Sunday, 27 February 2011

consciousness without brain and imperishable matter

I have two related questions which have been recently re-awakened by reading Tom Wright's "Surprised by Hope".

I have never been able to envisage any form of consciousness that doesn't involve neuro/electrochemical activity in a living brain. (Having spent a professional lifetime temporarily suspending consciousness by reversibly poisoning the brain hasn't made it any easier!) I am fully aware that the mechanisms of consciousness are ill understood and the Hard Question of its relationship to brain activity unresolved, but surely something needs to be going on?

Tom Wright seems (if I have understood him) to get round this (and a great deal else) in his assertion that the final resurrection will be "physical" and will involve a new form of imperishable matter which will give us incorruptible bodies which will live in an infinite world. (Though I still don't understand what it is of us that remains of us in the intervening millennia until it is "reawakened" in our new brains if that's what he means). I have to accept the authority of his biblical exegesis in coming to this conclusion, but I must confess that I am constitutionally incapable of imagining it. But if Professor Polkinghorne can, wearing his physicist's hat, assure me that something like this is possible and better still that he can imagine it, it would be of great help towards my endeavour to continue to do my humble best to accept that just because I can't imagine something it doesn't mean it can't be true

I don’t see why in principle we couldn’t have consciousness based on photons being exchanged in some form of optical system rather than electrons and neurotransmitters in a living brain. And although there are serious limitations in the Turing Test it would seem to suggest that the existence of consciousness is logically independent of the specific mechanisms used to deliver it.

If we allow the possibility that our souls (our innermost beings) can be re-instantiated on some other “hardware”, rather as if a performance on a piano can then be transferred to a CD, then I see little difficulty in the idea that God can remember us and then give us “resurrection bodies” of a kind we cannot presently imagine. As for the intervening millennia, no doubt there are important differences between the way that we see time and the way God does, but the traditional image of “going to sleep” seems to cover it fine. What is the difference in principle between being in suspended animation for an hour, a day, a year, a century, a millennium or a few billion years?

No comments:

Post a Comment