John Taylor

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John Taylor

Let me start with a little history. I had a letter published in the Times newspaper a few days ago, which was both against creationism, and more generally against religion itself as a way to have verifiable knowledge (and what other sort can there really be?). This led to an invitationt from Tim Chase to be involved with this website, which excited me very much. Perhaps I could get my ideas (stemming from over 50 years dedicated scientific research into the most abstruse physics on elementary particles, superstrings and black holes to the most subtle nature of consciousness, attention and emotion as controlled by the brain) across to a wider public. So here I am trying to put some coherence into these ideas as well as presenting them in a manner which hopefully will not be abstruse. Before I begin let me also thank Tim for giving me this chance to present these ideas before you.

Let me start with the letter itself, which I include below.

It has been suggested that there is a close similarity between a supposed 'faith-based' process at the cutting edge of scientific research and that involved in religion (Dr Snow, Letters, Oct 7). If all that is meant here is that unconscious creative processes and opinions based on incomplete evidence are involved in both activities then I would agree. However there the similarity ends, and scientific opinion then gives way to certainty as the facts come in (think Nobel prizes, and the amazing succes of the search for the W and Z particles at CERN or the double-stranded helix of DNA), whilst in religion the debate continues endlessly (think limbo and childrens souls, or the 72 virgins per believer) since the evidence is not nor ever will be available.
To suggest that evolution is still on trial ignores the present enormous weight of evidence - even the initial oscillations in the background radiation (Nobel prize level, and just awarded) imply the evolution of the galaxies and stars as observed, let alone the overwhelming fossil evidence and observations of ongoing evolution in species.
Deeper is the question as to what consitutes 'intelligence' in the phrase 'intelligent design'. So far the overwhelming evidence in the Universe, both in the small (far below the nano-level recommended by Prof McIntosh as evidence of intelligent design) and the large (Big Bang and later) indicate a universe developing according to laws we are increasingly understanding (unified electro-weak-quark-gluon plus general relativity). No intelligent design here at all. There is still the problem of consciousness in the Universe, but even that is now under the penetrating gaze of science and becoming understood through brain science (now rapidly catching up its 300-year delay on the hard sciences) in a progressive manner based on increased garnering of the facts and carefully tested theories, not one in which the argument is won by those with the strongest opinion and advertising budget. It is these scientific adventures and challenges - especially to scientifically understand ourselves - to which children in schools should be exposed: this is the future of mankind.
John Taylor
Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, King's College London

So there you are: my message is that science is THE testable way towards verifiable knowledge. AND it is now becoming even more exciting as new techniques, such as brain imaging, are leading to new discoveries about how the brain supports mental activity, including consciousness. Sadly the possiblity of explaining these ideas in schools to interested and properly prepared young people seems to becoming less likely as University funding is squeezed and science begins to disappear from Universities (Reading University Physics just announced its closure). However I think that some of these ideas can still be got across more generally.

The most important and immediate of these ideas, to my mind, is that about consciousness. Our minds possess a subtlety not yet properly explored by science (in spite of it helping unsupervised drug trips on coke or crystal meths or cannabis causing bad experimental results - such as increased incidence of schizophrenia in heavy cannabis users). But the progress in brain research is leading to glimpses of the way consciousness might be created in the brain. Even the possiblity that the soul could thereby be understood is explored in my book THE MIND:A User's Manual (Wiley, 2006) - bringing together religious experience and scientific explanation for the first time.

It is this possiblity that can change the landscape about science and religion. As brain science probes ever deeper and more succesfully into how the mind is created by the brain there are a whole new host of features to consider - a better understanding of ourselves and of how we should fit together in our increasingly global society, a better handle on mental discease, applications to the creation of minimally conscious robots, and so on.

I have tried, in my latest book, 'THE MIND: A User's Manual' to describe both a scenario able to explain the essence of consciousness (especially its sense of 'owning' the experience occurring) but also to explore how this 'owning' model of consciousness can be used as the keystone of our existence to give meaning to life and to give direction to many features of society - bringing up decent children, optimising our own lives' value, orgainsing the structures of society, the nature of free will and criminal responbility, animal consciousness and rights, and many more features.

So please take a look at my arguments - they are too long to recount here - but enter into this first possiblity of looking at ourselves as we truly are (as told by the latest science) and not keeping on the age-old blinkers of the 'good books', which may have been good for the early and middle ages but not for the increasingly scientific age we are moving in.

Best regards and happy hunting!
John Taylor

Amazon: THE MIND: A User's Manual
Wiley: THE MIND: A User's Manual

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