The big problem of consciousness & a simple and elegant solution that doesn’t fit our current worldview

I saw an article in Morgenbladet on consciousness research, Norsk filosof står midt i intens konflikt om bevissthetsforskning. I didn’t find the article itself so interesting, but it is an interesting topic.

A MATERIALISTIC VIEW OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Western science is struggling with consciousness, which is not surprising since it comes from a reductionistic and materialistic worldview.

From that worldview, consciousness is somehow created by the brain. Matter gives birth to consciousness.

It’s almost impossible to understand how that can happen. If you start with matter, just about any view on how it transforms into something as qualitatively different as consciousness seems contrived and unsatisfactory. (Systems views may produce the closest we have to something satisfying, but even that’s pretty contrived.)

A materialistic view creates the hard problem of consciousness. It’s inherent in that particular worldview, not in the topic of consciousness itself.

CONSCIOUSNESS AS PRIMARY

We can take a reverse view.

It’s easy for us to imagine matter within consciousness. It’s what happens when we dream. The world happens within consciousness. It’s also what happens in waking life. The world happens within consciousness. It’s what we are most familiar with. It’s our experience. To ourselves, we are consciousness. To us, the world happens within and as the consciousness we are.

That’s our own experience. What if we take a leap and assume it’s also the case for the world itself? What if existence is consciousness, and matter happens within and as consciousness?

Yes, it’s a leap, and it’s a leap that’s consistent with many traditions in the world. (The mystic ones.)

In this view, what we perceive as matter is a form of consciousness.

LOGICALLY SIMPLE

It’s a logically elegant solution to the big question of consciousness. It’s simple. It’s the obvious solution.

One reason it may seem unattractive is that it’s difficult to test and support with data. (That’s also the case with any materialist views on consciousness.)

Another is that it requires us to abandon a fundamentally materialist worldview, or at least place it in a different context. (Logically, this is not a problem since we collectively shift worldviews through history anyway, but it is a problem for some in terms of habit and familiarity.)

NOT MORE WEIRD THAN THE ALTERNATIVE(S)

This view is also not inherently any more weird than a materialist view. Whether matter or consciousness is primary seems equally weird. If anything, the consciousness-as-primary view is simpler and more logical.

It’s also far less odd than the biggest question: How come there is anything at all? How come there is something rather than nothing? That’s the big question that stops the mind. Anything else pales in comparison.

IF IT’S SO LOGICAL, WHY IS IT NOT TAKEN MORE SERIOUSLY?

If the consciousness-first view is simple and logical, why is it not taken more seriously in academia? Why is it still rare and on the fringes?

I suspect that has more to do with familiarity and what’s considered acceptable than anything else.

Most academics and Western philosophers are used to a materialistic worldview. For them, it’s a leap to seriously consider anything else. (Even if they know that our collective worldviews regularly change.)

The materialistic worldview has existed in academia for some generations, and it comes with taboos. One of these taboos is to question the fundamental assumptions within this worldview. Most people in academia are willing to question a lot, but not the fundamental assumptions inherent in the academic world and modern traditions. It may seem too radical. It may seem too risky for their reputation and careers.

At the same time, I assume they know that any worldview is up for revision and will eventually change. They know that as long there is science, it will inevitably undergo a series of fundamental paradigm shifts. And they know that the ones leading the change will meet these taboos and will face a damaged reputation and ridicule, and perhaps even risk their career.

It’s up to each one if they want to deal with that. Some will. Many won’t, at least not until others have led the way and it seems more safe.

Some may also be concerned that it will open up a can of worms in terms of religious ideas and superstitions. That’s not necessarily true. We can use a scientific approach even if we consider the possibility that all of existence is primarily consciousness. There is no lack of examples, and I hope my writings fall into that category as well (as an example of a layman’s view on these things).

MY HISTORY WITH THIS

Why is it relatively easy for me to consider a consciousness-first view?

It’s partly because I read a lot about paradigm shifts within science in my teens, and also Eastern views on Western science. This was mainly through the books of Fritjof Capra and several of the ones he references.

It’s also because this shift happened with me when I was a teenager. The consciousness I am recognized itself and that recognition went into the foreground and stayed there. To myself, I am primarily consciousness and the world, to me, happens within and as the consciousness I am. (Even more fundamentally, I am capacity for all of that, but that’s another topic.)

Is existence itself consciousness? I cannot know for certain. I have written about the small and big understandings of awakening in other articles, and I like to shift between those two views since each has its place and function. I love the small view since it provides a kind of common lowest denominator for talking about our nature and (ironically in this context) is compatible with a materialistic worldview. I also suspect the big understanding is more accurate. I have experienced too many things that point in that direction. (And I also know it can be understood in other ways.)

CAN NOT KNOW FOR CERTAIN

I love that I cannot know. I love that I cannot know anything for certain.

Thoughts are questions about the world.

They have a practical function only. They help me orient and function in the world.

And if they serve as pointers to anything, they cannot even begin to touch what they point to.

Image by me and Midjourey


INITIAL NOTES

  • Consciousness 
    • Anything I can say is predictable 
    • defined oddly
    • Almost impossible to imagine how matter can give rise to consciousness 
    • But very easy to imagine matter happening within and as consciousness 
    • Is what we experience in night dreams, and all the time 
    • It’s all we ever have experienced 
    • So can also imagine that all of existing is like that 
    • All is consciousness aka the divine 
    • And it takes all these forms including what we call matter
    • Is not any more of than the reverse view, and it’s fast less odd than anything existing at all 

Western science is struggling with consciousness, which is not surprising since it comes from a reductionistic and materialistic worldview. From that worldview, consciousness is somehow created by the brain. Matter gives birth to consciousness. It’s almost impossible to understand how that can be possible. If you start with matter, it typically requires unsatisfactory mental gymnastics to understand how it can transform into something as qualitatively different as consciousness.

…..

A materialistic view creates the hard problem of consciousness. It’s inherent in that particular worldview, not in the topic of consciousness itself. It’s fair to say that the problem seems to be with materialism, not the question of consciousness.

…..

I don’t know if that’s the case with existence as a whole.

….

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