"The human mind is more amazing than the universe," said my teenage daughter the other day. "How come?" I asked. "Well, it all really starts in our heads, doesn't it? Like, without our minds there wouldn't be a universe."
I'm glad that this line of thought came from a teenager, and not from the Dartmouth theoretical physicist and professor of natural philosophy who is the author of the post. I realize that something in the approximate vicinity of this way of thinking about things has a long and somewhat distinguished history, but seriously. The universe contains human minds. There is no way the universe is less amazing than the human mind. It might be just as amazing as the human mind, but since the universe contains the crab nebula in addition to human minds, my vote is for more amazing. Anyways, that's not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about what he says next.
It got me thinking. The rift between what is and what is perceived is at least as old as philosophy itself. Yes, it has something to do with the popular "if a tree falls in a forest and no one sees it, did it fall?"...
That's as far as I got before I had to stop, walk away, and pour myself a bourbon. When I read shit like this, a piece of me dies. There is no possibility of any interesting question here. It literally answers itself. If a tree falls, did it fall? Yes, it fell if it fell. If the tree falls, whatever else might happen, it falls. To be fair, he says he thinks the answer is 'yes.' But to be more fair, this is supposed to be a smart, well-educated person. His research centers on how non-living chemicals made the transition into life.* I realize that we're in an age in which public intellectuals are a rare breed, and so maybe we should just take what we can get. But I really feel like we're entitled to expect better than this. Not just anyone is cut out to be a public intellectual, and at the very least the person should be capable of knowing a profoundly easy question when he sees one.
*Which, to be clear, is a fascinating and important topic.