Explaining Consciousness

Current physical theories cannot predict the existence of consciousness since they can only describe a world where there are no inner aspects of reality.

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federico-faggin

Physical theories therefore are contradicted by the vivid inner sensory, emotional, mental, and spiritual life experienced by each human being. According to physics there is absolutely no reason why a person should be conscious at all. A human being should just behave as he does without being conscious, just like zombies.

In other words, within physical theory there is absolutely no necessity for consciousness to exist, nor is there any obvious reason why consciousness should be desirable in a world where only outer reality exists. Yet it is there! And its existence is not predicted, and not even predictable by the current theories.

Therefore, each person can falsify the fundamental theories of physics by producing an observation that is not predicted by it! Remarkably, to make such an experiment one doesn’t need training in physics, nor fancy equipment, nor a lot of money and time. This observation, directly and unequivocally proves to each human within himself that “I am;” “I am aware of existing.” He knows for sure that “I exist” not as an intellectual knowledge, but as a profound felt sense of “I am.”

No machine is aware of its own existence through direct self-observation for the simple fact that no machine is conscious; it doesn’t have the self-reflective property of consciousness. And this observation is just one of a handful of direct observations each person can make within himself, out of a vast number of indirect observations that are mediated by proprioceptors or other sensors, and by additional processing by the brain.

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The typical objection of scientists to the above position is to argue that consciousness does not have an independent existence because it obviously ceases to exist at the moment of the physical death of the body, or during anesthesia, or deep sleep. Consciousness, they say, is simply an emergent property of the brain that can only exist as long as the brain is completely functional. Ergo, the first-person extraordinary experience of a transcendent reality which is the hallmark of spirituality is just an illusion produced entirely within the brain of the experiencer. And likewise is the I-am experience that was earlier used to argue the incompleteness of physical theory.

Within a ‘materialistic’ presupposition, a spiritual experience does not reveal any reality beyond physical matter because it is denied reality a priori. Thus, the union of science and spirituality is a false problem because there is nothing that needs to be brought into union with what science describes. Consciousness is an emergent property of the complexity of a physical system with no independent ontology, and science is both necessary and sufficient to describe all properties of nature. End of case.

An alternative explanation is to assume that awareness and matter are two irreducible and interdependent aspects of the primordial energy that do not need to be manifested simultaneously. This concept would require consciousness to exist only in consciousness-space (C-space), and the physical space (P-space) containing all material structures, to be an emanation from C-space. Here C-space is a space other than physical space, the same non-physical space were the energy of the Big Bang came from. In this view, the material forms exist also in C-space but only in the form of patterns that can manifest within P-space in accordance with certain laws.

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The way to think about this possibility is that the evolving self-knowing achieved by consciousness provides the templates, so to speak, for the manifestation of the physical universe in P-space, where the material forms represent the self-knowing that has been consolidated up to that stage of co-evolution. At the frontiers of self-knowing are provisional structures where the interaction between consciousness and material forms produces the novel self-knowing and the corresponding novel material structures. The most advanced living structures represent such a frontier. The earth ecosystem exists at such frontier.

To explain within this new conceptual framework why consciousness appears to cease in deep sleep or with anesthesia, it is sufficient to assume that the consciousness interacting with the body will pay attention only to information coming from the sensory-brain system of the body. Therefore, when the sensory-brain system is not active — in deep sleep for example – there is no conscious awareness. But this doesn’t mean that consciousness ceases to exist; it is simply not stimulated, therefore nothing happens to be conscious about.

With the death of the body, consciousness will also be without physical stimulation, temporarily ‘losing consciousness’ so to speak. However, after some time that no stimulation is forthcoming from the accustomed sensory-brain system channels, consciousness will begin to pay attention to other information channels that it had long ignored, due to its identification with the body. At which point it awakes into its true reality.

One can say that consciousness ceases to exist with the death of the body only if one presupposes that consciousness needs a body to exist. In fact, since consciousness is an inner property accessible only from the inside, and through the self, it cannot be proven to exist with any outer observations. Therefore, and for the same reason, nobody can prove that a person who died is not conscious either. The only one who retains consciousness is the one who dies, but since she would need a body to communicate with the outer world, she cannot tell us whether or not she is still conscious.

Thus the ‘proof’ of the scientist that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter is no better than the ‘proof’ of the incompleteness of the laws of physics that was given earlier. For the latter proof to be convincing, physicists would have to accept that inner reality is also part of the physical reality predictable by the theories of physics.

While we are on the subject of physical death, death may be necessary also to dissolve the identification of consciousness with the body, thus freeing consciousness to recognize its own true nature. This happens because death destroys the only source of information the embodied consciousness has relied upon, and therefore only after the destruction of the body would consciousness realize that it is still alive. Without the disappearance of the body, it would be impossible to convince consciousness that its existence is independent from the body’s existence. It’s like a case of self-hypnotism.

A good metaphor to illustrate this point is to consider the body like an avatar operating within a virtual reality simulator, with the avatar being operated by a consciousness, a self, existing outside the simulator. If the simulation was very vivid and realistic, the self would start to pay attention only to the sensory information it receives from the avatar, getting so engrossed in the virtual reality environment to gradually disregard all the information from its native reality that it not correlated with physical reality, while simultaneously attributing to physical reality all conscious experiences that are correlated with the physical world.

In this case then, like in the previous case, only the destruction of the avatar will bring consciousness to its senses – literally – when the self recognizes that it exists independently from the avatar, outside the simulated space-time, and in the presence of much other information to which it had not been paying any conscious attention. In this analogy, the sensory-brain system of the avatar is like a terminal connecting P-space with C-space, and not the place where the conscious experience arises. That experience occurs only in C-space, but the embodied self believes it arises within the avatar because it is correlated with physical experience.

This entire discussion shows that our so-called proofs are conditioned by the postulates and assumptions we have agreed upon, and in particular, and more deceptively, by unspoken assumptions we are not even aware of having agreed to. If we all agree on the postulate that awareness is not an aspect of the primordial energy, then we can ‘prove’ that consciousness does not exist as an independent reality and thus must be an emergent property of matter.

On the other hand, if we postulate that awareness is an aspect of the primordial energy, then consciousness has an independent reality and the equations of physics must include its existence, independently from matter. Thus, if we accept the reality of awareness, our current physical theory is incomplete.

This line of thinking equates the reality of consciousness to the reality of mathematics, or the reality of a computer program. Both are logical structures existing outside space, time, and matter and having an independent existence. This also accounts for the ‘unreasonable’ effectiveness of mathematics to explain our physical universe; effectiveness that has often been noted by scientists and philosophers alike, without explanation.

In this regard, notice that a specific computer program can properly exist even in the absence of a computer where it can run. Furthermore, to truly understand a sufficiently complex program, it would have to run on a computer to produce a concrete experience by observing the program in interaction with other programs. Running a program in a computer is akin to materializing the non-physical structure represented by the program and observing its behavior in the physical-universe ‘computer’ where innumerable other programs interact in bewildering complexity.

It may be helpful to consider that the self-knowing that consciousness acquires in its interaction with matter is like solving an inverse computer problem as follows: imagine one was shown the behavior of a program running on a computer as it interacts with other similar programs. Now, without knowing anything about the program, but only through the observation of its behavior as it interacts with the other programs (which are also not known), one is asked to figure out what is the abstract program structure that produced the observed behavior.

Well, the self-knowing that each individual consciousness learns by embodying and interacting with other embodied consciousness in the virtual reality simulator we call physical universe, allows each interacting consciousness to figure out completely the structure of the non-material pattern that exists within itself that produces the observed behavior. That abstract structure then, by definition, is the self-knowing. I am talking about a pattern existing within consciousness, of which consciousness is not yet completely conscious about, that manifests in the observed interactions, thus gradually revealing to an attentive self the previously hidden order or structure. This is therefore the essence of the mechanism by which consciousness knows itself through an experience in the physical world.

By guiding its own experience, within the limits of its own agency, each individual consciousness can discover the hidden or unconscious structure within itself by recovering it through the observations of what it produces in a virtual reality setting – the P-space. Once the total structure of the ‘program’ has been discovered within a particular virtual reality environment, the self-comprehension is complete and consciousness can now optimally guide its own decisions and actions within that environment.

At that point is can also tackle additional aspects of self that require different virtual reality environments to help uncover even deeper and not yet manifested structures within.

Part 1: A Framework for the Union of Science and Spirituality
Part 2: The Nature of Consciousness
Part 3: Consciousness and Matter Co-evolve
Part 4: Explaining Consciousness
Part 5: What is Union?