math and biochemistry and physical chemistry and physics, and it doesn’t usually lead to crania full of drivel.