Mind and Meaning in Politics
by Amit Goswami
The worldview of scientific materialism not only undermines consciousness but also undermines all our experiences except the sensory physical ones and, even then, only the object pole of it. When we do science within the primacy of consciousness, we can include not only the subject pole of experience but also all our experiences—sensing, feeling, thinking and intuition via an idea called quantum psycho-physical parallelism—all these experiences originate from individual worlds of possibilities for consciousness to choose from and manifest.
Materialists object. Is not mind just the brain? Indeed it has taken us quite some pondering to understand that just because thoughts always occur in association with the brain, mind is not brain. In other words, the brain does not cause mental thought. The mind’s essence is meaning processing, and the mind is not brain as materialists say because brain looked upon as a step-by-step operating computer as materialists correctly theorize, cannot process meaning, so said the philosopher John Searle and the mathematician Roger Penrose.
It is confusing because mind has content that can be coded as information—symbols. Underneath the content, we experience meaning, but the meaning comes so automatically we take it for granted. Once we represent meaning as symbols, it is computable. But truly, meaning is another category of logic; it is subtle, not computable. And if you are honest, it does not take you long to realize that thinking about meaning to discover new meanings for yourself is more important to you than processing meaning in an automatic way, as information.
Now details. Imagine that your brain is looking at a TV set. There are movements of physical objects—electrons—on the TV screen. Light photons from the screen move to your eye and interact with matter in the eye and subsequently some of the rest of the brain. If they know the entire brain dynamics, scientists believe that they will be able to construct the net result, the resulting state of the brain with great accuracy. This is what the brain can do; light takes the information from the TV set into the brain, and the brain can process the information. And the brain scientist can summarize the resulting information as a brain state of some detail, entirely objective. But what you experience when your brain looks at a TV set is a love scene, say, of a situation comedy. Somehow meaning appears and, being subjective, it cannot be in the brain. Your mind is providing the meaning, and consciousness is providing the subjectivity.
Artificial intelligence researchers try to construct programmed computers that can think. Indeed today computer programs can generate contents of thought versatile enough to fool a human being, once thought to be a sufficient condition for a computer to be called intelligent. But as mentioned above, the philosopher John Searle first pointed out that apart from content, thoughts also involve meaning, and this latter, a computer, being a symbol processing machines, can never process. Our human meanings have been fed to the computer as programs of symbols processing symbols building a large repertoire. When you talk to the program, your meanings are again fed to the computer as information—symbols. The computer programs looks for programmed cues which trigger the programmed response still in symbols. And another program converts these symbols back to human meanings. All is mechanical, the computer never has to deal with meanings, it never has to understand; this is Searle’s point. We need a nonphysical mind to process meaning, and consciousness to understand. Later Roger Penrose perfected Searle’s proof with math.
In this way meaning is back in our science. What does it mean for politics? Well, look at politics right now. The worldview is more or less half religion/half scientific materialism. Neither worldview is very high on meaning. In 2015, as I was writing this article, politics in the United States is dominated by one man—Donald Trump. This is a billionaire whose main attraction is that he provides entertainment. He makes a lot of wisecracks about events and other politicians that grab media attention. In another time, Trump would simply be laughed out of the political arena; he would not be considered relevant. But not in 2015. Why? Today, media is dominated by college educated pundits who have been indoctrinated by the higher education academe to replace meaning processing by information processing; to them information is something they think is real not intangible like meaning.
So now Donald Trump is popular. Who made him popular? The media, including the liberal media. But those politicians who talk about solutions to our problems (that politicians are supposed to address) in a meaningful way cannot get traction on the media. The pundits ask, “Who has time for meaningful stuff?” With the popularity of 24/7 news channels, these pundits seem disingenuous. However, they readily claim that viewers suffer from limited attention spans and consequently lack the sophistication needed for serious contemplation of the issues.
The net result so far has been disastrous for the 2016 election for the Republicans at least. Inane sound bites have dominated the entire election process so far.
Take one of the issues that Trump raised—birthright citizenship. The Fourteenth Amendment has it that if one is born in the USA, he or she is automatically a citizen. Trump and other Republican presidential candidates echoing him said this is not a good thing for the people of the country and have proposed that the constitution be amended. Liberal pundits have opposed it of course; but conservatives mainly have supported it or are equivocal. However, most news people being information junkies, not a single columnist or TV personality has commented on what it means to be born in a country and why that is significant! Nobody thought about why we call our countries motherland (or a little wrongly, sometimes fatherland) and why that is important to remember! Why, you native-born Americans! You no longer think that you are a little bit special that you are a natural child of the mother USA and us naturalized citizens are her adopted children!
Strangely again, conservatives support Trump and they are the ones who believe more in the “My country, right or wrong” approach to politics, an approach we certainly can understand between a parent and her children. And then to undermine birthright citizenship! Go figure!