by Michael Maciel
Scientists are grappling with the phenomenon of consciousness. They call it The Hard Problem. The problem as I see it is in the way it conflates mind and consciousness or, more specifically, intelligence and consciousness.
Intelligence is everywhere. Anytime you have an energized pattern of interconnected nodes capable of even the slightest degree of organized activity, you have intelligence.
Heliotropism, for example, is intelligent activity. A sunflower’s head turns to face the sun. Ant colonies build their habitats. Atoms reliably react with each other in specific ways.
But to call intelligence consciousness is a mistake, if for no other reason than the fact that a sunflower cannot say, “Today, I think I’ll let the sun warm the back of my head instead of my face.” It cannot choose what it does or doesn’t do.
This doesn’t make choice the defining factor, however. A computer makes choices continually, based on its programming. That doesn’t make it conscious. And yet, a computer, in many respects, is way more intelligent than a human being.
A good example of energized, interconnected nodal networks that display highly organized intelligent activity are the mycelial networks that grow in a forest’s soil. From an article in the BBC’s earth: “We now know that mycorrhizae also connect plants that may be widely separated. Fungus expert Paul Stamets called them “Earth’s natural internet” in a 2008 TED talk. He first had the idea in the 1970s when he was studying fungi using an electron microscope. Stamets noticed similarities between mycelia and ARPANET, the US Department of Defense’s early version of the internet.”
But are they conscious? We don’t know. And yet, there are many people throughout history who have “connected” with different plant species that told them their secrets. Paracelsus, Gregor Mendel, The Findhorn Foundation, Rudolf Steiner, and the South American shamans who say that the knowledge of the unlikely combination of two disparate plants that produce the psychoactive medicine ayahuasca was imparted to them by the plants themselves.
Consciousness, it seems, is varied and differs by degrees.
Science’s difficulties arise from this conflation of intelligence and consciousness, and as the article in the Guardian illustrates, there is enormous dissension in the ranks. They fail to see the difference between an iPhone’s intelligence and the possibility of it becoming conscious.
They cannot find the source of consciousness in the brain, nor can they come up with a suitable explanation for why it exists in the first place. But this is a little like looking for the Internet inside a computer’s CPU or trying to locate the source of the music inside the transistors of a radio.
Neither can they reconcile their materialistic view of the universe with the fact that the laws that govern the universe are themselves entirely non-materialistic. No one, for instance, has ever located the number 4. We know that it exists, we just don’t know where it can be found. We can see what it does, just not it itself. As a “thing,” 4 does not exist, and yet it’s everywhere.
Science doesn’t know what to do with that. But they keep trying to shoehorn it into their materialistic belief system.
One thing we can say about consciousness is that it has a reflective nature to it. It’s our ability to be aware that we are aware that makes us conscious. This is, perhaps, what Decartes actually meant when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” He was simply pointing out that consciousness cannot be refuted. It is as non-negotiable as pain. Neither can be argued away.
But even that doesn’t explain how we can emerge from general anesthesia with our sense of self intact. Where’s the continuity? But this too is like asking where the voices in a radio go when we turn it off and why they magically return when we turn it back on.
The biggest problem with science is its belief that it’s the sole arbiter of knowledge. It religiously disqualifies itself from the domain of meaning and refuses to believe that meaning has any real place in the structure of reality. It admits that meaning has a role in perception, but that’s as far as its indulgence extends. The very idea that it might be foundational to reality itself is simply too much to contemplate.
There’s a different branch of science that has been around for millennia—spiritual science. It has a vast collection of data collected by practitioners who go by such names as mystics, occultists, seers, and shamans. Their instruments are the normal parts of the brain raised to a higher level of function, turning sense organs into super-sensible faculties. Their methodologies are well-documented, though usually kept secret, imparted only to those who pass rigorous tests of worthiness, those who can be trusted to use their abilities in service to mankind and not for their own selfish purposes.
Those of us who have been trained in these methodologies know that they work. And we recognize that many, many people are born with their super-sensible faculties already functioning to one degree or another. So part of our job is to assure them that they’re not crazy, that they are functioning the way God made them. These people usually think that they are somehow abnormal, so we assure them that they are, in fact, normal and that it’s everyone else—those who are stuck in sense-consciousness—who are abnormal. And we show them how to use their faculties and how to develop them to their fullest capacity.
So, The Hard Problem is only hard for those who see a unidimensional world. They fail to understand the difference between intelligence (mind) and consciousness. They are as fundamentalist in their thinking as the Bible thumper who envisions God as a version of himself, only perfect. Until science can entertain the possibility that consciousness is not a product of the brain, that human awareness is not confined to the skull, their attempts to understand consciousness will fail. No amount of fMRI images of monks meditating will tell them anything other than where the blood is flowing. That’s like trying to understand where the music in a radio comes from by measuring which components heat up.
There IS an inner world. It’s real. And you’ve been aware of it your entire life. The challenge is to explore it. And it helps to listen to those who have gone before you. They are the guides. They’re the ones who know what to do and what not to do. And if you’re one of those who already sees beyond the visible world and are wondering whether you’re normal, be assured that you are. You’re just functioning more efficiently than everyone else. Your job now is to learn how to integrate your experiences into your everyday life.