What things mean.

We attribute meanings to the things in our life based on what motivates us. And we’re motivated by what we think we are. I’ll clarify those concepts later on, but first I want to make it clear that our ability to think about what we are doesn’t require us to have free will in the truest sense. Just as well, because none of us actually has it. Our ‘free’ will is a manufactured product of our circumstances. You don’t choose to be what and who you are, or even what you do. Those things are all decided for you.

From the day you’re born, you’re trapped inside a body designed by genes over many millions of years for one purpose only: to ensure those genes get copied and reproduced.  All the major decisions about what you are physically have already been made by that process.

What about who you are? The non-physical stuff? Your thoughts, memories, ideas, opinions, fears, hopes, dreams, aspirations and so on?  Obviously those all arise from your conviction that you’re a physical body in a physical world. They’re also a result of what your body and brain, were designed for, the way they were designed, and the materials used.  All of those factors have a near total influence on the subconscious parts of your mind, and thus the way you think and feel – about everything.

In other words, all of your thoughts, memories, ideas, opinions, fears, hopes, dreams, aspirations and so on, are the result of genes and their blind, mindless efforts to get themselves copied and reproduced.  Mindless, that is, until you came along believing you were the body, brain and mind that genes built, for themselves. (And it took you a couple of million years to even figure out what genes are and how they work.)

Because your thoughts, memories, ideas, fears, hopes, dreams, aspirations and the rest are all concocted in a brain built by many millions of years of genetic replication and reproduction, you’re now stuck in a designer reality, built by genes for genes. But you think of it as your human reality. Human society, like all other organism societies, is a product of the conviction that being in a physical body is the way things are meant to be, and so far as insentient bits of protein called genes are concerned, it is.

Just don’t run off with the idea that how you want things to be, is somehow separate from the way genes want it to be.

And then there’s God.  Ideas about God are side-effects of the instinct to survive as genes, for genes, in a material world. Believing that your beliefs are inviolate is itself a defense mechanism to protect your survival as genes.  Naturally you won’t think so, but remember what designed and built the brain and mind that your thoughts and beliefs are coming from, and why. You’re made from physical components, shaped by laws of physics into a gene-survival suit…and you’re kidding yourself there’s an all-knowing, all-powerful ‘something’ behind it all? Even more delusional, you imagine you know what this ‘something’ is?

Not only are ideas about God indivisible from the survival instinct – for real reasons just outlined – they’re fashioned from materially real imagery. Human minds in physical bodies are incapable of comprehending a reality not built on physically real phenomena, or conscious interaction with it. In other words, your ideas about God are fashioned from your painfully limited understanding of yourself and your place in a physical reality.

What about the environment?  We know of just two fundamental phenomena in our cosmic environment: physical things, and consciousness. The only consciousness we know of is our own. Physical stuff is just that, whereas consciousness is immaterial. It has no physicality. Yes, consciousness is assumed to be made by atoms in a brain, but it’s not made from brain atoms. There is no atomic structure of consciousness. There are no molecules in an idea.

And yet ideas are all and everything that we are – along with thoughts, memories, assumptions, fears, hopes, dreams, aspirations, delusions, pretensions, etc, etc. Put all those together and we appear. Take ‘em all away, and we cease to be, leaving only the shell that genes built.

Now forget genes and bodies and brains. They’re not what we are, they’re only what we imagine we are. Our bodies are merely part of the physical environment we were born into. We mistake ourselves for them only because they enable us to exist as consciousness in their physical environment. Immaterial though we are as consciousness, our thoughts, memories, ideas, fears, hopes, dreams, aspirations, etc. are able to translate physicality into so much more than atoms and molecules…by giving physical things meaning.

As consciousness, we’re a separate environment made from our own and each others ideas, thoughts, memories, fears, hopes, dreams and aspirations. Our real environment became exclusively one of immaterial mind stuff when we became conscious of being conscious.

The physical sensations we ‘feel’, along with ‘our’ emotions, are generated by chemical interaction in a non-conscious genetic body, nervous system and brain. As consciousness, we only identify with those chemical interactions in terms of the ideas – the meanings – they help us conjure up about ourselves.

‘Sensations’, ‘feelings’ and ‘emotions’ are illusions we perceive as real only because our immaterial conscious self is so closely interfaced with a material body, nervous system and brain. The nature of this interface translates physical sensations into consciousness for us, otherwise we’d be unaware of them.

As the environment of ideas within a material environment, our reality is fast becoming less about what the physical environment makes us, and more about what our ideas make it.  We pervade these biological vehicles as an immaterial phenomenon; we really are the ghost in a biological machine. Though as aspects of the environment of consciousness, rather than think of ourselves as indeterminate parts of an amorphous cloud of vapor, say, we each have a distinct existence as a core self made from a unique set of ideas.

Our personal core self is constantly reshaped by outside influences that affect us consciously and subconsciously. We evolve as a result of the ideas – and meanings – we’re constantly interacting with. And while our conscious selves evolve, the genetic bodies we’re in evolve too.

But it’s meaningless to say that we’re how genes – or even the physical universe – became conscious; no two phenomena are so different from each other as physical matter and consciousness. We were never physical.

What does all of this mean?  Regardless of what we believe about our origins, as conscious minds caught up in genetic hardware, it’s for us alone to decide what it means to be conscious, in a physical human body, in society, in a material world. Finding meaning for ourselves isn’t something our genetic bodies are capable of; meaning is unique to us as consciousness; that should be obvious.

Ideas about God or an afterlife are consistent with this search for meaning. Perhaps they’re inevitable. But whatever we choose to believe, the hard fact is that while we’re here, as consciousness in a material world, this is the only world we, as human beings, can perceive or have ideas about.

We’re simply not designed to have ideas about any other kind of world than a material one; in a material body and brain, our mindset is anchored in our subconscious identification with our perceived material self. It’s also a delusion that we can imagine a world, a reality, in which our own conscious motivations are free from the instinct that motivates us to survive as physical beings.

As said, part of that same delusion is to imagine we can separate ideas about God from the instinct to survive in a material world. We demonstrate that by using the God concept as a tool or a weapon that works to our own advantage, allowing us to see the meaning in things that we choose to see. This is survival-oriented ‘meaning’, reflected in all our thoughts and actions; in what things are worth to us and why we value them.

We can’t be relied upon to decide impartially about meanings or values. Our entire understanding of value judgement evolved to favor things that mean the most to us, and – for all the reasons touched on above – nothing means more to us than our survival as genes.

Yet we need meaning in our life – in fact an endless series of small ongoing meanings that make an overall meaning. Meanings give our existence a purpose. The problem is that we’re immaterial consciousness existing in a physical world, the most immediate aspect of which is a physical body we claim as our own, and in doing that, lose our real selves.

In a physical body, we think – instinctively – of ourselves and our survival in physical terms and look for what physical things mean for our survival as physical beings. But in our true environment of consciousness, the things we value most in the physical world are not physical; they exist only as ideas, hopes, dreams, aspirations, awareness, understanding, etc.

Tread carefully here, because though our hopes, dreams, fears, aspirations and ideas are about what physical things mean to us, they’re not about what physical things mean to our physical selves; nothing has ‘meaning’ for the atoms and molecules of our physical selves. Our hopes, dreams, fears, aspirations and ideas are exclusively immaterial, and so can only ever be about what physical things mean to us as immaterial consciousness.

Be more of what you really are.  The value we place on physical things is part of the illusion we unwittingly create for ourselves. The real purpose of our conscious presence in this physical environment is to transform physical things into a dynamic collection of immaterial ideas that transcend the physical world. That goes for our ideas about our physical bodies too. Thus transformed, physical things cease to have value only as divisive life support for genes, and instead, in our immaterial minds, become only about the conscious meanings we choose to give them – meanings that can only have ‘meaning’ for consciousness.

Physical things then become a reflection of us and our purpose – to make the most of what we really are: something far more than mindless and uncaring physical matter that has no meaning for itself. The meanings we choose to give physical things are the meanings we choose to give ourselves and each other, rather than the lack of meaning placed on us by physical matter.

When we think of ourselves as physical beings first, we naturally downgrade what we really are – our real, conscious selves – and instead chase the objects and experiences that feed our illusions about ourselves as physical beings. We allow mindless, uncaring stuff to call the shots.  We all do it, imagining this will benefit our conscious selves too, but it has the opposite effect.

As conscious beings, only we can decide the value of things. But because the physical things of our environment affect the quality of our life and our fate as physical bodies, we allow them to decide the value we put on ourselves and each other, period.

While we base our values on physical things, we judge the value – the meaning – of ourselves and each other as conscious beings in terms of the relative value we place on physical stuff.

Do we really want the meaning of our existence to depend primarily, or only, on the value we put on physical things? How we use them, share them, distribute them, withhold them, covet them, beg, borrow or steal them?



Get real.

I think, therefore I think I’m something special.

We imagine we’re somehow above everything, better than the rest of creation, ‘chosen’ in some inexplicable way, if not by God then by the universe that went to the trouble of building us from stardust.

Being special, we demand this, we want that, we deserve respect, love, success, and the rest.

Had we been around when Darwin’s ideas first appeared, we’d have been outraged by the notion that we could have evolved from apes.

Even now the fact that we’re fundamentally no different than other animals is artfully buried under our pretensions of civilized sophistication.

More than that, we think that by dressing up the same instincts, urges and bodily functions we share with other species, we become not just superior to them, but perceive ourselves as part of a different kind of reality where only we and our needs matter.

At best, the arrogance of this delusional elitist attitude becomes an instinctive urge to protect the things we depend on for our well-being – but only so we can plunder them more thoughtfully.

At worst our approach manifests as a godlike disregard for anything that isn’t useful to us. Even each other.

It took millions of years of evolution for us to become separate from our surroundings; to recognize that our senses were not the same as the physical environment that caused them.

Our senses now define us as individuals and give us our personal identity. But senses – along with the bodies and brains that go with them – were evolved by genes to ensure their own survival.

With our vain glimmering of awareness, we still imagine we are genes. With that comes the human delusion, built on the genetic survival instinct, that as the human manifestation of my genes, ‘I’ matter most.

It’s a conviction that naturally leads to the idea that we’re all separate units and simply co-exist in our own personal world of ‘me-ness’.

The closest we ever come to true unity is an illusion created by our own personal desires for ourselves as individuals.

Anything more profound that could transcend the ‘me-ness’ is practically metaphysical and incomprehensible to us, because our physical bodies and their demands trick us into believing physical sensations are the real raison d’etre for this whole charade.

As an entirely physical process, our genetic heritage actually contrives to keep us apart at the level that matters: the conscious one. That’s the one we need to work on.

Practical spirituality.

‘Spirituality’ gets a bad press amongst materialists who associate it with religion and belief in God.

For me, spirituality is nothing to do with religion. I don’t even like the word spirituality.

I prefer consciousness. We’re all conscious, so we know we’re dealing with something real. But simply to say that consciousness is no less real for us than our physical body, is to sell ourselves short.

Consciousness is most definitely more real than physical things.

How can the immaterial phenomenon of consciousness be more real than physical things made from atoms?

In a nutshell: No consciousness, no us. And no us means no anything else. (More on that in a moment.)

Be clear what I mean by consciousness. (And remember it’s the real you I’m talking about, not some weird abstract notion.)

To say ‘you are conscious’ can sound like ‘you are fat’, or ‘you are ill’, by suggesting that being conscious is hardly more than a condition that a physical body happens to be in.

That in turn gives the false impression that your physical body and brain creates everything that your consciousness is and does, understands, knows, hopes for, dreams of, aspires to and so on.

I’m not having that. As consciousness, we’re not just some misty thing conjured up by an otherwise stupidly mindless collection of atoms. I say f*** that, and you should too.

We are consciousness. If we didn’t exist, nor would anything else because as consciousness, being aware of ourselves and the things around us is all that brings them into existence for us.

No. I’m not having that either. It’s not what really happens. Nowhere even close. Consciousness doesn’t just bring things into existence for us (the way a camera brings a picture of things into existence); consciousness brings everything alive for us! It brings us alive for ourselves and each other.

No us would mean no life, along with all of the countless incredible experiences that populate it!

Consciousness is all that creates life. It is life, period.

(Yeah, I know I keep on overstretching this, but I’m only doing what an attorney does before being reprimanded for going too far before the jury is instructed to disregard that as evidence – after it’s too late.)

True, we can’t know what it would be like not to be consciousness; to have no mental existence; no sentient awareness. We can only try to imagine oblivion – absolute nothingness. Except that like infinity, the idea of pure nothingness is beyond our comprehension.

I don’t think we can ever know oblivion. I think we’re permanent. When our physical body shuts down for good, we wake up to what we really are. There’s something else you can disregard because I can’t prove. (It’s all in Diary of my life after death.)

All I can do is try to spell out why consciousness is more real that physical things in a laborious but hopefully clear way.

We think of ourselves as a physical body. But in order to ‘think’ of ourselves at all requires some part of us to have self awareness. A part of us has to know that we’re thinking.

(This process of being aware that we’re aware is probably not unique to human consciousness, though it may well be rare amongst other species.)

But I don’t see how atoms alone could do it. To be self aware, atoms would need the ability to recognize themselves as atoms. To do that they’d need to stand apart from themselves – the way we stand apart from the things we’re aware of – and look back at themselves in the knowing, aware way that we look at things that are not us.

That would amount to atoms being conscious.

See that? I’m saying you can’t be ‘the same as’ something, and simultaneously not be the same as something. (Double definitely not when one of those things is everything that consciousness is.)

I did warn you this would be laborious. Did I warn your body or your brain? What would be the point of that?

They’re just atoms, reducing to nucleons (protons and neutrons) surrounded by an electron cloud. Nucleons in turn reduce to their component quarks and gluons, which, in even smaller terms, are quantum particles. (If you want to postulate smaller still, try superstrings.)

Nothing made from atoms has ever given any indication that it can think, experience emotions, have memories, dreams, aspirations or moral opinions.

Everything we know from our personal experience of consciousness tell us that it lives in dimensions beyond those of physical things made from atoms and their component parts.

So, members of the jury, our consciously aware self is self evidently something other – something a great deal more – than our physical self made of atoms.

The only logical and realistic conclusion we can draw is that, as human beings, we’re two separate and utterly different phenomena rolled into one.

That’s not good enough. Even though you might agree that consciousness is obviously more real than physically real things, you still believe we’re just as physical as we are conscious.

You want that to be true, because it’s what your whole life is about.

We’re all stuck with the fact that we’re not coming from an enlightened, top down position. (Not as our human selves anyhow.) So far as we’re concerned, we evolve from the bottom up, and that has us convinced that physical things came first and are ‘more real’ than consciousness.

You still believe that, regardless of whether or not you believe in God, or whether of not your intellect wants to think that consciousness is more real than physical things.

You can’t help but believe that. The conviction is an inescapable function of your survival instinct. Through the laws of physics it drives the interaction of your body’s atoms, and starting from the lowest levels of your psyche, those same laws of physics work their way up through the structure of your emotions to become the certainty that physical things are more real.

Any anyhow, physically real things are considered more real than consciousness because physically real things are discernible by our senses, while consciousness isn’t.

Big deal. Our senses themselves are physical. They’re part of the scam. It’s all atoms together.

But again, the only way we know the atoms of our physical senses are detecting other physical things made from atoms, is because we’re conscious of that happening…because we’re something so much more than atoms.

My case rests, but not for long.

Don’t just accept things.



Too often we don’t wonder ‘why?’ about things.

Especially the biggest, most important things.

We just accept them.


That’s how ALL of our problems arise.Why?

Because nothing is what it seems.

Everything your senses tell you is real, is part of an illusion.

You’ve lived with this illusion all your life.

You believe it’s real, but it’s not.

It’s only a partial glimpse of how things really are.

Even that glimpse is so distorted as to be mostly meaningless.

This is not mystical bullshit.  

It’s how things really are.

I won’t kid you this is easy to understand.

But it is worth your while to try.

All that ‘we are – our personality, our awareness, knowledge, ideas, memories and anything else that you can possibly ‘think of’ – literally – exists ONLY in the form of our consciousness.

As consciousness, ‘we’ can only ever know about, or come into contact with, anything outside of our own consciousness (the things we call ‘physically real’, or other consciousnesses) as purely non-physical conscious experiences.

See that? It’s just the beginning.

Your perceptions of yourself and the world around you – everything from the most vivid physical sensation to the subtlest mental notion – exist in your consciousness only as non-physical ideas.

Being able to experience pain, anguish, joy, frustration and other emotions exclusively as non-physical ideas – yet think they’re physical feelings – is just one of the remarkable – and inexplicable – things about consciousness.

Consciousness alone brings the vibrant colors and nuances of our physical experience of the world and everything in it – our physical selves included – into existence for us. We make the physical world real for ourselves.

We create our own reality.

But why, if the things we think of a physical experiences are just non-physical ideas for us, do they feel so physically real?

It’s because, as consciousness, we’re so tightly interfaced with a body and brain, that our consciousness functions as if we are those physical components.

That’s another unique quality of consciousness.

There’s nothing else like it.

Our body is merely part of the physical world of atoms. That’s why it can interact with that world. By interfacing our physical body, we can have a conscious experience of that physical interaction.

(Think of a body as a ‘middle man’ between our consciousness and the rest of the physical world.)

Reality is unique for each of us.

Each one of us perceives reality in a different way because we’re all unique individuals, fashioned from a unique set of personal experiences of the physical world – not to mention our unique personal experiences of other consciousnesses.

I gather some of us see reality very differently from others. (That’s a post for another time.)

So what is physical reality really?

What exactly is it that our consciousness interfaces to convince us that physical things are real?

That depends on how you look at things.

On the smallest scales you can change things just by looking at them. But we’re coming to that.

Your experience of physically real things starts where the edges of your conscious self meet your physical body.

That body (complete with nervous system and brain) evolved over many millions of years to interpret the physically real world for your consciousness.

It’s impossible to grasp the subtleties of the interface between the conscious you and your physical self.

For instance, even on the relatively clunky scale of atoms, nerve signals travel instantaneously, making you think that every movement of your body is part of the conscious ‘you’.

If we go in a lot closer than atoms, the solid ‘things’ we ‘think’ of as physical realness, disappear entirely.

Still more surprising, at these highly magnified scales, there are no pre-formed structures ‘outside’ of us; no sounds; no colors; no textures.

‘Reality’ is just shapes that form in energy.

Both the physical realness outside of us, and our conscious perception of it, are made from countless vibrations of minuscule quantities of energy.

What we think of as ‘real’ things are simply patterns that form in the energy.

We ‘see’ and ‘hear’ and ‘feel’ them the way we do because evolution caused energy vibrations to become shaped into ‘real’ things.

Our body, nerves and brain are some of those ‘real’ things, made of energy vibrations, that our consciousness perceives.

Consciousness is energy too.

When the energy patterns that make our consciousness, interface the energy patterns that make our body, nervous system and brain, ‘we’ experience the physical world not as energy patterns, but as physically real things.

To create our visual picture of reality, energy shaped into light waves ‘bounce off’ physical objects and enter our eyes. That causes nerve impulses (made from more energy) to jump to our brain (which is also just energy).

When that happens, our conscious mind (still more energy, but of a much more refined conscious kind) becomes aware of ‘seeing’. (It’s a similar story for hearing, touch, smell, taste and the rest of our consciously perceived experiences of physical ‘reality’.)

By adjusting a sufficiently sophisticated microscope you’d be able to see the energy vibrations as molecules, then smaller atoms, then nucleons and electrons, and then quarks and gluons, and even smaller particles.

It’s when you get down to truly small quantum scales that you can change things just by looking at them.

This is where the illusion of realness is itself unreal.

Quantum particles don’t behave the way our consciousness has evolved to think ‘real’ things should behave.

Down at the quantum level of ‘reality’, our understanding of realness goes right out the window.

A single quantum particle (of the kind that atoms are made from) can be in many different places at the same time.

This is called being in a superposition of states; it gives the impression that quantum particles exist as part of a wave of particles.

But if you look at a single particle, you cause the wave to ‘collapse’, so you see only one particle in one place.

That suggests nothing is actually ‘real’ until someone conscious decides to look at it.

So consciousness decides what’s real.

Quantum particles – and quantum ‘unreality’ – are the underlying machinery of the entire physical universe.

What you’re conscious of right now is nothing but quantum ‘unrealness’, aka quantum uncertainty.

Yet somehow, your consciousness turns this quantum ‘unreality’ into what you think of as real things.

Remember, none of this is mystical bullshit.

Where does it leave our ‘reality’?

Although it implies that we create the reality we want for ourselves, things aren’t quite that straight forward.

The ‘reality’ you’re seeing now is in fact only one of many possible ‘realities’.

You see quantum vibrations as your particular ‘reality’ because of the level your consciousness has evolved to.

And the level of your conscious evolution depends on how your consciousness interacts with your physical brain.

In effect, you can only be as conscious as your physical brain allows you to be. And you can only see the reality that your brain allows you to see.

There’s another problem.

The reality we think we want, isn’t really what ‘we’ want.

Our consciousness can’t be free to see reality for what it really is – whatever that might be – while we’re influenced by physically real things.

The only reality we see is the one that physical things – our body in particular – want us to see.

Physical things have their own powerful agenda. We experience that agenda most profoundly through our interface with our own body.

Our body makes demands on us, without even knowing it does, and we assume that’s what we want.

Your body’s agenda is driven by the self-interest of physical evolution.

That is, by what the physical universe is made from, and the way it’s screwed together.

Likewise your brain is just a biomechanical engine, designed by millions of years of evolution only to keep its body out of trouble.

It doesn’t ‘know’ it’s doing that. It has no more conscious awareness than your electric toothbrush does. So it doesn’t even know the conscious ‘you’ exists.

And yet by interpreting quantum ‘unreality’ as physically real things, your mind brings that physical body into existence.








It must be easy…

…to tell people searching for a greater truth that they can accomplish near miracles without the hard work. To write about enlightenment, personal growth, spiritual awareness – call it what you like – without also explaining that such head in the clouds ideas are meaningless unless you also have your feet firmly on the ground, literally and metaphorically. Yes, we may be angels in disguise, but the ‘disguise’ is there for a good reason: to be a vehicle through which to learn about ourselves in this material world.

Why enlightenment isn’t an easy ride:  As a learning tool, the physical vehicle – our body – is designed to adapt to our progress and evolve. The problem is that everything that makes us who we are – our ideas, hopes, joys and dreams, our aspirations, memories, knowledge, and our awareness of those – are all essentially immaterial concepts; they’re properties only of our consciousness. When consciousness is absent, ‘we’ cease to exist. That means conscious awareness isn’t something we have, it’s everything that we are All ‘we’ are is a collection of immaterial concepts. But this is not the way we’ve evolved to see ourselves, or reality. On the contrary, we’ve come to think of our ‘real’ self as the physical body, and our consciousness as a mysterious side-effect of that body’s evolution.

By choosing to see reality as a material process, we’ve actually become masters of self delusion, thinking and behaving as if we are material too. We’ve decided that all of the immaterial things that ‘we’ are – our ideas, hopes, joys and dreams, our aspirations, memories, knowledge, and our awareness of those – are somehow produced by the same stuff that material reality is made from. And it’s precisely by allowing material things to govern our understanding of reality this way that we create all manner of problems for ourselves and each other.

All of the perceived difficulties we encounter in life stem from this fundamental self deception. What’s more, our ‘spiritual’ aspirations, arguments for belief in an afterlife, higher dimensions of consciousness, God and etc., appear vapid and unreal, simply because they make no sense in a material reality. Making matters worse, those arguments suggest our immaterial consciousness is in some sense more real than so-called physically real phenomena.

Testimony from the many thousands of people who’ve reported NDEs, or been hypnotically regressed to the ‘life between lives’, tells us that as immaterial conscious beings, the awareness we bring to this material world is only a small part of our real conscious self. Most of our real self remains in higher dimensions of consciousness, though we’re always connected to that greater self. Through that connection we can access what our higher self knows – about who we really are, and our real reason for being here.

It seems we can find not just enlightenment but can overcome our human problems and failings by learning to strengthen that connection; to ‘be’ more of our real self. The stronger our connection to our real, higher self, the better able we are to see through the illusion created by material things. The pitfall is that in our eagerness to embrace these concepts, we might be tempted to believe there’s a quick and easy way to achieve enlightenment.

This belief only perpetuates our delusions. There is no soft option. The illusions and delusions – and problems – that come with being human are only dissolved gradually by a long learning process over many lifetimes, and it’s often hard work.

But that’s not what we want to hear. For one thing, the concept of reincarnation and many successive lifetimes of learning can seem incredible. An immature mind, steeped in this ‘I want it now’ culture, prefers an easy ride, imagining it’s possible to ‘become enlightened’ more or less instantly, simply because we want to be, or because our belief system says we can be.

It’s not about what we want. Enlightenment, personal growth, spiritual awareness – call it what you like – is not about what ‘we want’. Wanting per se isn’t about our real self, it’s only about material things. We only become more of our real self not by getting but by giving; by doing things for others. Enlightenment is entirely about giving, and it happens only when we learn to recognize what’s real from what’s illusory.

The crux of the ‘learning program’ we’re all a part of is to realize that giving and getting are part of the fundamental machinery of reality that we’re here to learn to manipulate in our capacity as co-designers of that reality. In a material world like this, our understanding of giving and getting can make the difference between heaven and hell. We can so easily make life difficult for ourselves and each other by failing to appreciate the science of giving and getting. A science, because it’s about how reality really works. It’s the science of reality if you like. You could think of it in terms of energy, but that’s too simple a word for the stuff that powers reality

Just imagine…

Once upon a time the world seemed a pretty clunky and obvious place. Then the discovery of atoms showed it was a lot more complex and interesting. Not long after, quantum mechanics revealed it to be not only infinitely more complex, but downright weird.

Discoveries like these about the world around us evolve from earlier discoveries. By making such discoveries, we evolve too because these (and other) discoveries are not just about the world around us, they’re also about our perception of that world. Our consciousness evolves by interacting with the physical world. At the same time our physical selves evolve because, as we change the physical world, we adapt physically to accommodate those changes.

But how real is the physical world? We often forget that real things are only real for us because we’re able to perceive them consciously. Interestingly, everything we perceive is exclusively in our consciousness. In that sense nothing for us is physically real and never was.It’s hard to get your head around that because you’re not used to thinking of things as they really are. You’re not used to seeing things as they really are either. In fact all of your senses have been fooling you all along.

Sure this sounds nutty. As I said, before we realized that physical things were made of invisible bits of stuff (that we later called atoms), we assumed all the ‘real’ things were solid. Now we know that atoms themselves are made of far smaller and stranger stuff called quanta. These unimaginably tiny pieces of physical reality behave in ways that suggest nothing is what we think it is. They suggest that nothing is truly solid, or definite, or fixed, or certain. You could say they suggest that nothing is real, which in turn suggests that it’s down to us to decide what’s real.

That idea isn’t the standard scientific conclusion. it’s mine, but to think we have anywhere near a complete understanding – of physical reality or ourselves – is just delusional. Go look up the word hubris.

Now I’ll remind you that science thinks it knows pretty much all about physical reality, but nobody understands what consciousness is, so nobody knows how physical components – in the shape of brain cells – can create consciousness. Science just assumes that’s what happens, based on what we know about how the physical world works.

If you believe we’re entirely physical and our consciousness is an emergent by-product of physical processes, then maybe you also believe that physical stuff and mental stuff are, at bottom, just different forms of the same material. Like ice and water and steam are. Everything else is made from atoms, so maybe you figure that atoms and their smaller quantum particles might possess consciousness generating properties that we haven’t discovered yet. Maybe there’s some mysterious factor enabling atoms to conjure up everything that we experience in what we think of as ‘our’ consciousness.

Maybe there is no mystery; maybe all it takes to make consciousness is a steady progression of ever more complex physiological processes all working together to transcend the boundary between insentience and sentience.

But remember: We’ve gotten used to thinking of everything from the ‘bottom up’. (Or we think we have.) If you begin millions of years ago with a little consciousness that grows into ours as our brain and nervous system grows, naturally you’re going to assume consciousness is made by that brain and nervous system. This natural assumption is where neuroscience is still at. (The opposite notion – that the phenomenon we call our consciousness is not manufactured by atoms – is pure ‘top down’ thinking.)

Be clear about what physically real things are and what they’re not. An atom is a tiny central nucleus with a positive electric charge surrounded by negatively electrically charged electrons. There’s nothing about atoms that suggests they’re conscious, or that a lot of them together could create consciousness. The same goes for the quantum particles that atoms are made from. The fact that they behave in ways that seem strange to us doesn’t mean they have magical or mystical properties, any more than everyday solid objects do, all of which are made from quantum particles.

Despite being the most complex object we know of, the human brain is still just a collection of these basic components of physical reality.

Words like ‘magical’ and ‘mystical’ have no place in science, but they are real concepts, and as concepts (which are entirely un-physical notions) magic and mysticism are things that only consciousness can appreciate; only conscious minds can pretend, imagine or handle un-physical – aka unreal – stuff. These ‘unreal’ concepts play a very real part in our mental vocabulary and our understanding of reality. (Take my word for that; it’s too complicated to explain here. Maybe you can appreciate it anyhow.)

You could say that consciousness itself, as an un-physical notion (like magic and mysticism) is something that only consciousness can appreciate. Consciousness is also the only place where imagination and pretense can exist.

Question: Can the stuff we imagine, or pretend can exist, be said to exist? If not, why not? The stuff of imagination and pretense seems to be just as real as our consciousness. And we know our consciousness is real because without it, nothing else would be real for us.

If the pretend stuff of our imagination does exist in a reality that’s no less real than our consciousness, then maybe our definition of imaginary is wrong. Maybe imaginary things are, in their own way, just as real as – if not more real than – the things we always thought as of real. (More real would depend on whether we think our conscious reality is more real than the physical reality we’re conscious of. On that score, realize that our consciousness is all that makes the physical world real for us, and how much less rich the physical world would be without our consciousness.)

A ‘potential’ for being real is another concept that only consciousness can get a handle on. But the potential that our imagined ideas have for becoming real is what’s unique about consciousness. It makes consciousness a medium of creation, transformation and possibility. It’s also reminiscent of the strange behavior of the quantum world, where the particles and forces that govern atoms appear to behave with uncertainty. Investigation of our conscious perception of uncertainty can surely help us understand more about the relationship between consciousness and materiality.

If something has the potential for existence, then it’s in a special kind of proto-reality where it might possibly become real (at some time in the future). So it’s not actually the same as what we understand as absolutely imaginary (in that it couldn’t possibly ever become real).

To make this still more complicated in the broader sense of what can be real, we have to include stuff that we don’t know about yet. Not yet knowing about things that might turn out to either exist for real, or be brought into existence for real, is an uncomfortable notion. If we don’t know about a thing yet, then by science’s rules, strictly speaking, it’s not real. On the other hand there are things that have a greater probability of becoming real than others. Some of those have little chance of ever becoming real, while others are pretty much a certainty.

So there have to be shades of possibility that science can live with. Stuff that’s not real yet, but at the same time acceptable because it would build on what we already know. (This point can get stretched to fantastic lengths because science is often speculative, aka purely theoretical.) That said, the study of consciousness – by which I mean human consciousness trying to understand the reality created by itself – is hobbled by what we already know about physical reality. This knowledge pushes us down preferential avenues of further investigation, all based entirely on the notion that brains make consciousness, and excludes the possibility of any other explanation. The problem with that is, you can’t build on what you don’t want to know, or what you refuse to consider – even though you don’t yet know what that might be.

While we’re asking questions about what consciousness might be and how it might work, it seems only reasonable that we should seriously consider that maybe consciousness isn’t actually produced by a physical brain. But no. That idea is so open ended and important that mainstream science refuses to go anywhere near it except when ridiculing it. Certainly we need the strict scientific method to counteract all of the fantastical nonsense that’s a by-product of being human. At the same time, though, we need to be sufficiently open minded not to throw consciousness out with the bathwater.

Why is this subject such a big deal? Why so scary? Why is it sacrilegious to look right at consciousness as an autonomous phenomenon that’s not made by a physical brain?

The problem is that many people seem not just unwilling but unable to think seriously about that notion. They write books explaining in thinly disguised outraged detail how and why consciousness doesn’t have an autonomous existence. Judging by the time and effort they expend on refuting the possibility, you might imagine their life depended on it, or maybe their life’s work, and the way of thinking that underpins it.

Our consciousness works as if, by activating atoms in our brain so they interact in certain patterns, those patterns then correspond with something more than anything atoms alone are capable of…as if we’re accessing another phenomenon altogether. (Which of course we are.)

Citing some other phenomenon is anathema to neuroscientists, yet everything about our conscious awareness tells us it’s our access to an altogether richer, deeper, more refined, more potent reality than that occupied by atoms. In fact we can say unequivocally that another level or quality of realness is involved in our waking conscious state, otherwise we’d be unable to transcend the boundary between what things made from atoms are and do, and what consciousness is and does.

Did evolution design our thoughts?

Science tells us that evolution designed our brain, and our brain makes our consciousness. So our consciousness must be designed by evolution too. (Our consciousness produces our thoughts, our perception of the world, of ourselves and anything else. So all of those must also be designed by evolution.)

You might wonder how evolution could ‘design’ the thoughts in a brain with 80 billion neurons, all of them linking up in 1000 trillion connections. And what about free will? Assuming we have it, how can free will be designed?

To put things in perspective, if our perceptions, our thinking and even our so-called ‘free’ will, are made by our brain, they must also be limited by the elements our brain is made from, and by what those elements are capable of.

Our brain, along with everything else in the material universe, is made from combinations of a mere hundred or so atomic elements; these are governed by a few elementary laws of physics. The structure and behavior of those elements and laws keep the universe’s evolution in relatively narrow channels. Relative to what? To an alternative kind of universe with more elements and laws? Different elements and laws? Scientists suggest the possible existence of many other universes – perhaps an infinite number – each with its own elements and laws. But the evolution of each of these universes would still depend on the limitations of its own unique set of elements and laws, as our universe is. So any consciousness and ‘free’ will would be bound by those elements and laws, as we are.

Even so, looking out from inside a brain with 80 billion cells and trillions of connections between them – the most complex thing we know of in our universe – you might think we still have plenty of scope for thought…until you realize that our consciousness has only the physically real things, made from those few elements and laws, to be conscious of. Those few elements and laws have effectively ‘purpose designed’ our understanding of reality as an experience limited to, and by, physically real things. In a nutshell, our cognitive scope is confined by the stuff that made us.

Our science and our ideas about everything are constrained by the understanding that ‘reality’ is the physical things that evolved in this universe. As part of that understanding, evolutionary science tells us our bodies, brains and consciousness all evolved ‘just’ to maintain the accurate replication and reproduction of genes. (In our limited human terms, to help us survive in a hostile world.) So all the ideas embodied in the words I’m using here – ‘existence’, ‘survival’, ‘hostility’, ‘the world’, our ‘self’, ‘realness’, and any other word you can think of – are confined by the narrow boundaries imposed by those few chemical elements and basic laws of physics. That’s why you can’t imagine a reality made of anything but physically real things.

But what if reality could be made of something other than physical elements and laws? A reasonable enough question, but to answer it we have to step outside the limitations imposed by physically real things. How can we do that?

We already did. As consciousness, we’ve always been outside of those limitations. But we’ve also always been deluded by physically real things into thinking that our conscious reality is somehow ‘the same as’ physical realness. 

Ask yourself: Can physical things think? Can they be conscious? Brains are just physical things, yet science says they ‘produce’ our consciousness. That must mean brains are conscious. If it doesn’t mean that, then brains and consciousness would be two separate things. Are they?

Hold it. We’re not supposed to ask questions like that – it could mean there’s another kind of reality besides our familiar version. A reality that’s not constrained by physical elements and laws. Such notions are sacrilegious in a reality built on physical things.

Although we are conscious, we don’t know what consciousness is, what it’s made of or how it works. Yet it’s the only thing that tells us the world of physically real things exists. It does that by transforming the mindless world of physically real things, into our even more real world of consciousness. (If you doubt that our conscious view of the world is more real than the physical world itself, you lack imagination.) What’s more, consciousness is the only thing that tells us we exist, consciously and physically.

The simple fact is, our understanding of this relationship between our consciously real world, and the world of physical realness, didn’t evolve anywhere near far enough yet to tell us what consciousness actually is. So the meaning of everything in these words is still based entirely on the evidence of the physical world, as are our thoughts, beliefs, behavior and science. And so too is the notion that physical brains produce consciousness. It’s not a scientific fact, it’s a supposition created not by what science knows about consciousness, but by what it knows about the physical world.

We can’t help thinking this way. Because all of our knowledge is a consequence of the limited way we’ve evolved to think of realness as physical things, we’re all reductionist. Most scientists believe that everything – consciousness included – reduces to (and so is somehow made by) atoms and the smaller particles that they’re made from. Yet consciousness refuses to be reduced; an apparently immaterial phenomenon, it has no observable or measurable physical parts or properties. And while some scientists might grudgingly accept that’s the case, they continue their campaign to convince us that our physical brain somehow extends itself to become our conscious experiences of the physical world.

Common sense and introspection might tell us our consciousness is something altogether different from physical stuff, but we’re stuck with the notion that reality is fundamentally physical. It’s instinctive; on levels of our mind below everyday awareness, we’re certain that we ‘are’ a physical body, and with good reason. As consciousness gradually emerged in proto brains, it had no choice but to take itself for just another part of the gene replicating and reproducing process. Millions of years later, we’re totally dedicated to staying alive as the bodies that genes evolved for themselves, and to reproducing those genes as if they were our own.

As consciousness, replicating and reproducing for genes is now our prime directive because we’re conditioned by the evolution of physical things to think that’s what we want. Seeing things some other way would conflict with what bodies and brains evolved to do: look out for the genes that built them. So far as we’re concerned, it wouldn’t make ‘sense’ to see things any other way – but only because it wouldn’t make physical sense. The evolution of physically real things is pulling all our strings.

Another take on evolution. The interesting thing about evolution is that it’s forever changing things. Note the word ‘forever’; it’s a concept we can’t conceive of. It might extend not only into what we think of as the ‘past’ and the ‘future’, but in other inconceivable directions as well. And even through unimaginable dimensions of time, space, and other realities beyond those. This way of looking at the concept of evolution – from outside of our limitations, as it were – pretty much makes anything possible. Perhaps it makes everything possible. Perhaps everything always was possible. Personally I’m convinced that Darwin hardly scratched the surface of what evolution is, and we haven’t even begun to appreciate what it is yet – again because we didn’t evolve far enough yet.

How conscious are we anyway? Apart from the other organisms on this planet that seem to have some consciousness, we have nothing to gauge ours against; we have no way of knowing how valid our understanding of reality is. We might all agree on what ‘real’ means, and share much the same experience of it, but that doesn’t mean human perception is the only way things can be perceived, or anywhere near the most conscious way. The universe we see is 13.7 billion years old and has countless billions of galaxies, each with billions of suns, many with planetary systems. And what about other universes that might exist alongside ours; that could have existed far longer than ours? (Forever leaves plenty of time for anything to have happened.)

The overwhelming odds are that conscious awareness has arisen elsewhere, and some of it could be as far ahead of ours, as ours is ahead of bacteria, with correspondingly more dimensions to its understanding of reality. So it may well have progressed far further than our current understanding of physical realness, and seen far deeper than ‘our’ laws of thermodynamics, entropy, gravity and so on that we assume physical matter has to obey so as not to violate the narrow channels of our limited thinking.

Which came first: consciousness or physical matter? Evolution, so far as science has managed to ascertain, is entirely physical in that it acts on physical things, like bodies and brains, which are just atoms. (A speculative notion that everything has consciousness is known as panpsychism. From there – and purely as a thought exercise – you could wonder if consciousness starts in the smallest component parts of atoms at the quantum scale. Or in the superstrings that String Theory suggests are resonances in fundamental energy that create everything in our physical reality.)

Most scientists firmly resist the notion that consciousness, in any shape or form, could exist independently of physical matter. There isn’t supposed to be anything, anywhere, other than physical matter. (Apart from the consciousness our brain is said to ‘make’.) Neuroscientists are working to try and reverse-engineer consciousness to discover if/how it corresponds with the machinery of the brain. The problem, though, involves figuring out how something immaterial with no physical parts, could be manufactured by something made only from physical parts.

To the knotty question of how or why physical components could even begin to design something exclusively non-physical, remind yourself that everything you are is what your consciousness is. No consciousness, no you; just anonymous atoms. So when you go, where do you go to? Although you think of yourself as physical, it’s when you realize what ‘thinking’ of yourself as physical actually means that things become difficult. The conscious you has no trouble thinking of itself as physical (even though it is a delusion). But can you also delude yourself that the physical you is capable of thinking of itself as conscious?

I’ll end this by saying space isn’t the final frontier – consciousness is. Space is just more of the same old thinking on physical phenomena. The spacetime we perceive is only a few of the physical dimensions that came out of the big bang. The thinking is that there need to be 10 or 11 to make sense of our current physics. Were we to confine our thinking to these physical dimensions and go on trying to wring consciousness from physical matter, we’d go in ever reducing circles and get nowhere. But that won’t happen. Our consciousness will evolve to encompass what now seem like heretical ideas. The dinosaurs that perpetuate old reductionist dogma will die off and be superseded by warm blooded new thinking on the idea of consciousness as a reality that’s more real than physical phenomena.

Is the world real? (pt 2)

So what is consciousness? Where does it come from?

Keep in mind that ‘we’ exist entirely in the non-physical environment of consciousness. Reality for us is the difference, and the resulting interaction, between the non-conscious physical world and our non-physical consciousness that perceives it. Our physical bodies (and brains) can’t ‘perceive’ anything consciously. As insentient atoms and molecules they’re nothing more than the raw materials of the stuff that consciousness thinks of as the physically real world.

Consciousness is a uniquely different phenomenon; the stuff of perception, knowingness, sentience. Whatever you choose to call it, it alone transforms the world of physically real things into another reality beyond the physical. Whether we as consciousness access another pre-existing reality or create that other reality (or both), that reality is unquestionably not the same reality occupied by the clunky atoms of a mindless physical world. Atoms can’t access our conscious reality, and we can’t access theirs.Which is why we can’t think of ourselves simply as physical organisms with added consciousness; all of our uniquely human – meaning uniquely conscious – qualities are made from whatever the stuff of consciousness is made from. Taking consciousness out of the equation would be taking the human being out.

As consciousness, we were never physical.

As consciousness, we can only ever know about, or come into contact with, anything outside of our own consciousness (other consciousnesses, or the things we call ‘physically real’) as purely non-physical conscious experiences. Consciousness is what we are, rather than merely something we have. Your perceptions of yourself and the world around you – everything from the most vivid physical sensation to the subtlest mental notion – only exist in your consciousness as non-physical ideas.

I know, it’s practically impossible to think of pain, anguish, joy or frustration simply as non-physical ideas, but this is what’s so remarkable about consciousness. In a physical body with a nervous system and brain, consciousness functions as if it is those physical components. Hardly surprising that we have so much trouble knowing what’s real.

If we only know about the world as a conscious experience, why does it feel so physically real?

Precisely because we are conscious of it. Strange as it sounds, our non-physical consciousness is what makes the physical world so real for us. Our consciousness is what brings all of the vibrant colors and nuances of our physical experience of the world and everything in it – ourselves included – into existence.

In a more mundane sense, physical things ‘feel’ real because we – non-physical consciousness – are closely integrated with a body made from physical matter. Our body is part of the physical world and interacts with it, and we have a conscious experience of that physical interaction. The body and brain act as a ‘middle man’ between our consciousness and the rest of the physical world.

What kind of a reality is really out there?

For a start, the apparent ‘realness’ of physical things is merely part of the illusion created by the precise way our consciousness experiences them. Our visual picture of reality, for instance, is part of a process where light waves bounce off ‘physical’ objects and enter our eyes, then cause nerve impulses to jump to our brain. Only then does our conscious mind become aware of ‘seeing’. (It’s a similar story for hearing, touch, smell, taste and the rest of our consciously perceived experiences of physical reality.)

In other words, what we ‘think’ of as physical reality isn’t discrete, solid, definite ‘things’. There are no pre-formed pictures of anything ‘out there’, no sounds, no colors, no textures. Our entire concept of reality – conscious and physical – is actually made from the countless vibrations of minuscule quantities of energy. What we ‘see’ and ‘hear’ and ‘feel’ and so on, we only perceive that way because a few billion years of physical evolution gradually shaped energy vibrations into structures that we now think of as our body, nerves, brain…and mind. As a result of that evolution, we experience other energy vibrations as ‘physical’ reality. On the quantum level of reality, everything is still made from those same energy vibrations.

Is the quantum level of physical reality the real version? 

From what we can deduce, all physical things are made from a series of ever smaller particles – molecules, atoms, nucleons, electrons and quarks – the smallest of which are too small to imagine. All of your physical parts, and all of the other physical things in the universe – except for consciousness – are made from countless numbers of these particles vibrating as energy.

Trouble is, down there at those seemingly irreducibly small (quantum) scales, physical reality behaves a lot differently from how any of us evolved to think it should, or could. At quantum level, a single fundamental particle can be in different places at the same time. These particles appear to travel in waves, but when you look at a single particle, that causes the wave to ‘collapse’, leaving a particle whose speed you can measure, or whose position you can measure; what you can’t measure are both at once, because measuring one changes the other. Then there’s ‘entanglement’ where quantum objects affect each other regardless of how far apart they are. Another notion suggests quantum effects create parallel universes. Quantum level weirdness is so weird it has to be described using words like probability and uncertainty, even though some of its effects are verifiable scientific fact. 

The quantum world isn’t ‘weird’; we are.   

 Our view of the quantum world as weird is a result of how our consciousness interfaces physical reality. The atoms of our physical senses and brains are made from quantum particles in the form of energy vibrations, so our conscious perceptions depend on quantum activity to tell us about the realness of the physical world both inside and outside ourselves. But as we don’t know where consciousness originates, what it is, or how it interacts with physical processes, it’s unlikely that science is anywhere close to understanding quantum level ‘weirdness’. (Quantum stuff is so excruciatingly complicated that our understanding of it only extends as far as telling us that it really is so complicated.) Even so, it’s simple compared with consciousness…

Note: The current scientific consensus is that physical brains make non-physical consciousness. If you accept that notion, you have to ask if there’s an as yet undiscovered inherent capacity for consciousness in every quantum particle, or every atom? Or does it take innumerable quanta/atoms to evolve complex physical processes before the boundary between the total absence of consciousness and the presence of consciousness is crossed? The latter seems more realistic to our human way of thinking, but if you read my other posts you’ll know that I don’t believe we can think about consciousness merely as a by-product of matter, just because we still aren’t smart enough to come up with the right explanation.

We decide what reality is.

The total extent of our scientific understanding of the physical world depends on our conscious awareness (our intellectual grasp of reality) to inform us about the essential nature and behavior of physically real things – atoms, molecules, their smaller quantum components. We construct mathematical proofs that the so-called real world really is the way we think it is, and we assume our view is correct because it appears to make sense of that world in great detail. But it’s an incomplete view, not least because we’re still evolving, and so too is our understanding of the deeper nature of physical reality that our mathematics is meant to represent.

Things are gradually getting more real.

For a growing consciousness, reality is an organic (ok, a consciously organic) and ever evolving concept. Our ability to perceive material reality in the way we do is unique, not only to our degree of consciousness, but also to our kind of consciousness. We have no conception of how a differently evolved – or a more highly evolved – consciousness might see reality. The cosmos is easily big enough and old enough to have produced far more capable intelligences than ours who are able to construct different mathematical proofs that to their way of perceiving reality are equally or more valid that ours.   

Theoretical physics suggests the possible existence of as yet unconfirmed dimensions of physical reality. There may be other kinds of consciousness for which entirely different dimensions of reality – physical and/or conscious – exist; dimensions that our consciousness is neither equipped to perceive nor to imagine.

Is the world real? (pt.1)

Of course the world’s real, you say. Realness is the solidness of things. But most real things aren’t solid. Air for instance. Sound. Vision. And what about thought? Ok, so realness doesn’t necessarily mean solid. Maybe it means physical, as in things made from atoms or the particles inside atoms? Everything we know about is made from those, isn’t it? Air, sound, vision, all of our physical sensations and experiences? No. In fact everything we know about is made from something that isn’t physical: Our consciousness. Everything that we are, and even who we are – it’s all made from our consciousness.

As consciousness, we’re not physical beings. Conscious awareness is the one and only thing we know about that isn’t physical, and isn’t made from atoms or their component particles. Conscious thought has no texture, dimensions, weight or etc. We can’t measure it by the same means we can measure anything else. Consciousness is something totally different from the physical world. Even more interesting, if we had no consciousness, nothing else would exist for us, because we wouldn’t know about anything, real or otherwise, in a conscious sense. And not knowing about anything in a conscious sense, is the same as not knowing about anything period.

So is the world real? Is anything real? What does real mean? First off, why do we think physical things are real? There are two reasons: They have ‘real’ qualities. And we experience those qualities consciously. But there’s a third component to realness for us: We know that we have a conscious experience of the qualities of real things.

Think of yourself as three people in one. There’s your physical self (the body that you’re consciously aware of). Then there’s the self in your mind who’s consciously aware of that physical body (and, as it happens, is also conscious of being surrounded by other physical things). And thirdly there’s your more astute mental self who recognizes that you’re conscious. (Not just of physical things, but of non-physical ideas as well.) You might say this third, smarter self is conscious of being conscious. This third self is the most important part of you, but it tends to forget it’s there, being so busy with life’s physical concerns. So you might have to take a mental step back to become aware of ‘knowing that you know’.

Note: It’s not possible to know that you know that you know, and so on; once your third self knows that you know, anything else is just part of knowing that you know.

Things can have some consciousness without knowing they do. Those two conscious versions of you I mentioned are actually just two of many evolutionary levels of consciousness in each of us, all interacting in such complex ways it would be impossible to separate them. While your higher level conscious self is aware of these ideas as you read this, and knows it’s conscious of them, the lower levels of your consciousness don’t even know they’re conscious. Many organisms with some consciousness don’t know they have it. Think of a cow. It’s low-level conscious of physical things, but I doubt that it’s aware of being conscious. Even for the most advanced non-human organisms – like apes and dolphins – being conscious is probably little more than an interesting extension of the physical sensations they experience. Without the crucial ability to know that you know, you wouldn’t be ‘reading’ or actually ‘thinking’. You’d lack the necessary dimensions of mind to understand anything in the special way that defines human beings. You’d be no different than most other animals.

Consciousness is an iceberg. There’s a lot more to your mind than you’re consciously aware of. Besides the stuff you’re aware of right now, there’s also the deeper stuff that you access on unconscious levels of yourself. (The information in your memory that you’re unaware of until you retrieve it.) Because that’s happening constantly, your unconscious levels are as much a part of your moment to moment self as your everyday thoughts and feelings. But let’s get back to the interesting stuff.

Would the physical world still be real if we were not conscious? Everything in our personal world is made from conscious experiences. So without consciousness there’d be no ‘we’; there’d only be the physical world of atoms. What you think of as your physical self is made entirely from atoms; it didn’t just come from that world of atoms – it was never anything more than part of it. Atoms aren’t conscious. So your physical self, brain included, was never consciously aware of anything. So the real question is: Can the world be real for physical things that have no consciousness? In other words:

Does our consciousness brings the physical world into existence? Yes. By telling us that physical things exist, our conscious perception brings the physical world into existence for each of us. And yes, the physical world would still exist for everyone else’s consciousness if our personal consciousness didn’t exist. But would the physical world exist on its own account if nobody’s consciousness existed to perceive it? And if it did exist, what would it look, sound or feel like without consciousness to see, hear or feel it?

That depends on whose consciousness we’re talking about. As human beings, we know the physical world only from our personal conscious viewpoint. But other organisms, conscious or not, have their own personal view of the world, and most of them perceive it in ways that would be alien to us. (An extraterrestrial consciousness might perceive physicality in even more alien ways.) Consciousness (such as it is in other creatures) is tailored by evolution into a myriad shapes and sizes by all manner of different nervous system, brains, bodies and environments.

What’s real for other organisms? As your human self, your conscious interpretation of the physical world is a series of purely conscious ideas. It’s our human degree of consciousness that’s actually responsible for the qualities of our physical experiences. But if you were an organism with a negligible amount of consciousness or none at all, your physical experiences wouldn’t be ‘experiences’, they’d be straight-forward biomechanical causes and effects governed by electrochemical processes, as they are for the simplest organisms.

You can’t imagine being less conscious of reality. But maybe you can imagine gradually reverting through earlier evolutionary levels, and along the way your conscious perception of the physical world making less and less sense – in human terms – as your higher level brain functions (and thus your human knowledge and understanding) diminished. Instead of what you know now as conscious awareness, you’d perceive the physical world as fewer and simpler experiences. Eventually the last vestiges of consciousness would disappear, replaced by an instinctive awareness of physical sensations, some originating internally, others externally.

Does your brain make you?

Can the atoms of your brain read and understand these words? Can they feel emotions, experience anger, disappointment, frustration, pride, etc? Can they see the world the way you do, and know that it was different yesterday, and will be again tomorrow? Can they put themselves in someone else’s shoes, or imagine all the things you can possibly imagine?
Of course not. Those abilities and countless others like them are unique to our conscious interface with the world.
And yet scientists are convinced that lump of fat inside your head makes your ever changing mind, thoughts, ideas, desires, memories, passions, aspirations and the rest. The problem is, they don’t know how brains could do all of this, or even what consciousness is.

The hard problem.

Trying to figure out ways that brains might create conscious experiences is known in the philosophy of mind business as ‘the hard problem’. The biggest reason why it’s so hard is that all scientific thinking is based on the premise that the only stuff that exists is physical matter in all its states and forms. This materialist kind of thinking says that we and our conscious minds are reducible to fundamental particles of matter, along with everything else in the known universe. (The notion isn’t actually that brain atoms ‘are conscious’, but that they’re capable of somehow generating consciousness.)
The hard problem is so complex that if we confine ourselves to materialist-reductionist thinking, it could stay hard indefinitely. On the other hand, were we to introduce a less dogmatic, non-reductionist approach, new possibilities might arise. But there’s something in the way.

The witchhunters.

Occasionally someone makes a brave attempt to push the envelope and is accused of intellectual heresy by the self-appointed guardians of materialism, who fear we might breach the membrane separating our safe material reality and maybe fall off the edge of the world. The materialist dinosaurs are scared because more enlightened inquiry threatens to lead us into the forbidden realm of metaphysics where lurk ghosts, time travel, and the strange goings-on of the quantum world in which paradoxes aptly illustrate the way our understanding of reality can’t simply be an open and shut, black and white matter.
The keepers of materialism have no pre-ordained claim to absolute truth, nor even to knowing what’s around the next bend. Yet they’re ever ready to cite the plainly ridiculous ideas of Creationist belief and intelligent design (and maybe even remind us of the Roman Catholic church’s old claim that the Earth was the center of the cosmos) just to discredit opposition to equally dogmatic reductionist ideas.

We really don’t need complex and highly authoritative-sounding arguments detailing the finer points of evolutionary theory to prove that life works regardless of any outside interference from some old guy in the clouds. Some critical introspection might be useful though.

Smart, but in a stupid way.

Clever as we think we are, the scope of our ability to reason is limited by our origins and our circumstances. We’re here in the guise of mere genetic organisms and occasionally need to be reminded that our version of ‘reality’ comes in little boxes that get gradually bigger as our knowledge expands. We must constantly try to see beyond what already exists within our preconceived notions of reality, because limited as we are, we know tomorrow’s reality will be different for our ever-developing consciousness.

As genetic organisms we’re also fiendishly complex; regardless of our intellectual dexterity, our personal view is subject to psychological factors that sometimes inhibit a truly open minded approach. We mightn’t actually want to reason in ways that we’re perfectly capable of because of outdated intellectual baggage. Procedural doctrine can close off avenues of thought that might otherwise lead to new insights into even the hardest problems.

None of us is fully protected from these traditionally enshrined limiters, or the urge to sometimes use existing knowledge to stifle new thought. This is hardly different from permitting religion to do our thinking.

An open mind.

None of us is born with a closed mind; whether we choose science or religion, our mind only becomes narrowed by experience. In either case it often seems as if we’re walking backwards into the future, only seeing how things were.
In science we’re caught up in a view of reality where cause and effect, linear time, entropy and the other conventions of science are practically sacrosanct. Of course this is how the material universe works, and not only at classical scales. Even at the quantum scale we feel an irresistible urge to make interpretations based on a reality we already know. Yet the reality we know is almost certainly only one aspect of a bigger, more comprehensive reality.

Visionary ideas emerge not from doggedly building on what we already know, but from forcing our mind open to ideas that often seem counterintuitive. Just because our brain is biomachinery doesn’t mean our conscious mind has to work the same way. It’s for us as consciousness to train our brain to work the way we ‘think’ it should.

Consciousness itself is all that sets us apart from materialism and the biological machinery of evolution, and only by setting us apart does it allow us to ponder the most perplexing question of all: what are we? Whatever some of us might think to the contrary, we have no satisfactory answers.

There’s just too big a gap between what brains are made from and how they work, and what consciousness is made from and how it works, for these two utterly different phenomena to have any appreciable causal connection. Everything points to consciousness and matter as two fundamentally different but equally natural – though not necessarily equally real – phenomena. But what does real mean?