Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy


    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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What comes first: matter or mind?

Posted by robertpriddy on July 1, 2010

WHAT CAME FIRST?

To ask what came first, such as ‘matter’ or ‘mind’ is often brushed aside as an unsolvable riddle like ‘which came first, chicken or egg’ problem. The body-mind schizma, the god vs. creation argument and all related basic (epistemological) dualisms are, in some ways, glorified chicken-egg questions. What is much greater is the depth of interpretations that can be devised, the sophistication and breadth of the pro and contra arguments and – not least –  the degree of empirical evidence that can be brought to bear. To claim it is unsolvable because it is based on assumptions or supposed axiomatic data is a mentally short-circuited attitude. Even assumptions can eventually be tested and proved or disproved – and, failing that, shown to be extremely unlikely or the reverse. Blowing the mental fuse and breaking the flow of insights, the connections between questioning, investigating, observing and reasoning. It disposes of the essential problem without even an attempt to probe what it means or what consequences it can have for human thought and knowledge, culture and life itself.

The most contradictory standpoints and cultures are generated from one or another side of the ultimate ‘ontological’ dualism which takes many forms such as mind vs. matter, cosmos vs. universe, God vs. no creator, soul vs body, religion vs. science, spiritual idealism (‘mentalism’) vs. materialism/physicalism, belief vs. (empirically-based) knowledge. The questions ‘Was the cosmos created by God?’ and “Is God a mental creation of humankind” encapsulate the divergence as ‘creationism’ versus ‘evolutionism’. This is parallel to the issue whether mind can create matter or not (the latter implying that mind arises from matter).

Before summarizing the main reasons why I maintain that mind is matter-dependent and not the reverse, I shall examine some of the grounds on which the most subtle religious ideas about creation are based. Note, however, that belief is absolutely required in the case of the ‘spiritual’ side of the divide and – since belief is ultimately just ‘blind’ faith other than empirical nor methodically-tested rational knowledge – this brings us into the realm of speculation or religious mysticism. The influence that this has had on humanity and all cultures is immense, so it must be confronted and questioned where it stands on its own ground. Ideas of God’s existence, nature and all interpreted qualities vary more tremendously than one can encompass fruitfully, so I concentrate on some of the key or mainstream beliefs.

Indian cosmology has various explanations of creation by God (as creative Brahma) one representation of which is the cosmic egg . [One inadvertently thinks ‘was there a cosmic chicken?’] Some argue that the cosmic egg – which is though to be a spheroid rather than have a true egg shape – is alternatively represented as the Shiva lingam – which is at odds with the usual Shiva lingam shape as that of an erect ‘membrum virile‘. All most confusing. [Apropos what comes first, in a literal sense, the egg precedes the chicken, since dinosaurs laid eggs and are far from being chickens which evolved from them.] A more accepted Indian idea of creation is that it is the breath of Brahma which initiates the cosmos with the sound ‘Aum‘. This may be reflected in the Christian cosmology of St. John “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God…” The inevitable criticism would be, how did the owner of the cosmic lung arise? Since God is generally now recognized in Indian monotheism as a universal being as spirit (Atman) immersed totally in consciousness and bliss, one must conclude that the material universe is generated in and by consciousness. Again, from where did consciousness and/or bliss itself spring? It is inconceivable… and this is the catch. What one cannot perceive but must blindly believe to exist does not advance our understanding of anything, let alone ourselves (as it is doctrinally supposed to do). Was the original awareness just a tiny glimmer which expanded later – like the physical universe? If so, it is the Big Bang all over again, but in an immaterial sense – either prior to physical creation or possibly concurrent with this. This brings understanding of any spiritual creative origin no further forward… though the physicalistic theory of the Big Bang advanced human understanding by a huge empirical- and knowledge-based factor compared to scriptural words. Some would add that the Atman is eternal… but this is a vague assertion. ‘Eternal’ can mean enduring for ever through time, or else possibly existing independently of time (and space). The first alternative is ruled out since the Big Bang posits that time-space arises with it, before which was nothing. The second alternative is fraught with the same problem that is at the root of all spiritual ideas… there is nothing in human experience which can be called independent of time-space or even described symbolically with any reasonability or consistency.

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