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Intuition:  Consciousness - How fundamental is it?

Connections Through Time,   Issue 15: April - June 2002

Consciousness is part of you, no doubt about it.  You experience it directly when you read, think, remember, feel emotions, use your senses, etc.  Here are some quotes concerning how fundamental consciousness may be. 

Amit Goswami is the author of a book called, "The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World".  In an interview, Goswami says:

The current worldview has it that everything is made of matter, and everything can be reduced to the elementary particles of matter, the basic constituents—building blocks—of matter.  And cause arises from the interactions of these basic building blocks or elementary particles; elementary particles make atoms, atoms make molecules, molecules make cells, and cells make brain.  But all the way, the ultimate cause is always the interactions between the elementary particles. This is the belief—all cause moves from the elementary particles. This is what we call "upward causation." So in this view, what human beings—you and I—think of as our free will does not really exist...
       Now, the opposite view is that everything starts with consciousness. That is, consciousness is the ground of all being.  In this view, consciousness imposes "downward causation." In other words, our free will is real. When we act in the world we really are acting with causal power. This view does not deny that matter also has causal potency—it does not deny that there is causal power from elementary particles upward, so there is upward causation—but in addition it insists that there is also downward causation. It shows up in our creativity and acts of free will, or when we make moral decisions. In those occasions we are actually witnessing downward causation by consciousness.

Goswami uses the phrase "monistic idealism" to describe what he sees as a pending paradigm shift associated with the idea that everything begins with consciousness.


The well-known physicist, John Wheeler, is spending time asking, "How come existence?"   In the June 2002 issue of Discover Magazine, there is an article entitled, "Does the Universe Exist if We're Not Looking?  Wheeler's focus is on the idea "that human consciousness shapes not only the present but the past as well."  Here is a quote from the article summarizing his ideas:

Wheeler suspects that most of the universe consists of huge clouds of uncertainty that have not yet interacted either with a conscious observer or even with some lump of inanimate matter.  He sees the universe as a vast arena containing realms where the past is not yet fixed.
       Wheeler is the first to admit that this is a mind-stretching idea.  It's not even really a theory but more of an intuition about what a final theory of everything might be like.  It's a tenuous lead, a clue that the mystery of creation may lie not in the distant past but in the living present.  "This point of view is what gives me hope that the question -- How come existence?,"-- can be answered," he says.


The following is from the introduction of David Chalmer's book entitled, "The Conscious Mind - In Search of a Fundamental Theory".  Chalmer is a Professor of Philosophy and Associate Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies.

Consciousness is the biggest mystery.  It may be the largest outstanding obstacle in our quest for a scientific understanding of the universe.  The science of physics is not yet complete, but it is well-understood; the science of biology has removed many ancient mysteries surrounding the nature of life.  There are gaps in our understanding of these fields, but they do not seem intractable.  We have some idea of what a solution to these problems might look like; we just need to get the details right.

Even in the science of the mind, much progress has been made.  Recent work in cognitive science and neuroscience is leading us to a better understanding of human behavior and of the processes that drive it.  We do not have many detailed theories of cognition, to be sure, but the details cannot be too far off.  Consciousness, however, is as perplexing as it ever was. It still seems utterly mysterious that the causation of behavior should be accompanied by a conscious inner life.

We have good reason to believe that consciousness arises from physical systems such as brains, but we have little idea how it arises, or why it exists at all. ...  Present-day scientific theories hardly touch the really difficult questions about consciousness.  We do not just lack a detailed theory; we are entirely in the dark about how consciousness fits into the natural order.

Many books and articles on consciousness have appeared in the last few years, and one might think that we are making progress.  But on a closer look, most of this work leaves the hardest problems about consciousness untouched.  Often, this work addresses what might be called the "easy" problems of consciousness: How does the brain process environmental stimulation?  How does it integrate information?  How do we produce reports on internal states?  These are important questions, but to answer them is not to solve the hard problem: why is all this processing accompanied by an experienced inner life?  Sometimes this question is ignored entirely; sometimes it is put off until another day; and sometimes, it is simply declared answered.  But in each case, one is left with the feeling that the central problem remains as puzzling as ever.

This puzzlement is not a cause for despair; rather, it makes the problem of    consciousness one of the most exciting intellectual challenges of our time.  Because consciousness is both so fundamental and so ill understood, a solution to the problem may profoundly affect our conception of the universe and of ourselves.

Go to another section of this issue:
The Mysterious Neutrino Has Masss (barely) and Changes Flavor     Applications: Associative Remote Viewing Presentation at CRV Conference

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