Introduction to ARE YOU OR ARE YOU NOT

There is no question mark at the end of the title  because it is up to you to decide whether it is, or is not, a question, and if so, how would you answer it? Or does it have an answer?

Science Writer Rita Carter, apparently asking this as a question, settles the issue by saying you are a machine. More than that: you are a programmable machine. Your belief that you are persons – that is to say, a free agents – is a mistaken idea that is “deeply ingrained because it prevents you from falling into a suicidally fatalistic state of mind…it is one of the brain’s most powerful aids to survival.”[1] The only reason you think you are a person instead of a machine is that you can’t stand the idea that you are a machine so you have created an illusion for yourself to keep from committing suicide. If you really believed it you would no longer want to live. Future generations, she continues, “will take for granted that we are programmable machines just as we take for granted the fact that the earth is round.”1 But until then, you will continue to consider yourself as a person even though you aren’t.

A very careful look at Carter’s view through a logical microscope shows that it is full of fundamental errors of reasoning. Nevertheless, her idea of what people are is a good place to introduce the main theme of my book ARE YOU OR ARE YOU NOT. The theme is this: if, like Carter, you agree that you are a machine, you are being fooled by what has been promoted over the past half-century or longer as the dominant paradigm of our time: a paradigm which subtly and unconsciously governs the way those within a great deal of world culture agree to think of themselves, of others, and in general of what is real and what is not.

It is the paradigm of what is called technically mechanistic reductionism, which says that physics and the mathematical equations of physics are the window, and the only window, through which we see the true nature of reality. I call this the dominant paradigm, in contrast to what this book, with your assistance along the way, sets out to find. What we will be seeking, and learning to understand, is not the dominant way of understanding ourselves and how we fit into the world, but the alternative paradigm.

The dominant paradigm turns everything into space, time, matter and machinery, then with a turn of the wrist, turns machinery into “artificial intelligence,” and next argues that persons are the simply organic intelligent machinery. Everything, including life, consciousness, and personhood, is reduced to mechanism. But the ultimate result of this confused and arbitrary elevating of physical science to the status of an oracle is full of dangers. Furthermore it is wrong. Belief in the dominant paradigm results from a misconstrual of the science of physics. Instead of being understood as a useful tool in the service of life and subordinate to life, physics, which cannot explain life, has promoted itself as the window through which we must see the fundamental character of everything, and everything we can observe through the window of physics is dead. Whatever appears to be alive is a result of accidental groupings of dead matter into a form programmed, again accidentally, to seem alive by trying to avoid destruction and running from danger – for no explicable reason.

As one physicist has said, reality is nothing but “atoms and empty space.” And of course such things are not alive. Life, however, comes first, and a science which denies life in favor of mechanism undercuts its own reason for existence. With a hubris unmatched by that of Achilles at Troy, physics tells us it will soon provide us with a “Theory of Everything.” That should be enough to set the alarm bells ringing. If someone comes around telling you they have found the “Theory of Everything,” you should be very, very suspicious. And if you find everyone around you buying into the hype, you should become shocked and raise an alarm. Unfortunately, almost no one is raising the alarm, too many are too deaf to hear it, and too many are lapping it up without noticing the ache it is causing.

Don’t be fooled. Accept the challenge of this book and follow along with me as I seek the elusive, hidden, and suppressed alternative paradigm.

Stan V. McDaniel


[1] Carter 1998, 207. To make the quote more personal, I have substituted “you” for “us” but Carter of course refers to all human beings. All of “us” are machines.


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