Alternative reality

April 10, 2014

Three cheers for Mary Midgley (“I am more than the sum of my parts”, 3 April) and her campaign to insist on common sense truths such as that we have free will. Philosophers like Midgley are needed more than ever today to challenge the facile mindsets scientists are all too liable to settle for. Scientists focus on trying to understand “objective reality’’, but they are apt to forget that the world also contains an equally perplexing sphere of human reality. Their focus on what they regard as “the objective” seems to dull their sensitivity to the presence of things such as personal identity. Humans are probably the most inexplicable objects in the universe because they are capable of contemplating, both the immensity of the cosmos and their own quest for an explanation of it. But science ignores the powers of the mind. It would be a mistake to write off Midgley’s reasoning as any kind of last hurrah. Some physicists, for example, Heisenberg, Bohr and Wheeler, recognised early that physical reality as we perceive it cannot avoid involving us as active players. What we see is what our eyes and minds let us see. Physics has now evidently entered an end game, where it needs to take the logic of this perceptive precondition seriously.

Chris Ormell
Editor, Prospero

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