I am certain of my consciousness. I am also certain of free will, for consciousness without freedom of thought is meaningless. Consciousness and free will cannot be fit into a model based solely on energy/matter, nor a deterministic cause-and-effect model, nor the unpredictability of quantum mechanics.
Saying it is “an illusion” is just begging the question, because if it is an illusion, then whose illusion is it? That “whose” implies consciousness.
But if consciousness doesn’t fit into a model of energy/matter, what could it be?
Here’s a riddle to ponder: Using my mind, with only a thought, I am able to move a heavy object. Sound impossible? It isn’t. Sound supernatural? It is! I’ll solve this riddle for you later in this essay.
I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.
Free will is an integral aspect of consciousness. It makes no sense to say one is conscious yet not able to determine what one thinks about, so, at the very least, I have some degree of free will as far as my thoughts are concerned. And since consciousness necessarily implies free will, then it follows that if one has no free will, one cannot be conscious. Will does not emerge from energy/matter; in other words, energy/matter have no will — let alone free will — and so consciousness cannot be an emergent property of energy/matter. Consciousness is therefore independent of energy/matter.
Since consciousness is independent of energy/matter, then it may be that energy/matter are emergent from, or an illusion of, consciousness. It seems plausible that what we experience as reality is in fact an illusion of consciousness, just as the space and physical matter in our dreams are an illusion. But could it be that the physical universe is a product of a consciousness which wills it into being? Since energy/matter have anti-forms, willing them into existence requires no energy, balance is maintained because the net result remains zero — it only had to be desired, as it were. If you think that sounds far-fetched, why should this sound any more far-fetched than claiming consciousness and free will are caused by energy/matter? Energy/matter do not give rise to consciousness; but consciousness could possibly give rise to energy/matter.
Either way, it is not life which begets consciousness, but the presence of consciousness which gives life to inanimate matter. That consciousness is at the core of all living matter, imparting varying levels of self-awareness and free will.
Imagine living in a universe where absolutely everything is green: Green would be all around us and we’d know no other colour. How could we then ever realise that there is such a thing as ‘green’, let alone a broader concept of ‘colour’? Green would be in plain view, and yet never ‘seen’, not recognised for what it inherently was. Generally speaking, to be able to recognise a thing, we humans need to be able to see/make a distinction between that thing, and other things. In the case of a green universe, we wouldn’t recognise what green is, because we’d have no concept of what “not green” is.
Not so long ago, humans didn’t recognise that air was something that physically existed, because it was all around us and invisible. Initially it was experienced it as a lack of anything else, the way most view space/vacuum today. (Interestingly, we’ve gone from believing space can’t be empty and so must be filled with æther, to believing it is empty, and now back to believing it has a structure; but I digress.) Wherever we were, air was, and where air wasn’t, we weren’t. We then came to recognise air was not nothing, but something, because it recognised what it did to other things, like leaves and sails. Aristotle referred to it as a spirit, because before the age of science, none of the tools of his day could be used to discover what it was.
In a way, consciousness is similar to air in our world, or to the colour green in our imaginary green universe: Consciousness is pervasive and elusive. We are so accustomed to it, it is everything we are, it is our essence. My consciousness is not just a part of me, it is me: if I transferred my consciousness to another body, then the body I currently inhabit would no longer be what I think of as me. Paradoxically, the fact that I don’t know what it is to experience “not me” is what makes it difficult to grasp what this “me” is.
As the old adage goes, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. If all we have is science, and since science only deals with energy/matter, then we currently have no other perspective: everything looks like energy/matter, and must be fundamentally mechanical. We want to describe the source of consciousness and free will scientifically, in terms of the mechanics of energy/matter. But it’s neither, so we can’t, and we’re back to using the same terminology as Aristotle: Consciousness is “the ghost in the machine”. Some say this can’t be, science is truth and what it cannot explain now, it will be able to explain later — if it doesn’t appear to be mechanical then it’s just that we’re not looking at it the right way yet; they attempt to shoehorn consciousness and free will into laws governing energy/matter and call them illusions, denying their reality, despite the most overwhelming evidence any of us can ever experience, namely the experience of consciousness. But if our consciousness is not real, then science has no meaning.
We are so accustomed to consciousness and its free will, that most never even stop to realise just how astonishing and miraculous it is. It is, in every sense of the word, supernatural — outside the natural world of energy/matter. This is one of the main reasons I find atheism the most untenable of all positions (versus theism and agnosticism), because we are surrounded by astonishing miracles which are beyond the realms of science, and yet atheists — even many without any background in science whatsoever — somehow manage to put all their faith in the philosophy of materialism and its science of energy/matter, and you are branded a heretic if you do not believe that science is all-encompassing.
Two thousand years ago, people were so convinced the Earth was at the centre of the universe, that Ptolemy developed a model which predicted the movements of the Sun and all the planets based on the Earth being at the centre of our planetary system. It took almost 1500 years for the genius Copernicus to come along and see what had been in plain sight all along, and to develop a model with the Sun at the centre of our planetary system. Today, we are so convinced that science is the centre of our reality, that we try to shoehorn consciousness and free will into a deterministic model of biological computing, despite the glaring evidence in plain sight. And no, the indeterminate nature of quantum mechanics does not explain it, it only begs the question, because if you believe you have consciousness and free will, then there is something driving the outcomes — something willing the outcomes. Someday we will realise that science is not the centre of reality, but that it is just one of the many planets orbiting a bigger sun.
But I’ll reveal the most astounding and simultaneously most overlooked obvious miracle at the end of this essay.
Consciousness has a special property that energy/matter does not have: self-reflection. That is, it is aware of itself — it is able to create thoughts and insights that a universe consisting solely of energy/matter can’t. Using our green universe example, it’s not just a question of the colour green knowing of its green-ness, it’s even more profound: Imagine that something is green because it ‘greens’ itself, the very fact that it is green, makes it green, almost as if cause and effect are reversed, or at least they’re simultaneous. It’s not that we are aware of our physical being, it is that we are aware of our awareness, conscious of our consciousness. Consciousness begets itself. And something which begets itself, where cause and effect are simultaneous, is primary and eternal.
Another sign of this eternal nature of consciousness is the eternal nature of information. Take a cube, for example — not a physical cube, but the mathematical description of what a cube is. Even if there were no cubes in the universe, the mathematical description, the information of a cube, would still exist. (For information on cubes which exist mathematically but not physically, see the tesseract). Something cannot be formed without its mathematical description pre-existing — you can’t make a cube if there is not first a mathematical way to make one. If it was possible for the universe to form, then possibilities must have existed before the universe. Before the universe existed, the possibility to create the universe existed and therefore the possibility — the information — of the cube existed. And so information precedes the universe. Note that information is not the same as data; information is data combined with a knowledge which applies semantics to give meaning to data, and knowledge implies a consciousness. Again, consciousness is not an emergent property, but elementaryand preceding energy/matter, and it is consciousness which gives meaning to the universe.
As you can read in my article on Faith in Science, I show that science is actually based on faith, and scientific methodology cannot be used in order to know anything for certain. So what do we actually know for sure? There are only a couple of things of which I can be absolutely certain: One of them is that “I am”. The other is that information exists. The entire universe may be some illusion and the past and my experiences may just be imagined, but regardless of whether or not they physically exist, I know for certain that I am. Furthermore, the knowledge that I am — i.e. consciousness and self-awareness — is information. Information exists regardless of whether or not the things described by the information physically exist. (At this point, I think information and consciousness may be two aspects of the same thing, because each would appear to beget the other.)
My knowledge that “I am” — my certainty of my consciousness — is self-evident, true, factual and yet non-scientific. Science cannot prove anything, therefore no scientific method can prove my consciousness, yet my consciousness is proved, because my knowing of myself is the proof, it is a tautology. Absolutely everything else I believe in, including science, is ultimately based on faith and trust. Still, without faith we could do nothing — without it, we could not leap from thought A to thought B — so, as it turns out, faith is essential to free will, it is an essential part of what we are. Free will requires faith, and faith requires consciousness.
I cannot prove your consciousness, I accept that on faith. Now you might argue that my consciousness could be an illusion of yours, but I know this to be false. Unless our consciousnesses merge by some means, I cannot prove mine to you, and you cannot prove yours to me. Or, more accurately, I cannot prove yours to me, and you cannot prove mine to you.
It is astonishing, when you think about it, that some would ascribe consciousness, the one thing of which we are and possibly ever can be certain, to being an illusion of energy/matter, things of which we are actually not and probably never can be certain. And then there are those who say there is no will in the universe — in essence, that everything that we know as now is the most probable state for the universe to be in and, indeed, has always been the most probable outcome since the universe began. So Howdy Doody, the Large Hadron Collider, bell-bottom corduroy trousers, and even mattress tags with legal warnings, all were the most probable outcomes for the universe since the very beginning. Wow, how absurd is that? But that’s scientific fundamentalism for you, swearing by the completeness of a doctrine despite blindingly obvious evidence to the contrary. The evidence is so obvious, so ubiquitous, so common in our experience, that we don’t see it. Try to look at the common things in your world with new eyes and see just how utterly bizarre all that we take for granted is.
I started with the riddle that with only a thought, I am able to move matter. Moving objects with only a thought is something we do constantly and it is all around us. I only have to think of, say, lifting my right arm, and I cause particles to change state, energy to flow, nerves to fire, muscles to contract, and my right arm to move.
Ok, so perhaps your first reaction is, “Ya, but that’s just…” Think again. Just what? As the colour green would be ‘invisible’ in a green universe, we don’t see the supernatural because, in fact, it is the essense of everything and we take it for granted — we’ve been blinded to the supernatural by our own scientific fundamentalism. Using your thoughts to decide to cause your arm to move is supernatural: it involves free will (which defies cause and effect), it translates faith into reality, and free will requires consciousness (which is not energy/matter).
We don’t understand the connection between consciousness and our physical world, but it nevertheless clearly exists, as I demonstrate with the miracle of lifting my arm by thought. Perhaps the connection is that our consciousness is the “observer” of the quantum machine which is our brain, and it is able to will — by observance and desire — the particle states required to, in this case, move my arm. Consciousness determines the states of matter, and therefore determines now and the past — the reality we experience. Or perhaps matter — physical reality — is an illusion of consciousness.
So consiousness is not energy/matter, consciousness and free will and knowledge can — indeed must — precede energy/matter, and consciousness is able — by observation and desire — to will reality and the states of particles. I am drawn to the conclusion that the boundless and limitless consciousness preceding the universe and having all knowledge is in fact The One, the Eternal I Am, the Creator, he who gives meaning to everything.
Ubiquitous, the very fabric of our being, we know nothing else but his presence, and know nothing of an existence without him. Yet it is for precisely this reason that we have difficulty recognising him, because we don’t know what “not him” is. Perhaps this is why many only search for him when in their darkest hour, because it is in despair that we experience anything close to “not him” and therefore recognise the distinction — just as seeing black in an otherwise green universe would suddenly open our eyes to what green is.
It follows that, if consciousness does not depend upon energy/matter, then when our physical bodies cease, our consciousness — awareness, knowledge, will — continues, though perhaps not as a separate I am, perhaps re-united with the Eternal I Am, as a We Are.
It is often assumed — especially by non-scientists — that the purest scientist must be atheist. And yet, perhaps surprisingly, atheism is also faith-based. If I say I believe in God, then an atheist can either categorically state, “There is no god,” or he can reply, “I do not believe there is a god” (which is the same as saying “I believe there is no god”). To categorically state, “There is no god,” is, ironically, not scientific, because it is not presented as a theory, but as a self-evident fact. But to say, “I believe there is no god,” is a theory by which the person is saying, “I have not seen any evidence to support the theory that God exists.” Besides the fact that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (i.e. just because you haven’t seen evidence, doesn’t mean evidence isn’t out there somewhere), the atheist would also have to specify what would qualify as legitimate evidence, and would therefore have to define what he believes a god would be if one existed. But what if God is not what the atheist expected? What if the Eternal I Am that I believe in, is not the god that the atheist doesn’t? If you say you don’t believe god exists because he doesn’t do what you expect him to do, then maybe it’s not that he doesn’t exist, but that your expectations are wrong.
In the face of an absence of evidence, agnosticism is a much more logical, scientific position to take than atheism. Agnosticism requires no faith, no belief in one position or the other. But if you believe there is evidence, then theism is the only logical, scientific position to take. That said, to expect the Eternal I Am — who, being the whole, necessarily encompasses science — to fit completely into science and provide evidence strictly according to scientific principle, is a contradiction. Put another way: If the Eternal I Am encompasses all there is, and since science is incomplete, then science cannot encompass the Eternal I Am.
I believe there is evidence all around us in the Obvious Miracles I mention above, but that evidence isn’t accepted by atheists, because my evidence doesn’t support their definition and expectations for what god must be. It’s a bit like trying to provide someone evidence for the existence of cars by showing them the tracks left in the sand by a four-wheeled car, and they respond, “I expect cars to have five wheels, so your evidence is invalid. Cars don’t exist.”
As with all major advances in thought, it may take a genius to look from a radically different perspective, in order for that which has been in plain view all along suddenly to be revealed to all. (That said, we’d probably declare him to be a lunatic and a heretic and crucify him!) But I believe our “I am” already intrinsically and intimately knows the infinite and Eternal I Am, because he is our source. Prayer is our I am trying to communicate with the Eternal I Am, using words. Ultimately, I believe, real prayer is not communication, but an awareness and a knowing — a knowing of being and will. Through the millennia we’ve been struggling to put into words — sometimes badly, sometimes exceedingly well — that which we already know. I believe.
And finally this. You can express the significance of your existence as a ratio in two ways:
(you)/(all of space-time)
(all of space-time)/(you)
The first way of expressing it evaluates to 0 and says we’re all insignificant nothings in comparison to the great scheme of things… That’s the way a lot of people think. But the second way of expressing it evaluates to infinity and shows how infinitely miraculous it is that out of all there was, is or shall be, your unique consciousness exists… That’s how I think.
The most astounding and yet most overlooked Obvious Miracle is self. In all of eternity, in all the infinite expanse of space and time, you were created, you exist. And I don’t mean your body, I mean you — your consciousness, your awareness and self-awareness, the entity which looks out your eyes, hears via your ears, feels with your fingers, dreams your dreams. Entirely and absolutely unique. Created out of a random bunch of atoms? Matter/energy which can contemplate itself? No. You could duplicate your body and brain (the matter/energy) exactly, yet your consciousness — your self, your I am — would only view through the first set of eyes; and yet despite the fact that your body and brain are constantly changing (your body consists of a totally different set of atoms than it did seven years ago), your consciousness is consistently you. So your consciousness is not dependent upon the matter/energy of which you are comprised. And nothing that will ever happen in all of space or time will alter the fact that your consciousness looked out on this universe and pondered its meaning. But looked out from where?
copyright © 2012, 2013 Scott Owen