Let There Be Light
The missing links of naturalistic explanation
Following from the previous two articles, which were merely a collection of scattered observations and speculative analogies, I’d like to continue this venture into the nature of reality in a more serious manner and look at the fundamental problem that plagues modern science. It is the so-called hard problem of consciousness, or the problem of where consciousness fits into the big picture.
Let’s start from the most fundamental observations.
It’s an unassailable fact that, whatever the universe may be, we interact with it by means of, and from within of, its mental representation generated by our brain. This virtual environment is demonstrably constructed from sensory input and brain’s feedback processes (*), all of which are in turn mental representations of themselves in the same metacognitive space.
From the time when Galileo improved Lippershey’s design of telescope and discovered hills and valleys on the Moon to the day when a space probe carrying his name studied Jupiter and The Large Hadron Collider detected Higgs boson, scientists and engineers developed enormous amount of sophisticated tools that extended human senses far beyond their default range. We got eyes that see way past visible spectrum, into the tiniest nooks of matter, into the farthest corners of universe and even time.
While perception altered by chemical substances or ritual behavior was not unknown to humankind even before technological boom, these artificial senses provided humanity with completely new, otherwise inaccessible perspective and expanded the scope and resolution of the aforementioned mental representation to unprecedented levels.
Thus, while before scientific revolution humans were constrained to expand their understanding primarily by turning their attention inwards toward themselves, technology allowed the same while looking outward. The primary motivation was then the pursuit of objectivity, or in other words, bypassing of personal biases in interpretation of observed data, and thus arriving at a more accurate description of reality.
Indeed, the look outward is a powerful tool. So powerful in fact that it allowed neuroscientists to find precise correlations between mental representations and the physical reality they rest upon. That e.g. proved the first observation listed above beyond any doubt.
This methodology has a fatal flaw however — consciousness, which is at the root of all observations, cannot be observed.
It is completely impossible to find the first person perspective by looking outward, and it can be only “arrived at” by looking inward. It can never be looked at directly — consciousness can never see itself face to face.
Now, neuroscience will claim that it can observe and even manipulate various modes of consciousness such as deep sleep, dream, anesthesia, locked-in syndrome, coma, etc. What the scientists don’t realize, however, is the fact that what they call consciousness is merely awareness. Thus, no matter how sure the neuroscientists feel, what they are looking at is not consciousness.
So, it’s more than obvious that a reconciliation of both views is long overdue. But before I attempt to do so, let me first review the “cutting edge” insights of both methodologies.
First, according to the naturalistic explanation, universe is a set of oscillating fields that can be also described as waves, particles, or mixture of both. Each of these fields is responsible for a particular observable effect such as mass, fundamental force, matter composition, etc. It is hypothesized that even space-time itself may be a fluctuating field. Interplay of these fields then gives rise to physical world where mass, energy, and information are equivalent.
This ordering gives rise to atoms, molecules, and subsequently macroscopic objects from celestial bodies to living organisms which are just a special case of autonomous self-replicating, self-assembling, and self-sustaining objects. In contrast to non-living objects, living organisms evolve, in addition to standard physical processes, also by (random) changes in their replication and assembly followed by subsequent environmental screening and potential elimination by means of diminished possibilities for self-sustenance and further self-replication.
There is no consensus whether living organisms other than human are conscious. There is a general assumption that consciousness arises from human brain but, despite what neuroscience claims as I mentioned above, no consensus as for how. Although the birth and evolution of the universe is quite well understood, naturalistic explanation has also no universally accepted description from where it came.
Now, a brief overview of the “inward look”, which I honestly hesitate to call mystic’s explanation, but for the sake of simplicity let’s stick to that term.
The ontological basis of reality is existence-consciousness-bliss. These three aspects are equivalent. Existence (or “is-ness”) is that from which humans derive their sense of being. It is infinite in time, space, and form, because non-existence is obviously not possible (not to be confused with nothingness which already is), and it “bestows itself” to all manifestations. Consciousness is that from which humans derive their sense of “I-ness”. It is without attributes and is the unifying factor of psyche. It’s the first person singular perspective, the only known perspective there is. Bliss is the impartial equilibrium of effortless existence that manifests as perceived fullness or perfection of all experiences. The universe as perceived through various modes of awareness is then an illusion — its true essence is the ontological basis itself from which it arises.
So, this is in nutshell all of human knowledge which can be experimentally tested and verified. It’s clear that combining the two views inevitably yields equivalence of the ontological basis, information, energy, and matter. It’s also clear why that which neuroscience observes is awareness and not consciousness. And of course it also clarifies how to tackle the birth of universe, because even if it arises from nothing, no-thing is already something. It also should hint at the implied ethics, which some argue was lost by the time Nietzsche proclaimed God to be dead but which I would dare to say was never implemented as a lived experience. The only problem that remains is meaning. But frankly, you may search as much as you can and you won’t find any. It’s all just a marvelous child’s play after all.
I hope this will inspire you in your search for the truth.
(*) Brain can be also stimulated directly by e.g. electromagnetic radiation.