We take the world for granted. We think that the way we experience it is the actual reality. But it is an illusion. In reality there is… nothing. Everything we experience is a construct of the mind. There is a beautiful concept in Buddhism called “The Big Mind” that is the closest thing we have to reality. Everything that happens, happens in your consciousness, in your mind. Everything there is, is in your consciousness. When you see a car passing by, the experience happens in your mind. If you would be connected to a virtual reality device, that would render images as realistic as what we call “reality”, you wouldn’t know the difference. If you would have been born into such a device, like in the Matrix, again you wouldn’t know the difference. Kant was the first one to point it out to the world: everything we know about the world comes through our senses and we cannot cross-check our senses. If someone else confirms an experience, we don’t know if that someone is a real person or a mirage of our senses. There is even an epistemological idea (a conception about the world) that only one person’s mind is sure to exist, called solipsism. But this is not a position I stand by. I do believe that the world happens in a consciousness, though, and the level of organization of the Universe and the World is based on the level of organization that the consciousness reaches. In other words, I believe that there are people out there, looking at the same “reality” I am looking. But the consistency of the perception is a construct of evolution. We know what is out there and, at the closest level, and it is nothing. We can infer this from the research done on both the outside (quantum physics) and the inside world (spirituality).
In reality there is no color. Yes, we detect between a few hundreds and a few thousands colors, but they are all created in the mind. Light doesn’t even reach the brain. Light is what we call an electromagnetic radiation. Radiation means that certain particles (in this case, called photons) are being thrown out by a source (e.g. the Sun) in the space around and can travel a long way, depending on the obstacles they meet. Then they come directly into our eyes or indirectly, bouncing of objects, and this is how we see the world. The electromagnetic radiation has a wide range of frequencies. It also includes radio waves, x-ray, microwave and so on. We only “see” a very small portion of it. Or, in other words, out of the many photons that hit our eyes, we only decode some that are of a certain frequency. The rest eludes our eyes. Within this tiny spectrum, different frequencies are tagged differently. For example, a frequency of 600 nm is tagged as yellow by the brain. The yellow is not the color of that frequency; rather the yellow is the tag that frequency was assigned by the brain. Just like you don’t really have a name of your own; you’ve been given a name. You’re name does not define you, does not come from a deeper reality; your parents just thought that this is a pretty word to shout when they want to see you. Is just an association, is not the real you. The same with the color: is just an association. It is the same for every human, and different animals will perceive it the same more or less, depending on the receptors in their retinas and the organization of their brain regions. Why the same? Because we evolved out of the same animals and nature kept what worked, and this tagging was good enough.
The eye has only three receptors for light frequency – and another one for the absence or presence of light itself. All the colors are made out of green, blue and red. If you look at a screen up close (TVs have the largest pixels) you will see only these three colors. How do we see color? Light of a certain frequency reaches the right cell (the cone cell of the retina), a chemical reaction takes place in the presence of this light in a substance called rhodopsin. This substance, with the help of others that it triggers downstream, will activate an electric signal that will travel through neurons in an area of the brain (mainly visual cortex) where it will trigger other electric impulses. That’s it! Just some electric impulses that are triggered inside the brain. This is what we consider yellow! There is not someone that perceives the yellow. Neither neuroscience, nor spirituality could find who perceives the yellow. There is just the perception of yellow. Even more: no light illuminates the brain! Just like you cannot actually see inside your gas tank; you only receive a red light from it, because your lack of gas is tagged red by a led on your dashboard.
I said before that light (photons) bounces off objects and subsequently hit our eyes, showing us the object’s shape and assigned color. But this is not entirely true either! What we see as objects are, in fact, constructs of the mind, just as color and light. As you most likely know, the atom is almost empty. More than 99.999999% is empty space. If the atom would be the size of a 14 story building, the nucleus would be as big as a grain. And the electrons are way, way smaller. Take a moment to imagine how empty everything is! The reason we see objects is that there are a lot of forces at the atom’s level. We don’t see objects per se, we are only aware of the light that comes from them and, as we have seen, we don’t see the light either, the mind/brain, just receives electric impulses – if there were only electric impulses given to those neurons, in absolute darkness, we would see the respective color and all kinds of objects. We could even feel them. So the objects aren’t there. It is just an empty space, which is bent a lot (the forces being a consequence of the bending empty space) and this forces (not the objects, not the particles) bounces off a certain frequency of radiation, and that is what we interpret as an object.
Going deeper, the nucleus and all the other particles have a special property. They exist and don’t exist at the same time. They are both particles and waves, they are just bent empty space themselves… there is nothing there! And one of these objects I was referring to is your own body. You can clearly see it, but the reason you see it is that it is in your own mind: The Big Mind. These particular bending in space are tagged by the brain as a shape, as an object. Then how do we see anything, if nothing (the object) sends nothing (the particle) to nothing (the observer)? Well, this nothing is something. The mind experiences it as nothing, comparing it to the magnificent illusion that is life. But nothing has everything in it. The Unmanifest holds the entire Manifest. The world we perceive is not real, per se, or is not the core, but rather is emergent out of the Deep Consciousness. We’ll get back to this.
This is the visual aspect. The other systems follow the same rule. The sound is a vibration of the air particles that is received by the hair cells in the ear and transformed in electric impulses. Differences is sounds depends on the location of the hair cell in the inner ear. The smell and taste are felt by specialized cells, as well. If you take the sweet sensing cells and put them in the salty taste cells’ place, when you put sugar on your tongue, you will taste salty, because it is not the taste, it is the tagging of that particular neuron that reaches a particular place in the brain where the “led” for salty can be found. You can feel salty even if your neuron is electrically stimulated, with no substance at all on your tongue.
Touch follows the same idea. You got sensors for pressure, heat, cold, vibration, motion (on the skin) and so on. You don’t really feel any object, or your body. When you touch the person you love, you’re actually far away. You never touch. There are some forces that create compression, a chemical reaction takes place, an electrical stimulation follows and that leads to a sensation in the mind. The pain follows the same idea, too. We have sensors for the pain (we animals, that is), and a brain to interpret it. If there is no brain, there is no pain. There is no pain in reality; the pain is only an interpretation of reality. Emotions are, again, interpretations of reality.
To conclude, what is outside of us is not what we experience inside. The mind does not experience the world; it creates it out of tags, out of labels. It colors, decorates, enriches the nothingness that is outside: bent, vibrating, empty space.
But the illusion doesn’t stop with the space. The fourth dimension, the time, is also just as unreal. The time and space are intertwined. Can you imagine a space that has no time? If you imagined it, you kept it in your mind for a while. Something could have happened in that period, so there was a time in it. Can you imagine a time and no space? That makes no sense! Where is this time? So you cannot have one without the other, meaning that they must be part of the same continuum. So if the space gets bent, so is the time. From Einstein famous formula E=mc2, we know that energy (E) equals mass (m) or matter. So energy and matter are the same thing. Matter is more energy brought together. And for the final connection, can you think of a space without matter or energy? Or can you think of a time without matter or energy. How would you measure the time without nothing that changes? Can you think of matter and energy without a space where they are or without a time? These are all one. These are all part of one Manifestation. They are all the sides of a complex coin. (Yes, we are all one, including the animals, and we should not hurt one another!). Before the Universe there was only the Unmanifest, in which there is no time, so it doesn’t make sense to think what was before.
The time is, also, relative. The more we move the less it passes. I know this is not something you have experienced; this phenomenon is visible with very advanced technologies or in extreme conditions. There is this experiment, though, where two very precise watches were compared. One flew around the earth, the other stayed unmoved. There was a difference of a few billions of a second between them. Not much, you could say, but it shows that time flows differently for different situations, showing that the universe is not the same… age, if you like, allover. If time changes with motion, it means that when we don’t move, or move in a certain direction, we might live in someone’s future or past (the effects are larger over larger distances across the Universe; see “NOVA – The Fabric of the Cosmos: The Illusion of Time” for a more detailed and illustrated explanation) pointing out how relative everything is.
So, if we can live in someone’s past or future, this means that the history is already established; we are not in control, life follows a course. Or is it? Can it be otherwise? Can the future be unbound? For that to happen, since time and space form a continuum, space must be unbound, too. Space has constants and rules, indeed, but also is created constantly. The speed of the Universe is light’s speed; it gets created with light’s speed. The edge of the Universe is where light reached. So space gets created with light speed in all directions. Thus, more and more of the universe is created each moment. This means that time is created as well, in each moment. It might be that time, even though is passing differently in different areas, it is new every time. Because, even though we can be in someone’s future or past, the information cannot travel at such a speed that we get to travel back in our own time and alter it. So the question stays open, from my perspective, about how fixed everything is, but it’s relativity is unquestionable. The way I see it, it is just another dimension, like space, that has its own bendings and this is why we perceive relative. It is just the unmanifest unfolding that we experience as time, space and shapes.
In conclusion, we can say that everything is an illusion. Time and space exists in what we call “reality”, but what we call “reality” doesn’t exist in reality. It is just a construct of the Big Mind. The Big Mind emerges from the Universal Consciousness that is just the background, the Unmanifest, and this consciousness is not conscious per se. Is the potential of this personal, individual consciousness that we experience when we call ourselves alive and awake (or when we are able to call ourselves anything). This manifest consciousness starts from the beginning of matter – we know that because we see it goes down from humans to less intelligent animals lower and lower. We even see brainless animals having an experience of reality. Some say that even plants have it. In the cell there might not be intention, but we see movement. The chemical and physical forces keep elements active, dynamic. The same happens within the atom. And isn’t movement really what we call alive? Isn’t change what we call alive in others, and isn’t change a consequence of movement? Yes, we don’t believe that winds have spirits anymore, we took ourselves out of the wind (we took our projections out of the wind – we know that he is not angry or peaceful), but maybe life and alive doesn’t necessary mean that there must be human emotion involved, as it is the case with animals. I am not proposing a change in the events circumscribed to the word “alive”, but I am pointing out that everything is part of a single field, that is alive down to the smallest elements that move and even to the unmanifest from which these elements arise. This living substance, under the influence of Peter Russell (not the comedian), I call it consciousness.
The hard question in philosophy is the connection between matter and spiritual, between brain and consciousness. The relationship that I am proposing is that the brain is a mental construct. The brain is how the mind interprets the connections, the interactions between bends of empty space. The same goes for neuroscience – the neurons and neural networks don’t encode reality, they don’t reflect it with fidelity; they create it. The question is not how they copy and render reality inside the brain, because they don’t do that. They are turning nothing into something, they make up a world where there is just bended empty space. Why do we see empty space having a shape? Because the whole purpose of awareness is to create shapes, sense and congruency, as mentioned in my pervious article: The Consciousness is extra.
In “Consciousness is extra” I said that consciousness is not special, is not from another realm (as a soul descending from heaven or from another dimension into the “physical” one); it is just an extra dimension of reality, just like sight, hearing, smelling and others. It creates a new aspect of reality. It is an emerging characteristic of the same unmanifest. What is a good support for awareness, though, from the matter’s perspective, is still a mystery. I used to think that it depends on the number of neurons and that it is directly proportional to the complexity of their synapses. But that is not it: 4 out of 5 neurons are in the cerebellum, yet if you remove the cerebellum, you don’t lose consciousness, and the cerebellum will not have one of its own. The same goes for the intestinal tract’s (enteric) nervous system: it is very rich (100 million neurons), very well interconnected, yet is also without an awareness of itself. On the other hand, the cockroach is aware with only 1 million neurons, while the fruit fly is aware with only 100,000 neurons. Even more, if you want to take out consciousness in a human, you only need to remove about 1 cm3 from a certain region in the thalamus (bilateral lesions in the intralaminar nuclei – Bogen, 1995 in Fundamental Neuroscience, 2012) or from the dorsal side of the brain stem, as Antonio Damasio pointed out in his TED Talk. You’re still left with over 85 billion neurons, your body is alive, but your self-awareness is no longer. How is this possible? And that is not where consciousness is, either. Analyzing the effects of anesthesia, as Baroness Susan Greenfield presents in her discourses, we see that the whole brain turns off uniformly, pointing out that consciousness is all over, not in a certain area. The areas mentioned are just switches – they are also involved in sleep. But how does the switch work? There is an explanation from a neuroscience’s point of view involving excitation and inhibition of different neural networks, meaning that consciousness is based on a level of activation. And indeed this seems to be the link: the more your brain is activated and/or harmonized between hemispheres or different regions (for example gamma-band synchronization that modulates attention), the more aware we are, the more we raise our understanding and inclusion of facts about the world (Spiral Dynamics, I mean).
Consciousness is a dimension that happens always. It started with the Big Bang (or with the Multiverse if we find out there is such a thing – and it would make sense to be one for this Universe to start) and it has always been there. In time, it gotten to a point where it build a world, a reality, separated individuals, separated parts of the world and so on, and it is still developing, reality getting more and more complicated (Spiral Dynamics). But all of this is an illusion, a construct. The true reality is what we experience in a dreamless sleep, in coma, or when we die. Although I am impressed with Ken Wilber being aware even in deep, dreamless sleep (as he says so in “One Taste”), and although I want to believe that I will never die somehow, I still believe that awareness is a feature of the brain. More separation / a stronger Ego is experienced as the brain becomes more complex. Primary consciousness is drawn into a brain and turns to awareness, just as energy bends and turns intro matter. Indeed energy and primary consciousness is the same thing, but is not the mass that triggers it, it must be something about the connections. Or maybe something as simple as putting together computation and emotion. This is the skill of evolution – drawing the separation line, building the idea of the I. Not that evolution necessary had a purpose, but this is what one of the rules of this Universe was: to support the emergence and evolution of the I.
So, when death ensues I don’t think there is any awareness left; not from an individual point of view, that is. The root consciousness, even though it is so big that is one with the Multiverse, it doesn’t have an awareness. Since the brain doesn’t really exist, is a construct of consciousness, is very unlikely that you can have awareness and no manifestation of it in the “physical world”. Then again, being aware after you die or not being aware is equal, after a while, anyway, considering that the object of awareness is nothing.
And a final question: how does acting at this end (where everything is just an illusion), prolongs the experience of awareness (someone’s life)? Because we don’t really act just at this end. All levels move all at once: psychological, biological, chemical, physical and primary consciousness. Also the system levels move all at once (sociological, ecosystems and all the way to the universe). In other words, the holon moves with the entire AQAL, using Ken Wilber’s concepts.
Considering all of the above, I want to propose a new definition of consciousness to be critiqued: A system (biologic or not) is more conscious (more aware) the more it builds a world that makes sense, that is structured, and the more it makes oneself be different from that world. The more it can use the world to find oneself. It doesn’t have to be this world that the system creates – the dream world also gives awareness, but there is less awareness, because the world is less structured and the self is not strongly preserved. Computers, in my opinion, will definitely have consciousness.
- Antonio Damasio – Ted Talks.
- Baroness Susan Greenfield – video talks.
- Dobson, John (1980). Einstein’s Physics of Illusion, Vedanta Kesari (may 1988, pages 181-189).
- Dumitru, Sorin (2014). Consciousness is extra, article, www.consilieresicoaching.ro
- Gazzaniga Michael S. (2009). The cognitive neurosciences IV-th edition, MIT Press.
- Hawking Stephen (2001). The Universe in a Nutshell, Transworld Publishers.
- Leonard Susskind on The World As Hologram – video talk.
- NOVA – Fabric of the Cosmos – series
- Peter Russell, The Primacy of Consciousness – video talk.
- Squire Larry R., Berg Darwin, Bloom Floyd E., du Lac Sascha, Ghosh Anirvan, Spitzer Nicholas C. (2013). Fundamental Neuroscience IV-th edition, Academic Press.
- Wikipedia – en.wikipedia.org.
- Wilber, Ken (2000). One Taste, Shambhala Boston & London.
- Wilber, Ken (2000). Sex, Ecology and Spirituality, Shambhala Publications.
- Wilber, Ken (2002). Boomeritis, Shambhala Publications.
- yahoo answers: https://answers.yahoo.com/