The following post was proposed , somewhat reluctantly, as a comment by one of our “silent readers”, on my “Collection of Comments on Comments”, one of Australia’s most eminent scientists, an Emeritus Professor of Macquarie University who prefers that people concentrate on what he says rather than on his credentials. His “comment” deserves a stand-alone post. He has opened a subject for discussion that goes far beyond the limited mental horizons, including mine, that most of us, believers and unbelievers both, reveal. I will attach my comment to his comment on my comments on comments, hoping that it will be the first of many comments far more insightful than mine.
“You ask, Frank : ‘Whoever said we were just animals ?’ I do, for one. We are happy to accept that other animals behave instinctively, but not humans. Why not ? Our brains work more or less the same way as, say, chimpanzees. So, if they are instinctive, why not us ? You say that you are not a programmed machine, but I suggest you really are, in as much as you have no control over your thoughts and actions. After all, you cannot have a thought unless the neural functions in your brain responsible for that thought have actually occurred. You cannot have the thought followed by the causes of the thought. Moreover, theoretical physicists (Brian Greene and his ilk, whom I hold in great awe) assure us that spacetime exists in its entirety, and consequently events in the past always exist, as do events in the future. Though we fondly imagine past, present and future as being separate, all is fixed in an existing spacetime continuum, and so we have no control over any of it. We just follow what Paul Davies called our life-path (or something like that) through spacetime.
What is so bad about this idea anyway ? You can still enjoy life for what it is, rather than a fantasy of it. You cannot predict future events (or our delusions of them) and so they are just as interesting and exciting as if you deluded yourself into believing that you can control the future. I am by no means depressed or confounded by the idea that I am an animal just like all the others, and am happy to take my place in the grand, though at times cruel and always indomitable process of life.
Of course that doesn’t mean that we don’t have feelings for each other, just as some other high primates do, nor that we haven’t evolved some sensible and caring attitudes for our welfare as close family and tribal groups. All I am saying is that apparently everything we do, the enjoyable and the nasty, is inevitable in spacetime.”