Solving the "Hard Problem" of Consciousness
“If reality at an even more fundamental level than the quantum level is symbolic in nature, then manipulating symbol systems manipulates the semiotic web, and manipulates reality.” - Patrick Dunn, Postmodern Magic1
Information, Meaning, and Consciousness
Consciousness notwithstanding, information has come to be seen as more fundamental than anything else within physics. It underlies all energy and matter—this is “it from bit”; bits of information—ones and zeros—build phenomenal reality.
However, in order for information to mean anything, consciousness must be present. Information implies and postulates consciousness, there is no way around it. Thus, consciousness is the fundamental, the primordial soup, the waters of Nun, from which both bit and it emerge.
I would go further and add that to be conscious of anything at all is an act to which meaning is intrinsic, and therefore consciousness and meaning cannot be separated, and thus, both form the foundation of reality together.
The new “Holy Trinity” can be considered: consciousness-meaning-information. And the “Trinity” is really triune, three-in-one.
I empathise to some extent with former MP Andrew Lohrey’s complaint that,
The culture in which the virus of information theory has grown is a reductive and simple-minded materialism and the outcome is a widespread use and application of information theory which has the effect of reinforcing the mainstream belief in an objective material world that is separate from mind and meaning.2
The last thing I want to do is reinforce the delusory view of a material world separate from consciousness, mind, or meaning. Such a thing is impossible in a nonlocal, entangled cosmos. It helps to remember that we inhabit a sort of dream—this implies a form of background consciousness that creates and powers the forms and phenomena within.
Lohry adds that consciousness and meaning are usually eliminated in scientific discussions of nonlocality, but, “When we deliberately focus on Meaning, the negative term ‘nonlocal’ transforms into the positive features of intelligent interconnectedness that underpin the ordinary mind distinctions…”3
The truth of this is implied by the acknowledged facts that quantum information is inherently nonlocal, meaning the intelligently interconnected cosmos’ fundamental substrate is an “entangled” unified (and infinite) consciousness, at its base.
Still, information theory lends further credence to our now well established (in my books) “sci-magical” worldview (a.k.a. monistic panpsychism) where consciousness is the ground. Information is infinitely storable, not bound by the laws of matter or space-time, and can exist independently of matter.
Patrick Dunn, a magician who specialises in semiotics, points out that
Information does everything we claim energy or spirits do: it is nonphysical yet interacts with matter; it is manipulated with the human mind and stored in symbols; it can be copied, transported, and transformed instantly…So, the information paradigm is a splendid model for what we’re doing when we do magic…If my mind can cause change on a symbolic level, perhaps it really can cause change. Perhaps the information passing through my mind also passes through the world at large—everything being connected to the same matrix.4
This is exactly the case in a holographic universe (as discussed in depth in Book 1)—the whole is contained in the part and vice versa. That is why magic works—information and meaning are not restricted to personal brains or local reference frames of any sort. The universe is neither “real” nor “local,” but “transpersonally subjective” and nonlocal.
Intention provides the focus (and target) and emotion provides the fuel that allows us to consciously manipulate our holographic reality, extending our desire and will into the cosmos to create…what? Let’s start with creating more open-minded, rational, curious, and empathic humans out of ourselves!
“Something unknown is doing we don’t know what—that is what our theory amounts to…Modern physics has eliminated the notion of substance…Mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience…I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness…The old atheism is gone.” - Sir Arthur S. Eddington, The Nature Of The Physical World (1928)
The Final Word on Consciousness (For Now)
Sir James Jeans was prescient when he said in The Mysterious Universe, “the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter...we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.” (Emphasis added)
This Copernican realisation, though decades old, has still not really taken root yet in our technologised, hyper-distracted culture, however. Jeans added for good measure that, “the universe shows evidence of a designing or controlling power that has something in common with our own individual minds,” specifically, the tendency to think—for want of a better term—“mathematically.”
He might have said geometrically and/or aesthetically.
Professor of physics Richard Henry wrote candidly on this issue in an article published in Nature called “The Mental Universe”:
Physicists shy from the truth because the truth is so alien to everyday physics. A common way to evade the mental Universe is to invoke “decoherence”— the notion that “the physical environment” is sufficient to create reality, independent of the human mind. Yet the idea that any irreversible act of amplification is necessary to collapse the wave function is known to be wrong…The Universe is entirely mental…The world is quantum mechanical: we must learn to perceive it as such.
One benefit of switching humanity to a correct perception of the world is the resulting joy of discovering the mental nature of the Universe. We have no idea what this mental nature implies, but—the great thing is—it is true. Beyond the acquisition of this perception, physics can no longer help. You may descend into solipsism, expand to deism, or something else if you can justify it—just don’t ask physics for help.5 (emphasis added)
Panpsychism and neutral monism offer worldviews that actually accord with all the available evidence and weird phenomena we have studied here on this blog (and in The Grand Illusion - Book 1, where it’s central), and do not force us to sheepishly shove it all under a rug to be ignored—like moral and intellectual cowards would (and as “sceptics” still do)—under the pretence of honouring “rational thought” and “science.”
The “rug approach” is the height of self-delusion and hypocrisy for anyone claiming to be “about the science.”
Panpsychism is one of the oldest known philosophical doctrines and was put forth by the ancient Greeks, in particular Thales of Miletus and Plato. Philosopher Baruch Spinoza and genius mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz argued for panpsychism, as did philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, godfather of American psychology William James, and Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin (ooh, that last one is SURE to trigger someone! 😝).
Neuroscientist Christof Koch writes: “I find a version of panpsychism modified for the 21st century to be the single most elegant and parsimonious explanation for the universe I find myself in.6”
Simply put, panpsychism is the view that all matter at all levels has inherently the properties of sentience/mind/consciousness. Neutral monism states that mind and matter are complementary aspects of the same stuff (the deeper field of consciousness).
Both are absolutely accurate.
Maybe we could combine the two and call it “monistic panpsychism.” Does it explain the hard problem of consciousness, the mystery of experience? (Also known as the “explanatory gap.”) Maybe—if consciousness is seen as the explanatory principle itself.
The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining the relationship between physical phenomena, such as brain processes, and experience (i.e., phenomenal consciousness, or mental states/events with phenomenal qualities or qualia, the internal and subjective component of sense perceptions). Why are physical processes ever accompanied by experience? And why does a given physical process generate the specific experience it does—why an experience of red rather than green, for example?7 (Emphasis added)
The answer for mainline science is, “We have no freaking clue.”
This represents the “gap” in our understanding, a.k.a., the hard problem—a problem which reductive materialism fails entirely to explain (though it makes believe; one version of reductive materialism actually denies consciousness is even real, claiming that matter arranges itself to create the illusion of it! Yes, go ahead and have a chuckle—some scientists really are that daft, using their own consciousness to deny consciousness exists).
Craig Weinberg tackles the hard problem of consciousness head on with his model of Primordial Identity Pansensitivity (PIP).
PIP solves the hard problem by putting the entire universe inside the gap. Consciousness is the Explanatory Gap. Naturally, it follows serendipitously that consciousness is also itself explanatory. The role of consciousness is to make plain—to bring into aesthetic evidence that which can be made evident. How is that different from what physics does?…It is not awareness which must fit into our physics or our science, our religion or philosophy, it is the totality of eternity which must gain meaning and evidence through sensory presentation.8 (emphasis added)
In other words, science, physics, and religion can be placed “inside the gap,” that is to say, within the context of consciousness—consciousness is that which perceives and then makes and derives meaning, after all. Without consciousness nothing could mean anything—we would not even have a concept of meaning!
We would not be able to orchestrate experiments, let alone make any sense of the results. Without consciousness, perception (from Latin perceptio(n-), from the verb percipere, meaning “seize, understand”) cannot exist. Infinite consciousness subsumes all; personal minds are a subset of transpersonal eternal consciousness.
I say this from repeated direct noetic experience—not because I read it in some book.
Consciousness is the “missing function” that by its very nature translates “physical” processes into privately experienced qualia—and thus, meaning. Meaning is intrinsic to cosmology, opening the door to teleology and a purpose-driven cosmos that is inherently beneficent (though it often seems otherwise).
Penrose and Hameroff seem to agree that our internal subjective sense perceptions/qualia are, “fundamental and irreducible components of reality, like electron spin, charge and mass—all derived from the omnipresent matrix of fundamental spacetime geometry at the Planck scale.”9
Qualia are intrinsically meaningful.
The late physicist John Wheeler—the last living link to Einstein and Bohr, both of whom he worked with—actually described the universe as “meaning software.10” Jung wrote in Psychology and the Occult (1948): “Life is teleology par excellence; it is the intrinsic striving towards a goal, and the living organism is a system of directed aims which seek to fulfil themselves.”
Weinberg thinks “the universe is primarily driven by the teleological saturation/significance-seeking nature of consciousness into richer and richer subjectivity (sensation > perception > consciousness),” and that “the evolution of tangible objects and structures…is only an unintended/teleonomical consequence…”11
Materialists may invoke emergentism and complexity to account for consciousness allegedly arising from matter, but as neuroscientist Koch notes,
the mental is too radically different for it to arise gradually from the physical. This emergence of subjective feelings from physical stuff appears inconceivable and is at odds with a basic precept of physical thinking, the Ur-conservation law—ex nihilo nihil fit [from nothing comes nothing]. So if there is nothing there in the first place, adding a little bit more won’t make something…The phenomenal hails from a kingdom other than the physical and is subject to different laws.12
As Henry wrote, “The Universe is entirely mental…The world is quantum mechanical.” A quantum mechanical world is a Jungian synchronistic world, one where phenomena arise simultaneously together (a.k.a. dependent origination)—observer and observed—acausally, within an infinite and eternal field of consciousness.
This sounds a lot like hard idealism—call it monistic panpsychism, call it PIP, call it whatever you want—there is a reason it’s also known as the Perennial Wisdom. And the Buddhists seem to have figured all this out looong ago.
Essentially, everything we can point to—and everything we can’t—is made not of “star stuff” but of “mind stuff,” a transpersonal field of consciousness that organizes itself into hierarchies of information, energy, meaning, and “matter,” building from consciousness to quanta, to chemistry, to biology, and ultimately to what we recognise as individuated human minds.
With monistic panpsychism we arrive back at the ancient teachings of Advaita Vedanta (non-dual Vedanta), where there is only (a) Brahman (the infinite cosmic whole/“Father”), and (b) Atman (the individual soul/“Son”)—where both are identical in essence.
There is nothing besides Brahman or Atman—there is only One. In Lurianic Kabbalah, it is Ayn Sof. Christian mystics know this as the “godhead” but the quiddity is lost on the literalists and fundamentalists.
The Bible—manipulated as it is—does in fact reveal the "true Christian teaching" when it has Jesus say in John 10:30-33, “I and My Father are one”.
Koch points to the integrated information theory (IIT) of psychiatrist and neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. IIT postulates that conscious experience is a fundamental aspect of reality and identical to not just any information, but integrated information.
In this model, any system that has a non-zero amount of integrated information has some kind of qualitative internal experience—it is aware by definition.13
When cardiac arrest or deep sleep cause communication between different areas of the cortex to break down, conscious experience fades (at the level of the brain-mind, and yet we know many people have their most lucid and profound experiences during clinical death, as I detail extensively in Book 2). When connections are restored between key cortical areas and between the thalamus and cortex, information exchange—and integration—becomes possible again. This is a prerequisite for experiencing waking consciousness (while attached to a human body). Under general anaesthesia pathways between the thalamus and cortex were found to be impaired—likewise for deep sleep and cardiac arrest!14
Key brain centres must be networked to enable conscious experience at the brain level—and if those networks are seriously disrupted, the locus of consciousness would shift automatically to one of the occultist’s so-called “subtle bodies” (nested and integrated information fields) facilitating an out-of-body experience (OBE) or near-death experience (NDE). In the Bible, Paul refers simply to the “spiritual body.”
Some people, while clinically dead, simply experience a return to infinite consciousness, God, or “Home” as they often call it—and it changes the course of their lives forever. (More on NDEs here.)
To me, if reality were to be composed of information then there must be a primal and foundational “function” (consciousness) that integrates the information in order for it to become cross-linked and meaningful.
The more cross-linked and integrated information gets, the more meaningful it becomes. For instance, if you store a bunch of family photos on your computer, it means nothing to your computer, but a lot to you—these are your memories and they are heavily cross-linked; inside the computer they are not integrated, just random data, meaningless.
To be conscious in the way humans tend to conceptualise it (at the level of personal mind), “you need to be a single, integrated entity with a large repertoire of highly differentiated states.15” The more integrated the information, the more conscious the entity.
But before personal, individuated minds, there is the One mind of “Brahman,” the Infinite. In a joint 2016 paper, physicist Menas Kafatos and physician Neil Theise wrote:
Awareness is the underlying reality, not reducible to anything else. Awareness and existence are the same. As such, the universe is non-material, self-organizing throughout, a holarchy of complementary, process driven, recursive interactions. The universe is both its own first observer and subject.
Considering the world to be non-material and comprised, a priori, of Awareness is to privilege information over materiality, action over agency and to understand that qualia [internal sense experiences] are not a “hard problem,” but the foundational elements of all existence. These views fully reflect main stream Western philosophical traditions, insights from culturally diverse contemplative and mystical traditions, and are in keeping with current scientific thinking…16
Current thinking in science—led by physicists, the “hardest” scientists of all (so to speak)—is inverting the outdated materialistic reductionist view of the world where consciousness was merely secondary. It is now increasingly seen as primary and fundamental with the physical world being secondary.
This trend signifies a shift of the ages—the point is that something is pushing us to wake up, and though many hesitate to open their eyes to the stark light of impersonal truth, there is evidently a gradual paradigm shift happening.
Henry Stapp adds,
The radical innovation of standard quantum mechanics…is that it is intrinsically a psychophysical theory in which our conscious mental intentions are not predetermined by the physically described aspects of the theory, yet play an essential causal dynamical role in the theory, which generates predictions about phenomena in physically described contexts, and hence effectively solves the “hard problem.17”
Stuart Kauffman, a pioneer in the study of complex systems, proposes what every mystic already knows: that quanta such as protons and electrons are conscious, exchanging photons (information) and measuring one another, where the measurement is mediated by “consciously observing one another.18”
Various experiments we looked at in Book 1—including Dean Radin’s on remote mental influencing of quanta—lend support to this view.
Within a panpsychist view, it is axiomatic that protons and electrons innately possess some form of elementary awareness—because everything does. Many, many different experiences by people around the world in altered states of consciousness bear this out. Hylozoism (the doctrine that all matter is “alive”) is finding firmer and firmer a footing in the 21st century, on the basis, not merely of theory, but of empirical experience and evidence.
As Hungarian physicist John von Neumann stated in 1955, “The world is built not out of bits of matter, but out of bits of knowledge—subjective, conscious knowings.19”
Or, as one of the “fathers” of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrödinger, wrote in What is Life? (1944), “The world is a construct of our sensations, perception, and memories.”
Increasing discontent with the neo-Darwinian materialistic religion is evident in academia, and more and more major philosophers reject it, realising that it ultimately explains nothing. The Perennial Philosophy, meanwhile, becomes more appealing to thinkers with a finger on the pulse…
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1 Dunn, Postmodern Magic, 34.
2 Lohry, The Evolution of Consciousness, quoted in Venetia Somerset, An Ecology of Soul, 51.
3 Ibid., 52.
4 Dunn, Postmodern Magic, 31.
5 Richard Conn Henry, The mental Universe, Nature, Vol 436, 7 July 2005 .
6 Christof Koch, Is Consciousness Universal?, Scientific American, January 1, 2014, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-consciousness-universal/
7 Robert J. Howell and Torin Alter (2009), Hard problem of consciousness, Scholarpedia, 4(6):4948.
8 Weinberg, Why PIP (and MSR) Solves the Hard Problem of Consciousness, https://multisenserealism.com/about/why-pip-and-msr-solves-the-hard-problem-of-consciousness/
9 Chopra, Can Science Explain the Soul? https://www.huffpost.com/entry/can-science-explain-the-s_b_675107
10 Bartlett, The Physics of Miracles, 56.
11 Weinberg, Dr. Neil Theise Interview https://multisenserealism.com/2019/12/15/dr-neil-theise-interview/
12 Christof Koch, Is Consciousness Universal?, Scientific American, January 1, 2014, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-consciousness-universal/
13 Koch op. cit.
14 Van Lommel, Consciousness Beyond Life, 194.
15 Koch, op. cit.
16 Theise and Kafatos, Fundamental awareness: A framework for integrating science, philosophy and metaphysics, COMMUNICATIVE & INTEGRATIVE BIOLOGY, 2016, VOL. 0, NO. 0, http://dx.doi.org10.1080/19420889.2016.1155010
18 Quoted in Radin, Real Magic, 209.
19 Quoted in Amit Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe.