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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A new Paradigm for understanding Consciousness

To posit that consciousness is pervasive, might mean developing a theory for a new force field from within the corpus of modern physics. We might need to reexamine Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the existence of black holes, as a way of defining the limitations or interactions of a conscious field. While I feel that forays of consciousness theory into established physics will occur, I am skeptical of this approach.

David Chalmers has suggested that what is needed is a 'crazy idea', one that conjectures new groundwork, and possibly a new set of variables. Consciousness he argues simply cannot be modeled with the scientific vocabulary at hand.

A better theory of consciousness will provide an illusion of progress, but it also will keep us on the same side of the problem that we've been stuck in all along. We'll have more more variables and another field to experiment with. But our viewpoint will remain descriptive, and materialist. We'll have a belief system rooted in what we can see, touch and feel, and we'll have equations for everything else.

Rene Descartes dismissed consciousness with his quip, "I think therefor I am" and then devoted no more effort to the problem. Mathematics would penetrate the secrets of nature. Consciousness was a self-evident truth that needed no investigation at all.

There another way to approach Chalmers' 'hard problem'. Believe for a moment that matter is an illusion, that the material world, including sensory perceptions of it, sights, sounds and colors, buildings, rocks, bodies, and heavy pianos are notions made real by consciousness.

This is the Vedanta, the Eastern viewpoint. Matter is brought to life by consciousness. Without consciousness nothing would exist at all. Or put more simply, everything exists because of consciousness. Consciousness creates.

To summarize the Vedantist Indian thinkers, the two 'hard problems' are 'what is the universe?' and 'what is consciousness?'. Science being a product of consciousness, can only fact check, and report back what it has 'observed'. Yet the conscious mind knows of more than science. So science cannot possibly come to terms with consciousness except through a radical manipulation of numbers which that are not real to begin with.

Infiltrate into the camp of the animating spirit, consciousness, and we suddenly become aware that we've set up opposing categories. Dualities, in science as in reality, have a way of crashing down.

So with what perambulation of art or philosophy, shall we approach the call for a new paradigm of consciousness?

Let us rephrase the question: Isn't that call for a new paradigm about consciousness, simply a call for new consciousness? Isn't science pointing out a numeric tool for fact checking certain beliefs about reality are useful for some forms of understanding? But as the child of consciousness, science is a tool; it could not understand what conceived of it in the first place.

For five hundred years, the West has regarded consciousness as a fragile commodity. No hard evidence has surfaced of it wherever we go digging. Consciousness, the subjective experience, has never been located as stuff, measurable 'reality' according to a materialists model for existence.

Suppose imagination and consciousness create matter, not the other way around. Suddenly it's all alive, it's all conscious, it's all aware. The universe is intelligent, our galaxy is intelligent. Photons act consistently and bear consciousness wherever they go. All atoms participate in the grand calculation of possibilities, displaying color, logically interacting with each other to form giant miasmas of consciousness throughout the universe. A galaxy is alive. It thinks. It is endlessly patient and watches a succession of intelligent life forms come and go.

Is there more 'consciousness' in our Sun than on earth? More in the earth than in any of it's life forms? Are we to be democratic and say consciousness is spread evenly about, present to some degree in all matter? Or shall we create rules and laws governing the interactions of consciousness with matter, not unlike the interactions of the basic forces as defined by modern physics.

The simplicity of this question has materialist roots, granting to each bit of matter consciousness according to its size. Yet even our instincts tell us that cannot be so. It's a complex commodity, and perhaps one that all of Western science simply can never come to describe adequately, but certainly not through a quantitative and descriptive scientific method.

Complex and unknowable except through self-knowledge. This is the answer that we receive from the Vedanta.

So consciousness much change, ebb flow, move about, and change lives within matter, its carrier. As the animator of matter it must be the field of all fields. It cannot simply exhibit inverse square relationships with all other conscious bodies, as gravity does with massive bodies. No, consciousness, whether pervasive or universal [Chalmers], is growing in our universe. It is not constant. Consciousness is breaking out all over.

Could consciousness be everywhere you look because it is making everything you see?

Prove to me that something unobserved exists. It can't be done. Yet science insists on a reality independent of the observer.

I don't insist on either answer. The duality itself is a fiction, a product of consciousness.

A very early belief of mine was that Earth as a rock, the Sun, the Galaxy, every body, and thus all rocks, as well as photons individually, are all absolutely conscious. Inexorably and with a very high degree of complexity in the case of the geology of the Earth, and immediately but very simply in the case of the photon, they all display a conscious element.

One of the arts I do is pottery, and when I fire a wood kiln, I'm always of the feeling that the firing of a kiln represents a life, not unlike the life of a candle flame, or a person. When the fire is very large and very hot and burns for a week it is a form of advanced consciousness. The fire seems to make conscious choices. I've written a lot about this in other places on this blog.

The quantum personality of a photon also displays rudimentary decision making and the appearance of consciousness, So do identical twins separated at birth. What is the 'stuff' that keeps them connected as they live their separate lives? As materialists we have measurements of both behaviors, though most psychologists and neurologists will probably continue to scoff at the introduction of a new conscious dimensionality to this study.

The most serious quantum physicists do admit that their mathematical descriptions are objective and limited. Richard Feynman admitted to the unsatisfactory solutions offered by quantum physics to optical phenomena, even complained about it, essentially calling it 'an ugly theory that works'.  Most others would probably express these gripes privately.

If we admit that all systems process energy to some degree, and by definition are not isolated from the rest of the universe, then they'll display some measurable level of a soon to be recognized variable, a 'field of consciousness', not unlike that of gravity or electromagnetism.

What is the universe, but matter and consciousness? Western science has been starved of answers, but it's researches take it closer to the door of psyche. We are creeping up on truths recognized by Shaivism and the Vedanta for thousands of years. The great success of science may be realized at the moment it gives up, in the same manner as Einstein gave up when in a conversation with Tagore with the conclusion, "Then I am more religious than you!"

If we were to formulate a scientific materialist description of consciousness, then we would be brought paradoxically no closer to answers for the current mysterium. Yes, we'll have turned to face the problem. We'll have acknowledged Chalmers' 'hard problem', but simply added more flesh to the bones of a mathematical and descriptive solution.

Describing consciousness such that it could be written on a T-shirt would just drop us at the same bus stop we were at previously, except now we'll have a field of abstractions devoted to describing consciousness, but lack the means, by way of science at least, of seizing and understanding that conscious field. The progress will mimic a Death of Science, and an ebbing of Western thought. At least when getting off the bus, we'd now be facing the palace with a locked door.

Those laws, which I'm sure will follow, will be written off the springboard of scientific materialism which we will have clung to since the early Islamic scientists of the 11th-13th Centuries. We'll have objectified the subject, but will still stand outside our new subject, as we did before David Chalmers gave his 1994 talk.

Is the approach to consciousness a boundary to be progressively fought back? Or to understand it mustn't one in some way infiltrate to the other side of the barrier that stands in our way? I absolutely see the latter approach. We need a top down revision in our philosophy of science that admits our current science as a viable laboratory for testing and verification, but not of understanding.

I believe that while we need to understand a new set of laws, we need to think of consciousness as a manifestation of all systems, ranging from the extremely simple to the universally large and massively complex.

These questions are inherently philosophical, but they ask for scientific verification. Aren't we looking for giant revisions to our scientific philosophy that can be corroborated by our older observational science?


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