Consciousness

Scientific materialists claim that consciousness presents a ‘hard problem’ that will ultimately be solved by science demonstrating how consciousness is created by brain activity. Personally I think this is nonsense – consciousness lies outside the domain of science. In this post I explore what consciousness is through the lens of the philosophy of panpsychism, as presented in philosopher Christian de Quincey’s book Blind Spots.

Consciousness (or mind) is subjective, it is undetectable, is not measurable, and is not located in space.

Physical entities have extension in space, consist of matter-energy and can be measured by science.

Consciousness and matter/energy are the inner and outer of existence. They always go together. Consciousness is the capacity for knowing, feeling, being aware, making choices. It needs energy to act. Consciousness is pervasive throughout the universe, and goes ‘all the way down’ to the smallest components.

Consciousness gives meaning to the universe, gives an order that would otherwise dissipate through entropy, according to the laws of thermodynamics.

Consciousness provides a potential explanatory ‘mechanism’ for phenomena of action at a distance, such as intentional healing, remote communication, quantum interconnections and other well-documented phenomena – which provide great difficulty for science.

To me, this all seems rather more plausible than scientific materialism, and seems consistent with the world as I see it, and as it is reported by others.

Does this matter? Well yes, it is crucial. Scientific materialism and the relentless focus of materialist economics and everyday life on the outer, as opposed to the inner, is actually in the process of destroying the world it has created, through a lack of the wisdom that comes from inner focus. Do I need to mention the evident lack of sustainability again: global warming, pollution, wars, inequality, lack of concern for the poor etc.?

Do read Blind Spots or another of de Quincey’s books.

Featured image entitled ‘The path to consciousness’ is by Sar Maroof, via Wikimedia Commons

What’s primary?

I was interested in this post from The Two Doctors which brings philosophy into the consideration of wine tasting. He writes of the philosophy of  John Locke (1632-1704):

“Among Locke’s simple ideas is a distinction between those experiences that are primary qualities of objects and others that are secondary qualities. The distinction divides those qualities thought to be essential and inherent to all objects and those that are apparent only on account of the effect that the objects have on our senses. Primary qualities include solidity, shape, motion or rest, and number. Secondary qualities are those such as scent and taste. These are secondary because, according to Locke, they do not inhere/reside in the objects themselves, but are causally produced only in our minds by the effect of an object’s primary qualities upon our senses. Another way of conceiving them is to say primary qualities are objective (really exist) and secondary ones subjective (only exist in the minds of observers).”

This suggests an interesting point in history, where a judgement is applied to the inner/outer or subjective/objective polarity that lies at the heart of existence. In defining the objective (left brain) stuff as primary, and the subjective (right brain) stuff as merely secondary, Locke is applying a judgement that resounds in history, leading to the modern materialistic world and much denial of interiority and spirituality.

Locke could have expressed it the other way round, ie that the subjective is primary (really exists) and the objective merely secondary (only exists as a mental construct). This might have led to a world view where consciousness is seen as primary, rather than the material world. How different history might have been!

Of course, actually there’s no question of primary and secondary, we are speaking of two aspects of a fundamental polarity of existence.

What’s Living?

It seems the indoctrination starts early. At six-and-a-half years old, granddaughter brought home from school some beautifully drawn pictures marked with whether the objects shown are living or non-living. Trees, bushes and people are living; necklaces, houses, chairs and flags are non-living. We all recognise this because this is how we were brought up. It’s so obvious to us it even feels intuitively ‘right’. Yet does it bear scrutiny? Or is it part of the materialistic backdrop to our culture that has no basis in reality?

Consider the well-accepted theory of evolution, and the story of coalescing of planets around our solar system, the combination of atoms into molecules, molecules into bigger molecules, into viruses, bacteria, fungi and other primitive life forms, gradually increasing in complexity to plants, fishes, birds, animals and eventually human beings. At precisely what point in this process did the ‘living’ start? How can there be an answer to this question?

This is related to my post on materialism – if we accept that everything has an inner and an outer, then there is no artificial boundary between the living and the non-living. Obviously there are qualities of ‘livingness’ in those interiors that we recognise with immediate perception. There are other qualities that we have maybe become desensitised to, compared to earlier cultures that were more embedded in the stream of being, or perhaps the imaginal world in the terms of Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book reviewed in another post. (Maybe some of them were called gods?)

Let’s just consider the example of a river. Rivers are clearly coherent wholes that exhibit apparently intelligent activity, changing flow, changing channel, increasing or decreasing width according to circumstances. We even personify them, eg ‘old man river’. But the interior of a river is something we cannot logically comprehend. It does not mean it is not there, but it is well beyond petty human concerns. Just sit by the river for a few hours and you might begin to comprehend.

Then there is the earth and the solar system itself. How can we say these are not living beings, which has always been well understood in the ageless wisdom?

And then there’s the question of death, and what happens to the inner livingness…

The mystery is always greater than our verbal comprehension of it.

Featured image shows bonnet mold on feces, with dew
by Andrea massagli via Wikimedia Commons

 

Inner and Outer

Simple observation tells us that there are two aspects to life: inner experience and the outer world, subjective and objective. Our senses provide the link between the two, the inner perceives the outer.

We also recognise the life in other humans, beings in the animal world and, more subtly, insects, fish, the vegetable world, and so on. They clearly also have a ‘vital, living’ inner as well as a perceived form. Even places and spaces can have a clearly perceived atmosphere.

As far as I can see, Descartes came along and muddied the water, saying ‘I think therefore I am,’  when the reality is ‘I perceive therefore I am’ – thinking is something layered on top of this. This was part of the process that led to the creation of modern science and technology, and their focus on the objective, rather ignoring that inner subjective element. Quantity became all-important, to the exclusion of quality. Vitalism, that recognised the living spark within, was in the process rejected.

It seems at times that we live in a sort of half-world, glorifying science, technology, money, material goods, laws – but somehow disconnected from the qualities, beauty, truth and goodness that make it all worthwhile, indeed that make human life work sustainably – as is beginning to become apparent.

Featured image of Tao symbol courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.