Inquiry into Consciousness

Leo Gura of Actualized.org recently dropped a podcast entitled “How to Discover What’s True” wherein he suggests that the Truth of existence can be discovered by thinking and asking questions about existence methodically. He asserts it is possible to arrive at Truth in this way and that he has done this himself. It seems logical to first question the veracity of this assertion. I don’t know that it is true that I can discover Truth simply by thinking and asking about it. So then, the next step would be to test the assertion in some way. The most obvious method to me of testing his assertion is to assume it is true and then to follow it where it takes me. This is the inquiry.

Truth is a rather broad concept. As such, it would be helpful to break it down into more specific areas of inquiry. The truth of consciousness seems like a good starting point. After all, I have direct access to consciousness that I am experiencing it right now. I have been experiencing consciousness as far back as I can remember. But what is consciousness?

According to wikipedia, “Consciousness at its simplest refers to … awareness of internal or external existence”. I can say it is true that I am aware of internal and external experience because I am directly experiencing my internal and external experience. I don’t think I have to question whether I am actually experiencing these experiences because if I can’t trust that I am actually experiencing my experience then I cannot trust this inquiry in the first place. And really, what would it mean to say that I am not really experiencing my experiences? Even if they are hallucinations, I am still (on some level) experiencing the hallucinations. Certainly, my interpretations of these experiences could be untrue but the experience is still there as far as I can tell.

The definition of consciousness refers to two types of awareness: (1) internal existence and (2) external existence. On its face, my experience seems to accord with this bifurcation. But I have listened to enough Alan Watts lectures to question the veracity of this bifurcation. I can conceive of a reality where what I perceive to be external experience to be an extension of my internal experience. This is not solipsism per say. In the Watts explained conception of reality (which corresponds to Hindu and Buddhist thought as far as I know) there is a omnipotent and omnipresent deity that has decided to experience limitation (the one thing it lacks). It did this because it is impossible to have an adventure if one is omnipotent and omnipresent. Nothing could surprise such a being. Nor could it learn and grow from experience. And so it experiences this limitation by experiencing our lives individually. As such, my consciousness is really God pretending to be me. Likewise the experience of other people are God pretending to be them. It’s a big, elaborate hallucination that only God Himself could pull off because He is omnipotent and omnipresent.

Of course, this conception of consciousness is inconsistent with the Christian tradition (specifically Roman Catholic) which is the tradition in which I grew up and with which I am the most familiar. In this tradition there are individual consciousnesses which were brought into being by God and are therefore separate and distinct from God. There is also a real external reality in which these consciousnesses exist and interact.

If I am being honest, I cannot say (at this point in the inquiry) with authority that I know which model is true. It is interesting that Christianity requires belief in its model for salvation. I have explored this odd requirement in a previous blog post. A belief is something a person holds to be true. But how can a person believe something that he does not know with authority to be true? He could pretend to believe it but the belief system seems to require actual belief. And why would God require this belief from a person who is not in a position to know its veracity with authority? Two ideas come to mind to address this question. The first is the concept of faith which is a trusting attitude in the teachings of a higher authority. The second is that belief is akin to the placebo effect. That is, belief in a particular idea, in some real sense creates the reality of that idea. We see this most clearly when a placebo actually heals a person who believes it to work. But belief from a position of faith and as a placebo are not in the spirit of this inquiry which is to see if Truth can be discovered wholly through self-inquiry. I cannot speak for other Christian traditions, but Roman Catholicism is not wholly against the concept of self-inquiry or self-reflection. In fact it encourages it to an extent. But there is definitely a sense within Roman Catholicism that self-inquiry cannot take one all the way across the finish line. Anyway, the point here is that for the purpose of this inquiry, I will need to suspend any Christian requirement of belief. If it ultimately turns out that belief or faith is required then I would like to think that I would arrive at that point on my own through this process of inquiry.

At this point, I can say a few things with authority based upon this inquiry. (1) The experience of my individual consciousness (both internal and external) is transpiring at this moment. (2) On the surface, it appears that there is an external world inhabited by myself and other people who appear to have the experience of individual consciousness. (3) I do not know with authority how the experience of my individual consciousness came into being or to what extent it is separate from the external things it experiences. As I am approaching 1,000 words I will leave it at that for now.

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One response to “Inquiry into Consciousness

  1. Pingback: Inquiry Into Consciousness Part II – The Internal Experience of Thoughts | Winston Scrooge

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