Consciousness and Non-Duality (#1207)
System Theoretic Metaphysics
Metaphysics of Virtual Reality
Also see other excerpts from my discussions with the Society for Scientific Exploration.
I firstly discuss paradigms and 'normality'; then consciousness; and then describe a non-dualistic conceptualisation of consciousness and reality.
The very nature of a paradigm shift often alters the very ground of what we consider to be 'irrational', a 'belief' as opposed to a 'fact', what is 'normal' and what constitutes a "sensible extension".
In any approach toward understanding we must begin somewhere and there are in my understanding two well developed and reasonably coherent paradigms. The empiricist approach makes a pragmatic assumption that consciousness gives us direct access to reality and it thus relies on the objects of consciousness such as sensory experience, rational thought, the objective world composed of matter, etc as the foundation of its belief system (it IS a belief system that ultimately relies upon the voracity of sensory experience). It then attempts to find "a scientific underpinning for [its] irrational beliefs". This results in materialism which has dominated Western thinking, and culminated in the material sciences which are nearing the end of their hayday.
The other approach has been ruthlessly suppressed in the West and it's names and terminology have been subjected to much propagandist distortion, however in many Eastern cultures it has flowered and persisted. Names such as transcendentalist, mystic, perennial philosophy, spirituality, Vedanta, Kabbalah, Daoism etc go some way toward describing it. For those who might tune out right now thinking I am a "bible basher" I will briefly say I have a degree in physics and computer science and have no religious affiliations, however I have explored my inner space with sincerity. These mystic approaches accept the reality of consciousness but not necessarily of the objects of consciousness such as sensory experience. There is acceptance of the possibility that the mind may well be distorting the view of reality as it attempts to grasp at it. Thus they enquire into the nature of consciousness before relying on the reality of the objects of consciousness (such as matter). This exploration has lead this branch of enquiry to the conclusion that the world of the senses, the "common sense" reality is a subtle missinterpretation of a deeper underlying non-material reality (a reality that is more information theoretic than materialist). All of this too is a belief system that relies upon the voracity of the inner experience of consciousness. Systems such as Vedanta, Kabbalah, Daoism, etc are attempts to find "a scientific underpinning for [these] irrational beliefs". Here I mean scientific in the holistic sense of testable, reliable knowledge.
Mystics, although believing in a non-material foundation to reality must also engage with material reality to varying degrees, however many materialists totally deny any non-material aspects to reality and thus have virtualy no understanding of the proposed non-material foundation or of the various belief systems that deal with it. To many materialists these belief systems are just 'superstitions' that wishfully project primitive human weaknessness outward into the objective world. Thus for many materialists, their beliefs are deeply ingrained and reinforced by unquestioned acceptance of sensory experience, and they have had no access to any coherent alternative views of reality because their minds are closed to these other views. For such people, their beliefs are not thought of as beliefs but are obvious and incontrovertable 'facts' of existence, hence any non-materialist approach is considered to be an attempt to rationalise a belief system, whereas they are simply being rational. This is similar to the idea that "only other people have accents and I speak normally". I refer to this form of parochialism as empiricentric.
Now that I've cleared the way just a little I will comment on consciousness. In my opinion consciousness is a spectrum, not an all or nothing phenomenon. In regards to low level consciousness I tend to think of it as the phenomenon where a system receives input information and transduces it into output information. As information flows throughout the complex network of systems 'behaviour' arises due to changing system states. This is a dualistic analogy for reality but is a good place to start for now. In this conceptualisation of consciousness, all manifest forms from particles to the whole universe have consciousness to varying degrees. Although at the level of the 'whole' there is no input or output, but instead a self-referential semantic self-excited circuit (as the physicist Wheeler refered to it).
This proto-consciousness gives manifest forms the ability to experience and respond - thereby they may 'interact'. These interactions lead, through many levels of meta-system-transition (i.e. an ensemble of systems becomes a single higher level system) into higher level systems with higher level consciousness. This proto-consciousness cannot however simply be aggregated into qualitatively higher levels, it must be channeled, organised and structured in order to avoid being simply a disorganised rabble as opposed to a coordinated organisation. This process can eventually give rise to the type of consciousness that arises within the 'mind' of an organism.
Humans in particular, have a high degree of self-reference built into the structure of their minds - they know that they know that they know. In this respect our minds are like a microcosm of the cosmic self-referential circuit, this is recursive fractal self similarity and in this respect we are "sons of God". In this conceptualisation consciousness is not simply something that humans (and some animals) have; it is fundamental to the phenomenon of existence, it is a foundational essence of reality.
This mention of 'God' brings me to the last comment I wish to make that takes the discussion outside of the dualistic context of manifest forms interacting within a world. This is itself an empiricentric belief system. According to ancient wisdom and quantum physics (as well as my own work) the world is not based upon materialistic or dualistic phenomena, it is more information theoretic. The idea of an object right here and right now is a dualistic classical concept whereas the idea of a probabilistic wave form distributed throughout time and space is a non-dualistic quantum (as well as mystic) concept.
I'd like to invite you to consider a hypothetical scenario. Imagine that you are a character within a highly advanced virtual reality computer game, unlike anything humans have yet created (but roughly related to some new mathematics and related VR software that can be found on my website). This character is a high level system formed out of many lower levels of systems within systems, as are all of the manifest forms within the virtual space. It's senses are stimulated by signals passing through the virtual space and it's AI programming interprets this as "my experience". These experiences are organised around a central concept of 'I' and they collectively form "my life" and give a perspective on "the world". This character arose out of the dynamics of system phenomena (conception and birth), it may move through virtual spaces and interact with other systems and it will eventually dissipate due to other system phenomena (death and decay).
This is all that it can know in an empirical sense, it's senses bind it into the virtual world and the "objective world" is a mythical place that arises by the communication of our various subjective experiences of "the world". However if it explored deeply into it's outer world the kaliedascope of manifest (classical) forms would give way to abstract information processes based on quanta (discrete packets of data), discrete moments of time (computational iterations), non-local causal relationships (e.g. EPR pairs, Feynman paths, etc) and all kinds of 'spooky' phenomena that go against the common sense (empiricentric) world view. Things become very mystical and this is the world that the mystics have explored.
The character could well have turned within instead of without; by detaching from desires and agendas that bind it to the outer world it may delve deeply within. By stilling it's thoughts (modifications of consciousness) it may come to dwell on consciousness itself rather than the modifications of consciousness. This is a deep self-referential feedback loop that leads to profound inner phenomena, as anyone knows who has exeperienced the effects of feedback loops in all kinds of situations. This character may then come to enquire "who or what am I?". I.e. when 'I' experience, think, feel, hope, desire, fear, etc exactly where and how is the underlying phenomena occuring that manifests these occurences? Is it in my head or in my body?. But in this VR scenario matter is the 'stuff' of sensory experience which is woven into the mythology of the objective world - only within that context does "my head" or "my body" exist.
In terms of consciousness and the computation of information - all activity ultimately occurs within the computer (Brahman, Heaven), it only appears to occur within the virtual space (maya, earthly realm) and it only appears to be associated with particular manifest forms. According to quantum physics the entire cosmos is involved in the calculation of even the simplest of phenomena (Feynman paths) and according to mystics the cosmos is One and whole, and the fragmentation is an illusion of the senses and the mind.
Even though the character can only ever 'perceive' objects in space engaged in interactions it comes to 'realise' (via inner experience) that there is only the one transcendent computer (Ishvara, God) and the activities of that computer manifests, sustains and permeates the whole of the virtual reality. The inner most essence and the deepest consciousness within all manifest forms is the transcendent computation of information (cosmic consciousness) which is One at its source but manifests countless empirical perspectives (individual consciousnesses) and an entire 'world' within which the many beings exist and interact.
In this non-dualistic context a system is a persistent pattern of information within the cosmic self-excited circuit. All systems have an inner and outer aspect. When the information is perceived by another system (the system's information is computed) this gives rise to "observable form" or the outer aspect. When the system processes information (the system's information structures the computation of other information) this is the inner aspect or consciousness. Thus all systems possess observable form and consciousness. Ultimately all information systems (manifest forms) are patterns of information in flux - hence they arise, interact, change and dissipate but underlying all of this "relative reality" there is the cosmic computer itself. The character may identify it's Self as it's empirical form in which case it will be born and will die (samsara), or it may identify it's Self as the computer in which case it will cease to experience birth or death (nirvana).
The cosmic computer is One and Whole although it apparently gives rise to miriad things. It is Omnipotent since it can manifest any information pattern hence any form or phenomena within the virtual space. It is Omnipresent because the concept of space exists only within the virtual space and every point in that virtual space is permeated by the underlying activity of the computer. It is Eternal, in fact Timeless from a virtual perspective, because time only arises from the iterations of its computational processes, thus virtual worlds may come and go but the computer is not effected by these in the least.