Mind as a hyper-dimensional membrane
(The subject of this article has been elaborated upon much more extensively and precisely in my book Why Materialism Is Baloney. The version below is kept for legacy purposes.)
|A representation of a hyper-dimensional membrane. Source: Wikipedia.|
As part of an online debate in a discussion forum last week, I posted an early articulation of some of the ideas I've been working on. I thought it would be interesting to re-post it here, with some more explanation. This is work-in-progress, so please keep that in mind. Also keep in mind my anti-realist stance: everything I will describe is supposed to be an 'as if' model. In other words, my claim is that nature may behave as if the model below were true, but not that the model is literally or ontologically true.
Here we go: Think of the entire universe as a phenomenon of mind. In other words, imagine that there is no world outside of mind modulating your subjective experiences. All there is are the subjective experiences themselves. These experiences entail certain patterns and regularities that can be described by what we call the 'laws of physics.' As such, the 'laws of physics' do not govern objects in a world 'out there,' independent and separate from your mind, but simply represent the patterns and regularities of the flow of your subjective experiences. Strictly speaking, nobody can ever prove that there is a world outside of experience, and/or independent of experience, since any attempt to do it would itself simply be (within) experience. We just like to infer that there is such a world out there because that seems to explain why different human beings report sharing similar and mutually-consistent experiences. I discussed this in a recent video, which I link below.
Now, if everything is in mind, it might as well be all in your mind. Yet, it is reasonable to accept, even though it can't be proven, that other people do have minds too (I discuss this point in the video above as well). So if the universe consists purely of experience, and nothing outside of experience, how can we model such a universe in such a way as to accommodate apparently different minds? And how come all these apparently different minds all seem to share the same reality, if there is no common 'outside world' modulating their experiences? How do we reconcile all this under one coherent model?
Think of the collection of all phenomena of reality as a dynamic painting unfolding on a certain kind of canvas. That canvas is the fabric of mind. Now think of the fabric of mind as a hyper-dimensional membrane (that is, a membrane in more than 3 dimensions of space) that supports unimaginably many and unimaginably complex modes of vibration. To visualize this, think of a 2-dimensional, flat membrane vibrating in different modes, as illustrated in the cymatics video below. All the patterns you see in the video are merely those supported by a pedestrian 2-dimensional membrane. A sufficiently hyper-dimensional membrane, in turn, can conceivably support countless more patterns than all those you have ever experienced, or will ever experience, in your entire life; more complex patterns than any landscape you've ever seen or any piece of music you've ever heard. Therefore, the exercise here is to imagine that the patterns of our experiences are the vibrations of a hyper-dimensional membrane. They are not produced by a world outside of mind, but are the fabric of mind itself vibrating in unfathomably complex modes. Do you see what I mean?
If the hyper-dimensional membrane that constitutes the fabric of mind is not vibrating, then there is no experience. You can visualize that as dreamless sleep. But even though there are no vibrations in that case, the fabric of mind is still there, so there are experiences in potentiality, given that the hyper-membrane can start vibrating. Don't let Realism creep in unnoticed: this hyper-membrane is not something outside of mind; It is mind itself. Its vibrations are subjective experience, of the kind you are having right now, as you read this.
Now assume that different parts of this hyper-membrane can 'fold in' on themselves, forming (partially) closed loops. Think of it as pinching a part of the fabric of your shirt and rolling it around your finger to form a loop. Suppose also that this can happen in several different parts of the hyper-membrane of mind, so you get many different 'local loops' of mind. Suppose, in addition, that loop formation can be recursive, or fractal: you may have loops on top of loops, on top of loops, etc.
The formation of a loop changes the natural modes of vibration within the loop, in the same way that you change the natural mode of vibration of a guitar string if you press on it to switch notes. After a loop is formed, only certain modes of vibration of the broader (that is, unfolded) hyper-membrane now resonate within it. This amounts to saying that only a subset of these broader vibrations 'get through' to a loop, while the rest is 'filtered out' because they don't resonate within. Even entirely new modes of oscillation, alien to the broader hyper-membrane, may be supported within a loop because of its specific topology. Similarly, peculiar oscillatory modes taking place within loops may also 'leak out' and influence the vibrations of the broader hyper-membrane. All this said, the vibrations of the broader hyper-membrane are still solely responsible for exciting the vibrations within the loops. The loops aren't autonomous. They modulate experience but do not generate it by themselves.
Given all this, think of the loops as areas of self-reflective awareness in mind, like our egos. In an earlier article, I have elaborated on this analogy between our ego-minds and a loop of consciousness. The hypothesis here is that there is only one universal fabric of mind, and the illusion of individuality arises from the formation of localized loops of self-reflective awareness on this universal fabric. You and I correspond to different loops, but we are fundamentally connected in the sense that we are made of the same continuous fabric of mind. Our respective experiences are still entirely due to the original vibrations of the broader hyper-membrane, but we also have our own modes of vibration that make the experience of 'being' a particular loop unique and dependent in part on our specific location within the broader fabric of mind.
The areas of the broader hyper-membrane that are not folded are the collective unconscious: there is experience there, in the sense that there are oscillations, but they are not self-reflective in the sense that they do not take place within a (semi-)closed loop. Some of the modes of vibration of the collective unconscious do not resonate within the loops and get ordinarily filtered out. Other modes get through either directly or by exciting some harmonic peculiar to the loops: they form a kind of shared 'data stream' from the collective unconscious that is largely responsible for our shared, consistent experience of reality. Similarly, our own egoic experiences (that is, the vibrations within our individual loops of mind) can potentially 'leak out' of the loop, through resonance, and influence the oscillations taking place in the collective unconscious.
The 'laws of physics' known to science capture certain regularities of the vibrations within the loops, since those are all that human beings can ordinarily perceive. But not all regularities are captured: only those that are shared by most loops, since science discards statistically-insignificant peculiarities. You see, every loop may close in a slightly different way, or assume a slightly different shape, so not everybody's experience of reality is identical (the supported harmonics may be slightly different). Science only captures the parts that are identical, however much that is. This way, the 'laws of nature' are merely descriptions of the commonalities of oscillation across loops.
Finally, the topology of a loop may fluctuate over a lifetime, because certain modes of vibration within a loop may interfere with its own structure, in the same way that a musical instrument can theoretically self-destruct if it plays its own natural frequency of vibration. This is what happens in altered states of consciousness: the topology of a loop is partly and/or temporarily altered, potentially allowing in more modes of vibration from the collective unconscious (that is, the broader hyper-membrane) and, thus, trans-personal, non-local experiences.
PS: The video below complements the discussion above, though it is less involved and uses different metaphors.