NOTES TOWARD A DEFINITION OF CONSCIOUSNESS (PART ONE)
A Tibetan Buddhist text tells us:
“Mind and matter are eternally the same. As the essence of matter is wisdom, the essence of matter is without form and the embodiment of wisdom. As the manifested essence of wisdom is matter, it is called the all-pervading embodiment of wisdom. The unmanifested matter is without magnitude; according to the will it it can show itself throughout all the universe as the immeasureable Pusas (ie intelligent devout men, or Bodhisattvas), immeasurable inspired spirits, immeasurable glories, all different without magnitude and without interference with one another. This is what ordinary senses cannot comprehend, as it is the work of Absolute Reality… According to the Absolute Reality there is no distinction between mind and matter.”
and the ancient Hellenic text known as the Hermetica says:
“HERMES: Now what is it that we said of that Space in which the Universe is moved? We said, Asclepius, that it is incorporeal.
ASCLEPIUS: What then is that incorporeal thing?
HERMES: It is Mind/Consciousness, entire and self-encompassing, free from the erratic movement of things corporeal; it is imperturbable, intangible, standing firm-fixed in itself, containing all things, and maintaining in being all things that are; and it is the light whereby Soul is illuminated.”
Meanwhile in the Twentieth Century, Nobel Prize Winning Scientist Max Planck, discoverer of the Quanta and the Planck Scale, says:
“As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: there is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”
How does it come about that a ‘clear headed’ scientist, brought up under the strictest disciplines of Germany of the late 19th and early 20th century and without whom we would have no Quantum Science at all, is found saying exactly the same thing as the Tibetan Book of the Dead and a collection of mystical writings of unknown origin dating, probably from the earliest centuries AD? True, Planck was a life-long Christian, but the notion that ‘mind is the matrix of of all matter’ is not commonly discovered among Christian writers. So what is going on?
It would be easy to dismiss the speculations of Buddhists and Hellenic Mystics were it not for the fact of Planck’s statement. And Planck was not alone, as we shall see. What, then, is this mystery to do with the relationship between Consciousness and Matter? What does Planck mean when he says that “there is no matter as such”. Further, what did the Buddhists and Hermeticists mean? What is the relationship here which we are overlooking?
The conventional attitude of modern science on the subject of Consciousness is very simple: it is the product of physical processes in the brain. PET, EEG and MRI scans have done much to identify which parts of the brain ‘light up’ with electrical energy during different functions of Consciousness. Further, evidence of Consciousness has been found nowhere where complex brains and nervous systems have not developed. Kill the brain and Consciousness evaporates. This is self-evident. It is, quite literally, a no-brainer. Further, chemical imbalances in the brain’s make-up have been found to account for certain emotional states, which the basis for the proliferation of drugs being used for treatment of mental health issues. Francis Crick , co-discover of the DNA double helix puts it thus:
“You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”
In other words, Consciousness is an illusion. It does not exist. It is a kind of theatre presented by the brain and its mechanisms to convince you that you exist. Why should it need to do so? Because from an evolutionary point of view, the complexity of this illusory Consciousness is integral to the survival of the species. The complex tasks our Consciousness is able to carry out give us a better chance of survival than other animals who might be faster, bigger, stronger, more poisonous etc than us. The ability to reason, build, learn, remember etc are essential parts of our Evolutionary survival kit. Our ‘Consciousness’, our sense of ‘Self’ is a byproduct of this evolutionary process. It has no real existence or importance beyond itself. The ‘I’ is a product of mechanism, like everything else. Not only does God not exist, neither, technically, do you.
Surely, then, the case is closed?
If it were, then why, for instance, does Max Planck tell us that ‘mind is the matrix of all matter’? And he is not alone. Here is Nobel Prize Winning Quantum Scientist Eugene Wigner on the subject:
“Until not many years ago, the ‘existence’ of a mind or soul would have been passionately denied by most physical scientists. The brilliant successes of mechanistic and, more generally, macroscopic physics and of chemistry overshadowed the obvious fact that thoughts, desires, and emotions are not made of matter, and it was universally accepted among physical scientists that there is nothing besides matter. The epitome of this belief was the conviction that, if we knew the positions and velocities of all atoms at one instant of time, we could compute the fate of the universe for all future. Even today, there are adherents to this view, though fewer among the physicists than – ironically enough – among biochemists.
There are several reasons for the return, on the part of most physical scientists, to the spirit of Descartes’s ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’, which recognises the thought, that is the mind, as primary. First, the brilliant successes of mechanics not only faded into the past; they were also recognised as partial successes, relating to a narrow range of phenomena, all in the macroscopic domain. When the province of physical theory was extended to encompass microscopic phenomena, through the creation of quantum mechanics, the concept of consciousness came to the fore again: it was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness. All that quantum mechanics purports to provide are probability connections between subsequent impressions (also called ‘appeceptions’) of the consciousness, and even though the dividing line between the observer, whose consciousness is being affected, and the observed physical object can be shifted towards the one or the other to a considerable degree, it cannot be eliminated. It may be premature to believe that the present philosophy of quantum mechanics will remain a permanent feature of future physical theories; it will remain remarkable, in whatever way future concepts develop, that the very study of the external world led to the conclusion that the content of the consciousness is an ultimate reality.”
Wolfgang Pauli, another Nobel Prize Winner and pioneer of Quantum Science:
“The limitation of consciousness in space and time is such an overwhelming reality that every occasion when this fundamental truth is broken must rank as an event of the highest theoretical significance, for it would prove that the space-time barrier can be annulled. The annulling factor would then be the psyche, since space-time would attach to it at most as a relative and conditioned quality. Under certain conditions it [the psyche; RFR] could even break through the barriers of space and time precisely because of a quality essential to it, that is, its relatively trans-spatial and trans-temporal nature. This possible transcendence of space-time, for which it seems to me there is a good deal of evidence, is of such incalculable import that it should spur the spirit of research to the greatest effort. Our present development of consciousness is, however, so backward that in general we still lack the scientific and intellectual equipment for adequately evaluating the facts of telepathy so far as they have bearing on the nature of the psyche. I have referred to this group of phenomena merely in order to point out that the psyche’s attachment to the brain, i.e., its space-time limitation, is no longer as self-evident and incontrovertible as we have hitherto been led to believe.”
Erwin Schroedinger, also a Nobel Laureate and Quantum Scientist:
“The reason why our sentient, percipient and thinking ego is met nowhere within our scientific world picture can easily be indicated in seven words: because it is itself that world picture. It is identical with the whole and therefore cannot be contained in it as a part of it.”
What do all these quotes have in common? They are all by Quantum Scientists; and not just ordinary Quantum Scientists, but members of the key generation of geniuses without whom there would be no Quantum Science. All identify Consciousness or Mind as integral to the Quantum Process, identifying it as integral to the behaviour and formation of Matter, given that Matter, our macrocosmic Universe of ‘things’, emerges from the Quantum level of reality, the microcosmic Universe of ‘probabilities’. The reason? The old, much disputed (and disliked) canard of Quantum Science, that without a Conscious Observer, what is known as ‘wave collapse’ could not occur and thus no concrete physical processes would be able to come into being. Thus, without a Conscious Observer, the Universe would stay in a state of what is known as a ‘superimposition’ in which no Matter would exist, everything remaining in a state of perpetual possibility, nothing more than one vast conglomerate of wave functions. In other words, the Universe would be “without form and void” until something observed it, or to please the religious amongst us, until ‘the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”. Then, and only then, could the Big Bang have happened and we would have had Light, thus ushering in the orders of Time and Space which constitute our physical Universe. That Consciousness was integral to the formation of Matter in this sense was not an idea confined to Max Planck, or even just Wigner, Pauli and Schroedinger mentioned above. The great mathematician John von Neumann, in his work THE MATHEMATICAL FOUNDATIONS OF QUANTUM MECHANICS demonstrated how Consciousness was unavoidable in understanding Quantum Processes. Later eminent figures such as John Wheeler, Sir James Jeans, Martin Rees, Euan Squires, Sir Roger Penrose and many others have posited similar ideas. These are not soft-headed muddled thinkers watching WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW? but important Scientists, Cosmologists and Astrophysicists. Something interesting is going on. Each returns in some sense to Max Planck’s assertion, reiterated here:
“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
Thus, the question arises, if Consciousness is in some way integral to the existence of any kind of Matter, then how can it be solely the product of the brain? The brain is made up of Matter, but if these Scientists are correct, that Matter cannot come into existence without Consciousness. Henry Stapp goes even further, insisting that rather than Consciousness emerging from the brain, the brain emerges from Consciousness, in the sense that, without Consciousness, the brain would not be held in any kind of constant fixed state. Thus rather than Consciousness being an epiphenomenon of the brain, the brain is an ephiphenomenon of Consciousness, or at least the two must exist simultaneously and symbiotically, perhaps as a continuum, rather like an egg and a chicken permanently laying and hatching each other at once. Either Consciousness is the primary reality and Matter an illusion, or Matter is the primary reality and Consciousness the illusion. Alternatively, some other relationship, hitherto unexplored, is involved.
Clearly there is a mystery here to be unravelled. And what does it mean to say that “mind is the matrix of all matter”? We humans cannot be everywhere at once, so our capacity for Observation is severely limited. Further, we didn’t come onto the scene until relatively recently, and yet we know that the Universe existed billions of years before even the most elementary examples of Conscious life existed on this planet. Not only that, but the Universe seems to exist and remain in place even in areas which we cannot possibly see.
So what is going on? And what can a Buddhist, a Hermeticist and a German Quantum Scientist all be perceiving independently of each other that most of us are missing? More, what can they say to each other that may help to unravel this mystery?
These notes are an attempt to find out, or at least to turn over a few ideas that might help others… – Jake Murray