Friday, 21 February 2014

Poetry and the Mind

While watching a fine conversation between Father George Coyne and Richard Dawkins I came across yet again (from Father Coyne) the insistence that there are aspects of human behaviour and culture that indicate to him that we are more than just material beings.

This is a huge mistake and a profound misunderstanding of what science has shown us about what we are.  We are more than atoms, even though we share atomic nature with other living organisms, and even with the rocks of the Earth.  We are atoms and particles in organised and dynamic patterns, and what such patterns can produce is rich beyond anything we can easily comprehend.  Although brains aren't much like computers we have built so far, they work by the processing and storage of information, as do computers, and our experience of what computers are capable of gives us only the smallest glimpse at what a brain, which is just as material as a computer, can do.  There is no difficulty in accepting that brains can have information patterns that have meaning, and that brains can allow patterns to interact in ways that we experience as thought.  Indeed, we know what some of the areas of the brains do when it comes to interpreting and expressing meaning, and we know that other areas of the brain are involved in allowing us to have experiences, including emotions.

There is no reason at all to believe that any aspect of human art or culture needs anything more than the fabulously complex interactions of patterns of information in the cells of our brains.  Atoms, arranged as a result of biological evolution and human experience, are perfectly capable of writing poetry.

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