Let’s Explore Consciousness

The fundamental principle of consciousness is that “everything is known”. In theological terms, this is the omniscience of God. To ask “by whom” or “by what” everything is known misses the point, because, like the problem of duality, the moment we create a separate observer we lose unity. So the statement “everything is known” is really beyond the mind’s ability to grasp intellectually or to know objectively, so we have to take it as a principle and not as an observable fact.

In order to get some sense of what we’re talking about, let’s replace the word “everything” with the word “more” – more is known. This we can relate to, and it will lead us by extrapolation to the edge of “everything”. And instead of looking at it abstractly, let’s make it concrete. Imagine that you have your eyes surgically altered so that your range of peripheral vision is enlarged by 30%. Instead of seeing just slightly less than 180 degrees, which is normal, you now see about 250 degrees. This means that your range of vision would be more like a bird’s. You would be able to see almost everything that was happening behind you without having to turn your head to look. Now, birds are used to this, but for us it would require major adaptation. My mother used to warn me that she had eyes in the back of her head. She, evidently, had adapted quite well.

Or, try this. Imagine that the focal point on the retina of your eyes, the fovea, covered the entire retina. This, theoretically, would mean that everything in your field of vision would be sharply in focus. Your peripheral vision would be as functional as your direct vision. You would scarcely have to move your eyes in order to drive or read. For example, you could read small print out of the corner of your eye without looking at it directly. This would probably require more adaptation than the expanded peripheral vision, because we are so used to screening out everything that we’re not focused upon, either visually or mentally. It would more than likely be very disorienting.

These are simple, concrete examples of what “more is known” might look like, using physical sight as the analogy.

Intuition vs. Subliminal Messages
Let’s see if we can make the distinction between knowledge that is derived strictly from within ourselves and knowledge that is arrived at by the finer aspects of our physical senses.

Just as slipping the image of a Coke bottle into a film strip as a single frame will be invisible to the conscious mind but picked up subliminally by the subconscious, so do other signals, such as body language, micro-facial expressions, and nuances of color affect us and give us “feelings” or hunches about our environment. I might like one person when I first meet him, but not another. If you ask me why, I might not be able to tell you, only that I trust the one and not the other. I am picking up on subliminal signals that my conscious mind cannot adequately interpret, but which my subconscious can read like a book. Depending on how closely I pay attention to my “feelings”, my subconscious impressions can be very helpful.

Now, conventional psychology and western science in general claim that intuition, as a tool for determining what’s going on in our world, is entirely dependent upon input from the physical senses—not a pipeline to the mind of God. Mystics, on the other hand, claim just the opposite. So, let’s use the power of paradox to see if we can resolve the two claims. In order to apply the principle of paradox, we have to take each claim as an absolute truth, not as a relative truth, but an absolute one. In other words, the physical senses ARE the only means for acquiring knowledge, and the intuition IS universal in scope. Now these two claims are clearly contradictory. To the rational mind, they both cannot be true. But by using the principle of paradox, we can find a place where they are. To do this, we have to ask what third “fact” needs to be present to reconcile the two claims. This is kind of like the algebra rule that says if a = c, and b = c, then a and b must equal each other.  So, we are looking for what else has to be true in order for both claims to be true.

For instance, we know that the eyeball doesn’t see anything—it only conveys information to the visual cortex of the brain. It is there that “vision” takes place. But we also know that we can “see” with our eyes closed, with our imagination. Science says that what we see with our imagination is not real, but this is actually a superstition on their part, because there is no hard evidence to prove that it’s not, at least not in every case. With them, you see, nothing is real unless it has been proven so. This is like saying that you are guilty until proven innocent, but that’s another story. All we need is one instance of “in”-sight that turns out to be true, one that is off the charts, statistically speaking, and that cannot be shown to have been derived subliminally, and science’s claim evaporates. Of course, we know of countless examples of this kind of knowing.

So, in order for the physical senses, which we know are located in the brain and not in the organs of perception, to be the only means of acquiring knowledge, AND for knowledge to be inherently unlimited in scope (everything is known), then all knowledge must reside in the brain. This is not as difficult as it might seem, no more than understanding how all radio stations can exist inside a radio. Science hotly denies this as a possibility, but again this is a superstition on their part, because there is no actual proof to the contrary. Huston Smith expresses this idea beautifully in his Forgotten Truth:

“Mechanists consider mind to be a part of the body, but this is a mistake. The brain is a part of the body, but mind and brain are not identical. The brain breathes mind like the lungs breathe air.”

All of this is a roundabout way of demonstrating how each of us has access to all knowledge. It also demonstrates that the brain is a very important mechanism and that whatever happens to it has a direct effect on that access. Therefore, learning and mental development are an important part of spiritual training – not learning more facts, necessarily, but by learning how to be receptive to new knowledge.

Things get a little bit esoteric at this point, both in a scientific sense and in terms of mysticism. According to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the very act of observation affects the outcome of an experiment, and as mystics we know that we are co-creators with God. These two concepts sound suspiciously the same to me. Normally, the theological concept of the act of creation gets shot down, because science says that something cannot be created from nothing. But this is an overly literal interpretation that confuses objects with principles. As an analogy, we can create an eddy in a stream of water by sticking our hand in it. The eddy is real, but it is not an object in the normal sense. Sticking our hand in the water is analogous to the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle, because every time we look at something, we disturb it by interjecting ourselves into its “process”.

While the brain is important, it is only important here, in the physical part of the spiritual spectrum. But then, this is not exactly correct, because the brain is to mind as the eyeball is to the brain. Or, put another way, light is to seeing as seeing is to the one who is looking. In other words, mind is every bit as much a “mechanism” as the brain is, only it resides on a higher band of the spiritual spectrum. On that level, what we call “our mind” might be just as solid an object as the brain is here in the physical. It doesn’t have to be shaped like a brain, because on its own level, “shape” has an entirely different meaning. This is not that hard to understand. While the words I’m typing on my computer look like they have the same shape as the words in a book, their actual shape is no shape at all, but rather strings of electrical impulses within the CPU of my computer. But they have shape nonetheless, only of a different order. For our senses to “see” that shape, our brains would have to be configured differently. Do you see?

The boundaries of the physical and spiritual worlds begin to overlap when we look at consciousness in this way. By understanding how consciousness works, we can better understand the nature of reality, because one is analogous to the other. In the 2002 movie Solaris, the main character asks his ghostly wife, “Am I dead or alive?” to which she replies, “We’re in a place where we don’t have to think like that anymore.”

Which mechanism is more real, the mechanism of the brain or the mechanism of the mind. Which has influence over the other? Is that influence a one-way street, or does it exercise authority in both directions? Is the mind/brain relationship a kind of feedback loop, a system that “learns” like a computer learns? If it is, then this gives us an insight into the nature of the soul and what makes us an individual person. It also helps us to differentiate between the soul and the mind, instead of letting the two definitions collapse into each other. Just as we can say that we are not the physical body, we can also say that we are not the mind. Understanding this has an enormous effect in how we live our everyday lives.

Many of the world’s problems, both personally and collectively, stem from the belief that we are the thoughts we think. This is the basis of ego. If we can experience the mind and its processes more like the way we experience our stomach or our lungs, the closer we can come to recognizing our true identity – the Self, that part of us that was made in the image and likeness of God. But as long as we confuse our “self” with what we see in the mirror, or if we confuse the “body” of thought that parades itself daily in front of the mirror of our awareness, then we will suffer. We will not understand the true cause and effect relationship between these different parts of ourselves, nor will we understand how personal experience shapes who we are.

2 Responses to Let’s Explore Consciousness

  1. Michael – looks like a great lesson for my class today! What a delight to have your blog as a resource for our little group every Sunday. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Knowledge vs. “Knowing” « Firm Belief

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