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.

Are you a robot?

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Robots 1a

Which one is you?

What if I told you that mindless physical objects are running your life? That they make you do things without you knowing it’s happening? That nothing you do is really your own idea? That it’s been this way for everybody since life on earth began? And you’re only thinking this can’t be true because mindless physical things are telling you to think that.

But if it is true, imagine the potential benefits of running your own life. Of making your own conscious choices. Of having ideas you know are yours. Of doing what your conscious self wants, rather than letting the mindless things around you run your life and tell you who you are. But I guess you can’t even imagine that, you’ve been living an illusion for so long. It’s why getting you to believe this is gonna be all uphill.

Let’s start with the difference between the real you, and stuff that’s not you. All ‘you’ are is contained in your consciousness. Your hopes, dreams and aspirations, your awareness of yourself and everything around you, and so on.

(What about all of the hidden stuff in your subconscious? Things you know but aren’t always aware of? And memories? All of that? They’re you too. There’s a lot more in your subconscious than you think, but never mind that for now.)

The thing is, none of the stuff in your conscious/subconscious is physically real, right? It exists only and entirely in the uniquely immaterial environment of your mind. That means ‘you’ exist only and entirely in your mind too. So when your consciousness leaves your physical body – as in death – everything that ‘you’ are leaves too. I guarantee it.

Where you go wrong is in thinking that ‘you’ are your physical body, even though the conscious ‘you’ and that physical body couldn’t be more different.

Fact is, all of your so called ‘physical feelings’ only exist as ideas in your mind, the same way your hopes, dreams and aspirations do. Sure they have a ‘physically real’ cause, but when you experience them, they have no more physical substance than your memories do: zip.

So where does your consciousness stop, and the non-conscious physical world begin? Where and how do they interface? Questions like these are the source of all our problems as human beings. So let’s go back to the notion of you as a robot that lets physical things tell you how you should think and behave. Physical persuader numero uno is your own body (complete with nervous system and brain).

Don’t be fooled by its warm familiarity. That collection of atoms is as mindless and uncaring as a suit of armor. (As is everything else made from atoms in this physical world.)  Mindless though it is, it has a will of its own, designed over millions of years of genetic evolution to enable it to survive and reproduce itself. But clever as it is, it’s still just a bio-robot, programmed by organic components. And like every other physical thing in this entire universe of atoms and molecules, it doesn’t give a damn about you or any of the unphysically real stuff in your fancy conscious awareness. It doesn’t even know that ‘you’ exist. (How could something that’s not conscious, know that consciousness exists?)

Side note: To overcome those problems is why some people try to isolate their conscious awareness from their physical body (and from the other physical things around them) through meditation and more extreme practices.

So why, if all of life’s problems are the result of allowing our decisions to be governed by mindless physical things, do we go along with all of this? It’s because we don’t know any better. We think helping genes replicate and reproduce themselves all that really matters. We think this is how things are supposed to be. And we got so used to doing it, we can’t see how back-to-front it is. It’s as if we’re all brainwashed with the crazy notion that our conscious selves are less important than our physical parts. That we only exist to look out for mindless atoms, accidentally shaped into a monkey suit by the equally mindless random activity of amino acids. We might even suspect that ‘we’ don’t really exist. Maybe we’re only imagining all of this and we’re nothing more than a deluded ghost stumbling around inside a mess of electrochemical circuitry.

Even if we see how things really are, we still gonna want to along with what physical things dictate – our own physical selves first and foremost -because while we’re human, it’s practically impossible not to think of yourself as physical. (Try it now.)

The conviction that we’re physical starts deep in the subconscious parts of our mind. That’s why we’re convinced that trying to ‘be physical’ is perfectly normal and natural for consciousness, and we actively wallow in the sensory aspects of the delusion.

It’s because we all behave like we’re physical robots practically all of the time, for all of our lives, that my home page starts with the question: What are human beings for? In science, if you don’t know what something is for, you try to figure out what it’s made from, how the stuff it’s made from works in other things, and what those other things are for, etc. Then you draw conclusions.

On the question of what we’re for they’re the wrong conclusions because we don’t know what we’re dealing with. We assume the obvious and imagine we’re just what our physical senses and physical brains tell us we are – human beings.

So what are human beings made from? Well, our physical parts are made from the same stuff as everything else in the universe: molecules, atoms, nucleons, quarks and even smaller stuff. On really small (quantum) scales, all of those things are made from particles that travel in waves.

On the smallest scale it’s all just energy, but that’s hard to imagine. Instead, think of everything in the universe as part of an endless ocean of incredibly fine particles. Different kinds of particles do different things, and over billions of years those differences wind up as stars and galaxies and planets. And people who, amongst other things, wonder where all of this came from.

And yet religions and philosophies aren’t based on curiosity about where physical stuff came from. We feel compelled to know where ‘we’ came from. And you know I don’t mean our physical selves; they’re just so much dust. I mean our consciousness. But we’re going the wrong way to find an answer if we go on confusing our real self – consciousness – with a bio-robot made of atoms.

You need to think big about this. The bio-robot is merely part of the mindless biological level of physical reality; the result of genes looking out for their own interests, as part of the universal machinery of evolution.

On the other hand, people who claim to know about these things say the robot exists only to help us figure out what our real conscious self is here for.

You could say we shouldn’t need to impute a ‘spiritual’ purpose to our conscious existence. We know only too well the difference between everything consciousness is capable of compared with mindless physical things. That should leave us in no doubt that ‘we’ should be calling the shots. Surely thinking takes priority over mindlessness? Are we running this railroad, or is it running us?

Thing is, the only way to be in charge of our lives, ourselves and our destiny, is by making a deliberate conscious effort to separate ourselves from the robot; to take hands-on control of what goes on in our mind, instead of just going along with whatever thoughts appear there. After all, it’s our consciousness that creates our reality, not physical things. (They only provide the contents. The food for thought.)

Taking control of your thoughts is easier said than done. It’s almost as if you have to step back from your own physical self. Is that possible? For most of us, maybe the only way is to imagine your conscious self as something separate. Well hey, imagination is a vital factor in all of the best ideas. You have to be able to see a thing, in your mind, before you can progress towards making it real. You know that.

But don’t be fooled – things worth having never come easy. That only happens in the realm of magic and make believe, whereas we’re talking about the most real thing there is: our own consciousness. I might even say the only real thing there is. Being in charge of your own consciousness means being in control of the most real thing there is.

Just keep remembering that a body is mindless atoms. It’s just something you put on to help you find your real self. But you don’t put consciousness on. You ARE it. Remember also that in the guise of human beings, this interface we make with the stuff we think of as physical reality is strictly temporary.

Let me repeat a few things: Our perception of ourselves, the world, and what ‘real’ means, depends entirely on our consciousness. Without it, the physical world simply wouldn’t exist for us.

Our consciousness makes physical things real for us only because, as consciousness, ‘we’ are a different kind of ‘real’ than physical things. Not an imaginary, second rate kind of real but a ‘more-than-physically-real’ kind. The only kind capable of bringing the atoms of these monkey suits to life. Monkey suits that we know for a fact would be dead without us.

Monkey suits are genetic organisms in their own right, just as other animals, plants and all so-called ‘living’ things are. They’re made from the same stuff that rocks and cars and buildings are. Stuff that we wouldn’t normally think of as living. In this sense ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ are totally subjective concepts. The only difference between ‘dead’ rock atoms and ‘living’ organism atoms is that some organism atoms are shaped into molecules that can make copies of themselves, and build bodies that reproduce them.

This is the great conjuring trick that succeeded in fooling everybody – that ‘dead’ atoms somehow come ‘alive’ because they’re in animated bodies. From that assumption we decided that anything with genes is ‘life’.

We may not know what we, as consciousness, are for, but we know pretty much where genes came from and how they work. We know that in their 3 billion year efforts to replicate, the organisms that genes evolved to reproduce themselves were shaped by their physical environment, aka the world.

Thinking we’re genetic organisms, we see all of that in terms of our need to survive in a hostile, competitive world. But survival isn’t a conscious decision we make. (Our immature, evolving consciousness wouldn’t last long that way.) Survival has to be instinctive, governed by what atoms are and how they interact. (If you could magnify those interactions you’d see they’re as mindlessly mechanical as clockwork.)

Being so closely interfaced with a genetic organism, this mindless physical survival activity motivates our consciousness to augment that self-preservation instinct. So, thinking we are the monkey suit, we look out for it as if our existence depends on it. (The fact that we appear to die when it dies is a great incentive.)

Thinking we’re physical skews our entire understanding of ‘real’. It’s how material things came to dominate our conscious existence, and it turns us against our real, conscious selves. It makes us want to be more like physical robots. It tricks us into believing our robot selves are worth more than our real selves.

True, quitting being a robot means growing up to the fact that, as consciousness, you’re not here to grab all you can, compete for recognition, personal fame or material wealth, or act as if you own the place. That stuff only stops you getting real.

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?

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.