The primacy of experience
|Representation of consciousness from the 17th century. Public domain image.|
An author who has significantly influenced my thoughts over the past few years is David Chalmers, professional philosopher and author of “The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory”. Below, I quote a passage from his work that I believe captures the essence of his thinking:
Despite the power of physical theory, the existence of consciousness does not seem to be derivable from physical laws. […] If the existence of consciousness cannot be derived from physical laws, a theory of physics is not a true theory of everything. So a final theory must contain an additional fundamental component. Toward this end, I propose that conscious experience be considered a fundamental feature, irreducible to anything more basic. (David Chalmers, in “The Puzzle of Conscious Experience”, Scientific American, December 1995, page 96.)Chalmers leaves room for a dualistic view wherein consciousness is separate from a causally-closed material world whose existence is not dependent on conscious observation. That said, all experience ultimately only exists within consciousness, including scientific experience. Models, experiments, observations, theories, all reside in the domain of the conscious perception of the scientists who work with them. This line of argumentation leads irrevocably to the conclusion that conscious perception is the only absolutely unquestionable reality. Enters Robert Lanza, professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, with an intriguing article:
Living in an age dominated by science, we have come more and more to believe in an objective, empirical reality and in the goal of reaching a complete understanding of that reality. [...] Most of these comprehensive theories are no more than stories that fail to take into account one crucial factor: we are creating them. It is the biological creature that makes observations, names what it observes, and creates stories. Science has not succeeded in confronting the element of existence that is at once most familiar and most mysterious — conscious experience. (Robert Lanza, in “A New Theory of the Universe”, TheAmericanScholar.org, Spring 2007.)
If one looks at Chalmers' ideas against this backdrop, their dualistic aspect disappears: the separate material world itself collapses into the realm of consciousness.