Monday, July 14, 2008

Is design an illusion?

Listened to an interesting discussion over on Apologia. Sandwiched between a bunch of Philosophy jargon like "well I'm a substance dualist too" was a pretty lively debate on the nature of the mind, and thus, what it means to think, design, intend, or create. Essentially, can our thoughts be reduced to brain chemistry? If so, the impression we have that we "thought up" something, anything is really an illusion.

In fancy terms, the impression we have that we designed it could be called an "emergent behavior." The classic case of this is an anthill or beehive. The ants didn't have a central architect "design" the hive. Each ant just did it's thing according to very simple chemical signals and viola, out comes a very organized looking structure. So, it's possible to think of the synapses in your head as a bunch of ants just doing their thing, firing with some combination of chemistry and electricity. The resulting in consciousness you think you control, is no more your design, than the anthill was to the ants. It just emerged.

The implications of course are huge. Not only is free will out the window, but so is rationality, creativity, and pretty much every human endeavor. Doesn't seem right does it? But of course, at some level all there is in your head are those synapses, and beneath that atoms and other fundamental particles. They may be subject to strange quantum physics, randomness, and uncertainty, but no matter how closely science looks, there won't ever be magic down there - at least not scientifically speaking.

So where does that lead? Everything you think and feel and do is an illusion. You're not much different than a collection of rain drops falling through a complex turbulent storm. Or, is that persistent sense that you do create, design, intend and choose a kind of evidence of something beyond? Is that sense that you had a reason, mean that there is a reason possible?

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