Tuesday, 23 June 2015

What came first: Consciousness or Matter? (Does it matter? What do you think?)

"Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society." 
Doris Lessing ― The Golden Notebook

Following on from my last post, it is now time to delve into what being a Monist Idealist Panentheist Catholic means for me. As explained in said last post, these words are merely labels, and labels can mean different things to different people. Also, if some labels are not recognised, but others are, then misunderstanding can creep in, adding bias to the unknown labels towards the recognised label. This is ironic given that the reason for multiple labels in the first place is so that they all refine each other. So, what exactly does this set of labels mean?

These labels are simply a shorthand way of describing my personal world-view. They are not my actual world-view, but close enough to act as quick-n-dirty pointers. But before describing my own personal view of reality, perhaps a brief definition of each label (as it relates to my world-view) is first needed:

  • Monism - that all of reality, both physical and mental, are actually a single realm
  • Idealism - that of the two experiences: consciousness is the reality, and matter the illusion
  • Panentheism - that all of reality (ie consciousness) constitutes a 'universal mind'
  • Catholicism - the model I choose to represent this panentheism in practice

Being the adopted model I choose to represent my world-view, Catholicism is a stage once removed and thus immaterial to the formation of my world-view, instead it is the conclusion to which my world-view has lead me. If you are interested in seeing how religion might fit into this scientific philosophical world-view, I suggest checking out this Panentheistic Christian's video on how he equates his religion to panentheism.

Why Monism?

As explained in my prior post, the most fundamental question to be answered is: given we each experience both consciousness and a physical world we live in, how are both these incompatible experiences connected? Philosophers since Descartes (and to a lesser degree back to Plato) have struggled with this question. This dualistic nature, according to Descartes, is just as it seems... a separate non-physical realm tied to elements in the physical realm... a ghost in the machine. However, the mechanism of this connection has yet to be found. Alternatively, it is possible that there would be no problem connecting the two, if there exists only one realm rather than two. This monistic view however also creates problems, since if everything is purely material... what is consciousness and where does it come from? Similarly, if everyone's consciousness creates its reality... why do we all experience the same 'illusion' of reality.

Why Idealistic Monism?

Over time, the balance between the candidates for reality has shifted between the three. Now, despite the insistence of some teaching establishments and vocal pop scientists that the question has been solved... in their favour, developments in science in the nature of reality have steadily revealed the true nature of reality at the quantum level. And so Materialism was the first to fall some eighty years ago (though adherents refuse to accept defeat and have tried since to find contrary evidence... to no avail); Dualism waned as the search for a unified Theory of Everything began in earnest; and all the signs from quantum experiments pointed to the counter-intuitive Idealism as the true reality. And as more discoveries are revealed, each candidates' supporters try to find reasons to disprove the others. But one thing is now certain... Materialism is dead as long as David Chalmers's 'Hard Problem of Consciousness' remains unresolved. And it is far from even being defined, let alone solved.


Since the discovery of the nature of quantum reality, and more importantly the problems of superposition, measurement, double eraser, Schroedinger's cat, and Heisenberg uncertainty principle, it can no longer be denied that what we perceive to be reality, is in fact not true. Evolutionary Theory favours Fitness over Accuracy, in order for us to react quickly and with little cost to energy, so it makes sense for our perception to perceive an environment that facilitates this at the expense of irrelevant 'truth'. This has repeatedly been shown to be true, now that evolution can be described mathematically and computer modelled. What we discovered is that to perceive is less to do with the true depiction of reality, and more to do with reproduction. And this has been confirmed via fMRI scans which show that a full third of the brain is occupied when opening one's eyes. Now if the eyes were merely recording what was 'out there', then there is no need to waste valuable calories in brain activity. But since the brain is active, what is it doing, and what is the true nature of reality?

What is happening in the brain as we look around, is that it is creating an interface to what is really 'out there' to enable us to survive and reproduce. This is what we perceive as time and space. For example, the following video is not a small window to a little man inside the screen... but a representation of computer parts and computer bits that is hidden behind an interface that we perceive as a video of a TED event.  But if we cannot trust our senses to deliver accuracy and truth, how can we answer the Hard Problem of Consciousness as thus exposed?

Up until now, this has been left to the philosophers to argue over, but for science to tackle this new arena effectively and decisively, it will need the help of mathematics (as this appears to be the language in which reality is written). Luckily, this too is close to hand... in the form of pioneering work by Donald Hoffman (as summarised in his TED address):

This non-duality (Monistic Idealism), unlike Materialism which takes a top-down approach, effectively 'begging the question', is a bottom-up mathematical model of consciousness (which as the image at the top of this post shows) not only resolves the Mind-Body question, but also appears to answer the problems of quantum mechanics in that the mathematical formula for the wave function turns out to be mathematically identical to Hoffman's formula for consciousness. This Theory of Consciousness pretty much sums up my own personal observations and rationalisings, and is what I describe as Idealism for me. And I am not alone... scientist and now philosopher Bernardo Kastrup has also arrived at the same conclusions from yet another different direction. And although there are some of his conclusions I may not fully agree with, I thoroughly recommend you check out him and his books.

So where does all this leave us?

If we are seeking the meaning of life, the universe, and everything then (along with the number 42 ringing in our minds) we have the ingredients of a workable framework: a single shared consciousness created by the interaction of consciousnesses, a faux-reality created by said consciousness, and self-aware individual consciousnesses within the created material faux-reality. So to answer the question: "but what does it mean?" we can search models derived from belief-sets such as theism, atheism, pantheism, panentheism, panpsychism, and New Age et al, to see which (if any) is compatible with this monistic idealist model... and its meaning. For me, I found this to be Panentheism in the Catholic tradition.

Hopefully this begins to unravel my own personal worldview: it is not woo... it is evidence based, repeatable and falsifiable... supported by evidence, observation and mathematical proofs, built from the ground up and a priori reductionist foundation. And despite what certain university philosophy departments might teach, and ubiquitous popular science promoters with funding on their minds, the Hard Problem of Consciousness is still very much an area of intense debate... unlike the validity of Materialism which has long since been shown to be demonstrably false.

Beware the woo, and remember... Don't drink the Kool-Aid!

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