August 8, 2017 JV

If you don’t Mind, it doesn’t Matter

Engage hearts and mindghost in the shells.  Think outside the box.  Shift your paradigm.  Break through.  Let go.  Dream big.  Just how many different admonishments to transcend, exist?  We’ve all seen just how crucial this is to creativity, problem-solving and life in general, but what does it actually mean to “transcend” and how is it possible?  Let’s jump.

I recently watched the movie “Ghost in the Shell” featuring Scarlett Johansen.  Visually stunning, this film was a modern take on an ancient concept.  Among a plethora of examples like 2001, a Space Odyssey, Terminator, the Bicentennial man, I Robot and Avatar, the Ghost in the Shell personifies (please pardon the anthropomorphism) Hollywood’s obsession with the age-old question: “what does it mean to be human?”

So how ancient is this mind versus matter contradistinction?  Ancient Greek philosophers Plato, AristoAristotle and Platotle and Socrates contended that the human soul or mind is distinct and separate from the body, creating a mind-body dualism.  Atomists Democritus and Leucippus proposed a radically different materialistic model.  Although they did not allow for an intelligence to explain the organisation of the world, they did allow for a soul composed of exceedingly fine spherical atoms.

Naturally, descriptions of the soul have advanced since these ancient times, but the bipolar views still remain in play.  Materialists, like Christopher Hitchens argue “I don’t have a body, I am a body,” essentially relegating the concept of the soul to be illusory; a complex neurological state built solely upon the firing of brain synapses.  Dualists, like authors George MacDonald and CS Lewis have countered this view with statements like “You do not have a soul.  You are a soul; you have a body.”  The big question is which one is more plausibly true?  Which view best answers the key questions in life and conforms more closely to reality?

Materialism is the simpler of the two views but requires humanity to be subject to determinism.  If there is no soul, no part of humanity that transcends the material world, then there is no such thing as free-will.  We are therefore, locked into a future that is pre-determined by naturalism (random mutation and natural selection) and any concept of free will is simply illusory.  The Matrix is all there is; no machines, no Nebuchadnezzar, no Zion.

Another major issue with the materialistic view is the lack of explanatory power when it comes to describing the beautiful complexity resident within the mind.  Accepting the evolution of such majestic complexity through random mutation and natural selection and lacking any design input is akin to acknowledging the plausibility of a dictionary emerging from explosions in a printing press.

The existence of a soul that transcends the material body requires the existence of a design intent beyond naturalism; beyond time and space.  With that as a possibility, all other questions – origin, purpose, free will and destiny all find their answers within a coherent model.

Therefore, the mind is either the end result of one of two possible routes:

  1. Bertrand Russell’s “accidental collocation of atoms” resulting in a human DNA molecule with 3.1 Billion bits of information and where “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music” (quote by Richard Dawkins); or
  2. Human life (including the complexity of the mind) as a result of intelligent design.

As I argued in there is no way to explain the mind’s ability to transcend under naturalism.  The mind is so beautifully complex that we cannot even understand and assess cognition, let alone the amazing subconscious or Claxton’s “undermind.”  It’s worth repeating: Noam Chomsky argued that “mathematical capacities [for example] could not have developed by natural selection; it’s impossible, because everybody’s got them, and nobody’s ever used them, except for some very tiny fringe of people in very recent times.  Plainly, they developed in some other way.[1]”  Thinking outside the box or assuming the third person position (thinking about thinking) is inherent to humans.  It’s part of what separates us from all other creatures.

If hearts and minds are merely illusions created by the firing of synapses and humans are all determined, then why bother with engagement?  Why attempt to get people working together to deliver a better outcome?  It’s simply more practical and cost-effective to tell everyone what their role is and to expect them to do as instructed.  If they rebel, they can’t help it; they’re determined to be that way.  They are simply human resources, and like worn out gears, they too can be replaced.  Your project will definitely save thousands on “change management.”

I consider myself to be a rational person, using reason, evidence and logic to develop my thoughts and argue my position.  I have been involved in so many improvement projects with groups of people over the years that I’ve lost count.  However, in every one of these, I have thought deeply about the crucial factors necessary to engage key stakeholders and wondered what I could have done to achieve a better result.  I will endeavour to continue to explore and learn about the change phenomenon until I retire.  There is one thing though, that I’ve learnt for sure; change is not simple because it involves people.

Now, I also understand the draw of confirmation bias, so I try to stay neutral when it comes to absorbing information and selecting between competing conclusions.  After decades of experience in management consulting, I have discovered that people require a much broader set of skills than I first imagined in order to make effective joint decisions and come to agreements.  People also need to understand a few things about themselves and human nature (the change elephant).  We may think that others will think like us and that they can be convinced with rational thought and logic.  It’s not the case!  Blaise Pascal told us that “All men are almost led to believe not of proof, but by attraction.”  I tend to agree with him.  People can be stubborn, but we can also be tenacious.

If the mind is an illusion, does it even make sense to consider this question?  If we have no will, no purpose, no meaning, why bother reading this article at all or leaving a dissenting comment?  (Please note – I am happy to discuss alternate views).

Neo plugged inPonder this: what is more real – mind or matter?  Do you believe that the soul is an illusion and that the mind is simply the end result of the firing of synapses?  This is your decision to make; or is it?  Are you predetermined to think that you are predetermined?  Your ability to lead people and to adequately deal with future challenges is contingent on deciphering this conundrum.  If you don’t mind the entailments of materialism, then don’t worry, nothing else matters.


[1] The Science of Language: Interviews with James McGilvray.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012

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