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Book Review: The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World by Paul Davies

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Paul Davies begins The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World with a number of interesting discussions. He calls the discoveries made by man using the methods of science: miracles. Yet from the very first pages, Davies doubts we will ever answer ultimate questions through pure inductive logic alone: Questions like what caused the Big Bang; why are we here?

According to Davies, the a priori methods of the ancient philosophers led to the rigid doctrine found in the religions which exist today. Countless numbers of people accept the Koran, the Bible, and other religious texts as God inspired. Accordingly, religious affiliation depends on how these alleged, ancient warehouses of God’s words are interpreted. As a result, there exists a variety of belief, usually originating in myth, concerning where the world came from; what will happen after death; what lies ahead at the end of the universe.

But Davies steers clear of any irrational religious sentiment when explaining the scientific basis for our world. The hardware of the human mind, he says, makes it capable of ingesting accurate information from the outside world through sensory inputs. It analyses this data then synthesizes laws accordingly. Once a law is believed to be a universal truth, it becomes the foundation of further experimentation with reality. Thus, all of the scientific achievements we see in the world today are built on this logical, scientific superstructure.

The Mind of God then delves into the seemingly unreasonable question, “Can the universe create itself?” Common sense would seem to preclude that every existing thing, every event—had a cause. At the present time scientific thought accepts as a given that the Big Bang caused our existing universe. This acceptance is not without proof. Following Max Planck’s quantum theory, science has measured the size, the density, and even the time since the Big Bang occurred when the entire universe was almost infinitely small—a singularity.

Accepting this reasoning, we must conclude that our adaptive genetic makeup as conscious thinking human beings was packed into that infinitesimal singularity like every other existing thing. I’m certain Davies would admit this is mind boggling, but at this point in human development, mostly all attempts to burst the big bang paradigm have been unsuccessful.

Surely there must have been a cause for the Big Bang. But this is a moot point according to many scientists including Davies. Atomic particles act differently from objects we see in our everyday world. At the diminutive nuclear level of being, particles have been shown to pop in and out of existence. Since they move at incredibly fast speeds, at the instant they are measured they appear to have actual being, but only because the particles are stopped and measured. When left alone, physicists can only measure their speed or energy wave—mere shadows of their possible being. Thus, before the big bang, the singularity could just as easily pop in and out of existence.

The Mind of God, however, tries to answer an even more baffling question. It appears that all reality—microscopic and macroscopic—is following certain laws which physicists keep discovering. Where are these laws? Are they out there in reality or are they the compromises our minds dream up to explain accidental, purposeless reality? Davies would argue that those laws are framed as mathematical relationships. In turn, he explains that math is a reality. It exists as the language of the natural world: "No one who is closed off from mathematics can ever grasp the full significance of the natural order that is woven so deeply into the fabric of physical world."

He finds that our mental powers “… are presumably determined by biological evolution.” If such is true, what environmental pressures would make us seek the structure of the atom or hunt the law of gravity or determine the laws of electromagnetism? It appears that this quest is innate in our species. Furthermore, Davies would suggest that our ability to perform scientific investigation must be traced back to some “… highly special, cosmic initial conditions.”

The Mind of God draws to a close with a discussion of mysticism. Davies admits that many scientists scorn any mystical belief in a divine creator. These scientists are content to accept existence for what it is—what they perceive through their senses and cortical machinations via experiments and mathematics. They are content to hunt for that illusive smallest particle/wave/string that might ultimately explain why things are the way they are.

Davies concludes that it is impossible for us to rationalize an ultimate explanation of existence. Yes, we have uncovered some of the hidden rules on which existence operates but we cannot answer the decisive question: “Why?” Our explorative efforts can only go so far and then as conscious, self-aware beings, we must embrace a metaphysical understanding for what is. This could be the only path to the Ultimate.

For readers obsessed with final explanations of the universe, the Mind of God is a fascinating journey into the realm of physics, mathematics, and philosophy. The book revisits timeless inquiries about all existence, particularly human scientific history from ancient Greek philosophers up until modern times.

Although Paul Davies is a Professor of Mathematical Physics, he readily admits the limits of his subject when dealing with the hazy crossover between reality and infinity—the now and the eternal. His thoughts are easy to follow and his conclusions at the end of one chapter provide a nice bridge to the next.

This reviewer found the book stimulating and thought provoking. He tends to agree with Davies that the universe and our place within it are not just purposeless accidents. Since the occurrence of the enormous Big Bang, it appears that adaptive evolution is following a lawful path right up to our own existence. My only problem with The Mind of God is its title which immediately suggests an anthropomorphic concept for a deity. If there is a God, does it have a mind?

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