According to atheist and University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne, probably:
As for mind being nothing but a fluke of nature, well, that’s probably true, at least the human mind, since I don’t see our evolution as inevitable (it may have depended on mutations that are based on quantum effects).
Coyne doesn’t elaborate on what he means by the relation of the human mind’s evolution to “quantum effects,” but bringing quantum physics into the issue of the mind’s relation to matter, my question then becomes the following: Why start with the axiomatic assumption that matter is prior to mind and must be responsible for accidentally causing human consciousness? Doesn’t quantum physics (via Schrödinger’s famous kitty), imply that matter requires mind (an observer) for a particle to move from a possible state to an actual state–that matter is in some manner inextricably bound up with the mind?
For example, 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’ to that question may be spectacularly wrong. Likewise, I would suggest that the intuition among materialists that human minds and purposes must be generated by determinate matter first, and thus cannot really be necessary to matter or impact the direction of otherwise determinate particles, may also be spectacularly wrong.
According to Discover magazine, physicist Andrei Linde is also reported to entertain a mind dependent cosmos:
[C]onsciousness may be a fundamental component of the universe, much like space and time. He [Linde] 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 and makes for quite an ontological mystery. Linde is quoted in the Discover article as saying the following:
Without someone observing the universe, the universe is actually dead.
So why be a strict materialist and physical determinist when our most empirical science–physics–doesn’t seem to actually demand it?
But if one is set on positing that the mind is a fluke, doesn’t that also make matter a fluke as well? In other words, on atheist terms, matter just is. It has no explanation outside itself, but it’s here (what Stephen Hawking calls “the ultimate free lunch”).
But did matter just jump into existence out of nothing, or has it always existed? Atheists don’t know (and, of course, neither does anyone else). But however conceived—whether as atoms and void or as Plank-level vibrating strings—there’s something properly basic at the bottom of all things—an ontological mystery, if you will, that exists without any antecedent causes—and for the atheist this just happens to be matter.
In other words, it’s a fluke. To quote the writer of Ecclesiastes, “time and chance happeneth to all.”
So now we have two flukes: mind and matter. But this isn’t really satisfying. We seem to be at an aporia (an impasse) of explanation, which in turn seems to demand neither atheism nor theism, but agnosticism.
In our wars of religion and irreligion (and indifference to religion and irreligion), we don’t actually know where, what, or who we are, do we? Why then the desperate displays of confidence atheism and confidence theism, and the resentment on both sides toward the compromisers and indifferent (the lukewarm)? What’s at stake?
I think Terror Management Theory (TMT) offers the most plausible psychological answer: death is unbearable, and therefore doubt is unbearable. Consequently, depending upon our temperaments and contingent circumstances, we sublimate our revulsion at our own deaths and not knowing by casting our lots into competing immortality and meaning projects (one person pours herself into raising children, another into a sport, another into nationalism, another into writing a book, another into religion, another into advancing science, etc.). Every individual thinks her immortality or meaning project, in the face of death, is the sanest and that a lot of other people, maybe even most people, are crazy, superficial, cowardly, or wicked. And in the diversity of the projects people pursue, they invariably crash into one another (the Boston marathoner meets the jihadist; Jerry Coyne gets sent a book by the theologian John Haught, etc.).
But what haunts all of us is a mystery that destabilizes what we think we know, calling all our premises–and immortality and meaning projects–into uncomfortable question. That mystery is death and suffering in a cosmos that consists of two seemingly inexplicable flukes: matter and mind. And God, if God exists, isn’t talking.
Is the answer then agnosticism and to be kinder in tone and rhetoric with one another? Or must we take sides to weed out the most flagrant stupidities, to be cruel to one another only to be kind?