Why the world is imagined: A summary
To mark the release of the Uniform Reprints of my first six books—a major consolidation of my work—I want to summarize below, in language accessible to anyone, the key points of the philosophy explicated in much more detail in those books. So here we go.
According to the mainstream materialist paradigm, the world out there is made of subatomic particles and force fields outside and independent of consciousness. This world allegedly has no intrinsic qualities—such as color, flavor, smell, etc.—consisting instead of purely abstract quantities and mathematical relationships. The qualities of experience, according to this view, are created inside our skull by our brain: living organisms capture abstract stimuli from the external world through their sense organs, and then their brains supposedly translate these stimuli into the experiences that constitute their entire lives.
The notion that all colors, flavors, smells, etc., exist only inside our heads—instead of in the world beyond our heads—is profoundly counterintuitive. The motivation for believing it is the need to make sense of at least two facts: (a) there are strong correlations between patterns of brain activity and inner experience, which seems to implicate the brain in creating experience; and (b) we all seem to share the same world, so if experience is created by our individual brains, there must be something out there that isn’t experiential in nature, but which nonetheless modulates the experiences of different people through their respective sense organs. This non-experiential ‘something’ out there—that is, subatomic particles and force fields—allegedly is the world we all share.
The problem is that an increasing array of evidence seems to contradict the notion that experience is somehow created by patterns of brain activity. If this notion were correct, one would expect richer experience to always correlate with increased metabolism in the neural correlates of experience. Yet, the opposite has been observed.
|The Uniform Reprint collection.|
Indeed, psychedelic trances, which represent unfathomable enrichment of experience, are accompanied only by reductions in brain metabolism. Similarly, it has been observed that the brain activity of experienced mediums is reduced during the process of psychography. Patients who have undergone brain damage due to surgery have also been observed to have richer feelings of self-transcendence after surgery. Pilots undergoing G-force-induced loss of consciousness also report “memorable dreams,” even though blood flow to their brains is reduced. Teenagers worldwide play a dangerous game of partial strangulation, because the reduction in blood flow to their head leads to rich experiences of euphoria and self-transcendence. The list goes on, but the point should be clear: there are many cases in which brain function impairment correlates with enriched awareness, which seems to contradict the mainstream materialist paradigm.
To resolve this dilemma, one simply needs a subtle shift in perspective, a different way of seeing what is going on. Consider, for instance, lightning: Do we say that lightning causes atmospheric electric discharge? Certainly not: lightning is simply what atmospheric electric discharge looks like. Similarly, flames don’t cause the associated combustion: they are simply what the combustion looks like. Finally, a whirlpool in a stream doesn’t cause water localization in the stream: it is simply what water localization looks like.
These images—lightning, flames, whirlpools—say something about the process they are an image of: for instance, we can deduce many things about combustion from the color and behavior of the associated flames. More generally speaking, we say that there are correlations between the process and its image, for the latter is a representation—incomplete, as the case may be—of the former.
Returning to the whirlpool example, notice also that there is nothing to a whirlpool but water. You can’t ‘lift a whirlpool out of the water,’ so to speak. Yet, the whirlpool is a concrete and identifiable phenomenon: one can delineate its boundaries, point at it and say: “There is a whirlpool!” Images of processes can, after all, be very concrete indeed.
I thus submit that the brain—in fact, the whole body—is merely the image of a process of localization in universal consciousness; a localization of experience that, from a first-person perspective, makes up our private inner lives. The body-brain system is like a whirlpool in the stream of universal experiences.
The brain doesn’t generate experience for the same reason that a whirlpool doesn’t generate water. Yet, brain activity correlates with inner experience—the localized contents of the whirlpool—because it is what the latter looks like from a second-person perspective, just as lightning is what atmospheric electric discharge looks like from the outside.
The brain isn’t the cause of experience for the same reason that lightning isn’t the cause of atmospheric electric discharge, or that flames aren’t the cause of combustion. Just as flames are but the image of the process of combustion, the body-brain system is but the image of localized experience in the stream of universal consciousness.
In the same way that there is nothing to a whirlpool but water, I submit that there is nothing to a living body but universal consciousness. Yet, just as one can delineate the boundaries of a whirlpool and say “there is a whirlpool,” one can delineate the boundaries of a living body and say: “There is a body!” This explains the felt concreteness of living organisms under the hypothesis that all there is to them is universal consciousness.
The above is but a teaser of a much more elaborate theory of reality that is discussed in the six books of the now-available Uniform Reprints. I invite interested readers to peruse these books if they find the teaser above intriguing.