The Collapse of Materialism: Visions of Science, Dreams of God by Philip Comella
Reviewed by David Lorimer
The ideology of scientific materialism not only dominates science, but has far-reaching implications for society as well. Yet, since the 1930s, leading physicists have asserted the primacy of mind and consciousness, while our understanding of matter itself has been totally transformed. In this well argued book, lawyer Philip Comella issues a fundamental challenge to this dominant worldview by asserting that the assumption of a mind independent world is flawed, as also proposed in Bernardo Kastrup’s Brief Peaks Beyond reviewed in No 118, p. 52. Instead, he proposes a universal mind: we are the one mind, and we are dreaming the world. From a philosophical point of view, the interesting implication of this view is that it overcomes the charge of solipsism always levelled against traditional forms of idealism. The postulate of a shared universal mind can explain why we project and perceive the same reality.
Materialism assumes that our essence is a body rather than a mind, but our immediate experience is as a conscious creative mind that also has the capacity to dream. Hence Comella’s proposal that both our dreams and everyday experience share a single source, the mind. Sir James Jeans is famous for his remark that the world is beginning to look more like a great thought than a great machine, and here he is quoted as saying that ‘creations of an individual mind may reasonably be called less substantial than creations of a universal mind’, although arguably the same process is involved. Interestingly, this is exactly the proposal of Walter Russell in his many books (the author does not seem to be aware of his work), that we live in a creating rather than a creative world and that the process of creating through mind desire is identical in both the universal and individual minds. We can understand this through our own experience of planning events or imagining and materialising or works of art. The power of mind is suggested not only through dreaming, but also through hallucinations, synchronicity, psychokinesis and the placebo effect. Comella quotes a fascinating experience of Goethe when he saw himself coming towards himself on a horse in an unfamiliar suit only to find himself on the same path eight years later wearing the suit he had seen. The mind has the capacity to conjure up multiple possibilities, only one of which will actually happen.
In relation to science, Comella’s central and extremely significant point is that by postulating a mind independent world, ‘physical reality left itself has no mind, no purpose, and no means to organise itself into the mathematical harmonies that constitute nature.’ (p. 79) This obliges scientists to come up with theories to explain how a hypothetically independent world created itself from nothing. This creates a paradox: ‘material science separates mind from matter, but then proceeds to catalogue the laws by which this mindless matter organised itself to the limit of mathematical order. Matter is dumb but the laws of nature are brilliant.’ Comella’s theory is that ‘the mind of God is the origin of both the material world and the scientific theories that seek to explain the world’s operation.’ (p. 79) Without the mind of God, the minds of scientists have to provide theories consistent with their assumptions, which, in the case of multiverses and many worlds theory, violate the law of parsimony in a desperate attempt to avoid postulating a universal mind. As the author points out, matter organising itself into the symmetries of nature leads to a fine tuning problem and ultimately either to the multiverse or an intelligent force in the cosmos, which the premise of scientific materialism already excludes. Moreover, if one assumes that both matter and the laws of nature are given, then there is no need to explain what has been assumed. This all leads Comella to the conclusion that ‘we must rise beyond the misperception that the physical world has an existence independent of the mind in order to achieve a unified theory of the cosmos. (p. 142)
He then examines the implications of his theory for quantum physics and evolutionary biology. Quantum theory points in the direction of the primacy of mind and consciousness, but as yet has not arrived at the idea that it is our own united mind that is projecting reality. There is still a tendency to think in terms of individual minds. For Comella, ‘only the mind can weave this dream into the interlocking, mathematically precise patterns we see out in the world.’ (p. 173) It is the mind that imposes the order before the theorising begins and scientists themselves are part of this continual creative process.
Next, Comella applies these ideas to the key elements of Darwinian evolutionary biology. Natural selection is by definition a mindless process, but he argues that the second step in the argument is simply a statement of a certain set of conditions (not an ordering mechanism) after the production of variety. Here he could have enhanced his analysis by including the work of Lovelock and Margulis that postulates a co-evolutionary process between organism and environment through a complex feedback process. In other words, it is not simply the environment imposing conditions on a passive organism. Once again, evolutionary biology provides its own mind component through theorising – Ernst Mayr was uneasy about the use of the word selection as implying any kind of intelligence. In addition, much theorising, including by Richard Dawkins, is a thought experiment working backwards from the outcome or result to postulate a plausible mindless mechanism.
The last part explores the implications of the one shared universal mind hypothesis for our collective future. To the extent that a critical number of us arrive at this insight, the future will be transformed to one of peace and brotherhood. Comella is optimistic about this prospect on the basis of his conviction that we do indeed share one mind and so have the inherent capacity to realise this. Interestingly, Walter Russell reaches an identical conclusion, citing as a fundamental misconception that human bodies have separate minds and souls instead of the One-Mind Soul having innumerable bodies. We have the collective imaginative power to create a future that works for all of us but we must collectively choose to do so in order to dream it into existence. After all, we have dreamed and manifested our existing world in the same way.
As Larry Dossey also argues in his book One Mind, there are many pointers to the explanatory power of this idea, which was also developed by the New Thought movement over a hundred years ago. The best chance of a breakthrough in the direction that Comella suggests is most likely to emerge from a combination of physics and parapsychology rather than biology or philosophy. Even though common sense and science make naive realism seem plausible, the careful thought put into this probing book will make readers think again.