The Mind

To me the most astounding fact in the universe, even more astounding than the flight of the Monarch butterfly, is the power of mind which drives my fingers as I write these words. Somehow, by natural processes still totally mysterious, a million butterfly brains working together in a human skull have the power to dream, to calculate, to see and to hear, to speak and to listen, to translate thoughts and feelings into marks on paper which other brains can interpret. Mind, through the long course of biological evolution, has established itself as a moving force in our little corner of the universe. Here on this small planet, mind has infiltrated matter and has taken control.

It appears to me that the tendency of mind to infiltrate and control matter is a law of nature. Individual minds die and individual planets may be destroyed. But, as Thomas Wright said, "The catastrophy of a world, such as ours, or even the total dissolution of a system of worlds, may possibly be no more to the great Author of Nature, than the most common accident of life with us." The infiltration of mind into the universe will not be permanently halted by any catastrophe or by any barrier that I can imagine. If our species does not choose to lead the way, others will do so, or may have already done so. If our species is extinguished, others will be wiser or luckier. Mind is patient. Mind has waited for 3 billion years on this planet before composing its first string quartet. It may have to wait for another 3 billion years before it spreads all over the galaxy. I do not expect that it will have to wait so long. But if necessary, it will wait. The universe is like a fertile soil spread out all around us, ready for the seeds of mind to sprout and grow. Ultimately, late or soon, mind will come into its heritage.

What will mind choose to do when it informs and controls {119} the universe? That is a question which we cannot hope to answer. When mind has expanded its physical reach and its biological organization by many powers of ten beyond the human scale, we can no more expect to understand its thoughts and dreams than a Monarch butterfly can understand ours. Mind can answer our question only as God answered Job out of the whirlwind: "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" In contemplating the future of mind in the universe, we have exhausted the resources of our puny human science. This is the point at which science ends and theology begins.

Like the majority of scientists in this century, I have not concerned myself seriously with theology. Theology is a foreign language which we have not taken the trouble to learn. My personal theology is the theology of an amateur. But I did once have some help from a professional theologian in formulating my ideas in an intellectually coherent fashion. I happened to meet Charles Hartshorne at a meeting in Minnesota and we had a serious conversation. After we had talked for a while he informed me that my theological standpoint is Socinian. Socinus was an Italian heretic who lived in the sixteenth century. If I remember correctly what Hartshorne said, the main tenet of the Socinian heresy is that God is neither omniscient nor omnipotent. He learns and grows as the universe unfolds. I do not pretend to understand the theological subtleties to which this doctrine leads if one analyzes it in detail. I merely find it congenial, and consistent with scientific common sense. I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension. God may be considered to be either a world-soul or a collection of world-souls. We are the chief inlets of God on this planet at the present stage of his development. We may later grow with him as he grows, or we may be left behind. As Bernal said: "That may be an end or a beginning, but from here it is out of sight." If we are left behind, it is an end. If we keep growing, it is a beginning. {120}

The great virtue of my version of the Socinian theology is that it leaves room at the top for diversity. Just as the greatness of the creation lies in its diversity, so does also the greatness of the creator. Many world-souls are better than one. When mind grows to fill the universe, it comes as a diversifier as well as a unifier.

Another theologian, with whom I have a more distant acquaintance, is St. Paul. St. Paul had some good things to say about diversity. "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all." That passage from First Corinthians would make a good text for my sermon if I were preaching in church. But I am not preaching a Christian sermon. I am describing the universe as I encounter it in my life as a scientist and as a politically engaged citizen. I should not pretend to agree with St. Paul when in fact I find his point of view alien. For St. Paul, the diversity of the creation is less important than the unity of the creator. For me, it is the other way round. I do not know or particularly care whether the same God is working all in all. I care deeply for the diversity of his working.


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 Infinite in All Directions
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Dyson , Freeman J. (2004-07-22), Infinite in All Directions, Harper Perennial, Retrieved on 2012-04-25
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: religion