The common-sense explanation of what I am may not be the entire truth.
In one sense, natural science – physics, chemistry, biology, and so forth – has been one of the most successful collective endeavors in the history of the human species.
In another sense, it hasn't.
One way science hasn't been successful is that for practically every problem that it solves, it seems to create another problem. For example, science has greatly reduced world hunger and increased life expectancy among humans, but at the same time wreaked havoc on Earth's ecosystem, extinguishing millions of species of plants and animals, and resulting in climate change which now further threatens the health of the planet.
Another way that science hasn't been particularly successful is in answering questions of meaning and purpose. So, for example, science can help you design an automatic weapon capable of shattering human tissue at the pull of a trigger. It can also help you design sophisticated surgical equipment and techniques capable of healing that same human tissue. However, can science help us understand why one of these actions may be desirable and the other undesirable? That's an open question, and many people (including me) would suggest that you give up the search.
A key reason for both the successes and the failures of science rests on its founding principle of materialism.
Materialism is the assumption that the physical world – that is, the world described by physics through mathematics – is the primary reality.
As a founding assumption at the core of science, materialism helps to account for the successes and failures of science. It has also become the widely-accepted, common-sense explanation of reality.
It goes almost unquestioned that when we use our senses to perceive, there is, indeed, a world out there to perceive. If you and I can both see a coffee cup on the table between us, we readily assume that the cup is really there, an object that is separate from both of us.
We also assume, because we perceive each other, that you and I, too, are separate beings. We can observe each other's bodies and assume that, whoever we are, each of us is separately contained inside our separate bodies – me here, and you over there.
But let's say that you're open to the idea that this common-sense view may not tell the whole story of reality.
Or maybe you're concerned that materialism may even provide a false or misleading narrative, contributing to human unhappiness, isolation, alienation, and even destruction.
Or perhaps your intuition tells you that love is far more central to the human experience than a strictly materialist explanation would support.
In any case, if you feel open to exploring the possibility that there may be another way to interpret our first-hand experience of the world in a way that provides insights not available in the common-sense, materialist, science-centered view of reality, go ahead and jump ahead to Insight 4.