Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
Healthy retina, illustration
Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Grappling Honestly With Science’s Blind Spot

An astrophysicist, a theoretical physicist, and a philosopher all walk into a bar and say, “At the heart of science lies something we do not see that makes science possible” Um… yes!

Seriously, last month we noted an article by University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank at Big Think. There he protested the use of the term “hallucinate” to describe absurd chatbot glitches: “Its mistake is not a matter of making a false statement about the world because it doesn’t know anything about the world. There is no one in there to know anything about anything.”

In that short essay, he mentioned that he and two colleagues — Dartmouth College theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser and philosopher Evan Thompson — would publish a book this month, The Blind Spot: Why Science Cannot Ignore Human Experience offering a bigger picture. Now that the book is out, they talk a bit more about it:

Cosmology tells us that we can know the Universe and its origin only from our inside position, not from the outside. We live within a causal bubble of information — the distance light traveled since the Big Bang — and we cannot know what lies outside. Quantum physics suggests that the nature of subatomic matter cannot be separated from our methods of questioning and investigating it. In biology, the origin and nature of life and sentience remain a mystery despite marvelous advances in genetics, molecular evolution, and developmental biology. Ultimately, we cannot forgo relying on our own experience of being alive when we seek to comprehend the phenomenon of life. Cognitive neuroscience drives the point home by indicating that we cannot fully fathom consciousness without experiencing it from within.

Adam Frank and Marcelo Gleiser and Evan Thompson, The “blind spot” in science that’s fueling a crisis of meaning, Big Think, March 7, 2024

What about the grand narratives of science? “At the heart of science lies something we do not see that makes science possible, just as the blind spot lies at the heart of our visual field and makes seeing possible.”

The tragedy the Blind Spot forces on us is the loss of what’s essential to human knowledge — our lived experience. The Universe and the scientist who seeks to know it become lifeless abstractions. Triumphalist science is actually humanless, even if it springs from our human experience of the world. This disconnection between science and experience, the essence of the Blind Spot, lies at the heart of the many challenges and dead ends science currently faces in thinking about matter, time, life, and the mind.

Frank, Gleiser and Thompson, A crisis of meaning

They are right about the dead ends. But is it true that the dead ends result merely from ignoring human experience? Surely, what’s ignored (or, more usually, denied or forbidden for discussion) is the immaterial nature of the human mind. Also off the table are questions like whether a cosmos where some beings (ourselves) clearly have immaterial intelligence can be created if an Intelligence does not underlie the universe. It’s quite likely that some fundamental questions cannot be answered within the allowed materialist framework.

But it’s interesting to see that these three thinkers are posing the questions — at least in this essay — in an open-ended way, almost as if they sense that dredging up pat materialist answers that don’t really work won’t help much.

Their book is currently #1 at Amazon in Phenomenological Philosophy and #4,569 in Books (March 12, 2024, 12:00 noon PST). Read a sample here.

You may also wish to read: Astrophysicist: Don’t say that chatbots “hallucinate.” Adam Frank points out that human-type “hallucination” is not at all what drives a chatbot to claim that the Russians sent bears into space. Frank, fellow physicist Marcelo Gleiser, and philosopher Evan Thompson argue in a new book that ignoring explicitly human experience is a blind spot for science

Mind Matters News

Breaking and noteworthy news from the exciting world of natural and artificial intelligence at MindMatters.ai.

Grappling Honestly With Science’s Blind Spot