Tag Archives: Consciousness

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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Consciousness as the Basis of Reality

In a recent Actualized.Org podcast entitled “What is Consciousness” Leo makes the assertion that consciousness is the basis of reality. This is opposed to the materialist paradigm which holds that matter is the basis of physical reality. It seems that materialists can be either atheist or theist. The atheist materialists would hold that there only exists matter and the physical laws that govern its interaction and that this makes up the entirety of reality. The theist materialist would hold that there exists a spiritual realm that is separate from the material but that we humans inhabit or are in contact with primarily the material realm.

I would describe the friendly folks over at the Orthosphere as theist materialists, believing they reside within a material universe created by God who declared it to be good and therefore the goodness of the material is not to be questioned. To them there is unquestionably a spiritual realm with which those of us inhabiting the material realm (if we’re good) will choose to align ourselves. Of course, I would not presume to speak for their point of view as I have been told on numerous occasions that I lack the capacity to fully understand their wisdom. I am merely presenting my interpretation of their world view based on what I have read from their contributors. I am sure Terry Morris will correct me if I have inaccurately described their beliefs.

It is unquestioned that most people are materialists of one sort or the other. One probable reason most people believe the materialist paradigm to be the correct description of reality is because it is easier to understand. Our senses seem to readily confirm the assumption that we are each individual units of consciousness living in a physical body, in a three dimensional, physical world of other physical objects. Some of these physical objects are living creatures with varying degrees of consciousness. In this model, consciousness seems to be an emergent quality of the physical universe. That is, consciousness naturally results when matter is arranged in a specific way.

By contrast, under the paradigm where consciousness is the basis of reality, consciousness is not an emergent property of physical reality but rather the fundamental property of physical reality. That is, the universe is created from consciousness. Two  counter arguments to this assertion readily come to mind. First, consciousness as I understand it is the quality of being aware and mere awareness which has no physical properties cannot logically be used to construct a physical universe. Second, (I suspect an Orthospherian would argue that) in order for there to be awareness there must first be someone or something that is aware which in turn presupposes that materiality precedes consciousness.

Leo contends that although consciousness has no physical properties, this allows it to take on all the infinite possibilities of physical reality. In other words, consciousness is a vessel for content. One could also justify consciousness as being the basis of physical reality through a thought experiment similar to Descartes “evil demon” scenario. In this thought experiment we acknowledge that physical reality is rendered through the mind therefore there is nothing necessarily physical or material about it but merely consciousness interpreting it as such. If one were to hold the point of view that consciousness is the fundamental basis of reality then one would have to discard the notion that in order for consciousness to exist there must first be a person who is conscious. In other words, consciousness would have to be able to exist independently which I suppose is not inconcievable.

Another aspect to consciousness is that it is both aware and self-aware. So not only is consciousness a building block (so to speak) of reality but it is also by definition aware of itself. Under this model consciousness is diffused throughout everything in the universe including biological objects and non biological objects. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that everything in the universe is diffused through consciousness. Of course certain things have greater degrees of consciousness. A chimp has more consciousness than a rock for example. From this perspective it seems entirely plausible that artificial intelligence will be able to have consciousness on the level of a human or perhaps greater because it was constructed in such a way so as to allow the underlying consciousness to manifest itself.

I suppose one might reasonably ask what difference does it make whether material or consciousness is the basis of reality and how might one confirm whether this is indeed the case? Leo contends that this can in fact be confirmed through spiritual practices such as meditation and use of psychedelics. If this has been so confirmed to an individual then I assume this knowledge will change the way he or she looks at the world. I am certainly open to this perspective but I cannot say that I have yet confirmed it one way or the other.

 

 

 

 

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