Comentarios sobre la nueva fe del materialismo

Comments on the new faith of materialism

Author: Atilio González Hernández. Telecommunications engineer
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Date of publication: 


summary: Mainstream materialism has characteristics of faith, even if it presents itself as a metaphysics twinned with science. Its rise in Western societies can be related to various cultural factors, as well as to errors in the application of the scientific method. It is argued that ontological dualism - from a philosophical approach - or intelligent evolution - as a faith approach - are more consistent with rational argumentation than materialism.


Materialism proposes that reality is made up of subject and that nothing exists outside of subject and energy. For him there is no world but the physical world and the human being is only a very complex biological machine. In opposition to this philosophical approach are dualism, for which reality is composed of subject and spirit, and immaterialism or radical idealism, for which reality is inwardly spiritual in nature.

Considering that reality is reduced to the physical world, which is self-contained, materialism has particular difficulty in resolving the great questions of origin:

  • Appearance of the subject, space and time, from the no-space and no-time of the initial vacuum, some 13 billion years ago.

  • Appearance of life in its different forms, from a weakly organised subject .

  • Emergence of self-reflective consciousness and the nature of self-reflective consciousness.

Materialism does not provide satisfactory answers to these questions, although it has various hypotheses to that effect:

In order to justify the origin of the Universe, he believes that in the future some theory will be found that rigorously proves that the subject could have originated by itself, or even better, that the subject exists and will always exist thanks to a kind of hypercircular topology of space-time.

As far as the origin of life is concerned, he is also confident that the future will prove conclusively that life could have been synthesised autonomously and spontaneously from the subject .

Biological diversity is attributed according to materialism to the pure and simple action of chance, combined with the mechanism of natural selection. Evolution as a whole would be devoid of any purpose or orientation.

Human consciousness would simply be an additional step in animal evolution, whose mechanism and properties would be purely physical in nature.

As we shall see in the following pages, materialism is not firmly anchored in experience, although it tends to attribute the status of scientific truth to its important convictions. It seeks to interpret the whole of reality - as a metaphysics - through theories that imply a belief in unproven qualities of subject and in a supposed ability of chance to shape the biosphere. Such a belief system seems to me to be far from science, beyond the bounds of philosophy and clearly into the realms of faith, since it is based on beliefs that cannot be logically proven or objectively known.

There is a de facto materialism - without theoretical content - whose rise is related to the current way of life in Western societies. It will be our starting point in trying to unravel the different components of the set of beliefs that I have called materialist faith.

Naive realism

Many people consider that there is no other reality than what they know directly in their daily lives. This reality is constituted for the most part by sensory perceptions and by situations that occur in their social environment, which are also perceived or can be perceived through the senses. It is an attitude that has undoubtedly been present since the awakening of human consciousness, as it has a certain parallelism with the way creatures of the animal kingdom live.

Realism can be justified by the views of various philosophers. However, in this section we refer only to those people who develop a home-grown realism, without philosophical aspirations, which is usually referred to as "naive realism" and which I prefer to call "the realm of the obvious".

The citizen of the realm of the obvious does not like uncertainty and does not value philosophical or theological knowledge very much. In a world that is not devoid of threats and difficulties, he needs to reassert himself in the simplicity of the everyday and the known, looking with deep scepticism at any theory that might question his way of life.

In the first part of Faust, J. W. Goethe seemed to refer metaphorically, through the mouth of Mephistopheles, to some citizen of the realm of the obvious when he said of the customers of a tavern: "...With a little sharpness and a lot of pleasure, each one turns in his narrow circle, like kittens playing with their tails. When they do not complain of headache, they live merrily and carelessly, as long as the tavern keeper trusts them...".

When the case of a person of extraordinary spirituality is mentioned, it is easy for someone to say, rather mischievously: What would that great mystic do if he were bitten by a dog? It is a question that says a lot about the questioner, revealing that his interpretation of reality is firmly anchored in the realm of the obvious and that he would like others to follow his criteria. But that realm is built on a deceptive foundation and the reality that sample is clearly insufficient, even if it is captivating and serves perfectly well to keep on living.

Human senses are a biological heritage that we share with countless other animal species. They are designed to forage, reproduce and fight with rival species. They do their job admirably goal without exceptional performance, as there are examples in the animal world for every sense that clearly surpass the efficiency of the human endowment. There are even senses in the animal world that humans lack, such as the sound "radar" of bats and dolphins, the electric field receptors of sharks, the chemical communication system used by ants, or the perception of magnetic fields by certain birds.

Sensory perception in the human brain is an incredibly complex process, in which there is a divergence between the signals produced by the receptor organs and conscious perceptions* (1). The senses only function correctly after a learning process, in combination with the report, through which a model is constituted with the elements that make up sensible reality. In this model , the various objects or beings that come within the reach of the senses, characterised by the perceived properties: colour, smell, etc., and also the words that symbolise them, are fitted together. In the words of Damasio* (2): ".... The neural patterns and the corresponding mental images of objects and events outside the brain are creations of the brain related to the reality that causes their creation, and not passive mirror images reflecting that reality" (3).

It seems clear to me that human senses, like those of animals, are not designed to reflect in detail the complex nature of the elements around us Materials . I invite the reader to take an orange in his hand and contemplate it trying to transcend the conventional appearance. To embrace, at the same time as the perceived image, its texture and smell; the internal structure of the fruit, with its perfectly constituted and grouped cells, each one of them functioning like a factory full of molecular machines. Let him break those cells down into the prodigious variety and number of molecules that constitute them, many of them with a highly complex three-dimensional structure. Let him take a step further down and imagine the atoms of those molecules, as faint clouds of particles and energy, separated by distances greater than their size. And let him go further down into the atoms, tiny universes where material reality finally becomes something dubious whose existence, according to quantum mechanics, would depend on very subtle variables that cannot be verified locally* (3).

In this attempt to approach the true nature of reality, one must be able to distance oneself from the realm of the obvious. Discard the orange we see and use another one from Popper's so-called world 3* (4), made up of the products of human culture. Finally, to temporarily dispense with the five senses and use instead the capacity for reflection. I am not saying anything new with this approach, as Plato made it very clear in his Phaedo 2,400 years ago. The difference is that we now have knowledge about the nature of subject and about the functioning of the brain that justifies it.

Reality is ungraspable by the human mind in its depth and complexity. What we normally interpret as reality is only a personal, symbolic and limited representation of the immensity of the real. For citizens of the realm of the obvious, their vision of reality is of little scope, as they miss the additional possibilities provided by the cultural heritage and intellectual curiosity characteristic of human beings. Consequently, they do not construct a true theory of reality, but will tend to use a practical materialism.


The rise of the consumer society has been paralleled by the growth of materialism and it is very likely that there is a link between the two phenomena.

As we know, the consumer society encourages the immediate satisfaction of desires Materials, stimulating new desires through advertising. The consumerist considers that he/she needs to buy goods and services, both for pleasure and to reinforce his/her identity in relation to others. He usually has to devote almost all his time to work, which is necessary to be able to satisfy the endless chain of desires. He has no free time for cultural enrichment, or for unpaid creative or community activities, thus limiting his ability to build a strong and self-sufficient personality, which would allow him to make free choices.

The value system of the consumerist society puts having before being (following Erich Fromm's terminology) and tends to root people in the realm of the obvious. It stigmatises those who are unwilling or unable to reach a sufficient level of consumption, considering them socially inferior. In such a society, spiritual values are generally considered an old-fashioned eccentricity.

Dialectical materialism

Materialism was revised, reformed and supported by Marxism. Engels and Lenin, who were familiar with the theory of natural selection, worked to adapt mechanistic materialism (which explains reality as an interaction between objects Materials according to the rules of classical physics) and Hegel's dialectics to their political convenience, creating dialectical materialism and making it the core of their philosophy.

For many years, in its efforts to implant materialism, Marxist propaganda has presented dual philosophies and religion as mere instruments for the subjugation and exploitation of the working classes by the capitalists. At the same time it exalted science, considering that the real knowledge of this world is the scientific knowledge * (5), called to replace the fictitious knowledge , represented by religion. Taking into account the values present in sections of today's society, it seems that the Marxist regimes succeeded to some extent in this task of indoctrination, despite the obvious discrepancy between their propaganda and reality.

History has shown that the implementation of Marxism has in many cases led to oppression, disregard for people's rights and even brutal genocide. That it is a self-serving delusion to equate mat e rialism with progress and spiritualism with backwardness and oppression. That political systems (and to some extent individuals) should be judged by their works and by their respect for life, liberty and human rights, and that prejudice and disqualification on ideological grounds should be avoided.

Problems of the scientific method

The creation of hypotheses

English empiricism from the 13th to 16th centuries, with the figures of Roger Bacon, William of Ockham and Francis Bacon, is considered to be the initiators of the scientific method, which reached maturity with Galileo in the 17th century. They rejected deduction as tool to obtain knowledge and started from experience as source of the same. Thus they constructed a methodology according to which the general rules would be obtained from the particular: from experimental data, by means of a process of induction.

There was a contradiction in the initial claims of the scientific method: on the one hand, "innate ideas" were rejected, progressing from the particular to the general on the basis of experimental results and avoiding deduction. On the other hand, there was reality, since such a rigid methodology was not adapted to the way the mind works or to the characteristics of the natural processes it was intended to explain.

No one usually follows the pure inductive process, since the structure of the human mind forces one to work with prior hypotheses* (6). Scientific activity is also subject to this bondage, and scientific merit lies both in inventing successful hypotheses and in proving the falsity of incorrect hypotheses by confronting them with the data obtained from reality.

The history of science contains many cases where such hypothesis creation occurs intuitively, suddenly; in Einstein's words "The fundamental concepts and principles of theoretical physics are free inventions of the human intellect".

In a modern formulation, the scientific method is also known as "hypothetico-deductive experimental" and has the following description, which we take from the current English version of Wikipedia:

A set of techniques for the investigation of phenomena and the acquisition of new knowledge from the natural world, as well as the correction and integration of the previous knowledge , based on observable and measurable experimental evidence, and subject to the laws of reason. ... Specific hypotheses are formed to propose explanations of natural phenomena, which are tested by experimental studies. ... A set of hypotheses can be logically linked by a theory.

The word "natural" used in the definition is synonymous with "material", according to source.

The scientist should not, therefore, be regarded as a being free of convictions and prejudices, whose only inspiration is the experimental data he obtains. The scientist, like any other person, has a mind full of models and hypotheses that are imbedded in the structure of his personality and perfectly match his conception of reality; it is from this bank of hypotheses that the hypotheses he uses in his scientific activity are drawn or generated.

The risk of subjectivity inherent in the process of hypothesis creation is not always perceived by scientists, as it would imply acknowledging that their personal philosophical convictions may come to influence the orientation and result of their research.

The scope of the method

The scientific method, as I explained above, is not result of a scientific activity, but a product of philosophy that is part of epistemology. The scientific method was created to study the phenomena that can be experimented and measured, i.e. the phenomena Materials. It is not a theory, but a working tool neutral to any theory, which makes it possible to ensure the validity of a result, within margins of error, if used correctly.

By its nature, the scientific method has a limited scope: it can only be applied to study phenomena that are suitable for measurement and that are reproducible or repeatable. The conclusions that can be validated according to the method are those that refer exclusively to the process that is the subject of the experiment and to other equivalent processes, following the principle of induction. Theories that claim to be validated as science should not include in their scope issues other than phenomena that can be studied and tested according to the scientific method.

The restrictions on the scope of the knowledge I believe could be expressed, in a graphical and simplified form, by the expressionA x P = 1/K; where P represents the precision attributable to the knowledge acquired on a phenomenon, A is the scope or extension of the said knowledge and K is an arbitrarily large parameter, which I cannot resist baptising as "ignorance constant". If the scope of the knowledge we wish to acquire about a given phenomenon is very small (the hypothetico-deductive experimental method can be applied) we would obtain knowledge of reasonably high precision: we would thus be in the realms of science. If, on the other hand, we were to try to acquire total knowledge on a phenomenon, or to acquire knowledge on the whole of reality, the precision of the result obtained would be virtually zero: we would then move into the domains of the great metaphysical systems.

Science is subject to the constraints of the method that has given it its authority and greatness. For this reason it has a limited scope and I believe that it should not aspire to become a theory of reality. However, the biologist and award Nobel Prize winner Jacques Monod was not of the same opinion, stating * (7) that "the ultimate ambition of the whole of science is fundamentally to elucidate the relationship of man to the universe". This thesis implies that man's entire relationship with the reality in which he lives can be analysed according to the scientific method: can the intuition generated by reading a poem, the feelings produced by a Beethoven symphony, the serene contemplation of the magic of a painting, can reproducible experiments be carried out on people who sacrifice their lives out of love or loyalty, can all this be expressed in scientific terms, can reproducible experiments be carried out on people who sacrifice their lives out of love or loyalty?

Another debatable approach would be to interpret the scientific method "ad libitum" in order to place it at the service of a particular metaphysics. For example, Monod states * (8) about the method: "... basic postulate of the scientific method: Nature is objective and not projective". Considering the context of the sentence, he means that according to the scientific method, Nature cannot be the consequence of a pre-existing project or intention, but has the character of a natural object and is "the result of the free play of physical forces". If this view of the scientific method were correct, it would not really be a method, but a theory in itself.

There is no need to distort the scientific method to deny creationism a place in science: it has no place in science because creationist hypotheses cannot be experimentally verified. But neither does materialist metaphysics have a place within science. Both are left out, and science should view this controversy over the projectivity of Nature with total indifference: it is not within the reach of the hypothetico-deductive experimental method and, as Wittgenstein said in the last line of his Tractatus, "What cannot be spoken about, it is better to remain silent".


In the dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish language , electronic edition of 1995, we find the following meanings for the word "Superstition":

1. Belief that is foreign to religious faith and contrary to reason.

2. Inordinate faith in or excessive valuation of a thing. Superstition of science.

In the following paragraphs it will be seen that the second meaning may be useful and applicable in certain cases.

Natural selection

In a paper by Alfred Russel Wallace, presented to the Linnean Society of London in July 1858, and in Charles Darwin's book "On The Origin Of Species", printed in 1859, it is explained that life progresses by two causes:

  • Small changes are constantly occurring which influence the properties of living beings and which are hereditarily transmissible.

  • The mechanism of natural selection, which consists of the survival of the fittest Pass in the situations of scarcity foreseen by Malthus' Law, means that of all the small changes, only those that improve the probability of survival of creatures are retained.

As a consequence of the two previous principles, the accumulation of successive small changes would lead to the appearance of new species, with no other important influence than the origin of the small changes and natural selection. Darwin rejected the possibility of rapid large changes, formulating the principle "Natura non facit saltum".

Darwin adopted the biological concept of evolution that others, such as Lamarck and his own grandfather Erasmus Darwin, proposed and defended before him, under the name of "transformism". The importance of his contribution lies mainly in the finding of the aforementioned mechanism of natural selection as the driving force of evolution, which he and Russel Wallace developed independently* (9). The theory he formulates is of unquestionable beauty, which derives from the simplicity of the concept and the quality of its exposition. It also has the virtue that no mathematical or scientific background is required to understand it. But is it a scientific theory, is it a correct theory?

The fact is that Darwin and Russel Wallace formulated the theory of natural selection without experimental support or sufficient justification, since at the time the mechanisms of heredity, which still hold many secrets today, were unknown. Nor did they have adequate palaeontological support. They did not rely on reproducible experiments, but on their intuition. Therefore, I believe that they did not elaborate a scientific theory, but a philosophical hypothesis, subject materialistic. Moreover, Darwin was very successful in spreading and justifying the idea of evolution, which, although not his own, is commonly attributed to him. Finally, he had other valuable contributions in biology, geology and botany.

Biological evolution, I believe, is not debatable, given the overwhelming body of evidence that supports it. What is debatable in our time are the processes involved. To deny biological evolution would be as risky as denying geological evolution, although there is no resemblance between the two evolutions; while geological evolution follows the principle of increasing stability (increasing entropy and decreasing potential energy, except for cataclysms caused by telluric forces or meteors), biological evolution follows just the opposite path. To be comparable, geological evolution would have to be able to produce the Taj Majal.

To explain biological evolution Darwin proposed a combination of gradual change and survival of the fittest Pass, which has not stood the test of time without major rectifications. His theory was modified between 1930 and 1940 with the birth of the so-called Synthetic Theory of Evolution, or New Synthesis. It then underwent further significant transformations, arriving in 1972 with Eldredge and Gould at the concept of Interrupted Equilibrium, according to which major evolutionary changes occur in the course of very few generations in a virtually isolated environment* (10). (10) These new approaches virtually do away with the principle "Natura non facit saltum" and reduce the role of gradualism to a mechanism for the homogenisation and balancing of large population masses. But how can major evolutionary changes occur in a short time?

Charles Darwin could not find the cause of the gradual changes, although he claimed that chance did not seem to him to be a convincing cause* (11). His followers have been much less cautious in this respect, firmly adopting the principle that hereditary changes occur randomly.

If we consider a particle, or even a rigid body, we will see that its state at a given instant can be defined with reasonable precision using a not very numerous set of physical variables, say, of the order of a hundred. For a living cell the situation is very different, since the number of variables defining its functioning in a mammal is about three billion, which is the order of magnitude of the number of base-pairs in its genetic endowment. This prodigious variability is the consequence of a unique property of biology: that the part contains the whole.

With so many units of information stored in a cell, it seems reasonable to think that, despite the sophisticated error correction methods incorporated in cells, for a sufficiently large population, some coding errors may be introduced by chance in some of the cells containing the information that is sexually transmitted: that is, a simple random mutation may occur in a gamete, and may even be inherited. It would be quite another matter if, once a mutation has occurred, another mutation were to occur that would develop the consequences of the previous mutation. For that to happen, it would have to affect a given base-pair, and the probability of that happening by chance is extremely high leave, given the enormous number of variables.

If we think of the number of mutations, perfectly coordinated, that separate a bird from a reptile, we will intuit that the age of the universe is incomparably less than the time necessary for chance, with the collaboration of natural selection, to generate this set of ordered and additive mutations; especially if we take into account that the intermediate stages of the process may have a low adaptive value, since they do not have the functionality achieved at the end of the process and are subject to its disadvantages with respect to the initial functionality.

It occurs to me that the radical Darwinist would be like an optimist sitting a chimpanzee, fresh from the jungle, in front of a concert piano, hoping that the ape, inspired by chance, would play a beautiful version of Beethoven's 23rd Appassionata sonata. The optimist might think that such a performance would eventually happen, provided the chimpanzee was given enough time, but common sense and probability theory teach that, in practical terms, this is an impossible aspiration.

This long exposition is intended to make the point that chance, together with natural selection, has not been scientifically proven to be the cause of major changes in the evolution of species. The belief, so prevalent today, in a chance-based model of evolution has all the defining characteristics of the noun superstition.

The emergence of life

With the emergence of life, something similar to that described in the previous paragraphs occurs. Charles Darwin, in a letter written in February 1882* (12), a few months before his death, expressed the hope that one day he would be able to demonstrate the possibility of the appearance of living beings from the inorganic subject , in a natural way. Evidently, this was not a scientific theory, but a philosophical speculation in accordance with his desire to perfect his materialistic theoretical framework .

We can state without a doubt that the probability of life emerging from subject at any given moment was zero prior to that moment. As J. Monod* (13) explains, the justification for this assertion derives from the concept of probability, by applying it in advance to a singular event (whose repetition is not known to have ever occurred), among all the possible events in the universe. Despite his materialistic convictions, Monod considered the appearance of life to be an enigma, since in the (highly improbable) event of the chance synthesis of a gene, it would not have been able to function, because the translation mechanism of the genetic code requires the presence of at least fifty complex macromolecular components, the specification of which is itself encoded in the DNA itself.

The spontaneous passage from disordered subject to life (which implies highly ordered subject ), clashes head-on with the second law of thermodynamics, which establishes the rule of increasing disorder. From agreement with that law, increasing order (decreasing entropy), can only be achieved if someone does work. It requires a subject with the appropriate knowledge and capacity for action, which in addition to the increase in order produces a greater increase in disorder at another point in the universe.

Once life is created, its multiplication can take place without violating the second law, because a living cell has all the information necessary to reproduce, and the ability to extract subject and energy from the environment in which it develops.

Imagine a fine crystal glass full of wine falling to the floor from the edge of a table. If it were not for the second law of thermodynamics, we could expect the glass to perfectly recompose itself from its scattered pieces, collect every last drop of the spilled wine and jump back to the edge of the table, intact. Although the idea may seem absurd to us, we must admit that this subject of improbable, unrepeatable phenomena, contrary to reason and the logic of nature, have been considered possible since ancient times, and have been called miracles.

Materialistic faith does not care much about probability theory or thermodynamics, so it is not difficult to find people who solemnly express their conviction that subject spontaneously generated life, and who also think that this criterion corresponds to a scientifically proven truth: superstition manifests itself again.

Artificial intelligence

In book 18 of the Iliad, Homer relates that Hephaestus had artificial servants: "...he limped out, supported by two golden statues that were like living young men, for they had intelligence, voice and strength, and were exercised in the works of the immortal gods...". For the Greeks of the 8th century BC this was an unattainable fantasy for a man, but feasible for someone like Hephaestus, who was not only a god but also a skilled craftsman.

In the 2,800 years since Homer, man has acquired knowledge and skills that then seemed reserved for the gods. Many living things are now revealed to us as biological machines, controlled by programming and capable of self-replication and self-improvement. On the other hand, microelectronics and computer science allow us to build machines that perform tasks at high speed, requiring skill and also the ability to make certain decisions. Two major questions inevitably arise from this situation: Is man simply a highly advanced biological machine, and could man build, by means of Materials, an artificial being similar to himself?

The philosopher Karl Popper, widely respected for his contributions to the theory of scientific knowledge and other fields of philosophy, made important contributions to what he called the mind-body problem. Popper considers * (14) that our reality is composed of three worlds: the material world or world 1, the world of subjective experiences or world 2, and the world of concepts and products of human culture or world 3.

Popper takes into account * (15) various approaches to the problem of the mind-body relation. For radical or physicalist materialism (which is probably the most widespread), world 2 and world 3 do not exist in themselves, but are parts of world 1. Consequently, it would not be admissible to consider the existence of subjective states of consciousness, but of purely physical processes between particles Materials within the structure of the brain. In this physicalist hypothesis, the artificial creation of a human-like consciousness would only be a matter of time. Popper points out that physicalist materialism has an extremely weak philosophical underpinning, because it is underpinned by a problem of recursion: the arguments and methods used to assert it clearly belong to the worlds whose existence is denied. Moreover, there are numerous experiments, such as the visual paradoxes, which show, for the same physical phenomenon, the discrepancy between the perceptions of the brain-senses and the expression of the conscious self.

Popper describes and criticises other philosophical variants, ascribed to materialism or close to it, such as Panpsychism, Epiphenomenalism, Parallelism, Identity Theory and Promissory Materialism. Popper's preferred hypothesis is not materialist, but interactionist, for which worlds 1, 2 and 3 exist and relate to and influence each other.

In interactionism, the conscious self is the protagonist of world 2 and the creator of world 3. Its nature and properties have been the subject of philosophy since its origins and to this day the discussion remains wide open. It is a uniquely difficult object of study, as it must analyse and explain itself.

The progress of the neurological sciences makes it possible to move the study of consciousness from the realm of philosophy to laboratory, contrasting hypotheses with the results of experimentation. award The neurophysiologist John C. Eccles has dealt with this in depth and apparently with good reason, since he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1963.

As a result of his research and also of his intuitions, Eccles puts forward * (16) the hypothesis of a conscious self that obtains data from the body and its environment, through the incessant exploration of some brain areas of link, which would be located in the left hemisphere. The "I" integrates the information, enquiry and records data on the report and makes the executive decisions that correspond to it, which are translated into voluntary orders that are transmitted to the muscles, albeit much more slowly than for involuntary actions. The "I" has no spatial dimension and is not constituted by elements of the material world, which is why, although its effects are evident, it never appears under the point of a scalpel.

In a later book* (17), Eccles introduces new data to explain the neurological instructions of consciousness and the mechanisms of communication between worlds 1 and 2, formulating a hypothesis that seems unprovable, of the action of quantum probability fields on synaptic microspaces of the pyramidal neurons of the cerebral cortex.

The conscious self perceives at any given moment only what the brain transmits to it. It does not seem to have any memories of its own, but only what the brain lends it. It ceases to perceive and feel when the brain is in deep sleep, or when it is shocked. It is not aware of all that the brain knows or experiences, but only of that information which is accessible to it both by its location in the brain and by the nature of its content. For example: the "I" is not informed of the status of the innumerable hormonal variables that are automatically adjusted by the nervous system, nor would it be able to be aware of the actions that relate to the right cerebral hemisphere if the great nerve pathway that connects the two hemispheres were interrupted.

It is evident that the self remains oblivious to the details of the functioning of the body and brain that host it, even though it has a tendency to take responsibility and credit for all their actions. Neurobiologist Antonio Damasio has recently studied emotions and feelings. He describes the self as "fleeting and narrow " * (18) and explains that emotions are bodily states triggered by the deep layers of the brain, in response to stimuli that he calls "emotionally competent". Emotions act from the unconscious and generate feelings that have access to the ego and can influence its decisions. All this leads us to think that there is no identity between the conscious self and the person.

Eccles and Damasio agree that both the perceptions and capacities of the conscious self, and the detailed configuration of neurons, are the result of a process of experimentation and learning, which depends on the genetic heritage of the body, the characteristics of the material and cultural environment in which it lives, and the exercise of the conscious self's own will. I think we could say that the soul and the brain construct and sustain each other, as they invent and enact their role in the tragicomedy of life.

Returning to the title of the present section, we can recall that the concept of "artificial intelligence" is usually assigned, according to Turing's definition, to a hypothetical machine whose responses could not be distinguished from those of a human being. Such a machine would have to be able to understand situations and act freely on the basis of that understanding. For the advocates of artificial intelligence, such an understanding and decision-making capacity - equivalent to our conscious self - would reside in an algorithm programmed into the machine. If it could be designed, the algorithm (or general computational procedure ) would be installed in any machine endowed with the right speed and functional characteristics. The machine's I would have the ability to interact with the machine's components, without actually being a material element - has anyone measured the size, colour and weight of an algorithm? Surprisingly, through artificial intelligence we would again arrive at a dual reality and the Eccles-Popper interactionist hypothesis.

As can be deduced from the preceding paragraphs, the conscious self remains an unknown. There are theories on the subject, with different orientations, but there is none that can be considered scientifically proven truth. Science is still unable to explain the cause of the extraordinary qualitative leap between the brain of a chimpanzee and that of a human being. The two initial questions: Is man simply a highly advanced biological machine, and could man build, by means of Materials, an artificial being similar to himself, have no scientifically backed answer today, and can only be answered, in one sense or another, from the field of personal philosophical hypotheses.

Additional comments

Belief in a materialist model of reality is an irreproachable personal choice. What is objectionable is the unjustified claim to convert such a philosophical model into scientific truth. It is the same problem that Galileo faced: a social structure that sought to impose the interpretation of reality that best suited its religious convictions, attributing to it the status of indisputable scientific truth and forcing others to accept it.

More than one scientist has opted to publish books divulging the most attractive aspects of the subjects of his specialization program. As these books are intended for a wide audience, instead of following the rigorous outline of a scientific publication, they contain an entertaining mix of scientific theories, experimental data and personal philosophical speculations, generally of materialist inspiration. The result is that the uncritical reader ends the book with the vague conviction that the author's personal philosophical theories are facts proven by science.

Why are so many scientists today professing the most radical materialism? This is a difficult question which should be answered by experts in psychology. Pending authoritative opinions, we may note that in earlier times, science and philosophy were closely linked to the Church. For example, Roger Bacon and William of Ockhan, who created in the average age the instructions of the scientific method, were Franciscan monks. The Modern Age saw the beginning of serious disagreements between scientists and religious power, which, given the methods of the time, led to the imprisonment of more than one scientist. As the Church lost power in civil society, the scientific world was able to act more freely, and I believe that it reacted by spreading philosophical theories that would facilitate its autonomy, thus undermining the religious doctrines that were the basis and origin of the Church's power.

In this context, it is interesting to recall Gregor J. Mendel, who in March 1865 formulated three laws that revolutionised the understanding of the phenomenon of heredity, with immediate application to biological processes and the evolution of species. Unlike the theory of natural selection, Mendel's laws complied irreproachably with the principles of the scientific method, as they were based on reproducible experiments and incorporated a mathematical model that made it possible to accurately predict the result of new experiments. Mendel's theory was published in detail in 1866 (seven years after The Origin of Species) and was well publicised, but it did not have any echo and immediately fell into oblivion, as unfair as it was absurd, which lasted 34 years. Did it have anything to do with the fact that Mendel's theory seemed to contradict the concept of Darwinian gradualism, and its author's status as an Augustinian monk?

Sterility of materialism

The new generations, brought up in a consumerist society, confident in a science that claims to solve everything without leaving the material realm, subject to the persistent rain of materialistic propaganda, are oriented towards an interpretation of the world that is unstructured and alien to the spiritual, in which there is no legitimacy that cannot be questioned and in which the safe values seem to be well-being and power. There is an element of instability in this configuration, for attaining these values does not bring happiness, or even peace of mind.

There is suffering; it is directly experienced or visible throughout life and has always been so for everyone, as is evident from the following 2,500-year-old Buddhist text, part of the Benares Sermon:

"Birth, old age, sickness and death are suffering.
Affliction, lamentation, sorrow, despondency and despair are suffering.
To be attached to that which displeases, and to be separated from that which pleases, is suffering.
Not getting what one wants is suffering.
The five aggregates for clinging are suffering".

Similarly, in the Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) we read:

"I saw under the sun that the swiftest do not win the race, nor the strongest win the fight; that there is no bread for the wise, nor riches for the clever, nor favour for the wise. For the time of misfortune comes to all".

Another more contemporary way of expressing the same thing is the following dialogue taken from "The Sirens of Titan" ( Kurt Vonnegut, 1959 )

-You go up to a man and say, "How are things going, Joe?" And he says, "Oh, just fine, they couldn't be better." And you look him in the eye and you see that things couldn't be worse. When you get to the bottom of it, you find that everybody is having a miserable time, and I mean everybody.

For Miguel Benzo* (19) the origin of suffering lies in the fact that "man is a being who does not coincide with his own limits" and is permanently dissatisfied because of his yearning for plenitude. It is obvious that materialism cannot resolve this dissatisfaction. When loneliness, insecurity, sadness or love overflow the dikes that separate them from the daily routine, it can happen that the apparent materialist, with unstructured convictions, manifests himself as a spiritualist and religious person, revealing, even if only briefly, convictions hidden in his deep "I". Often it is social pressure that makes it difficult to affirm and develop this "I", capable of overcoming the superficial vision of materialism.

Alternatives to materialism

In ancient times, attempts were sometimes made to reduce costs by reusing parchment. They were scraped until all or part of the original writing was erased, and then written over again on the same surface. These scrolls, known as palimpsests, can be inspected with modern technical means and the underlying writing, which is often of greater interest than the text on the surface, can be recovered.

The first reading of reality would correspond to what we described in section 2 d) as the realm of the obvious. Other interpretations can be accessed, considering them as the hidden content of a palimpsest to be deciphered. To do this, one has to use keys that give a higher-order meaning to the whole of what is perceived. These keys are generally more or less structured theories found in the world of culture. Philosophy, theology, history, etc. contain different keys, sometimes contradictory and in some cases stupid or even perverse. Finally, I cannot fail to mention that there are also theories of reality that are the consequence of mental pathologies, which are of no interest for the purpose of this study because they are irrational.

Materialism is one of the possible keys. As we saw in the previous sections, it uses the resources of the world of culture and the world of feelings to repudiate the existence of both worlds and assert the exclusive existence of the physical world, with the effect of consolidating and isolating the realm of the obvious. But there are alternative keys to materialism, which give meaning and purpose to perceived reality, seeing it as part of (or as a manifestation of) another reality of a higher order than the purely material.

The choice and configuration of the core topic in order to know the meaning of reality must be a rigorously personal task; an Ars Magna for the conscience, which occupies and justifies a whole life.

When one admits the existence of a reality distinct from and superior to the material order, the problems of origin that we pointed out at the beginning of this work are solved by directing them to that spiritual level. The spiritual world cannot be perceived with the five senses, or even understood from our material space. It is at that level that the Creator of our reality would be found.

If considered objectively, the creationist approach is strictly rational, since everything we observe in our universe leads us to believe that there is no effect without a preceding cause and that chance plays a trivial role in real life. On the other hand, the Creator of the universe cannot be part of it, since the capacity for self-creation is contrary to common sense.

The biological concept of evolution is perfectly compatible with conscious creative intervention, which replaces chance as the source of mutations in major evolutionary changes. Thus, the role left to chance is the one for which it is suited: to bring about the small adjustments that occur during long periods of population equilibrium.

I believe that the most notorious act of creation is the Big Bang. It is amazing to think that we are constantly reminded of it by the Penzias radiation, a low intensity microwave signal, predicted by Gamow in 1948 and first observed accidentally in 1965 by Penzias and Wilson, who were awarded the award Nobel Prize for it. The signal is received from any direction in deep space and is the afterglow of the gigantic explosion that created subject, energy, space and time some 13 billion years ago.

Much more discrete must have been the emergence of life: a one-off process that could leave no fossil record. However, the absence of repetitions and the evidence of its impossibility as a natural process, which we describe in more detail at section 2(a), clearly point to an act of creation.

Once we have arrived, by the hand of logic, at the conviction that there is a Being who is responsible for creation, and that this Being is not a part of the material world, the ways of religion open before us. They are varied in appearance and fundamentally similar, but are beyond the scope of the present study.

By acknowledging the existence of God, we find that reality takes on a new meaning. The perfection we observe in the subject and in life indicates to us that the wisdom of its Author surpasses everything imaginable: therefore, his work must have a goal. Man thus ceases to be "the result of a purposeless and materialistic process" (according to the expression of the Darwinian palaeontologist G. G. Simpson) * (20) and becomes the child of a God who has created the universe through His wisdom and His power. The life of the human being is filled with meaning: to learn and to experience, to live without fear, trying to follow the guidelines of conduct that we believe that God establishes. The identification of the personal mission is not simple or immediate, but a consequence of the effort to interpret the keys to reality, to which we referred in the first paragraphs of this section.

Bibliographical references

  1. Karl Popper and John C. Eccles - The Self and its Brain - Ed. Routledge & Keagan Paul plc (1983); Chapter E-2: Conscious perception. P. 252.
  2. Antonio Damasio - In Search of Spinoza. Ed. Crítica S.L. (2005) Chapter 5: Body, brain and mind. P. 189.
  3. Roger Penrose - The Emperor's New Mind Ed. Grijalbo Mondadori (1.999) Ch. 5: The Classical World. P. 285
  4. Karl Popper and John C. Eccles - Op. cit. Chapter P-2 The Worlds 1, 2 and 3; p. 36.
  5. José Ferrater Mora - Dictionary of Philosophy. Volume III Dialectical Materialism: pp. 2147-2149.
  6. Karl Popper and John C. Eccles - Op. cit. Dialogue VII (Popper) p. 500.
  7. Jacques Monod - Chance and Necessity - Ed. Barral (1971) Preface: P. 9.
  8. Jacques Monod - Op. cit. Chapter 1: Strange objects; p. 15.
  9. Manuel Tamayo H.- Charles Darwin and Darwinism - Chapter 9: His books on evolution.
  10. John C. Eccles - The Evolution of the Brain: Creation of Consciousness - Ed. Labor (1992) Chapter 1: Biological evolution; P. 7.
  11. Charles Darwin- The Origin of Species - Ed. Bruguera Classic Book (1967) Chapter V: Laws of Variation; P. 197.
  12. Charles Darwin- Op. cit. Foreword by Doctor Rafael de Buen; p. 20.
  13. Jacques Monod - Op. cit. Chapter VIII Frontiers; p. 158.
  14. Karl Popper and John C. Eccles - Op. cit. Chapter P-2 The Worlds 1, 2 and 3; p. 36.
  15. Karl Popper and John C. Eccles - Op. cit. Chapter P-3 Materialism Criticized; p. 51.
  16. Karl Popper and John C. Eccles - Op. cit. Chapter E-7: The self conscious mind and the brain; p. 355.
  17. John C. Eccles - The Evolution of the Brain: Creation of Consciousness - Ed. Labor (1992) Chapter 8: The Brain-Mind Question in Evolution; p. 177.
  18. Antonio Damasio - Op. cit. Chapter 4: Since there were feelings; p. 135.
  19. Miguel Benzo Mestre - Teología para universitarios - Ed. Guadarrama (1961) Chapter I: El hombre como problema; P. 45.
  20. Leandro Sequeiros Sanromán: Cincuenta años de debates entre Biología, Filosofía y Teología- Proyección (Granada, 1.999) Pags 137-154. Chapter: George Gaylord Simpson and Paleontology in the mid-20th century.