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Sheldrake welcomes the new year with this blast on the Edge web site

	THE CREDIT CRUNCH FOR MATERIALISM

		RUPERT SHELDRAKE
Biologist; Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project; author A New 
Science of Life

	Credit crunches happen because of too much credit and too 
many bad debts. Credit is literally belief, from the Latin credo, "I 
believe."  Once confidence ebbs, the loss of trust is 
self-reinforcing.  The game changes.
	Something similar is happening with materialism.  Since the 
nineteenth century, its advocates have promised that science will 
explain everything in terms of physics and chemistry; science will 
show that there is no God and no purpose in the universe; it will 
reveal that God is a delusion inside human minds and hence in human 
brains; and it will prove that brains are nothing but complex 
machines.
	Materialists are sustained by the faith that science will 
redeem their promises, turning their beliefs into facts.  Meanwhile, 
they live on credit.  The philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper 
described this faith as "promissory materialism" because it depends 
on promissory notes for discoveries not yet made.  Despite all the 
achievements of science and technology, it is facing an unprecedented 
credit crunch.
	In 1963, when I was studying biochemistry at Cambridge I was 
invited to a series of private meetings with Francis Crick and Sydney 
Brenner in Brenner's rooms in King's College, along with a few of my 
classmates.  They had just cracked the genetic code.  Both were 
ardent materialists. 
	They explained there were two major unsolved problems in 
biology: development and consciousness.  They had not been solved 
because the people who worked on them were not molecular biologists - 
nor very bright.  Crick and Brenner were going to find the answers 
within 10 years, or maybe 20.  Brenner would take development, and 
Crick consciousness.  They invited us to join them.
	Both tried their best.  Brenner was awarded the Nobel Prize 
in 2002 for his work on the development of the nematode worm 
Caenorhabdytis.   Crick corrected the manuscript of his final paper 
on the brain the day before he died in 2004.  At his funeral, his son 
Michael said that what made him tick was not the desire to be famous, 
wealthy or popular, but "to knock the final nail into the coffin of 
vitalism."
	He failed.  So did Brenner.  The problems of development and 
consciousness remain unsolved.  Many details have been discovered, 
dozens of genomes have been sequenced, and brain scans are ever more 
precise.  But there is still no proof that life and minds can be 
explained by physics and chemistry alone.
	The fundamental proposition of materialism is that matter is 
the only reality. Therefore consciousness is nothing but brain 
activity.  However, among researchers in neuroscience and 
consciousness studies there is no consensus. Leading journals such as 
Behavioural and Brain Sciences  and the Journal of Consciousness 
Studies  publish many articles that reveal deep problems with the 
materialist doctrine.  For example, Steven Lehar argues that inside 
our heads there must be a miniaturized virtual-reality full-colour 
three-dimensional replica of the world.  When we look at the sky, the 
sky is in our heads.  Our skulls are beyond the sky.  Others, like 
the psychologist Max Velmans, argue that virtual reality displays are 
not confined to our brains; they are life-sized, not miniaturized. 
Our visual perceptions are outside our skulls, just where they seem 
to be.
	The philosopher David Chalmers has called the very existence 
of subjective experience the "hard problem" of consciousness because 
it defies explanation in terms of mechanisms.  Even if we understand 
how eyes and brains respond to red light, for example, the quality of 
redness is still unaccounted for.
	In biology and psychology the credit-rating of materialism is 
falling fast.  Can physics inject new capital?  Some materialists 
prefer to call themselves physicalists, to emphasize that their hopes 
depend on modern physics, not nineteenth-century theories of matter. 
But physicalism's credit-rating has been reduced by physics itself, 
for four reasons.
	First, some physicists argue that quantum mechanics cannot be 
formulated without taking into account the minds of observers; hence 
minds cannot be reduced to physics, because physics presupposes minds
Second, the most ambitious unified theories of physical reality, 
superstring and M theories, with 10 and 11 dimensions respectively, 
take science into completely new territory. They are a very shaky 
foundation for materialism, physicalism or any other pre-established 
belief system. They are pointing somewhere new.
	Third, the known kinds of matter and energy constitute only 
about 4% of the universe.  The rest consists of dark matter and dark 
energy.  The nature of 96% of physical reality is literally obscure.
	Fourth, the cosmological anthropic principle asserts that if 
the laws and constants of nature had been slightly different at the 
moment of the Big Bang, biological life could never have emerged, and 
hence we would not be here to think about it.  So did a divine mind 
fine-tune the laws and constants in the beginning?  Some cosmologists 
prefer to believe that our universe is one of a vast, and perhaps 
infinite, number of parallel universes, all with different laws and 
constants.  We just happen to exist in the one that has the right 
conditions for us.
	In the eyes of skeptics, the multiverse theory is the 
ultimate violation of Occam's Razor, the principle that entities 
should not be multiplied unnecessarily.  But even so, it does not 
succeed in getting rid of God.  An infinite God could be the God of 
an infinite number of universes.
	Here on Earth we are facing climate change, great economic 
uncertainty, and cuts in science funding.  Confidence in materialism 
is draining away.  Its leaders, like central bankers, keep printing 
promissory notes, but it has lost its credibility as the central 
dogma of science.  Many scientists no longer want to be 100% invested 
in it.
	Materialism's credit crunch changes everything.  As science 
is liberated from this nineteenth-century ideology, new perspectives 
and possibilities will open up, not just for science, but for other 
areas of our culture that are dominated by materialism.  And by 
giving up the pretence that the ultimate answers are already known, 
the sciences will be freer  -  and more fun.