Originally posted August 4, 2011
This may seem like an academic question yet it leads directly to the meaning of life. Who among us has not pondered the meaning of life at one time or another?
We know consciousness is real, we know it exists. As René Descartes said, “Je pense, donc je suis” — I think, therefore I exist — meaning that you dear reader know something exists because you are experiencing something right now. Rene might have said “something is being experienced, that is what can be stated with certainty”.
In fact nothing can actually be stated with such great certainty except that consciousness — that which experiences — exists.
So what is this stuff that exists? You and I both experience It.
It is the weirdest stuff around. Everything else is easier for our minds (consciousness itself) to grasp. That too is weird — consciousness finds itself weirder than everything else that it experiences, at least among the scientists who have dodged this question while ironically basing everything else in their cosmology upon the observer — which is the same “Self”/”Consciousness” that science has avoided investigating more deeply.
Matter, energy, time and space seem perfectly normal and reasonable to us. Those are names that we put on aspects of what we experience. Names seem normal and reasonable too. Just not consciousness — it is so ineffable, so hard to grasp, to even think about.
Scientists either avoid the subject entirely or else try to reduce consciousness to events in the brain. The late great physicist Evan Harris Walker in his book The Physics of Consciousness brilliantly posited that consciousness emerges from quantum effects at the synapses of the brain. This however has nothing to do with the experience of consciousness. It is the experience itself that we are interested in, not in how we might explain away these experiences by relating them to physical events. The latter explanations beg the question of which came first — i.e. consciousness could have created the brain rather than vice versa — and although we are culturally biased to consider that sequence absurd, there is no scientific evidence either way. It would be the definition of unscientific to take any position under those circumstances.
Those locked into cultural first assumptions are by definition unable to see past those assumptions or to even see that those assumptions exist.
Try this if you will: focus your mind on the experience of consciousness for a moment. What is it?
To ask what consciousness is made of is itself evidence of our predisposition to assume that substance — matter or energy — is the substrate of the universe, so that everything in the universe must be made out of either matter or energy. This is just a bias.
But let’s play along with that bias for awhile. Is consciousness an energy? Okay, if so, then what is energy? Simply saying that energy is a force or a force field is just replacing one name with another — it does not tell us anything, it adds no new information — we are just playing with words.
Today scientists relate to energy in terms of waves radiating from a source. That itself is an ancient metaphor to waves on the ocean. Scientists assumed for a long time (some still do today) that waves must be waves in something. In Newton’s time the term aether (“ether”) was the stuff the waves were waving. By Einstein’s time and our own the concept of an aether has become passé. Today we are more comfortable thinking that things reduce ultimately to wavicles — things that have both a wave and a particle aspect depending on the choice of instruments and experimental conditions the observer chooses to set up.
Do you begin to see The Great Circular Argument going on here? Really the modeling of “what is” falls back on the way we as humans perceive the world and the ultimate categories we place as contexts around everything else — the way we perceive time and space — the apparent hardness of matter — which we now know is actually the mutual repulsion going on in electromagnetic and nuclear energies at subatomic levels. There is no hardness, it is a subjective readout our brains feed to our consciousness. We are trapped in Plato’s cave, making up possible stories about what is really out there. But what is in here?
The Theory of the Conscious Universe* postulates that everything in the universe reduces to neither matter nor energy, but to INFORMATION. But then what is information?
The clue comes from deconstructing the word into its parts: IN…FORMATION — information is a pattern — a formation. Any pattern is information — even randomness. Since information exists in the form rather than requiring a substance — form and substance being an ancient division of aspects of things going back at least as far as the Vedas — information can exist even in something that is substance-less.
In fact we see this every day in our computers — which contain and send and receive and process information — but that information does not have a concrete substance — it exists when stored as energy/nothingness, as both charge and non-charge, representing zeroes and ones. The nothingness (the zeroes) are as much information as the 1’s (electric charges).
What then is consciousness? It is the Self — the capacity to experience — that which experiences — and the experiences are information received by the consciousness or Self. The information appears to us to be coming from something that has independent existence outside the Self. It appears that hard and/or wet and/or gaseous objects out there are encoded as electromagnetic signals that strike our visual sense organs which then encode them as electrical pulses in our brain — or that strike our apparent body where they are converted to electrical pulses we call touch — or as compactions and expansions of air that cause pressure against our auditory sense organs where again they are converted to electrical pulses in our brain — or as interactions with our taste and smell organs, also winding up as electrical pulses in our brain.
But all of this could actually be taking place in our Self. There might be nothing out there because there might not be an “out there”. Our experience would be the same.
One way or the other, we can definitively state now two things: the Self exists — the Experiencer — and information exists, for this is what gives variation to what we experience. Both the Self and information exist in consciousness — this much can be stated as fact. The rest is supposition.
But why am I capitalizing Self? The answer in our next posting — our response to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”
*The Theory of the Conscious Universe was the working title of my book, “You Are the Universe: Imagine That”, released in 2014.
All the best,