WHAT IS CONSCIOUSNESS?
A New Copernican Revolution
A New and True Theory of Consciousness
Know Thy Self And Thou Shalt Know
God And The Universe
My background is slightly different than Nathan’s: physics, life sciences and philosophy. But we share an understanding of both consciousness and the universe so that this blog seems the right place to post a new and what I consider a true theory of consciousness. So I will begin at the beginning:
My thesis in a nutshell
Consciousness is our new frontier in modern science. Most scientists believe that it can be explained by existing scientific principles. I say that it cannot; that it calls most present-day scientific principles into question; that consciousness is to modern science just exactly what Light was to classical physics: Our fundamental assumptions about the nature of Reality thus have to change.
Modern science is already in deep trouble
In 2004, Roger Penrose, mathematician and physicist, wrote a 1,000-page book about physics, The Road to Reality. In it, Roger concluded that the whole of physics – with all of its mathematical laws, theories, principles, and explanations – has failed to find the road to Reality. That indeed physics does not even know what physical reality really is. Towards the end of his life, Richard Feynman, a most inquisitive of physicists wrote that maybe the whole thing is wrong! So I say the time is ripe for revolution and now comes consciousness into this picture. The prevailing faith of most modern scientists is emergence:
a. Consciousness emerges only at the end of evolution – in us and a few of the higher animals when matter attains ‘a certain state of complexity.
b. Consciousness is a by-product of brain activity- produced by neurons so that it is nothing real in itself. It is the brain that really does the work and produces consciousness.
As William James put this (not his) position: “The mind is to the brain as the shadow to the runner. It runs beside him but never influences his stride.” So far no one has shown how the brain produces the mind. All that we have been give is correlation, dualism, if even that.
Chalmers: Consciousness fits uneasily into our concept of nature
Either we have to revise our notions of consciousness or revise our understanding of nature. I propose that our notions of consciousness are going to change the way we look at everything. I believe a theory of consciousness, the truth about consciousness, will revise our prevailing universal picture and re-write present–day science in order to understand it. It’s indeed time to revise our understanding of nature and the universe, as well as our concept of matter that has been so many centuries in the making.
My evidence – the near death experience
None of the so-called ‘paranormal’ phenomena can be accounted for by present science and so they are virtually ignored by most scientists. But I single out just one of them: the near-death experience. This has been observed in many cardiac wards and has been well described by Pim van Lommel and associates, (Lancet 1992). The near-death experience is a key to the disentangling of relationships between mind and brain, and between mind and matter. The body in the bed is brain dead. The EKG is flat but the patient is conscious, somehow alive and well, hovering at the ceiling, watching the doctors working over his body below and able to see without eyes, hear without ears, and think and remember without a brain. The patient is able to read dials which could not have seen from the bed, see events in the corridor outside the room and sometimes even into other rooms of the hospital. These observations subsequently were confirmed by the doctors with evidence as good as it gets, namely that the patient really was out of his body. In one such episode, the patient observed a ball point pen fall from a clipboard and roll under the radiator that even the doctors had not seen. The simple core experience has been observed in hundreds of patients, a repeatable experiment if you will. What do these facts really mean?
a. That consciousness is totally separable from the body, independent from it, and something real in its own right.
b. That all of our real powers, our sense of self, are in our consciousness.
Neuroscience is a field in which decisive experiments are few and far between. But the near-death experience is one of them. This phenomenon is the experimentum crucis for modern science. It cannot be explained by any existing scientific principles.It calls many of those principles that have not changed for 3,000 years into question. It is the death knell for every form of materialism, scientific or otherwise. It refutes many modern tightly-held and vigorously defended theories of consciousness:
a) Consciousness is something produced by neurons (Christof Koch).
b) Consciousness is identical with the brain, as identity theorists like Francis Crick like to assert.
c) Consciousness is just the computational organ of the brain (Stephen Pinker).
d) Consciousness is some helpless ‘ghost in the machine’ (Gilbert Ryle).
e) Consciousness is a bundle of impressions inside the machine or a biological process like any other (photosynthesis or digestion). It is something produced by neurobiological processes in the brain, (John Searle).
Contrary to the above, what if consciousness is clearly something Real in its own right? Indeed, it could appear to be the very organizing principle of the body since all of our real powers are in it. Now that we do know that consciousness is something Real in its own right, we can have a science of consciousness – as we could not have had a science of mere shadows.
The near-death experience is a threshold to deeper knowing
This has radical implications for the way we see the world around us or for our universe picture. Most people and most modern scientists think that matter, the hard stuff all around us, is what is only ‘really Real,’ the essence of the universe. This implies that consciousness is secondary, produced by matter. The near-death experience suggests that this is cannot be the case, and that we have to radically re-think this fundamental assumption about the nature of Reality. The near-death experience cannot really be explained, contained, accommodated or accounted for by any existing explanatory principles of modern science. Indeed, it calls those explanatory principles into question. It calls into question our major ideas about matter. It calls into question our notions that we are surrounded by but material objects or things. It calls into question our view that matter is what is exclusively ‘really Real’ in the universe. Thus we need to rethink the very foundations of notions of the universe and thus of modern science itself.
We are in the position of Copernicus
Remember Nicholas Copernicus (1543)? Copernicus was working with Ptolemy’s epicycles, and with the assumption that the Earth was the center of the universe. It was then believed that the sun, planets and stars all revolved around the Earth or at least until his calculations thereof became so unwieldy, that Copernicus decided to try things the other way around! By placing the sun at the center of things… lo!…all of his data fell much more neatly into place!
A “new Copernican revolution“
I propose that like Copernicus, we make a simple inversion of fundamental terms, that human beings are not unique in being the only animal with consciousness. We know consciousness only in ourselves and cannot see it in anything else. But suppose whatever we find in ourselves inside is there in everything else also! Then we can propose a ‘New Copernican Revolution’ of fundamental terms, and through an evolutionary inference ‘backwards’ and a ‘reduction upwards.’ Evolution makes us continuous with everything else. Consciousness would not be in us if it were not in the animals; and not in the animals if it were not in molecules and atoms. A physicist in the film What the Bleep Do We Know? stated that ‘Consciousness is the ground of Being.’ I propose a ‘The Green Theory’ in order that we may discuss it: that consciousness and not matter is ‘first and fundamental’ in the universe, and that this consciousness is what is ‘the really Real’ in the scheme of things. Consciousness is there in the universe from the very beginning. Everything has it and all the true explanatory principles of the universe are in it. This includes all of the true causalities belonging to consciousness and not really matter. Now, you need to think about this and what it really means for us!
It means a radical new view of reality
We live presently in a matter/mechanism, chance and necessity universe of ‘pushes and pulls’ that function ‘blind’ – the great machine universe. I propose a simple inversion of fundamental terms – in fact, a paradigm shift of epic proportions and with staggering implications for every department of thought, for civilization itself, for our lived lives. What we are really doing is re-writing our concept of matter so very many centuries in the making. From this re-writing of matter, everything then follows and I daresay that this term ‘consciousness’ can be applied to intractable problems in science, and to those in other disciplines of the modern world, so that they will go down like a line of dominoes. For the modern world is in the grip of a false metaphysics, a false theory of matter, and the root source of most of our difficulties in our realms of life. So I propose a paradigm shift: that consciousness, and not matter is fundamental in the universe; that the entire universe is essentially consciousness, and not matter or spiritual and not material. I call it simply: The Consciousness Paradigm. This implies a new universe, not of chance and necessity nor of matter and mechanism but of what is conscious, awake, aware, intelligent, spirited, and creative. The stars? Could they be magnificent spiritual beings in physical form – why we love them so much? The Earth? Could the Earth, with all her bright array of living beings, be not some cleverly-wired machine or automata with so many board feet, but rather a conscious, intelligent, aware, awake, and living organism in itself – indeed a divine Gaia. So when we re-write the concept of matter, we also re-write the concept of the whole of nature. Now we can answer the question put by Roger Penrose: Just what is physical reality? The answer here is simple: Physical reality is an expression of consciousness that is fully spirited throughout. That is why it is so beautiful. What is matter? Matter is an expression of consciousness. Consciousness is ‘the really Real’ in the universe and from this re-write of matter, everything again follows, including a radical new universe picture, a new Earth picture. We sometimes presume ourselves to be conscious beings, surrounded by non-conscious beings, ‘things,’ including dogs and cats, trees, flowers and the like. The truth is that we are surrounded by conscious beings or living organisms as conscious as we are, not having our consciousness but conscious nonetheless.
What we are really seeing in the world around us
Material beings all around us as expressions of consciousness in a new concept of nature where all beings have consciousness and all beings are again the expression of consciousness. The whole of nature consists of interacting systems of consciousness. Consciousness exists within consciousness within consciousness like a Russian doll. Thus we have revised our concept of matter. But in fact this concept is so basic and so integral to our lives and at every level to civilization itself that all departments of thought are affected by it. All disciplines as well as all our ideas of everything are impacted.
There you have it – a new theory of consciousness
Consciousness is what is essential in the universe. It is there in the universe from the very beginning. Everything has it and all of the true causalities in the universe or true explanatory principles are in it. They belong to consciousness and not to matter. That is to say, consciousness, far from being a mere by-product of brain activity or some helpless ‘ghost in the machine is causal or is, in fact, the true causality in the universe. It is the real motor behind events. Now that we know consciousness is what is truly Real, we can have a science of it and finally ask a question of Archimedes: Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world. Here is the first part for moving the world is a science of consciousness. Now it remains to say more about that consciousness universe, how it works and what it ultimately means for everyone to consider the nature of consciousness itself. Stay tuned!