The astounding answer, according to Scientific American blogger Michael Moyer, is no:
Pink is not out there, because no color is really “out there.” The world is full of electromagnetic radiation, and the only intrinsic properties that this radiation possesses are physical ones such as wavelength and intensity. Color, on the other hand, is all in your head.
The fact that the material universe in interaction with mind is experienced as colors and textures (strawberries seen as red and felt as yielding to one’s fingertips beneath cool tap water) is an absurd surprise, don’t you think?
Something more purposeful than matter, by coincidence, evoking mind and its vivid experiences seems to be going on.
Here’s an alternative thesis: maybe mind is prior to matter (which opens the possibility that free will and God exist).
Why start with the axiomatic assumption that matter is prior to mind and must be responsible for (blindly) causing consciousness?
Maybe the proper analogy is that the material brain is a radio picking up mind as a signal from a nonmaterial realm; the locus for a particular sort of apprehension; the contact point for two independent-of-one-another ontological mysteries: matter and mind.
Or maybe neither mind nor matter exist, or ever can exist, apart from one another.
Physicists Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, both at the University of California at Santa Cruz, call the mind’s relation to matter a “quantum enigma”—indeed, the central quantum enigma—and ask rhetorically in their book of the same title, the following:
[D]oes it not go without saying that there is a real world ‘out there,’ whether or not we look at it? (4)
But, according to Rosenblum and Kuttner, quantum physics suggests that our intuitive ‘yes’ may be spectacularly wrong. Likewise, I would suggest that the intuition among materialists that human purposes must be generated by determinate matter first, and thus cannot really impact the direction of determinate particles, may also be spectacularly wrong. If mind is fundamental, freedom and the self may also be fundamental.
So, if you’re an atheist, what makes you so sure (apart from faith) that qualia—the experience of red as red—can ever really be understood in strictly causal materialist terms? And why give up on mental causation—free will and the God hypothesis—so early in the game—so prematurely?
I’m not saying the theist assumption—that mind precedes matter—is more plausible. I’m an agnostic, myself. But I am asking, most specifically, the following question:
How does one decide between these two notions—matter precedes mind or mind precedes matter—absent sufficient evidence one way or the other?
If you don’t have enough faith to be a theist, what gives you enough faith to be an atheist—to leap to the conclusion that minds must (somehow) derive from matter and have no causal effects upon matter?
Here’s a quote from the early 20th century mathematician, Sir James Jeans (from his 1931 book, The Mysterious Universe ):
To-day there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the physical side of science approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality. The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter . . . (p. 137)
It’s been over 80 years since Jeans wrote this. Is there anything science has discovered since then that counters his observation and renders it naive?
Apparently not. For example, according to Discover magazine, a contemporary physicist, Andrei Linde, is reported to entertain the following idea:
[C]onsciousness may be a fundamental component of the universe, much like space and time. He wonders whether the physical universe, its laws, and conscious observers might form an integrated whole. A complete description of reality, he says, could require all three of those components, which he posits emerged simultaneously.
If true, that’s dumbfounding; quite the ontological mystery. Linde is then quoted as saying this:
Without someone observing the universe, the universe is actually dead.
Why be a strict materialist and physical determinist when empiricism doesn’t, strictly speaking, demand it? Why not have another look at mental causation—the God hypothesis and contra-causal free will?