We continue exploring John Hick’s, The Fifth Dimension, a book in which Hick makes an extended argument for the reality of a “spiritual dimension to life.” If his argument holds, it would mean that God / “the Transcendent” / “the Divine” (depending on if you use Western, personal categories or Eastern, impersonal categories) is an ontological reality, not simply a projection of humanity’s imagination. Today we’ll look at Chapter IV where Hick discuses elements of the human experience which he believes are “windows on the Transcendent.”
Chapter IV: Windows on the Transcendent
After spending Chapter III arguing for the mere possibility of interpreting the universe in spiritual terms, Hick spends Chapter IV laying fourth evidence that leads him to believe in a “spiritual dimension to life,” or that God exists. He calls these aspects of the universe “Windows on the Transcendent” and looks at three in particular…Windows of the Mind, Windows in the Natural Word, and Windows in Human Life.
Windows of the Mind
Something exists that we call “Mind” or “Consciousness.” Its nature and correlation to the physical world is, in the eyes of many, a sheer mystery. While many naturalist philosophers identify “mind” as identical to the brain (“mind-brain identity theory”) or see “mind” as simply a byproduct of physical events in the brain (“epiphenomenalism”), Hick believes each of these theories to be wrongheaded. In regards to the “mind-brain identity theory,” Hick makes the seemingly obvious observation that mental and physical events are not simply different in degree, they are different in kind. To say that an electrical impulse between synapses literally is the picture in a person’s consciousness which it produces (or at least correlates with) seems absurd. He elaborates:
Suppose a surgeon has exposed an area of a patient’s brain, and because this contains no pain nerves the patient is conscious and able to report what is going on in her mind. Suppose she is visualizing a seaside bay, the waves sparkling in the sun, a harbour with moored fishing boats at the foot of a grassy cliff, and on top of that a ruined castle. It makes sense – whether true or false – to say that the electrical activity in the brain which the monitors are recording is causing this particular content of the patient’s consciousness (the ‘qualia’ in the philosophical jargon). It also makes sense – again, whether true or false – to say that the visualizing could not occur without this particular brain activity. But does it make sense to say that the visualized scene literally is activity in the grey matter which the surgeon can see and touch? Surely this is not even a coherent possibility. There are no pictures or colours, no images of sea and harbour and fishing boats and castles on a hill, in the brain. There are synaptic connections between the millions of neurons, and electricity flowing through a region of these connections in a pattern which somehow either produces or is produced by this particular mental effort of imagination…
Basically Hick doesn’t really know what it means to say that the brain is the mind. It just doesn’t makes sense. I agree.
As for “epiphenominalism,” the belief that consciousness is simply a temporary byproduct of brain activity which ends at death, Hick sees two problems. First, why would “mind” arise in the course of evolution? If “mind” is simply a byproduct of physical causes in the brain, and “mind” can’t actually control anything (it’s kind of just “along for the ride”), there is absolutely no survival value…no conceivable reason for its development. Second, Hick, along with many others, believes that epiphenominalism cannot be reconciled with free-will.
Consciousness as a passive reflection of brain activity means no free will, no capacity of the conscious mind to initiate change…
Although there can be the illusion of freewill (‘compatibilist’ freewill) in a physically determined world there can be no genuine (‘non-compatibilist’ or ‘libertarian’) freewill. But in that case, as Epicurus pointed out long ago, ‘He who says that all things happen of necessity cannot criticize another who says that not all things happen of necessity. For he has to admit that the assertion also happens of necessity.’
In other words, if you believe that every thought is simply the byproduct of a determined physical world, you also have to believe that that very thought is also simply a byproduct. You didn’t reason your way to it. It’s not a better idea than any other. It is simply a byproduct of inanimate matter in motion. So you “reason” your way to a position in which the concept of “reason” or “rational thinking” doesn’t make sense. You cut the branch off that is supporting you. This is a common argument against Naturalism (the belief that only physical matter exists) … it makes free-will and reason a facade. Which means you can’t argue for it!
…we are left with the mysterious but undeniable fact of consciousness as a non-physical reality, a reality which we have to assume is capable of free self-determining activity. This opens a window onto the possibility of the kind of non-physical reality to which the religions point as God, Brahman, the Dharmakaya and the Tao.
Windows in the Natural World
Hick believes the concept of “Beauty” leads to a spiritual worldview. Meh.
Windows in Human Life
Hick believes that “Love” and “altruism” in human life leads to a spiritual worldview. Meh.
Thoughts: There are all kinds of arguments for the existence of God (or a Spiritual Dimension)…Hick is by no means exhaustive in this chapter. I think by far the most interesting argument he brings up here is the idea of consciousness or “mind” as a non-physical reality. If we follow Hick’s line of reasoning and accept our own minds as a non-physical reality, might it make sense to say that there may be another non-physical reality (i.e. God or a “Spiritual Dimension”) as well? It sure might…
All things Hick, including other Fifth Dimension Chapter reviews, can be found here…
And this will be, in all likelihood, my last on the Fifth Dimension. What made me think I could do a 25 part series?