In this article, I am going to touch on the notion that reality cannot be experienced without consciousness, and that consciousness is a concept without which we cannot make sense of the world. I’ll develop this further to what I believe consciousness has to do with the creation of not only man-made reality, but the entire Universe, and finally hit upon the connection between consciousness and spirituality as well as religion.
This is a bit of a mouthful, I know – I will take it slowly.
As always, I’m looking forward to your feedback in the comments.
To begin, I’ll explain why it is impossible to experience anything at all without involving consciousness. If this is obvious to you, great! If it isn’t, bear with me, please.
(I’d like to stress that contrary to some of the beliefs and assumptions I’ve made in previous articles, I hold this to be an actual truth – a fact. I am not going to try to put forward an actual scientific proof, because it is unnecessary; although there is evidence for this idea in mainstream science. Some simple thought exercises are enough to demonstrate that it has to be true.)
Okay, it’s actually pretty straightforward: You are consciousness. You cannot »turn off« consciousness. It is always present. If it’s not present, you’re dead. Not convinced? Try not to be conscious. It cannot be done.
Maybe I’ve gone too far ahead already. Let’s talk about consciousness, for starters. Does it even exist? If you’re a materialist or very left-brained person, you may be convinced that there is no such thing as consciousness. It’s an illusion. It’s an artifact of the neural network in your brain.
But if you’re honest, you will acknowledge that you were not born with this conviction. At one point in your life, you have consciously (!) decided that consciousness does not exist, probably because you were taught so, or because it followed from your system of beliefs about the world.
See what I’m getting at? Your consciousness has decided that there is no such thing as consciousness. It’s a contradiction. Your conviction about the non-existence of consciousness is a conscious one. Does this make sense?
You may still deny it now. But that’s interesting. Who or what is that entity that is in denial? What else can it be than your conscious self? (If you still disagree, then think about it. Using your mind. Which is conscious. Which is consciously aware of its denial of its own existence.)
If we agree on the existence of consciousness, it follows that it is not possible to obtain any information about reality without involving consciousness. Because consciousness is a prerequisite for any perception, and any idea or thought. There is no non-conscious entity within you that can receive or store this information.
Well, that’s not entirely true. There is the subconscious. The subconscious is where all the information is stored that is not consciously available to you right now. But as soon as it does become available, you perceive it with your conscious self. There is no non-conscious way to become aware of subconscious »data«. As long as it’s in your subconscious, it’s »invisible«. If it’s in your mind, it is conscious.
It follows that our image of reality exists only in our consciousness. Let that sink in, because it’s important. You cannot perceive reality as-is. The only thing you have is a model of reality that exists within your consciousness. It’s fed by information from your senses, mixed up with previous memories. But there is no one-to-one representation of actual reality in your mind.
(That would be technically impossible, even, as our senses are grossly insufficient to provide all the data that would be needed to represent reality exhaustively. The obvious example is that humans can only detect a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum, namely visible light, some infrared – as heat –, and maybe a little ultraviolet. I’m not sure about ultraviolet.)
What about scientific instruments? Don’t we have all kinds of tools that receive and store information about reality? Like photo cameras, or microphones, or sensors for whatever physical property we know how to measure? Sure we do. But it takes a conscious mind to look at that information. As long as nobody looks at it, that information is pretty much useless. You could say that it is non-existant, or random, or undefined.
This is where the scientific evidence that I mentioned comes in. In quantum mechanics, there is a phenomenon known as the Observer Effect. It turns out that in quantum-mechanical experiments, the outcome is undefined until it is consciously perceived. As long as no conscious mind is observing the data, it remains a superposition of all possible outcomes, which, again, makes it useless for all practical purposes.
You cannot know the result of a quantum experiment without looking. Looking involves consciousness, as I have shown. You probably know Schrödinger’s famous cat, which, in the scenario described, is both dead and alive at the same time – until someone looks. This seems to contradict our model of reality, where all things are in a defined and stable state – well, but only when we perceive it.
But even if you store the results of an experiment in some way and then look at the data much later, you’re still consciously looking at the data. Until that point in time, it is undefined. It is as if the result only comes into existence through the interaction with consciousness.
Apparently, consciousness is a condition without which these experiments make no sense. This is extremely bizarre and counter-intuitive from a classical scientific viewpoint, because a subjective observer should not have any influence on the outcome of an experiment. In quantum mechanics, this is no longer true. If you leave out the observer, you get nothing useful.
As quantum mechanics describes the behaviour of the most foundational constituents of matter, and thus (physical) reality, it appears to follow that there is no reality without consciousness. This is one interpretation of this effect. Another is that, until you involve consciousness, all possible realities exist at the same time. You could also simply say that reality makes no sense without consciousness.
Now it gets very interesting. If reality only exists as a representation in consciousness, as I have shown, it follows that there are three concepts of reality:
1. Nothing actually exists. Reality is only an illusion in the mind.
2. Everything exists, because consciousness does not preclude the existence of anything.
3. Only that exists which I consciously allow to exist.
If we look at it more closely, we realize that 1 and 2 are just special cases of 3, because in both cases, I have consciously decided that either nothing, or everything exists.
From this, something astounding follows: consciousness controls reality. Only that is real which I consciously allow to be real.
This is the point where it gets a little far out even for me (still). Because if this is true, then not only does my consciousness preclude the existence of anything that I deem not to exist, but the corollary must also be true: whatever I consciously evoke as existing, must come into being.
In other words, consciousness creates reality.
In the real world, we don’t seem to observe this kind of thing, if taken literally. I’ve never been able to envision something and then just make it appear out of thin air. That would be a pretty fantastic super-power.
But wait. It seems to be true that we cannot make things appear out of thin air just by evoking them. There appears to be some kind of barrier that makes this impossible, or at least very very hard. My best guess is that it’s an energy barrier, probably entropy.
But obviously we can create things that we envision. Not out of thin air, and not in an instant. It may take days, months or centuries, and a lot of work and energy, but all of history is testament to the fact that people have envisioned something and then made it happen.
Everything man-made that we see around us began as a conscious idea. So, in a way, consciousness does in fact create reality. But wait… what about nature? Nature has been around long before humans even existed. For billions of years. Obviously, humans did not consciously create nature. So what did?
The scientific answer would be that it all started with a Big Bang, and then stars formed, and solar systems, and planets, and then atmospheric conditions on the right kind of planets – well, at least the one that we know of – led to the formation of a collection of chemical compounds that somehow arranged themselves to create the first primitive lifeforms, and then evolution took over, and here we are. There is an abundance of evidence that this is exactly what happened, and I have no reason to believe otherwise (even though some of these concepts, such as the Big Bang theory, have issues that may cause them to be replaced by a better theory, but that’s not important for the idea I’m developing).
What is striking about the scientific models is that they all involve an element of randomness. In the Big Bang model, particles randomly came into existence, but most of them got annihilated immediately, and only some remained that went on to become our current building blocks of matter. Stars formed from gaseous clouds through the effects of gravity. Of course, star formation is governed by the laws of physics, but there is an element of randomness, otherwise we’d be able to predict where and when new stars will form and what their properties will be. Apparently, we can’t. The same goes for solar system formation. Life appeared thanks to random interactions of gaseous molecules in the atmosphere. The whole theory of evolution dwells on the concept of random mutations. We have no way to predict when and where a new organism will appear, and what it will look like.
You may realize where I am heading. What if all this randomness wasn’t completely random, but affected by something unknown? (For lack of a better term, let’s call it a force, although I don’t mean the physical concept of force.) Let’s start with the Big Bang. Why didn’t all matter-antimatter pairs got annihilated, so we were left with nothing? What effected the imbalance, causing some particles to remain? Is it conceivable that particle/antiparticle distribution was almost completely random, but not quite, and some force »tipped the scales« ever so slightly in one direction, causing the imbalance? (It’s conceivable, but science would reject this hypothesis on the grounds that it makes an unnecessary assumption, namely the presence of this influencing force, which it cannot explain.)
The same thought could be applied to everything else. It’s conceivable that the randomness that affected all these processes wasn’t entirely random. It could have been perturbed, if only just barely – by microscopic amounts. What would this mysterious force be that caused the perturbation?
I think you know what I am going to say: I think that force may be consciousness.
This is a hard one to swallow, I know, because it would mean that consciousness existed before material reality existed. Or maybe, that it came into being at the same time that the universe was created, influencing that creation from the very start. Either way, it would mean that consciousness is some intangible, immaterial entity.
In my previous article, »Breaking out of the Materialist World-View«, I showed why I believe that this is, in fact, the case. That consciousness exists beyond physical reality, or at least beyond the limits of physical reality as currently modeled by science. That we cannot (yet) explain it, don’t know what it’s made out of or from where it came. That we cannot grasp or examine it. That, for now, we would just need to accept it as is. For scientific minds, this is pretty much an unbearable idea, so we don’t find this idea in mainstream scientific work.
We do find this idea in spiritual teachings, in particular those that are very old, but also – in a very distorted fashion – in later spiritual texts such as the Bible. Most spiritual teachings (which includes religions) have a common notion of some kind of creating force, or several such primordial agents of creation. We commonly know them as Gods. I think that today’s image of God, for example in the Christian religion, has developed into something quite different from what I presume it originally was, and charged with all kinds of additional content that makes it hard to recognize now. It makes sense to assume that this was not deliberate, but by accident – the original idea was probably more or less »lost in translation« across thousands of years.
This original concept, I believe, was in fact – you guessed it: consciousness. In »Breaking out of the Materialist World-View«, I showed that there is an ancient and common idea of universal connectedness, or Oneness. This idea of Oneness is common to not only ancient spiritual teachings, but also to so-called »primitive« cultures all over the planet. Oneness, as I believe, is nothing else but universally connected consciousness. Different cultures have different names for it, and often decorate it with various additional meanings, but I think that they are all just individual interpretations of the same concept – connected consciousness. You may have heard the idea of Gaia, which I believe is the same thing, as is the »Collective Unconscious« as described by the psychologist C. G. Jung.
Since I’ve touched the subject of religion, I should say that I’m not an advocate of religions. In fact, I generally despise and reject them, as they are forced ideologies that keep people locked down into a certain mode of thinking, and that they constrict consciousness, instead of expanding it. But that is another story.
Let’s just say that for most of my life, I have stayed away from proponents of religion – any religion – as far as I could. If I did have to listen to what they had to say, it did not make sense to me. I found the concept of God ridiculous and silly. To me, it was always a made-up concept to to keep people in control, to make them feel small, to keep them obedient and submissive.
My stance towards religion, in particular the two large religions that have made themselves known as agents of unimaginable cruelty and violence – you know which ones I mean – has not changed much.
However, I have recently found that if I read or listen to spiritual teachings (including religious ones) and think of »God« as the idea of universally connected consciousness, and that this consciousness could act as some kind of intangible »directing agent« in the formation of, well, everything; and that we, as humans, are part of this consciousness, because we, too, are connected to it and within it, then – they begin to make sense. Even if I sometimes disagree with what is being said, or the interpretation thereof – I can now understand where it came from.
Let me just give you a single example to demonstrate what I mean. It is often said that »God« is in us, that we are »God«. This always confused me. What does it mean!?
I understand now.
It is extremely unlikely that I will become a religious person – in fact I think we don’t need religions at all. Though I believe we do need spiritual guidance and understanding. I have become a spiritual person many years ago.
Maybe all of this is unintelligible to you or sounds plain crazy. That is okay. But for me, the picture has become much clearer. I finally have an idea of the world where it all seems to fit together. This has made me open to many new ideas, and I believe I understand the world much better than I did before.