The Theory of the Conscious Universe: Where Is the Self in the Brain?

Originally posted July 16, 2011

The Theory of the Conscious Universe was the working title of my book, “You Are the Universe: Imagine That”, released in 2014.

Picture the neurons in the brain as strings in a violin. Now picture them as superstrings. The brain is both.

In a previous posting we discussed the different “selves” that each individual has within him/herself, which are formed out of associational clusters of neurons constructed in the brain by our experiences after we are born.

These different selves in the software layer are not places amongst the neurons. Not quite. Each self is a particular conversation amongst neurons, and each self is evoked using specific places in the brain where those memories reside.

Each such “self” is a particular dance of the neurons.

Behind all this is the self you were born with.

This raises a semantic issue: the meaning of the word “self”. David Brooks, for example, says in his book THE SOCIAL ANIMAL, “Even up to age three, children don’t seem to get the concept of self-consciously focused attention. They assume that the mind goes blank when there is no outside thing bidding for its attention.”

Elsewhere in the book he says “You are the spiritual entity that emerges out of the material networks in your head.”

In reading this excellent and thought-provoking book, I get the feeling that he means exactly what he says in the prior sentence — that matter comes first, and that the self is part of the mind that arises out of the contacts we have with the rest of the world, and how those experiences dictate the laying down of neurons and connections in our brain.

Now, David is obviously a humanist who talks about moments of transcendence, and emphasizes the importance of emotions and the unconscious mind. At the same time he is probably a materialist, not in the popular social sense but rather as in the philosophy term of art, meaning he believes that matter appears ahead of mind in the timeline of the universe.

After all, read his last sentence above, once more. He is saying that your Self is what emerges out of the neurons that have connected since your birth. Whatever unconscious hard-wired genetic/instinctual predispositions you had at birth did not comprise your true self. To David, “You” remained self-less until your brain was sufficiently formed to where the self-ness function turned on — when you had enough contact with the rest of the world to emerge as a distinct self.

Here we would differ. I take the Self to be an experiential phenomenon. Not an abstract word. Practically every other word that we use refers to an object or something we see outside the Self. The word “Self” however has as its referent the actual ineffable experience you are having right now of being you. Reducing that to a word can be very useful, but can also be counterproductive if it gets us to think of Self as just another “thing” like all the others we perceive. The Self is not like anything else. It is in a class by itself. It is the only thing we know really exists. It is the Knower itself. Everything else is something we perceive indirectly through the physics of perception.

That is what I mean by Self and I suspect with that as a stipulated definition, David would probably agree with what I am saying here.

Once we start to perceive, our Self is lit up — we are the experiencer. If those perceptions start in the womb, or when we take our first breath, we likely have no notion of what is going on. Later, that experiencer undergoes various levels of evolution and becomes self-aware (has what David calls an “inner narrator that he thought of as himself”), and then later capable of looking at his/her own feelings objectively (what David calls “equipoise”). And even capable of Knowing Itself As Universe in moments of what David calls “self-transcendence” — moments when we lose the sense of separateness.

The Self is the experiencer. What the neurons lay down is the software layer. Sometimes, as David acknowledges, there is a fight for control among parts of the brain; we would say that the fight for control also includes one other part besides the ones considered in THE SOCIAL ANIMAL: THE ORIGINAL EXPERIENCER.

The Original Experiencer. The Self that was always there, before these levels of self-awareness that David represents as the step-off point for the Self. The ineffable spark of selfness that you have even before you can see yourself as separate or start to self-narrate or start to decide whether you are lost in bliss or somewhere else. The Self you have when your mind is empty. We would argue this is your true self, not the concoction of neuronal dances that you have going on all the time as a result of your experiences.

This is an important choice to consider in terms of your own thinking, I would submit.

What has all of this, however, got to do with The Theory of the Conscious Universe?

The Theory of the Conscious Universe postulates that the Universe is a single consciousness, is the single Self that exists, and that the Self lives through all Its creations.

As we shall demonstrate in upcoming blog postings, this conception of what we are can explain every detectable phenomenon within an Occam’s Razor scientific model fully synchronous with quantum mechanics (QM).

Because of the importance of consciousness in explaining our “Theory of the Conscious Universe”, we began this posting by talking about when the Self arises — what I call the experiencer. We can’t talk about TTOTCU without first discussing these basic issues.

In describing what consciousness is and how it works we will make frequent analogies to the way computers work. We will explain why we doubt that robots can ever be made to experience, unless they are based on genetic technology, in which case they will not be robots. Yet we will also explain our odd hypothesis that consciousness exists in everything.

As we go along, you may find all the hypotheses in The Theory of the Conscious Universe odd — or perfectly obvious (latter group please send me an email — I’d like to chat).

So, what if anything does this have to do with the primary work of the Human Effectiveness Institute (“THEI”)? Our mission is to enhance human effectiveness. One way of doing this is by freeing the mind of constricting limiting notions that may be based on totally inaccurate pictures of reality.

Best to all,


Follow my regular media blog contribution, “In Terms of ROI“ at under MediaBizBloggers. Read my latest post.

15 thoughts on “The Theory of the Conscious Universe: Where Is the Self in the Brain?

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  8. Rose Darland

    TTOTCU is perfectly obvious! Just watched a film “More Than Honey”, and although made to document the plight and disappearance of the world’s bee population, I was overwhelmed and struck with the sense of a single consciousness, the one great intelligence that orders all existence! The Overmind, if you will.

    (And yes, I’m married to your friend, Stanley Darland)
    I love your work! Thank you.

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  15. Douglas Grunther

    Hi Bill,

    The Blog looks great and reads fluently. Content is wonderfully provocative.

    I particularly respond to the excerpt: “As we go along, you may find all the hypotheses in TTOTCU odd — or perfectly obvious.”
    Perhaps both “odd” AND “perfectly obvious” are appropriate at the same time.

    Always enjoy reading a reference to Occam’s Razor which I understand to mean “It’s always best to start with the ‘known.’ ” I also intuitively respond to Krishnamurti’s suggestion, “Start with the unknown.” Both suggestions, played with together, may be an effective tool for reflecting on quantum consciousness.

    Recently read a provocative book on GRIN (Genetics/Robotics/Information/Neuro-technology) and I feel you are right on when you point to “consciousness” as a key focus when reflecting on the merging of the human with the computer. Not surprising that most scientists are scared shitless by “consciousness” and insist on reducing it to something neat and predictable.

    If you would like to play with some of your blog material on the radio, let me know. While in-studio is the most fun, for convenience sake, I’d be glad to offer a live phone conversation.

    Congratulations again on the blog.




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