Well, we would have to tell ourselves a very different story about ourselves, one that excludes freedom (and with it, responsibility), truth, hierarchy, and anything else that transcends matter:
to be identified with our brains is to be identified with a piece of matter, and this, like all other pieces of matter, is subject to, and cannot escape from, the laws of material nature.... [our actions] are wired into the endless causal net, extending from the Big Bang to the Big Crunch, that is the history of the material universe.... Our destiny, like that of pebbles and waterfalls, is to be predestined (Tallis).
Does this even sound plausible in theory, much less workable in practice? It makes no sense, even on its own terms. It self-destructs upon contact with intelligence.
But the science is settled! Tallis quotes the eminent neurophysiologist Colin Blakemore, who insists that the brain is simply a machine that gives rise to the illusions of consciousness and free will: "All our actions are products of the activity of our brains," such that it is nonsensical "to try to distinguish sharply between acts that result from conscious attention and those that result from our reflexes or are caused by disease or damage to the brain."
Say what you want, but there is an intellectually consistent man, one who draws out the inevitable implications of materialism and sticks to his guns even if it means shooting himself between the eyes: the philosophy of materialism -- or any other philosophy -- is indistinguishable from a hole in the head. Which begs the question of why we have a category called "brain disease," but we'll leave that to the side.
Note that a strict materialism has no Ought -- for example, a healthy brain -- only the almighty Is, and one Is is as good or bad as any other. Again, it reduces the I Am to It Is; if the God of Matter could reveal his eternal name, it would surely be It Is What It Is. This is not even nihilism.
And yet, its shadows -- shadows of the Great Nøthing -- are everywhere. Few people draw out the full implications as does Blakemore, but the left in particular relies upon materialist arguments while drawing short of the abyss. As Davila so accurately says, The theses of the left are rationalizations that are carefully suspended before reaching the argument that dissolves them.
In truth, the materialist merely wishes away God. However, this doesn't necessarily imply that God exists by default. Rather, we need to think this through and determine what makes the most sense. I say existence is a game, the object of which is to see and integrate the most truth. And who sees the most wins. Or rather, seeing is analogous to having men on base. You still have to knock them home, which is to say, integrate them.
For example, there is Matter at first base after hitting a bloop single to left field. Then Mind comes to the plate and hits a liner up the middle, driving Matter to third. How do we get both home safely? If you only drive in Matter and leave Mind stranded on base, you're likely to lose the game.
Boy, that was a strained metaphor. Let's move on.
Tallis has a better analogy. Imagine you have a complete printout of your friend's genome. Would this be identical to the experience of knowing what it's like to be with your friend? Well, Barbra Streisand seems to think so. She cloned Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, her dogs.
Or, does knowing that water is H2O tell you what it's like to be all wet, which is to say, Barbra Streisand?
Neurologists can wish away God. But no matter how hard they try, they cannot wish away the person. And the person, don't you know, leads straight back to God. Tallis, being an atheist, accepts only the first part -- the real existence of persons -- but not the second -- their rootedness in God:
Those of us who are not brainwashed into thinking that they are brains washed by the laws of physics might be tempted to hazard a daring suggestion: that it is a person, or something like a person, that looks out at, peers into, interprets and shapes the world.
Remember, once you eliminate the person, he's gone, and there is no getting him back. But it is literally impossible to do this without self-contradiction. For among the things one must jettison along with the person is any distinction between past, present, and future, which, as Einstein famously asserted, is just a "stubborn illusion." Tallis draws out the implications:
It is important to appreciate that, in the absence of an observer, time has no tenses; not only does the physical world not have a past and future in which events are located but... it doesn't have the present. For an event to count as being present, there has to be someone for whom it is present, for whom it is "now" as opposed to "then" or "not yet."
Hmm. Where does this leave us? Nowhere? Everywhere? Is it really possible that reality is a view by nobody from nowhere? Well, that is the scientistic ideal. But does it make any sense?
In order to deal with this question, I'm going to shift gears to a challenging essay I read yesterday by Schuon, called Substance: Subject and Object. He'll get us out of this mess!
First of all, as we always say, Subject and Object are not a vicious and sterile dualism but a friendly and fruitful complementarity. The complementary dance between them proceeds all the way up and all the way down. But of the two, the Subject is obviously prior:
The subject as such takes precedence over the object as such: the consciousness of a creature able to conceive the star-filled heavens is greater than space and the heavenly bodies...
Carl Sagan can talk all he wants about those billions and billions of stars, but all of astronomy pales in significance next to the astronomer. Ultimately we are not contained by the galaxies, but rather, vice versa. The cosmos itself isn't even big -- or small -- except in reference to us:
Man is situated, spatially speaking, between the "infinitely big" and the "infinitely small"..., so that it is his subjectivity and not a quality of the objective world that creates the line of demarcation. If we have an impression of being tiny in stellar space, it is solely because what is big is far more accessible to us than what is small, which quickly eludes the grasp of our senses... (emphasis mine).
So, man is situated between -- and defines -- the Very Big and Very Small. And not only. For he is also the "point of junction between two infinitely more important dimensions, namely, the outward and the inward." Indeed, "it is precisely by virtue of the dimension of inwardness, which opens onto the Absolute and so onto the Infinite, that man is quasi-divine."
That's a bold statement. And yet, ultimately soph-evident. There is a world and there are witnesses, "otherwise the Universe would be an unknown space filled with blind stones and not a world perceived under a multitude of aspects." For
Where there are objects, there must also be subjects: creatures that are witnesses of things form an indissoluble part of creation.
There exist not only "knowable things" but "beings endowed with knowledge in varying degrees." And whether you like it or not, "the summit-degree is man, at least for our world," behind or before or above which is "the absolute Witness -- at once transcendent and immanent -- of all things..." There is nothing magical or miraculous per se about this assertion. Again, it's just a matter of returning the cosmos to bright-side up.