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Which came first — mind or matter?

Regarding Jacob Haqq-Misra’s “A better theory of intelligent design” (Ideas, Sept. 11), in which he proposed that extraterrestrials were intelligent designers spawning life on Earth, I was so pleased with his conclusion that “such an imaginative exercise will push students toward the frontiers of inquiry.”

How about the imaginative exercise to consider a fundamental information principle at work in the universe, such as the realm of ideas of which great Greek philosophers spoke?

I wonder why so many people, including imaginative scientists, can’t seem to wrap their heads around the concept of intelligence in the universe separate from a personification, such as intelligent extraterrestrial beings or a deified being.

Max Planck, pioneer of quantum physics, said that “mind is the matrix of all matter.” Legendary physicists such as Sir James Jeans, almost 90 years ago, said, “The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.” They weren’t alone then, and many more scientists since have come to nonreligious conclusions about mind, or consciousness, or intelligence as primary and fundamental. Neuroscientist Roger Sperry, a Nobel laureate, said consciousness is primary and causal.


I’m glad that science is open to intelligent extraterrestrial beings. How about if we exercise our imagination to challenge the assumption that intelligence or consciousness — inexplicably and undemonstrated — emerged from physical matter?

Jane Barrash
Executive director
Continuum Center