Charles Sherlock

Robert Wiles: “The Mind in the Matrix: What the Complexity of the Universe Tells Us About Meaning”

Book Review by Charles Sherlock

Cooma, NSW: Information Press, 2019; 152 pages
ISBN 9870987562227, 1st edition, paperback

“Information” is the key to this most interesting book, whatever other issues arise. Robert Wiles argues throughout that much scientific and philosophical work does not take adequate account of information as foundational to material existence, especially human. He makes a very strong case for the significance of the “Infosphere,” which shifted my thinking—not something that happens very often!

The author’s motivation, however—hinted at in the Foreword by Professor Charles Massey, set out a little more in the Prologue, and disclosed fully in the concluding chapter—is to support an argument for the existence of the “Creator God.” My problem with this new form of the “argument from design” is akin to my difficulties with Aquinas, Descartes, and others who have walked similar paths. On the one hand, poor design is not confronted; and on the other, the deity so deduced all too easily becomes our servant. Given the book’s distinctive emphasis on information, I found it hard to recognise its argument leading to faith in the God revealed in the Word made flesh. The conclusion feels imposed rather than evoked.

Having got that off my chest, let me warmly commend the core of this book, chapters two to six. I am a life-long theologian, perhaps too sensitive to the problems with arguments “from below.” But such a calling means being interested in the way all branches of learning inform the human condition. There is much in these chapters of both great interest and significant value.

Chapter Two explores the distinctive place of information in mathematics, physics, and cosmology, and the four forces of the Standard Model’s explanation of the fundamental structure of matter. In the process, Wiles argues for an “Information insertion” model to undergird current reliance on the Big Bang concept, which he sees as lacking the prior information needed for its existence.

Chapter Three pays close attention to the constants needed for the universe to exist. Of particular interest is a diagram (p. 52) of the “Tangible Domain,” mapping the space-time fabric of the universe with a focus on the information streams involved.

Chapter Four turns from the macro to the micro levels of existence: life and DNA. A convincing argument is made for the need for information prior to the first living cell. The author affirms micro-evolution (i.e., within the same species) but questions evolution more widely understood.

Chapters Five and Six consider consciousness and mind, setting “man” within the range of all living things. The “Tangible Domain” diagram adds “Cyberspace,” on the physical/digital side of the “Space-Time fabric,” and “Mindspace” on the human self-awareness side.

Chapter Seven, the concluding chapter, draws together the previous chapters, completing the “Domains” diagram with the “Quantum Domain” and the “Information Fabric” that is timeless (p. 120). The following quotation (p. 111) exemplifies the author’s overall perspective:

Thus information, even though it is often not easily identifiable, is the entity from which everything else is made. However, our universe lacks an internal mechanism to generate this information. Therefore, the information must have originated from somewhere outside our physical Cosmos, a separate domain from whence the information to specify all energy/matter was imported. As the source of everything in the Universe, this information must have preceded the formation of the Universe.

The chapter goes on to argue against explanations (including, surprisingly, “Intelligent Design”) of “Information injection” other than God. The negative arguments are well done but how this alternative is argued leaves a lot to be desired. The writing in the last half-dozen pages is less than careful. For example, does the above quotation deny ex nihilo, or imply that the universe is an extension of the divine? And Appendix 1, encouraging the reader to see themselves and their potential as the centre of what matters, is a worry.

A further concern is the author’s frequent citation of well-known scientists who identify as other than Christian, with quotations that seem to support his case—Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies, for example. None are misquoted, and all are documented in endnotes and indexed fully, but—and I may be wrong—I became uneasy at the way they seem to be “used.”

I would love this significant book to go through a revised edition, in which the author— unafraid to acknowledge his Christian worldview—presents the importance of taking the “Infosphere” with full seriousness, and leaves “argument from design” alone. This is what the present book’s subtitle promises, with its focus on meaning. The “Domains” diagram shaped over the second half of the book is very helpful in seeing the universe more wholistically, for example, as are analyses of aspects of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis, “Multi-Universe” and other contemporary ideas, and more besides.

Such a book would not only inform Christian and other believers, but invite others to start to see, in their own way, the hints all around that “life, the universe and everything” are creatures. The way of grace evokes rather than imposes truth.