Can Science Be Practiced in a Dream World?

September 20, 2010 | 2 Comments

Categories: Failure of Scientific Materialism

 

The hallmark of science is its willingness to discard outmoded theories when a better, more explanatory model comes along. But today, science practices this principle only within the paradigm of materialism.  By this term I mean a model of the universe based upon the assumption that matter came before mind, that the universe and all living things are nothing but particles in motion, and that the world we see, from the tips of our fingers to the farthest galaxy, exists independently of the mind and operates beyond its control.  

This materialistic model brings us the Big Bang theory, dark matter, dark energy, reductionism,  the search for the “God” particle in atom smashers, the system of modern medicine, the search for the origin of life among dead particles,  and many other theories and ideas.   

Modern scientists use the model of materialism because they believe it is necessary to practice science.  For example, in a classic article on quantum physics, entitled, “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?”  the authors, Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen, write, “Any serious consideration of a physical theory must take into account the distinction between the objective reality, which is independent of any theory, and the physical concepts with which the theory operates.”

The late Ernst Mayr, one of history’s leading biologists, expressed the subject this way:

Despite the openness of science to new facts and hypotheses, it must be said that virtually all scientists—somewhat like theologians—bring a set of what we call “first principles” with them to the study of the natural world.  One of these axiomatic assumptions is that there is real world independent of human perceptions.  This might be called the principle of objectivity (as opposed to subjectivity) or common-sense realism.  This does not mean that individual scientists are always “objective” or even that objectivity among human beings is possible in any absolute sense.  What it does mean is that an objective world exists outside of the influence of subjective perception.  Most scientists—though not all—believe in this axiom.[1]

Even though the objective-world model is a popular viewpoint — since everyone wants there to be a “real world independent of human perceptions” — it does suffer from one notable flaw: no one has ever shown it is either true or necessary.   Indeed, no one has shown that science cannot be practiced within a different conceptual model.  If there is one criticism modern scientists deserve is that they have convinced the public at large that only within the materialistic model is the practice of science possible; using any other approach, they announce, veers off the road into unscientific religious dogma and new-age hocus-pocus.

 Another drawback of the materialistic model is that it has forced modern science down a series of dead-end streets as it attempts to piece together a complete theory of the cosmos while being shackled by its own model.  Here is a short list of the conundrums material science now faces: 

The origin of the matter and energy that exploded in the Big Bang.

The mechanims for the inflationary Bg Bang.

The source of the laws of nature.

The character and existence of dark matter and dark energy.

The incompatibility between quantum physics and gravity.

The orign of life and the DNA molecule.

The origin of consciousness.

The manner in which nature’s laws appear fine-tuned just so life can exist.

Despite these deep quandaries, modern theorists give no thought to the possibility that the source of the problem might just be the very model of materialism.

Would scientists be willing to try a new model of the universe if it explained more but made them discard many of their cherished theories?  Or, are modern scientists so wedded to the model of materialism that they would rather practice science within this comforting — but ultimately false — model rather than try something different that might lead to a better theoretical framework?

What if dispensing with the model of materialism opened up  new scientific horizons? What if doing so explained more?  Does not this question put science to the test?

Suppose we took the view that instead of matter creating mind, mind created matter?  If this alternative viewpoint is in fact true, should we ignore the world’s make-up and go on practicing science only within the materialist model or should we at least determine whether science can be practiced in this mind-generated, dream world? That is the question this article will explore.

What is Science?

Science is commonly defined as “any system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and its phenomena and that entails unbiased observations and systematic experimentation. In general, a science involves a pursuit of knowledge covering general truths or the operations of fundamental laws.”[2]  “Empirical science,”

seeks to explore, to describe, to explain, and to predict the occurrences in the world we live in.  [Scientific] statements, therefore, must be checked against the facts of our experience, and they are acceptable only if they are properly supported by empirical evidence.  Such evidence is obtained in many different ways: by experimentation, by systematic observations, by interviews, surveys, by psychological or clinical testing, by careful examination of documents, inscriptions, coins, archeological relics, and so forth.[3] 

Another feature of science is that seeks to furnish natural explanations for physical phenomena, as opposed to supernatural or immeasurable, untestable, unverifiable explanations.   This feature helps explain why scientists generally prefer Darwin over Genesis for accounting for the variety of life-forms present on the Earth: Darwin offered an explanation verifiable by observation; Genesis simply says God did it, without explaining how.  As we will, we will not need to discard any of these features of science if we change to a mind-created or dream model of the cosmos.

 Why the Independent World Assumption is False

There are several critical  problems with materialism’s assumption of a mind-independent world.  But while modern scientists show no hesitation in questioning theories and ideas framed within the materialist model (such as string theory, multi-universes, or the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics), they never once question the underlying assumption of their own materialistic model.  This is the critical error of modern science.

The materialistic model is implausible for three fundamental reasons:

First, the history of philosophy teaches us a threshold fact about the mind that most people either ignore or have never thought about.  This fact is that the mind is only capable of knowing about itself.  Even under the tenets of modern science images of the (assumed) external world ultimately form in the mind; since we can only know the mind, we must assume that an independent world exists outside of the mind that is the cause of the mental ideas and images that form in the mind.  Some view this question as a matter of sanity: how can someone actually question whether a world outside the brain exists?  But this framing of the question misstates the issue: We may not be able to tell the difference if the mind, instead of passively receiving images of an external world as in Locke’s famous blank tablet, actively projects the external world like a grand, 3-D movie projector.

This particular question – can the mind know anything other than itself – was the subject of one of the great philosophical debates of all time, starting with the British empiricist John Locke and ending with the metaphysics of  David Hume, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Johann Gottlieb Fiche,  Friedrich W.J. Schelling, and others.  Even though the analytical inquiry ended with virtually all of these thinkers concluding that the mind can only know itself, the project ended with either solipsism  (the world is all in my head) or some form of mysticism.   Idealism was unable to solve the problem of the multiple dreamers: if the world is a dream, then do we each live in our own dream world?

If our entire scientific worldview is based upon knowing about a mind-independent world, when it is also true we cannot in fact know that world, then should not scientists at least exhibit a bit more humility when pronouncing their latest versions of the “theory of everything?”  If, indeed, it is unalterably true that the mind can only know itself, then we might want to develop a science – a methodological system of thought – that accepts this principle as given.

The second reason we should doubt materialism is a matter of common sense and leads many people to believe in a supernatural power: where did all this supposed “mind-independent” stuff come from?  This very basic question is most directly presented in the Big Bang theory, materialism’s version of a creation story.  Under that theory, what we now perceive as the universe of stars began in a fiery blast of matter, space, and time roughly 14 billion years ago.   To account for the trillions upon trillions of stars in the sky, scientists assume that at one time all of this matter was condensed into a primordial seed, also known as a “singularity.”  To ask where all the stuff that makes up the universe comes from is the same as asking where the primordial seed came from since both contain the same amount of matter and energy.  

Material scientists have done an impressive job of avoiding this critical weakness to the very foundation of the scientific enterprise.  When pushed, some scientists talk about “quantum fluctuations” – “vacuum energy”—but these theories themselves also assume some sort of energy field, and most likely an observing mind.  Some scientists, such as Nobel  prize-winning physicist, Leon Lederman, are more candid on the topic:

A story logically begins at the beginning. But this story is about the universe, and unfortunately there are no data for the Very Beginning. None, zero. We don’t know anything about the universe until it reaches the mature age of a billionth of a trillionth of a second ―that is, some very short time after creation in the Big Bang. When you read or hear anything abut the birth of the universe, someone is making it up. We are in the realm of philosophy. Only God knows what happened at the Very Beginning[.][4]

Coming up with a logical, credible explanation for how 1053 kilograms of matter sprang from the dark void on its own power is no simple task, and close enough to impossible to in fact be impossible. And again, that material scientists have no explanation for how this miracle happened should create more humility on their part than it has.

The third reason to doubt seriously the independent-world assumption of material science concerns the laws of nature.  The material world, as we know, follows precise and predictable laws, such as gravity, the laws of motion, electricity, gases, and chemistry, which are describable in the language of mathematics, constant and regular.  But once science disconnects mind from matter, this mind, the only intelligent force in the universe over which we have direct knowledge, can give matter no help in arranging itself into the laws of nature.  The quest for the source to the laws of nature – or the source of mathematical constancy – remains one of science’s greatest challenges.

The Independent World Assumption Leads Scientists Astray

It can be seen that many of science’s more bizarre theories result from its adherence to a materialistic conception of reality.  It is as if any twist or contortion to a theory is permissible so long as it is framed within the material science worldview.  This practice simply perpetuates a foundational error.

In some theories, such as the Big Bang theory, material scientists simply assume the necessary (near-infinite) amount of matter and energy to fill out the theory.  But other theories show how scientists encounter multi-layered puzzles when, after having made the independent-world assumption, they then use it to explain other phenomena. For example, one outcome of the standard Big Bang model is that scientists have no credible explanation – other than plain coincidence – for why the wildly chaotic Big Bang led to a universe that is almost completely flat; specifically a universe in which the repulsive force from the Big Bang precisely cancels out the attractive force of the exploding stellar debris (the “flatness problem”).  Nor does the standard Big Bang model explain why vastly separate regions of outer space have exactly the same temperature, when there is no physical means for the separate regions to have shared information.  (the “horizon problem.”)  Rather than view these two critical problems in their theories as rooted in the unnecessary independent-world assumption, material science use them as reasons to devise more complicated theories requiring more ad-hoc assumptions. 

Thus, their solution to the critical problems in the standard Big Bang model is the inflationary Big Bang theory.  With this convenient modification, the universe just so happened to inflate by a factor of 1051 (the number 10 with 51 zeros after it) in 10-36 seconds—and then paused to track the normal expansion of the universe predicted by the Big Bang.[5] This wild expansion occurred in an unimaginably brief time ― one-billionth of the time it takes light to cross the distance of an atomic nucleus.[6] This expansion is faster than the speed of light.[7]  Inflation allows scientists to maintain the materialist model by using the wildly speculative, ad hoc concept of inflation as the solution for the flatness and horizon problems.

Of course if scientists did not make the independent world assumption in the first place they would have no need to make matters worse by resorting to the unrestrained speculation of the inflationary universe model.

A remarkable feature of nature is that its laws appear finely tuned just so life can exist.   This observation, known generally as the anthropic principle, strongly suggests that “something is going on:” the deeper scientists delve into the fundamental constants of the physical world, the more it appears as if either some force fixed them just so that life can exist or that our very existence constrains the values of the constants.

To escape the mystical overtones of the anthropic principle, some scientists (most notably Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in their book, The Grand Design) have advanced theories which predict that inflation caused not one but 10500  universes to spring from the void.  (Of, course, so far we have found firm evidence for only one of these many universes; one seems to be enough.)  In one of these multiple universes, the authors explain, the laws of nature would have turned out just so life can exist.   But, again, if the one universe we see is in fact mind-created, we would have no need to postulate the existence of 10500  other ones.

Another example of how the independent-world assumption creates untold difficulties for material science theory comes from the field of biology and concerns the origin of life.  Having disconnected mind from matter in their theories, material scientists are left to speculate how mindless residue from the Big Bang arranged itself into intricate workings of living cell, including the codes of the DNA molecule. 

According to Occam’s razor, the fewer assumptions in a theory the better the theory.  Would not then a theory that explained the world without making the independent world assumption be a better theory than one which does make the assumption?

Science is supposed to be the emotionally detached search for truth.  If a better theory came along that managed to explain the physical phenomena of the world without the independent world assumption of material science, would not this theory at least deserve a look?  In different words, if the metaphysical assumption of material science is not true, it would be necessary to re-work many of its theories, but it would not eliminate the field of science. Instead it would re-orient science upon a stronger footing, while also joining the field of science with philosophy and religion.  

Material science is like an extremely slow, diligent portrait artist who insists that his model remain perfectly still throughout the lengthy session; to capture the moment, the artist, like material science, must assume the model is independent of the artist’s creative powers; he is painting a figure of the natural world; fixed, self-sustaining; independent.  In the same way, scientists objectify the physical world because they believe doing so is necessary to study it. 

In summary, material scientists assume the independence and objectivity of the natural world (e.g., stars, planets, living bodies) to study its composition, movements, and history, and their test results indeed show the unchanging nature of the physical world.

Science Remains the Best Approach for Finding Truth in a Mind-Generated World.

But both of these elements of scientific knowledge remain in place if the source of the external world is the united mind as opposed to some mysterious, energy-generating external force (whatever caused the Big Bang per the creation theory of material science.)  Scientists can still assume the independent existence of external objects in order to study them.   They can still calculate the regularity of the planetary orbits; falling projectiles; spiraling galaxies; electrical forces; gas pressures; chemical reactions; quantum mechanics; and virtually every other physical force or life process.  But in the end the picture they draw is a self-portrait.  What changes is simply our perspective and the depth of our understanding.

Of course, viewing the world as a dream or mind-created will alter certain theories of modern science but it will not change the fundamental purpose of science which is to describe the workings of the physical world according to coherent theories.  In the end, explanations of the existence and regularity of the external world lead to the mind as the ultimate cause, but it does not change the fundamental task of cataloguing the regularities of nature.

Science in a Dream

If the universe we live in is indeed a dream, then there is no doubt that some theories of modern science will need to be overturned, and others overhauled, while some remain unchanged.

Among the theories that must be overturned completely are those dealing with what might be called quasi-creative processes, such as the Big Bang theory (including the inflationary theory), galaxy formation, dark matter and dark energy.  Why each of these theories will need to be overturned outright may be self-explanatory.

For example, the Big Bang would be false because the universe of stars would not have originated from a mind-independent force, but as a projection of the mind.   Accordingly, science would have no need to resort to the radical inflationary Big Bang theory in order to account for the present universe of stars.  Note here, by the way, that science does not end by simply saying “well’s in all in the mind, so who cares about anything else?”  Rather, we look at the stars and wonder how this particular arrangement appeared in the form it did: why did the Mind create this particular universe, rather than another one? 

Dark matter, another peculiar theory, also goes by the wayside.  Dark matter is an add-on assumption used to account for the observed lack of the necessary gravitational mass to hold galaxies – and thus the universe – together.   Dark energy, another unobservable force, would also be unnecessary.  This mysterious force has been presented as a means to account for the observed accelerated expansion of the universe.    The problem with dark energy, like dark matter, is that scientists cannot observe a physical source for the repulsive force.  But again, if the universe is mind-created, the fact that far-away galaxies appear to be drifting away at an accelerated speed may show, among other things, the mind in a constant state of creation, or in fact nothing at all.

Now the point here, it must be remembered, is not (yet) to prove that in fact the world is a dream, but to remove any resistance against “dream-theory” based on a fear that science can no longer be practiced.  No such thing happens.   Instead, viewing the world as a dream simply eliminates many of the unnecessary assumptions of modern science and dispenses with its most bizarre theories.

In addition to eliminating materialism’s beginning-of-the-world theories, dream-theory also eliminates materialism’s end-of-the world theories.  These theories are based upon the sun running out of fuel and dying, the universe reversing its expansion and retracting into a Big Crunch, or some other theory modeled after an aging machine.   Now, if the world is instead mind-created, the “out-of-fuel” scenario is no longer valid because the sun and other stars in the sky are ultimately fueled by the mind’s desire to live and dream, not by the quantity of hydrogen in the star’s core.  

Medical science is another field of material science that will have to undergo dramatic modification if the world turns out to be a dream.  This one we should rejoice over.  As noted, the underlying assumption of material science is that the physical world exists outside of the mind and operates beyond its control.  This supposed independent physical world includes the human body.  As most of us know, medical science, contrary to quite a lot of evidence, assumes that the human body operates on its own accord and is unaffected by any positive or negative thought in the mind. This is why science tells us that no matter how much we believe otherwise, we are doomed to wrinkle and die; and of, course, if the human body is a machine independent of the mind, this thinking is likely true.

But if the world is a dream, then the entire physical world, including the human body, would be a projection of the mind, and therefore controlled ultimately by the mind.  This simple fact would explain the workings of the “powerful placebo,” and the long history—though mostly anecdotal – of how strong belief heals.

Now on this point, one would need to question why a material scientist, and for that matter anyone, would at least not consider the truth of dream theory.   Like Pascal’s famous wager that it is better to believe in God than not, just in case one really exists, so one might want to place a few chips on the space marked “dream theory” just in case the world really is a dream.   Upon further thought, it might even be wiser to go “all in” on dream theory, as the rewards may very well be limited only by the imagination.   

So science can indeed still be practiced if the world is really a dream.   Therefore, if the main (perhaps unspoken) reason you have rejected the thought that this world may be a dream is because science would cease to exist, then some reconsideration is necessary.  It seems better to build a worldview upon the correct metaphysics and then carry out science, rather than to assume one must believe in an erroneous world model as the price for carrying out a logical, systematic, objective study of the world.


[1]   Ernst Mayr, “The Concerns of Science,” in Skeptical Inquirer, Special Issue: Science & Religion, at 65 (emphasis added).

[2]   Science. (2010). Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite.  Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica. 

[3]    C. Hempell. The Philosophy of Natural Science, at 1 (Prentice-Hall 1966).

 [4] God Particle, 1. (emphasis added).

[5]   Id. 

[6]   J. Maddox, What Remains to be Discovered, 54 (Free Press 1998).

[7]   Astronomy at 34.

2 Responses to “ Can Science Be Practiced in a Dream World? ”

  1. afterfirst i debunked the dream theory. but if you think about in dreams your not the only one always in the dream who believes they are part of the dream also, but your friends or family might also exist independently. it still seems sketchy and non comparible to this reality. I mean this universe is real! its much different than a dream world, here we have conscious thought of our free will and its actually real. ive also heard a theory that the dream world (DMT trip caused by the pyneal gland) is basically heaven. this theory sounds kinda out there b/c how will you dream if when you die your not experiencing dreams anymore due to your body being shut off so how can you be in heaven?

  2. We know that an individual person, in night-dreams and hallucinations, can conjure a real-seeming world from nothing, without the help of the Big Bang. What if our individual dreaming powers are combined during the day? What if we are one mind and in fact dreaming this world? The problem with calling the natural world more “real” than a dream is that we may simply be comparing dreams of different magnitudes, rather than wholly different realities. We may be under-estimating the dreaming power of the united mind. Put differently, suppose we are God and have dreamt a world of such overwhelming power and solidity that we have fooled ourselves into thinking we are not dreaming? The point of the article is that the world we experience does not change if it turns out to be dream; what changes are science’s (and religion’s) theories about the origin and fate of the world.
    Another way to view the issue is to ask yourself what is more probable, that all the matter in the universe sprang from nothing at Big Bang and then arranged itself into the mathematically ordered universe, or that the universe is instead is a grand dream in the one mind of God? (I deal with the rest of your questions in my book, The Heaven at the End of Science. )

    The important point is for each of us to think about these questions ourselves and not simply “follow the leader” into accepting without question what may turn out to be the false worldviews of modern science and religion. The truth should remain standing at the end of the debate.

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