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.

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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?

The life books.

It seems the purpose of our visits to Earth in human bodies is to experience the many shades of this particular level of conscious existence. Our progress here is said to be monitored and recorded as a higher form of consciousness known as the Akashik Records. (I might write a blog post on that particular subject later, but cursory research suggests access to such information requires attunement to higher levels of consciousness than I can manage.) In the space between our material lives after death, we’re able to access those records as we’re guided through a review of our life on Earth using the life books.

Here are a couple more edited excerpts from Diary of my life after death relevant to the life books:

I catch Spiro’s thought that one short visit to the material levels would hardly scratch the surface of what I need to learn, hence my repeated Earth lives. He says the process of conscious refinement is eternal. No matter how painful or pointless a life might appear to human eyes, our soul is indestructible and learns from every experience.

Spiro says sometimes our review with the Elders involves replaying selected scenes from a previous life so we can re-experience them at soul level, uncushioned by a material body. He says this will help me understand the true motives for my behavior so I can appreciate what parts of me need more work. Feeling how I made other people feel is another aspect of the learning process. If I let myself or others down, I have to make amends in my next Earth life, or in subsequent lives if I’m a slow learner.

Today is my first experience with the life books. Spiro explains that I’ll use these to review my life as Laurie. The life books are housed in a kind of library, a building that at first sight puts me in mind of a huge hangar where they build airliners on Earth, but as I watch the shape changes and becomes more reminiscent of a cathedral. The mental echo of a peculiar odor stirs shadowy memories, except I was never anyplace remotely like this.
‘You’re recalling your previous visits,’ Spiro clarifies.
And now it begins coming back as I take in the scene before me: an endless space with people sitting at long tables.

We’re approached by one of the librarians who resembles a member of some ancient religious group in her long grey robe and sandals. I think she’s a she; it’s hard to tell with that severe haircut and immobile features. Maybe I just sense a female element of her soul.
The ancient librarian takes us into a small room and directs us to one of the life books. Some book! It’s more like a giant TV monitor and taller than I am, with a ‘screen’ that appears to be liquid and alive…not unlike that one in the stargate movie. It even has a similar setup in that I can step through and enter another kind of time and space.

I’m to use the life books to put myself back into the flow of events that made up the life I just lived. I’ll experience key scenes where I interacted with other people so I can take stock of the way I handled situations I shared with them. That way I’ll get to see missed opportunities and decide what I might do to put things right in a future life. I’ll even get to see a little way along lines of consequence that relate directly to me, seeing alternative choices I could have made.

The life books are something that everybody has to experience after each life on the material levels. As this is my first trip, Spiro explains that when I go through the screen, some of my energy becomes part of the scene and joins the flow of events; the rest of my energy stays outside. This way I can control how much of ‘me’ is in the scene. I can just watch myself, or if I want to really get involved and experience the full force of the actual events – with all of the accompanying sensations, emotions, memories and so on – I can do that too.

Good vibrations.

I can understand materialist scientists like Dennett or Dawkins’ contempt for ‘delusional’ spiritual beliefs. I imagine they must feel the same way about those as I do about Creationist ‘thinking’. (Though I’m the author of a book and blog supporting the notion of life after death, I consider most spiritual belief, like religious belief, as confused wishful thinking.) You might think ideas about Creationism and Intelligent Design are harmless enough, but when their advocates insist they receive the same credence as scientifically based facts, they become a problem. On the other hand, in asserting that all things spiritual or religious are nonsense, people like Dennett and Dawkins demonstrate the same evangelical narrow mindedness as Creationists and other religious fundamentalists who try to convert ‘unbelievers’.

Religious or scientific, it’s not a question of intellect, but of a refusal to consider ideas that don’t fit your model of reality. For people like Dennett and Dawkins, their reality model is built from materialist, if not to say reductionist, facts. Of course I’m using a couple of famous names to make a point about materialist science in general: namely, that I can’t imagine materialist scientists devoting much of their thinking time to metaphysical notions except to ridicule them. So their rationality makes them appear dogmatic.

To rational materialists, science and reality are entirely of the physical world. They’d like science to explain the conscious world too, but the plain fact is that it can’t, as most scientists and philosophers who deal with the question of consciousness would probably accept – with the proviso that sooner or later we’re bound to have an understanding of how the brain creates consciousness. Any other view just wouldn’t make sense in terms of what science tells us about reality.

Surely they’re just being realistic? Well yes, so long as you think ‘realistic’ means being convinced that everything in reality – consciousness included – reduces to matter. Trouble is, most people on the planet don’t think that, judging by the many millions who believe in a God or Gods. The thing about notions of God, though, is that they evolve right along with us, as our history shows. But then so do scientific facts.

Now I’m going to talk about energy, a well understood scientific concept and a tried and proven consequence of the laws of physics. In one interpretation, energy is a measure of a physical system’s ability to do work. My understanding is that energy is also physical ‘things’ in the sense that energy and matter are interchangeable. 

But is consciousness energy too? ‘Spiritual’ people seem to think it is, but a more refined kind of energy then matter. Materialists and reductionists on the other hand think that both matter and consciousness boil down to the same as-yet undefined but fundamental stuff – a notion that would probably satisfy the spiritual in one interpretation. For scientists, the fundamental stuff would be the basis of matter, and essentially insentient, but somehow able to give rise to consciousness in a brain. For spiritual people, it would be the basis of consciousness from which everything else, conscious and material, emerges.

As the basis of physical matter, atoms and molecules vibrate. In fact the universe is in constant motion on every measurable level, and that means our bodies are too. At the level of atoms, the electrons that orbit the atomic nucleus aren’t stationary, but exist in a kind of cloud, meaning they could be anywhere within the bounds of that cloud. Even inside the atomic nucleus itself, electrical repulsion of the protons, and angular momentum of the protons and neutrons, means they’re never still either. Down at quantum level, protons and neutrons in the atom’s nucleus are made from quantum particles called quarks held together by more quantum particles called gluons. And sometimes the quantum particles are just particles, while other times they’re waves – it all depends on how you try to pin them down. (Hence their being governed by the Uncertainty principle.)And according to superstring theory, if you went down a few million times smaller that quantum particles, you’d find tiny vibrating strings. This theory says that the precise frequency at which each string vibrates creates a different quantum particle.

Given all of that, it’s not such a great leap to the notion that consciousness must also be composed of, or produced by, vibrations of energy – maybe to make thoughts, perceptions, anything.

In Diary of my life after death, Laurie, the diary’s writer, has her guide explain that everything in her current location (between Earthly lives) is conscious energy, while everything on the material levels is made from denser matter energy. (Energy shaped into physical stuff.) Her guide is, in fact, telling her that consciousness and matter resonate in many different frequencies. As with superstring theory, the lower frequencies ‘make’ all of the so-called materially real things, while the higher frequencies are non-physical experiences. Laurie is told that to be on Earth, her conscious vibrations make an interactive interface with the far lower vibrational frequencies of a physical body. In doing that, both kinds of vibrational frequencies interact to decide the ‘realness’ of everything she sees, hears, feels and experiences. This creates her view of ‘reality’ while she’s on Earth. She’s told that between physical lives there are many different layers and levels of consciousness; the one you come to depends on your own mental level – your personal sphere of conscious awareness. (Laurie’s ‘sphere of consciousness’ is also her personal view of reality, just like on Earth.)

NOTE: In the space between material lives we’re guided through a review of our life on Earth using the life books: screens of energy that allow us to either watch or interact with key scenes from our Earthly life. (I’ll enlarge on the life books in a separate post.)

Here’s another excerpt from Diary of my life after death outlining how vibrational frequencies work:

    In a flash we’re at the library, watching the screen of a teaching Book. I see a woman’s body and recognize her as an idealized version of me so I don’t mind her being naked. (As a matter of fact I look pretty good.) Superimposed on her is what looks like a living rainbow cloud.
“Energy fields,” Ed answers my thought. “In a human body the energy of your mental and physical selves resonates on different frequencies and in multiple dimensions. Put simply, the elements of your physical body are energy resonating at lower frequencies, while the energy of your consciousness resonates at higher frequencies.”
I watch the colors in the rainbow cloud flicker like an aurora borealis as they swirl and intermix inside of her.
“As evolving consciousness, you climb slowly through the frequency bands of your aura,” he says. “You become each of the levels of conscious energy in turn, experiencing a different ‘reality’ on each level. In the process your relationship with your body changes. You become less of a body and more of a mind. You come to represent a more complete and refined expression of Love.”
Ed tells me the physical feelings I experienced as a human being – the ones I based many of my major decisions on – were just side-effects of my body looking out for the genes that built it. In other words, I assigned a world of conscious
meaning to a stream of chemically induced sensations. My body had no mind of its own, yet millions of years of blind evolution had built a nervous system and brain able to commandeer my visiting consciousness. Without even knowing it was doing it, my body was controling me just to help it get its genes copied and reproduced.
“You lost your own conscious identity and assumed that of a genetic organism.”
“But those urges and sensations were what made me human!”
He reminds me that I became human only to learn that I’m infinitely more
than a collection of blind chemical interactions. My extra consciousness was all that made me different from other animals, but being more conscious was pointless if I chose to behave like other animals.
“What about all of the complexity my human mind brought to my relationships?” I ask. “Surely that made me different from other animals!”
“Did your ‘complex mind’ give your reproductive urges, or your subsequent behavior, more ‘meaning’ than for other animals? Did you have a different motive for reproducing than other animals? Did you act out your urges in a different way?”
We both know the answer, despite the excuses I might have come up with.
He says souls experience physicality only to realize it’s not what they are. We all start out perceiving reality as a physical experience, and on that misunderstanding we build history, social structures, values, morality, ideas and religious beliefs. But as our consciousness evolves, the material reality that once seemed so irresistibly real begins to change. Later we recognize that reality as fleeting patterns that form in matter-energy.
Those patterns only seem to have permanence to us as human beings because our consciousness perceives them via nerves and a brain made from the same matter-energy. In occupying a body, all of our perceptions become attuned to the lower, slower frequencies of the matter-energy world.
Ed says that by misinterpreting bodily sensations and biomechanical impulses as my
pains, joys, emotions, loves and fears, I develop habits, neuroses and psychoses, delusions, insecurities and fantasies. From this confusion of physical and mental experiences I fashion memories and compelling ongoing scenarios that shape my view of who and what I am. All of this registers as ‘patterns in my personal energy’ and becomes part of the baggage that I, as a conscious soul, take with me through a succession of lives; baggage that I offload as I gradually learn what’s Really going on.

The monkey suit.

My interest in life after death is nothing to do with religious belief. For me, accounts of the near-death experience and hypnotic between-life regression offer more convincing and relevant evidential support for conscious survival after physical death than religion does. In the context of a much broader reality, the notion of life after death joins up many loose ends and answers important questions about our existence. So why isn’t there a more enlightened attitude to the subject?

Granted, death isn’t everyone’s favorite topic for all kinds of reasons – fear of the unknown and loss of loved ones being just two – yet those who report these experiences give detailed descriptions of events after death that could offer comfort and reassurance in both those areas of concern.

The problem is that second hand reports of an afterlife where the miraculous is normal, can’t compete with the hard physical reality that our senses and brain have been telling us our survival depends on for a couple of million years of evolution. Not surprisingly, most of us are only interested in the physically real world; we’re programmed to be motivated by own personal interests and concerns, which necessarily center on thinking of ourselves as genetic organisms. We’re probably unaware of that fact on a conscious level, but there’s no denying that our thoughts and behavior are those of genetic organisms. Our entire understanding of reality, our deepest urges and instincts, are intrinsic functions of what genetic organisms evolved to do: survive long enough to reproduce their own personal genes. These most basic – and fundamentally mindless – functions have shaped us and our society, our beliefs and understanding of reality at the deepest levels.

A consequence of this basic imperative to survive and reproduce as genes are gods, religions and versions of an afterlife with their origins in the need to survive in this life, where an uncompromising physical reality dictates the terms of existence.

There’s ample evidence for that in the way our concept of God has changed as we’ve evolved – from worship of the forces of nature, the sun and a pantheon of planets, through a wrathful Old Testament God, to whatever deity reflects the way we think of ourselves now.

More evidence that religion is about physical survival is in the way religious faith demands our unquestioning acceptance of its version of God, and a specific set of rules and beliefs, over alternative ideas and dogmas. Limiting our ideas and the freedom to consider alternative explanations is central to the concept of religious belief, but only a fool would deny that ‘truth’ tailored to suit human ideas of God has stifled progress and open minded inquiry. Instead it breeds closed minds and intolerance. Religion’s original role was to protect the interests of rival tribes in their squabbles over resources. This same motive has been all too evident throughout human history, and still applies today. We can only refute the claim that man makes God in his own image by deluding ourselves that we don’t evolve. But then self-delusion is one of our most basic traits.

Of course, accounts of near-death experiences and hypnotic regression could simply be more self-delusion; It all depends on what we choose to believe. But given the physical foundations for our understanding of reality, a belief in the metaphysical should make no sense, and yet millions of us still hold those beliefs, along with notional promises of an afterlife, and instructions on how to attain it.

So is the idea of life after death all in our mind? An intriguing thought, especially when, for us, everything is in our mind, including our understanding of reality, and even our conscious selves. Without conscious awareness there can only be oblivion.

Is that all we have to look forward to when we die? Those who report the existence of another reality after physical death tell us that by leaving behind the restrictions imposed by a physical body, our consciousness is free to experience more of its essential self, allowing us entry to near boundless dimensions of heightened awareness. They say it’s precisely by being part of a material body that our consciousness is constrained, damped down by physical matter. It seems that while we’re in a human body with a nervous system and brain, circumstances simply don’t allow us to comprehend a reality that’s not dependent on three material dimensions plus a linear concept of time. (The ability to postulate the existence of more dimensions does nothing to erase our delusions, or the fact that the genetic parts of us were created by the origins and circumstances of this particular designer ‘reality’; while our consciousness is inhibited by it, we have little choice but think, feel and behave as reflections of it.)

There’s also the small matter of an instinctive conviction that we can only continue to exist by surviving and reproducing as genes. This conviction built our psyche; little wonder we can’t envisage a conscious, post death reality free of chemically induced urges, emotions and sensations. For many of us, these are the very things that make life worth living; why would we want to be free of them? (No less pointless a question than asking why we’d want to evolve from single celled organisms.) But perhaps for many of us it’s enough to exist merely to help genes replicate and reproduce themselves.

Here’s another clip from Diary of my life after death:

‘I know the notion of an afterlife – heaven, Valhalla, paradise, the happy hunting ground, whatever – is core to human culture. I also know that many folks on Earth think death is about gloom, misery, tombs and loss.

‘One of the tuition programs I looked at gave the impression that neuroscientists on Earth think notions of an afterlife are an evolutionary design feature to make us feel better about the inevitability of death while we’re alive. They say near-death experiences and out-of-body trips happen when a brain is starved of oxygen, or maybe when the part where emotions happen gets flooded with feelgood chemicals. They say the euphoria, visions and memory reruns during a near-death experience are all just a result of one kind of brain activity or another.

‘To atheists that must sound pretty plausible, and yet scientific plausibility wouldn’t recognize itself if it traveled back fifty years, or forward just a few.

‘From up here it’s obvious that scientists know as much about an afterlife as most other folks do: zip. They’d have you believe consciousness is made by a brain built from star debris dumped into space by old suns. (It did feel that way to me some days.)’

Right and wrong.

In Diary of my life after death, Laurie, the narrator, is introduced to the major role that genetic bodies play in determining the human concept of morality.

In the chapter on the difference between right and wrong, the thought is communicated to her that, in genetic terms, good for survival and reproduction is RIGHT, and bad for survival and reproduction is WRONG. She’s told by her guide to note that survival and self-interest play a major role in helping human beings decide whether their behavior is ‘right or wrong’. In spite of human consciousness, physical survival is still a primary factor in the human understanding of morality.

Here’s another excerpt from the book:

I’m at the library to do some gap-filling in my learning program. Spiro says the Elders have decided that before I return to Earth I need a refresher on the major role that a human body plays in helping us decide our morality.

The old librarian takes us to my assigned tutorial screen where I receive the thought that, for genetic organisms, whatever is good for survival and reproduction is RIGHT, and whatever is bad for survival and reproduction is WRONG.

What’s more, this ‘survival morality’ is reinforced for each generation by parents, TV, educators, religious indoctrinators and everyone else that young minds are influenced by.

I’m shown a developing brain with cells and their connections; I watch this brain become more densely packed as the organism grows.

I know that a visiting consciousness arrives in an Earthly body with experiences from previous lives in the form of patterns in its personal energy; the consciousness then has to choose a brain with suitable potential and insinuate these energy patterns into the developing neural network of brain cell connections.

When information begins feeding into this consciousness/brain collaboration from the outside world, I watch a multi-dimensional graphic of this individual’s mental abilities, talents and predilections growing inside their brain.

The incoming information decides how pathways form between brain cells, and how the cells work together. (The earlier and more persistent the incoming information, the deeper and longer-lasting its impression on the brain/mind.)

3.5 billion years of good for survival and reproduction being RIGHT, and bad for survival and reproduction being WRONG, built human bodies and brains from the ground up. This survival ‘morality’ ensured that a growing consciousness had a series of physical hosts through which to learn.

As the most fundamental driving force in our life, the struggle for survival shaped our body, brain and mind, and made us determined to understand ourselves and our environment. As the main driver of our intellectual development, the survival imperative naturally evolved into the need to explain everything scientifically.

Yet the fear of getting eaten isn’t only the bottom line incentive behind our need to figure things out; it’s actually our reason for living. Everything we are and do is in some measure a reflection of the instinctive drive to survive.

Of course ‘survival’ for us as conscious beings isn’t just about surviving as genes; it’s about the hyper-complex way our consciousness perceives the world and reality which includes our ideas and feelings about truth, justice, morality and decency. All the interrelated subtleties of modern life have their roots in the survival instinct; it’s more fundamental than our DNA and as unpredictable as our imagination. Whether we’re materialist or spiritual, that instinct informs everything we are and do. We live and learn from our experiences not simply so we can be more efficient survivors, but so we can be happier and more fulfilled ones. That includes a need to feel spiritually fulfilled.

Complicating this further is our need to ascribe ‘meaning’ to the contents of our personal reality. And as this too is driven by our personal need to survive, we don’t just use senses, mind and intelligence to decide what’s real and what’s not, we cheat to try and shape reality to suit ourselves. We have a degree of free will and so are able to choose which aspects of reality we’d like to be more real than others. In this way we’re constantly designing our own personal reality to satisfy a forever changing idea of what that reality should be. 

At this point I become more involved in the program when I see people justifying their feelings of envy, greed, anger or whatever simply because these traits help them survive in life’s jungle. I identify when greed becomes ‘ME getting what I need for MY survival.’ Anger becomes ‘ME being assertive for MYself.’ I feel resentment but tell myself ‘an injustice has been committed against ME.’ Revenge is ‘ME getting justice for myself.’ Jealousy turns into ‘I want material equality for ME’. Ditto envy. I pretend my mean-mindedness is ‘toughness’ and tell myself it’s admirable…

The message is, until human consciousness discovers its true purpose, it will go on thinking of itself as the body it occupies, and so continue devoting its energies to the survival of that body, and the replication and reproduction of its genes, rather than furthering its development as consciousness.

Selfishness.

Richard Dawkins, arch anti-God proponent, aroused my interest in genetics years ago. After reading his seminal book, The Selfish Gene, and ones that followed, I became a Dawkins believer.

What do genes have to do with life after death? Genes are molecules that copy themselves. After millions of years of evolution, this copying process has produced our physical selves. But according to more considered notions of life after death, our conscious awareness isn’t created by our physical body and brain; it originates elsewhere and simply takes up temporary residence in a body as part of a learning process.

Where does selfishness come in? In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins implies that a gene’s only interest is making copies of itself, aka replicating, and that makes genes ‘selfish’. (He didn’t mean selfish in a human sense; as mindless molecules, genes are no more nor less ‘selfish’ than other molecules. Their behavior is governed by laws of physics and chemistry. Or God, if you want to annoy Dawkins.)

What’s important here is that Dawkins says our genes’ mindlessly self-interested behavior – their ‘selfishness’ – doesn’t necessarily make us selfish, because we have minds, we can think, and so make a conscious choice not to be selfish. And while you might well agree with Dawkins on that, it doesn’t change the painfully obvious fact that consciousness itself makes us selfish. Practically every decision we make is motivated by selfishness, and calling it ‘self-interest’ is often how we justify it. (The details are in the excerpt from my book at the end of this post.)

To accept that we are selfish is to recognize the reality behind all of our problems. Yet to appreciate that reality demands not only a proper understanding of what motivates genetic organisms generally, but also a grasp of the complexities that shape our conscious view of ourselves and the world.

So it’s pretty straight forward then? Hardly. It’s a matter of trying to see through the many delusions we live with as a result of our evolution, and in particular the delusion that we can simply choose not to be selfish.

Why do we behave selfishly? In a nutshell, because the genes that evolved our physical selves had to copy and reproduce themselves in such a hostile and competitive environment. To survive, successive generations of genes had to learn, through millions of years of trial and error, to build defensive (and offensive) collectives for themselves in the shape of living organisms.

Evolutionary science says that process then went on to produce us – the ghostly consciousness that haunts the biomachinery. As consciousness, we think of that evolutionary process in terms of our survival, rather than the survival of genes, because we see no essential difference between our consciousness and our genetic body.

The major downside to identifying ourselves as genetic bodies is that (whether we realize it or not) we’re allowing our conscious existence to be governed almost entirely by our body’s mindless biological self-interest; by the mindless physical urges and needs evolved into bodies by genes.

The interesting (but somewhat involved) part is that genes evolved bodies to survive in a competitive, hostile world, not for our conscious benefit. (Genes are mindless bits of biology, and we weren’t around when genetic evolution began.) They didn’t even begin evolving bodies for the benefit of those bodies. (Because again, as mindless biology, they didn’t know their copying and reproducing would later create bodies.)

In the only terms that are real for genes – mindless physical terms – the entire genetic replication and reproduction process has always been exclusively about maintaining the accuracy of gene copies. It was never about anything other than mindless biological interaction. In a more basic sense, about atoms and molecules conforming to the intractable laws of physics, in the same way that the evolution of the entire universe is.

In plain language, we devote our conscious existence to helping bits of mindless biology copy and reproduce themselves, in a small corner of an equally mindless universe that doesn’t give a damn about us or itself.

Which brings us to the life after death viewpoint.This says that when we take up temporary residence in a genetic body, the interface is so complete that we naturally identify the urges and needs that drive it, as our urges and needs. (Even though they’re entirely physical, and we – as consciousness – have no discernable physical existence.) As a result we confuse our evolution as consciousness, with what evolution designed genetic organism bodies to do: replicate and reproduce genes.

Whichever way you look at this, all that ‘we’ are is the mind that lives in the body and brain that genes made for themselves, without planning to do that, because genes can only build on the past. Try as we might, we haven’t been able to explain consciousness, or how it arises in a physical brain. But what’s certain is that without conscious awareness, ‘we’ wouldn’t exist. There’d just be collectives of insentient atoms and molecules that evolution built from genes. Whether we’re created by a physical brain or just visiting, the legacy we inherit through identification with the brain and its body is the survival instinct.

What’s the survival instinct? All the particles and forces in the universe obey the laws of physics. But when those particles and forces are shaped into a genetic organism whose primary goal is to survive so it can copy and reproduce itself, the organism develops a survival instinct. (‘Survival Instinct’ is just shorthand for saying your goal to survive was determined by the laws of physics working through the stuff you’re made from.)

Our physical selves are products of the survival instinct. It’s the primary motivation behind our thinking and behavior. It acts through the evolutionary levels of our physical brain that correspond with the levels of our subconscious mind. It determines how we perceive ourselves and the world. The survival instinct is so fundamental to our view of reality that we don’t even notice it.

It’s also why most of us relish being ‘genetic’; we justify the biological urges and needs we inherit in a body as ‘right’ and ‘good’ and even ‘moral’, even though our understanding of the concepts of right, good and morality is painfully limited by those same biological imperatives. (Any higher ideas we might have are subverted to a greater or lesser degree by the self-interests of our body. Consequently the genetic versions of ‘right’ and ‘good’ and ‘moral’ become expressions of our genetic nature, rather than ways of mitigating its selfish influence.)

The way we think is largely a result of our genes’ mindless efforts to replicate and reproduce themselves efficiently. Much as we might delude ourselves, we can’t just walk away from the fact that that goal still overwhelmingly motivates us. It’s the only reason why we care most about our own personal survival, and that of those who share some of our genes, eg: our family. But while ‘being selfish’ for our personal genes benefits us as genetic organisms, it happens at the expense of our conscious evolution.

Selfishness is selfishness because it comes down to deliberate favoritism for no other reason than a mindless biological one. Knowingly choosing our genes over someone else’s creates deprivation, inequality and imbalance on a global scale. It’s no secret. We all know we’re doing it. But we just don’t care enough to change.

Our thoughts and actions aren’t automatically predetermined by the evolutionary purpose of our physical body/brain. We can exercise free will, as Dawkins implies. My research into life after death suggests that our degree of free will depends on our personal level of conscious development. And that in turn depends on many factors related to our progress in successive visits to this world and the next, and to our own past, present and future actions. (There’s just too much involved for a short explanation; that’s why I wrote Diary of my life after death.)

The major factor affecting our ‘free’ will is the ongoing conflict between what we as consciousness are, and what we’re persuaded by instinct to think we are by a genetic body. We might intuit that, as consciousness, we’re more than this genetic body and its biological self-interest, its urges and needs. Many of us share the conviction that there’s more to us than can be proven by scientific means, hence our ideas of a spirit or soul. But there’s no getting away from the hard evidence that says self-interest is our primary motivation in this life. It’ll probably remain so while we continue to occupy physical bodies.

Here’s a relevant excerpt from Diary of my life after death.

I’m to examine the conflict of interests created between consciousness and the human body it occupies. I’m told that ‘selfish genes’ is a misleading term – genes are incapable of selfishness. They’re just bits of biomachinery that copy themselves. All of the selfishness is supplied by consciousness. This lesson is important because selfishness is the cause of all of humanity’s problems…

At first I’m simply in mental sync with the energy controling the screen, but then a part of me is inside the screen. Some of my energy kind of splits off and goes into the scenes I’m watching. I’m simultaneously part of the picture, experiencing it yet observing it from the outside, able to take in everything at once with an expanded sense of vision.

My understanding is opened up so I can take in these multi-dimensional scenes showing how physical organisms work as a series of chemical interactions that genes evolved to replicate and reproduce themselves.

I see organisms compete with each other for the resources involved in those chemical interactions. I note how the organisms can only be ‘selfish’ if they have the intellectual capacity to understand that by acquiring resources for themselves and their genetic offspring, they’re depriving others of those same resources.

Next I look at how this applies to human beings in scenarios of people competing selfishly for material security, better jobs, ever-rising paychecks, a bigger roof over their head. In detail I watch them compete as employees, towns, states, countries and ideologies. Group selfishness works for their mutual benefit, but at bottom the mutuality is just more selfishness. Unrestricted by the usual dimensions of time and space, I look deep into each of these people and see that underneath their human hopes, desires and aspirations, their sense of ‘community’, is the same blind determination to safeguard the welfare of their own genes before any other consideration. The genes in the form of their own physical selves; the copies of those same genes in the people they care most about.

I learn how being ‘selfish for biology’ creates a demand for material wealth. It creates sprawling conurbations and social structures that spread over the landscape as people exploit material resources, simultaneously trashing nature and the planet – and each other if they get in the way – to accommodate their own genetic offspring and ensure their survival. I see how, as a side-effect, the unconscious ‘I want’ urge creates mountains of short-lived fashionable junk that threaten to turn the planet into a giant landfill site.

On a deeper level, I see how this desire for short-lived junk has become a psychosis that controls human beings. The lust for profits and growth economies, for new technology, higher living standards and social expansion – all of it is fueled by billions of individuals demanding more for themselves and their genetic offspring. The inevitable result is imbalance, deprivation and poverty, inequality, conflict, overpopulation, climate change…

Again I’m able to look into hearts and minds and see that while most human beings don’t consciously associate their competitive nature with creating and perpetuating all of these downsides, they’re well aware that personal acts of selfishness are the cause of their problems, but choose not to acknowledge this fact because it conflicts with their core instinct to reproduce. They believe this instinct gives them an automatic right to reproduce whatever the cost. This compulsion convinces human beings that their self-interest is acceptable.

From my enlightened viewpoint I understand that many negative side-effects of genetic reproduction conflict directly with the higher principles of consciousness. And yet a succession of human consciousnesses, developing inside of a genetic body, naturally mistake themselves for that body.

As consciousness, we don’t realize that taking human form reduces us to instruments of the genetic replication and reproduction process. Ignorant of who we really are, we become selfish for the organism we think we are.