Tom Wolfe anticipated the failure of modern neuroscientists to discover the soul in his 1996 essay “Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died”.
If I were a college student today, I don’t think I could resist going into neuroscience. Here we have the two most fascinating riddles of the twenty–first century: the riddle of the human mind and the riddle of what happens to the human mind when it comes to know itself absolutely. In any case, we live in an age in which it is impossible and pointless to avert your eyes from the truth.
Ironically, said Nietzsche, this unflinching eye for truth, this zest for skepticism, is the legacy of Christianity (for complicated reasons that needn’t detain us here). Then he added one final and perhaps ultimate piece of irony in a fragmentary passage in a notebook shortly before he lost his mind (to the late–nineteenth–century’s great venereal scourge, syphilis). He predicted that eventually modern science would turn its juggernaut of skepticism upon itself, question the validity of its own foundations, tear them apart, and self–destruct. I thought about that in the summer of 1994 when a group of mathematicians and computer scientists held a conference at the Santa Fe Institute on “Limits to Scientific Knowledge.” The consensus was that since the human mind is, after all, an entirely physical apparatus, a form of computer, the product of a particular genetic history, it is finite in its capabilities. Being finite, hardwired, it will probably never have the power to comprehend human existence in any complete way. It would be as if a group of dogs were to call a conference to try to understand The Dog. They could try as hard as they wanted, but they wouldn’t get very far. Dogs can communicate only about forty notions, all of them primitive, and they can’t record anything. The project would be doomed from the start. The human brain is far superior to the dog’s, but it is limited nonetheless. So any hope of human beings arriving at some final, complete, self–enclosed theory of human existence is doomed, too.
This, science’s Ultimate Skepticism, has been spreading ever since then. Over the past two years even Darwinism, a sacred tenet among American scientists for the past seventy years, has been beset by…doubts. Scientists—not religiosi—notably the mathematician David Berlinski (“The Deniable Darwin,” Commentary, June 1996) and the biochemist Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box, 1996), have begun attacking Darwinism as a mere theory, not a scientific discovery, a theory woefully unsupported by fossil evidence and featuring, at the core of its logic, sheer mush. (Dennett and Dawkins, for whom Darwin is the Only Begotten, the Messiah, are already screaming. They’re beside themselves, utterly apoplectic. Wilson, the giant, keeping his cool, has remained above the battle.) By 1990 the physicist Petr Beckmann of the University of Colorado had already begun going after Einstein. He greatly admired Einstein for his famous equation of matter and energy, E=mc2, but called his theory of relativity mostly absurd and grotesquely untestable. Beckmann died in 1993. His Fool Killer’s cudgel has been taken up by Howard Hayden of the University of Connecticut, who has many admirers among the upcoming generation of Ultimately Skeptical young physicists. The scorn the new breed heaps upon quantum mechanics (“has no real–world applications”…”depends entirely on fairies sprinkling goofball equations in your eyes”), Unified Field Theory (“Nobel worm bait”), and the Big Bang Theory (“creationism for nerds”) has become withering. If only Nietzsche were alive! He would have relished every minute of it!
Recently I happened to be talking to a prominent California geologist, and she told me: “When I first went into geology, we all thought that in science you create a solid layer of findings, through experiment and careful investigation, and then you add a second layer, like a second layer of bricks, all very carefully, and so on. Occasionally some adventurous scientist stacks the bricks up in towers, and these towers turn out to be insubstantial and they get torn down, and you proceed again with the careful layers. But we now realize that the very first layers aren’t even resting on solid ground. They are balanced on bubbles, on concepts that are full of air, and those bubbles are being burst today, one after the other.”
I suddenly had a picture of the entire astonishing edifice collapsing and modern man plunging headlong back into the primordial ooze. He’s floundering, sloshing about, gulping for air, frantically treading ooze, when he feels something huge and smooth swim beneath him and boost him up, like some almighty dolphin. He can’t see it, but he’s much impressed. He names it God.
It’s one of his better essays. Read the whole thing. What it eventually comes down to is the obvious and incontrovertible fact that science cannot explain that which falls outside its conceptual limits. As human souls, we are projections of the infinite into material reality, which is why both physics and neuroscience have been unable to quantify, or even meaningfully describe, the phenomena of life and consciousness. Scientists will only ever be able to wrestle with the materially observable effects of those phenomena, because they lack the ability to directly observe the infinite.
And one of the primary goals of the Deceiver is to convince those projections that they have no connection to the infinite, and by doing so, eliminate it.