Under the Vedantic worldview, there is only one pure consciousness, and we are all the Universe looking at itself from different perspectives. To most people the existence of a continuing self is immediately given and obviously true. It is an integral part of our essential existence.
By Joe Harris - Joe Harris
However, if thinkers such as Blackmore and Dennett are correct, there is no need to worry about whether the self will survive death. A goal of Buddhist practice is to distance oneself from these transitory elements. As we have seen above, most branches of Buddhism and Hinduism teach that the true self is pure consciousness, not the contents or objects of consciousness. Thus, according to this view, when persons temporarily abandon their individual identities and perceive themselves as merging with the Cosmos or as being in perfect union with God, as in the mystical experiences described by William James and others, they are seeing directly into their true selves.
All consciousness is the one Consciousness that underlies this and all other worlds. We are fragmented splinters of the World Soul, our selves at once separate from, and yet identical to, one another. If our true self is Atman, pure consciousness, is there any Brahman, any larger Consciousness for it to merge in, or be identical with? Arguments for a Designer have largely been abandoned as regressive. After all, if there was a Designer, who designed Him? Indeed, the base reality of the world appears to be one of quantum probability waves inhabiting an abstract, multidimensional mathematical space rather than the solid, marble-like electron and protons zipping around in a four-dimensional spacetime continuum that we imagine to be the firm underpinnings of our material existence.
The mathematical complexity and beauty of the laws of the quantum mechanics are remarkable. It does indeed seem as though the Creator is, as both Jeans and Einstein thought, a great mathematician. But if the universe is a thought, whose thought is it anyway?
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This seeming evidence of intelligent design is often referred to as the anthropic principle. Was the universe created as a vast cosmic amusement park? The anthropic principle is based on the observation that the laws and initial conditions of the universe must be extremely fine-tuned to support life as we know it i. But there may be other forms of life e. Also, there may be multiple universes created, so that we necessarily find ourselves in a universe capable of supporting conscious observers, with initial conditions and laws that would seem improbable had only one universe been created with a random assortment of physical laws and initial conditions.
Again, we of necessity inhabit a pocket universe that is capable of supporting the existence of conscious observers. Still, one must explain the laws and initial conditions that gave rise to cosmic inflation in the first place. One might imagine that a consciousness so complex and vast as to be able to create perhaps literally dream up such a startlingly wonderful and frightening world as this one might well become bored with its omniscience and may wish to lose itself in its creation, if only temporarily.
It may need to fragment itself and temporarily shed much of its omniscience to accomplish this. We too might well begin to stagnate and become bored if we were to somehow become immortal and become trapped in our present bodies and mired in our present personalities and situation for all eternity. Death may be the rope thrown to free us from the quicksand of our current identities. Beyond the Veil of Maya. We awake from the Dream of Atman and Brahman to find ourselves in still yet another, but this time possibly the final, dream. There are as yet no planets, no stars, only a rapidly expanding rush of matter and light.
The universe is but only seconds old. We may have come from a place before the universe, but being disembodied with no notepad or brain on which to record and preserve the events of this prelife, our memories of such a place are lost. We are adrift in a rapidly expanding spacetime designed to captivate us in a way that is even more amusing and terrifying than Hollywood concoction our current primitive technologies can produce. However, that all lies in the distant future.
Now, with our memories lost along with our cosmogenic computer, we drift among the beautiful clouds of quantum waves, admiring their beauty, touching them, drawing them this way and that as the potential universe is actualized. Our consciousness is like that of a quark lost in a swarming buzz of photons and gluons. As Tim Hill points out in a recent letter to the Editor of the Skeptical Inquirer Hill, , the vast emptiness of space is totally hostile to human observers with its lack of air, pockets of intense radiation and unimaginably high temperatures, not to mention the total absence of fast-food establishments.
Perhaps then, we are more akin to antiprotons than to angels, small islands of consciousness born to force the amorphous clouds of quantum possibilities into the crystalled raindrops of actualized events. In the view of many interpreters of quantum mechanics, observation by consciousness is what causes such quantum collapse i.
Indeed, some physicists e. If physics suggests anything, it is that the fundament constituents of the universe are more likely to very small in comparison to the human observers that formed the center of the medieval view of the cosmos. Our essential selves are more likely to resemble an electron than a human body. After our dispersal at the time of the Big Bang, we have surfed the quantum waves, finding our selves in neutron stars, methane oceans on moons of gas giants, exploding in supernovae the matter comprising our physical bodies was formed in such explosions , shooting out of volcanoes, condensing into rocks, sheparding the bodies of amobea, gazing out of worried eye of a stegosaur, stretching with the leaves of a sequoia.
Through much of this, our consciousness would be dim, as we float in a universe largely separated from our fellow monads, deprived of any physical template to hold our memories or any hormones to drive our wishes and aspirations. But time is on our side. As the debris of supernovae cooled and their ashes condensed once again into stars and planetary systems, on one remote outpost and probably on a virtual infinity of outposts , the physical templates and the complex assemblages of our essential selves grew more complex. With the first protozoa, we began to gather, and after eons we were collected in assemblages in whales and crows and octopodes and in at least one malcontented bipedal ape.
Our common conception, and one that forms part of the Dream of Atman and Brahman is that we are each a single conscious self field of consciousness which in some mysterious manner became attached to our brains shortly after our conceptions and will persist in those brains until we die.
But our brains are powerful and unimaginably large in comparison to our single-celled ancestors, who, we might suppose, had the glimmerings of consciousness. Our brains and bodies are in essence a colony of billions of amoebas. Many of us may ride in a single brain. In fact, the findings of split-brain research are precisely the evidence Patricia Churchland uses to refute the existence of a nonphysical self or soul in human beings Churchland, , pp.
Jonathan C. Edwards and Willard Miranker have even proposed that that each single neuron in the brain is associated with its own center of consciousness. We directly experience ourselves as a single unified fields of consciousness that persist through changes in our brain states and bodily composition over periods of at least hours. We think we persist as the same selves over the lifetimes of our bodies. In this we may be wrong. If memories are, as an overwhelming body of scientific evidence indicates, stored as patterns of synaptic connections among neurons in our brain, how do you know that you are the same field of consciousness that inhabited your body when you fell asleep?
If you can become attached to your brain shortly after conception or in the view of some people at birth and become detached from it at the moment of death, it stands to reason that you can also become attached to it long after birth and leave it well before death. Our association with our bodies may be only temporary. We may be breathed out and breathed in like so many oxygen atoms.
Indeed, while many philosophers such as Descartes have thought that minds or souls are not extended in space and time and hence immaterial, the fact that we find ourselves stuck in physical bodies occupying in particular locations in space and even more mysteriously located at a particular moments in time, suggests that we too must at least partially be residents of spacetime ourselves, if only temporarily. These particles appear, like our individual consciousnesses, to be indivisible leaving aside the possibility of subquarks for the moment.
We may ourselves be material or quasi-material entities that can become stuck in individual brains on a temporary basis. We may be a particle or field already known to physical science, although it is more likely we are an entity yet to be discovered and explained. The evidence for psi phenomena, to be discussed in Chapters 3 and 4, suggests that the mind may have abilities that transcend those of entities located at single spacetime location. If we are continually being recycled, then when we wake in the morning, we may not be in the same bodies or objects or plasma fields that we were in the day before.
If, as the overwhelming body of modern research in neuroscience indicates, our memories, thoughts and emotions are largely a function of our brain states, we would not remember our existence as, say, a crow the day before. We cannot find those memories in the same way that we cannot access a telephone number written on a misplaced piece of paper.
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The telephone number and the pad it was written on are not parts of our essential selves. Neither are we the memories stored in the stored in the brain of the crow that now perches outside our window or the memories and personality traits stored in the new human brain in which we have just awakened. What we will remember are the memories stored in that new human brain sometimes after a period momentary of confusion upon awakening.
We will feel the emotions caused by the intense firing of our midbrain neurons and the hormones and neurotransmitters rampaging through our cerebral cortex.
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We think we are in sole command of the body, whereas in fact our nerves, the neurochemical soup in which they bathe, as well as numerous other centers of pure consciousness also mired in the same brain, may have as much or more to say about the fate of the body than we do. In short, we fall under the illusion that we are the Person, the physical body that continues from birth to death, and the stream of memories, thoughts and emotions that courses through it, rather than the centers of pure consciousness that we are.
Where Blackmore and Dennett err is in denying that there is any self or center of conscious that persists from moment to moment i. If I am to doubt that I am a center of consciousness persisting through macroscopic time intervals, then I must doubt everything and enter a state of total solipsism and nihilism. However, I do agree that it is likely that spheres of consciousness are, just like electrons and quarks, continually being recycled, joining first one aggregate body and then another. But it is likely that such centers enter and leave the brain at times other than birth and death.
The idea that the conscious self enters into the body at some time shortly after conception and then persists in that body until death is just an aspect of the illusion produced by identifying ourselves as the Person. As we have seen, through replacement of atoms, the body we inhabit today is a totally different body from that of a decade age and the spheres of consciousness that inhabit it including ourselves are likely themselves different as well.
There is no Person in the sense of a continuing aggregation of matter or a continuing self. The Person is likely to be, as Blackmore and Dennett insist, a story we tell ourselves. However, it is a useful story, just like the story of my car or my kitchen table. It helps credit card companies to obtain payments for purchases we made the preceding month and guides our interactions with former classmates at a high school reunion. But in an absolute sense, the Person is only a cognitive construct, a very vivid hallucination.
We cling to our present form of existence thinking that there is no other, but when you stop to think about the matter, human bodies, with their ills, needs and subjugation into mindless repetitive jobs, may not be the best places in the universe to inhabit. But we may not inhabit such Hells or such Heavens as there might be for as long as we think. As Frost suggests, there may be miles to go although perhaps not so many as one might think before we sleep and enter yet another dream. The Game Plan. The remainder of this book further develops the themes outlined above and defends the foregoing thesis regarding the relationship between conscious selves and the physical world.
In Chapter 1, we well will explore the nature of the relationship between mind consciousness and matter. Chapter 2 continues this exploration with a consideration of the implications of quantum mechanics regarding the role of mind in the cosmos. In Chapters 3 and 4, we will consider the evidence for psi phenomena, such as ESP and psychokinesis, in some detail. The defense of the primary thesis regarding the role of conscious observers presented above will in no way rest on the existence of psi phenomena. However, such phenomena, if they exist, have profound implications regarding the role of mind in the physical world and they are entertaining and instructive to explore in their own right.
Chapter 5 is devoted to an exploration of the implications of psi phenomena, if they exist, for our views of reality in general and the nature of mind-matter interaction in particular. Chapter 6 presents the existing evidence for the survival of the Person including memories, emotions, and even physical appearance of the death of the human body. In Chapter 7, we will explore in further detail the nature of the self and the nature of mind-brain interaction. In Chapter 8, we will turn again to a consideration to the role of mind in the physical universe, this time on the grandest of scales, by considering the anthropic principle and arguments that the universe may to designed to support the existence of and possibly to entertain conscious observers.
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