The “blind spot” in science that’s fueling a crisis of meaning (Adam Frank and Marcelo Gleiser and Evan Thompson, 3/07/24, Big Think)

Cosmology tells us that we can know the Universe and its origin only from our inside position, not from the outside. We live within a causal bubble of information — the distance light traveled since the Big Bang — and we cannot know what lies outside. Quantum physics suggests that the nature of subatomic matter cannot be separated from our methods of questioning and investigating it. In biology, the origin and nature of life and sentience remain a mystery despite marvelous advances in genetics, molecular evolution, and developmental biology. Ultimately, we cannot forgo relying on our own experience of being alive when we seek to comprehend the phenomenon of life. Cognitive neuroscience drives the point home by indicating that we cannot fully fathom consciousness without experiencing it from within.

Each of these fields ultimately runs aground on its own paradoxes of inner versus outer, and observer versus observed, that collectively turn on the conundrum of how to understand awareness and subjectivity in a Universe that was supposed to be fully describable in objective scientific terms without reference to the mind. The striking paradox is that science tells us both that we’re peripheral in the cosmic scheme of things and that we’re central to the reality we uncover. Unless we understand how this paradox arises and what it means, we’ll never be able to understand science as a human activity, and we’ll keep defaulting to a view of nature as something to gain mastery over.

Each of the cases just mentioned — cosmology and the origin of the Universe, quantum physics and the nature of matter, biology and the nature of life, cognitive neuroscience and the nature of consciousness — represents more than an individual scientific field. Collectively they represent our culture’s grand scientific narratives about the origin and structure of the Universe and the nature of life and the mind. They underpin the ongoing project of a global scientific civilization. They constitute a modern form of mythos: They are the stories that orient us and structure our understanding of the world.

For these reasons, the paradoxes these fields face are more than mere intellectual or theoretical puzzles. They signal the larger unreconciled perspectives of the knower and the known, mind and nature, subjectivity and objectivity, whose fracture menaces our project of civilization altogether. Our present-day technologies, which drive us ever closer to existential threats, concretize this split by treating everything — including, paradoxically, awareness and knowing themselves — as an objectifiable, informational quantity or resource. It’s precisely this split — the divorce between knower and known and the suppression of the knower in favor of the known — that constitutes our meaning crisis. […]

We call the source of the meaning crisis the Blind Spot. At the heart of science lies something we do not see that makes science possible, just as the blind spot lies at the heart of our visual field and makes seeing possible. In the visual blind spot sits the optic nerve; in the scientific blind spot sits direct experience — that by which anything appears, shows up, or becomes available to us. It is a precondition of observation, investigation, exploration, measurement, and justification. Things appear and become available thanks to our bodies and their feeling and perceiving capacities. Direct experience is bodily experience.

We collapse the wave function.