The Hard Problem of Consciousness

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. 

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Missing the Mark

by Michael Maciel

The Greek word for planet is “planítis,” which means “wanderer.” The reason they called them that is because they appear to “wander” amongst the fixed stars of the Zodiac.

Each one of us is a planet—we all orbit the Sun. We all work out our karma as we work our way through the myriad complexities of our astrological milieu.

But as every astrologer knows, each encounter is a choice—we can either submit and call it fate, or we can step up and call it destiny. The choice is ours.

And that choice constitutes our aim. Submitting to fate is the failure to aim. How can you hit the target if you’re not even aiming at it? You’re bound to miss the mark.

But aiming (and aiming rightly) is what the mind is for. What is life if not a learning process? And how can we learn if we don’t remember what works and what doesn’t?

That takes thought. It takes weighing the pros and cons of every important action. We work things out in mind before we act on them so that our impulsiveness doesn’t kill us. Trial balloons are expendable. We are not.

Sin, as it turns out, isn’t just “missing the mark.” It’s more like not making the effort to find a proper target. If our aim is to merely seek pleasure and avoid pain, then we’re choosing the path of least resistance. But if it’s soul development we’re after, then we seek the high road, even if it involves pain. 

And that takes thought. Careful, deliberate, well-reasoned thought.

As Buddha pointed out, suffering is caused by ignorance. And what is ignorance but lazy thinking? Or thoughtlessness? Or not wanting to be bothered with nuance?

Aiming takes thought—careful analysis of elevation (trajectory), crosswind (bias), and objective (values). These things don’t happen by accident. They have to be worked out in advance. And that takes planning. And, of course, trial and error. Lots of that!

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Video Lecture: On the Myth of Prometheus, Technology, and Archetypal Fire

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Love Is All You Need (?)

by Michael Maciel

I like the part in 1 Corinthians where Paul says that without love, nothing we do means anything.

He goes on to list certain goal-based achievements:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Now, to me, this says that love is the essential ingredient. It’s like salt in bread. But have you ever tried to make bread without salt? It’s almost inedible.

So, saying that without salt, bread is nothing is not the same as saying we should only eat salt.

Love is the primary ingredient in all of our endeavors, but it’s only one ingredient, not the whole loaf. It qualifies our intention and endorses our achievements. But it should never keep us from having a vision or stand in the way of our efforts to achieve it. Love is in everything (or should be) but it’s not all there is.

In mystical Christianity, we say that the Christ Being—the Logos—has three aspects: Light, Life, and Love.

Light, by its very nature, makes things visible. It also reveals that which was hidden, such as our biases and suppressed memories. In that way, we could call it “truth”—the truth of what is.

Life is the power of God moving through all of creation. It is vitality. It is also the will to live.

And love is the connection that makes it possible for all three aspects to exist. Remove any one of the three, and the whole thing collapses.

Vision, intention connection.

Idea, will, action.

The Thing Itself, how It works, and what It does. (Holmes)

There’s no question that the world is in serious need of a hefty dose of love. But the lack of love, which has reached epidemic proportions, could be attributable to a lack of light and life. After all, there’s a reason why the Trinity is symbolized by an equilateral triangle. All three elements, distinct as they are, are nevertheless tied to each other. They are inseparable. Increase the potentiality of one and you increase it in the other two. Decrease it in one (or two) and you weaken them all.

The problem isn’t with love itself but with our tendency to turn it into sentimentality or an affectation. That’s a human error that has nothing to do with love. But that’s why love must be balanced with vision—a goal, a purpose, a raison d’être.”

Where there is no vision, the people perish. Proverbs 29:18

But unless love characterizes both the motivation and the intention, the vision will lead to death. Loveless visions always require wholesale slaughter as their means to an end.

Love feels good. But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, the feel-good part has to take a backseat to necessity. We have to delay the gratification that love provides in the moment so that it can survive into the future.

And, it’s important to remember that love without light can quickly become cruel. It will ruthlessly defend its own. Because when there is no light, your own is all you can see. In the absence of light, love’s diameter grows increasingly smaller until it has nothing left to devour but itself.

So, that’s the challenge for love’s champions—to make the diameter of their love as wide as possible, to increase it until it encompasses everyone, not just their own.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48

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What, exactly, is God’s Will?

by Michael Maciel

I have a rather radical approach to theology.

I like to say that God’s will for us is that we get our prayers answered. That and that only. There is no plan and no vision other than that.

The reason for this is that the only efficacious actions are the ones we take unprompted, unscripted, and by our own free will. Those are the only actions that actually bring about soul growth.

They have to come from within us and not because someone told us what to do—not even God. Lukewarm doesn’t cut it.

We don’t get into heaven simply by following the rules—the Law has to be written in our hearts. Otherwise, obeying them doesn’t count, not in terms of spiritual development.

Behaving is not the same as being a good person. The proof of goodness is what arises in us spontaneously and automatically. Anything else is merely an attempt at goodness.

Everything we are is shouted from the rooftops of our actions. What we do consciously and deliberately only counts if it comes from within us of its own accord, not because we think it’s the “right thing to do.” It’s got to come from the heart, not the mind. 

God’s desire emerges from the very center of our heart. It comes from nowhere else. We find it only by being true to our first love—our heart’s desire.

What do you really want? Knowing that is the beginning of Right Action.

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The Universe As Egg

by Michael Maciel

It must have been amazing for our earliest ancestors to witness a live chick emerge from what was before merely an amorphous goo. It was a high mystery.

Apart from the physical attributes of an egg, its spiritual attributes are far more amazing. Symbolically speaking, the egg is the perfect embodiment of undifferentiated potential—out of nothing, something.

If the universe is an egg, as many mythologies claim that it is, then the primary substrate of its existence is, in fact, undifferentiated potential. This is what the quantum physicists have been saying for quite some time now—at the subatomic level, everything is in flux. This is what enables us to use the Law of Mind.

With our imagination, we are able to call forth a particular manifestation from the undifferentiated potential of the Universal Mind, the great creative intelligence we call “God.” Just as we have been able to combine and recombine the raw materials of Earth and thereby create all sorts of things that do not occur naturally, we are also able to combine and recombine thoughts and images for the same purpose. It’s how we have been doing it all along.

As far as we know, we are the only species that looks upon our world as though it were a sea of possibilities and not simply “the way things are.” We see what could be more than we see what is. This is, of course, a blessing and a curse. But it’s been mostly a blessing. We live in better health and longer than ever before in history. In every way, our lives are far better than those of our ancestors, even our most recent ancestors.

It’s up to us to keep our perspective straight, to focus on making the world and ourselves the best that we can be.

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”

― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

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Is the World an Illusion?

by Michael Maciel

Just as a person’s face can reveal something about his or her personality, no one would presume that it reveals everything. There’s almost an infinity of stuff going on behind the masks that we wear.

Why do we presume, then, that the external world is any different?

I’m sitting at my dining room table looking out at the incredibly beautiful California Wine Country—hills covered in lush, green grass with vineyards and trees stretching out before them.

And like you, I sense that there’s something illusory about the landscape—the face of the “world”—that I’m seeing.

But what am I not seeing? The trees are all pointing their leaves at the morning sun, soaking in the light. The cells within the leaves are busy converting that light into food, which is then transported to the rest of the tree. Water is being drawn up from the roots, exuded from the leaves, along with oxygen, and it’s all taking place with mind-boggling precision.

One could almost say that the trees are conscious, but we would have to define what “consciousness” means. It might be better to say that consciousness is everywhere and that it’s operating in a particular way called “tree.” 

There’s also a highway in the distance, where I can see people on their way to work. Each person is seeing this same world that I’m seeing, although from a different perspective and with different expectations. Every car contains a different kind of conscious awareness.

If I let myself, I can begin to see that there is more consciousness out there than face, that there’s more—WAY more—going on than what’s painting itself on my brain screen. There is so much more than the flat image reveals, indeed CAN reveal, that it’s no wonder that I begin to suspect that what I’m seeing is an illusion.

Maybe the word “illusion” conceals more than it reveals. Maybe what we call “illusion” is really more of a distraction. Maybe it’s the curtain that prevents us from seeing the real part of the world, the larger dimension, and the multiplicity of activities that are taking place 24/7 right before our eyes.

When we begin to see that consciousness is everywhere—that there is intelligent interaction between all things and at all levels—then time and space begin to take a back seat. The different time frames and spatial relationships begin to shift. Their boundaries seem to conform to a different dimension altogether. Even the colors start to reveal a deeper, more organic intelligence as they change across a timescape so different from my own. 

When I look into that “face,” a personality so deep and so vast starts to reveal itself to me. I begin to sense that there are deeper realities still, dimensions that I cannot even imagine, much less perceive. 

So, is the world an illusion? Not really. I’d say it’s more of a distraction. We see the painting, not the artist. And the weird thing about it is that in some inscrutable way, this painting paints itself. This painting we call the world is its own artist. But just as this world is one small component of a much larger world—the Cosmos—we can assume that there are lots of paintings and lots of artists, and they run deep, so deep that we could never count them all. It’s painters and paintings all the way down. 

Rather than try to deny the existence of the world, as though it were a construct of the mind, maybe it would be better to look past the appearance—the face of it—and peer into what’s not so apparent. The reality of THAT might just be more than the average person could bear, which is why we are so enamored by the face and so blind to what’s behind it. 


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Hey You, Know Thyself

by Michael Maciel

So, rather a rude title, no? It’s the best alternative to “Man, Know Thyself,” because of the problematic word “man,” which seems to exclude women. And even though the convention tells us that it doesn’t, that “man” means “mankind,” which includes women, it’s easy to see how it stacks the deck against them.

So, I thought I’d be clever and rework it into “WoMan, Know Thyself,” but that was no easier to read than that horrible “he/she” construction, both of which not only trip you up as a reader but require you to use a stepladder to get over them.  But “You, Know Thyself” doesn’t work either, because who talks that way? The only possible answer was to put “hey” in front because at least it’s familiar—rude but familiar.

Well, I’ve never begun an article with two paragraphs explaining the title. But in this case, it serves a point—our language has so many presuppositions in it that it shapes the way we use it in ways that aren’t always obvious. We assume that “man” means “mankind,” when actually it doesn’t. We’ve gotten to a time when it takes more work to support that notion than the benefits it provides. 

But the axiom still stands—KNOW THYSELF. 

Ah, that’s it! Just leave off the first word altogether. “Thyself” covers who’s being addressed. But then…is it one person who’s being addressed or everyone? I suppose that that’s why the “man” was put there in the first place, to make sure it was meant for the collective, not just one person. Then the only possible solution is to say, “Y’all, Know Thyself.” But who talks like that? 

And the problems don’t stop there (stick with me, this is going somewhere, I promise). If we’re addressing everyone, shouldn’t we say, “Y’all, Know Yourselves”? As you can see, the elegance of the original quickly gets mired in linguistic wrangling. Not only that but it introduces a conundrum—how many selves do I have? Shouldn’t we work that out first?

“Man, Know Thyself” is looking better all the time. 

So, here’s the point. How many such contradictions exist in our thinking—the thinking that relies on word constructions to get its job done? And are we aware of them? Or do they bias our thinking in ways that are entirely unknown to us, steering us in directions that seem inherently unfair? The only way to know is to know ourselves—for you to know yourself and for me to know myself. 

This ancient axiom just keeps on giving, doesn’t it? It contains within itself the very problem it addresses. How does our language shape the way we see ourselves and the world? Do we use words as tools, or do the words use us? It’s a worthy question. 

Now, I’m not advocating for overhauling the language. That could cause WAY more problems than it would solve. There’s not a linguist alive who could rework such a complicated system—one that’s evolved organically over who knows how many thousands of years—without messing it up. (Esperanto anyone?) What I am advocating is a rigorous investigation into how we see ourselves and the world we live in. 

That seems to be the perennial mandate. If language plays such a key role in this, then maybe that’s where we should start. And in order to do it, we have to be self-reflective. We have to question why we think the way we do and how our word constructions affect what we see. It’s not that our language (or any language) is flawed—they all are, at least insofar as they cannot provide a perfect tool for thinking. But they’re necessary for thinking. Perception alone cannot substitute for that. We have to evaluate what we perceive. Otherwise, we cannot plan for the future. 

In that sense, our language IS our future. So we better get it right or at least get good at it. And that starts with using it instead of letting it use us. Self-knowledge begins here within y’all—all y’all—today.


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Sorrow Cleanses the Soul

by Michael Maciel

We’ve all done something that we regret. Shame keeps us from facing the loss that our action caused, which makes it difficult to be with the fact of the results of what we did.

By “fact,” I mean the changed reality that our action created. What we did cannot be undone—and we know it.

But being with the fact is different from mourning the loss. That’s how we know if what we’re feeling is true sorrow and not merely the emotion of sadness. Something has been broken and it cannot be repaired—that’s the fact. And our full-on acceptance of it leaves us feeling profoundly empty.

Emotions cannot exist in emptiness. They have no place there. If we’re in emotional pain, it’s because we haven’t accepted the reality of the absence. That which is gone cannot be retrieved, no matter how much we want it.

True sorrow can only be experienced within the emptiness of the fact of that. So when we finally accept the absence, there is no emotion, because the new reality is empty.

Why go there? Because it’s real. Emotional turmoil happens when we refuse to accept what is. It’s the reaching for the out-of-reach, desiring the unattainable, and the desperate clinging to what no longer exists that causes pain.

In emptiness, there is no pain. And it’s out of emptiness that something new can be born.

When we come to the stark realization that our life is an abject failure, that nothing we have done has gotten us any closer to God, then and only then can we begin our path of return.

Anything more than that is baggage.

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Spiritual Illumination – Let Your Light Shine

Matthew 5

14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Did you know that you can see light in your body? This is what the Bible means when it says that Christ will return to Earth.

It’s very explicit about that. What it kinda keeps hidden is that you are the Earth. You are ground zero! 

In this video, we’re going to talk about how you can open up and receive the Light of Christ, not just understanding but REAL LIGHT!

So, if you’re looking for ways to make God real in your life, you’re in the right place.

In Matthew Chapter 5, Jesus gives us three clues to how we can fill our body with light. Not understanding but light.

First, he tells us that we are the light of the world and that a city on a hill cannot be hid. 

This tells us that the world needs light and that we are the source of that light,“we” meaning humanity as a whole. But humanity is made up of individuals—you and me. We have to choose to find the Light of Christ. Each one of us.

And light is the life-energy made visible, right? So, we are the life of the world.

If you’re into feng shui, you know that you never build a house on top of a hill but rather halfway down. Otherwise, you draw too much attention to your home. You only build on top of a hill if you want people to find you. 

And he makes it clear that everyone is going to know you’re carrying the light, because people are drawn to people who shine, people who are vibrant, people who are ALIVE.

Second, he says that we’re like a candle and that no one hides a candle under a basket. We put candles on top of candlesticks so that they light up the room and everyone can see.

And look, so far we’re talking in terms of elevation, right? On a hill, on a candlestick. 

Hills, or mountains, symbolize heightened awareness. And candlesticks, like pillars and staffs, represent our spine and the kundalini. 

Remember, these symbols were around WAY before Jesus’ time, but he knew what they meant. That’s why he used them. 

And third, Jesus tells us to let our light shine so that people can see it.

Why? Is it so we can be popular? NO. We shine so that GOD can be popular.

We want to present ourselves to the word in such a way that people will see us and have hope. 

We do it so that they can see that LIFE IS GOOD and that it’s worth living, in spite of how hard it is sometimes. 

That’s the “good news”—if you open up to the power of the life-energy in you and you let it shine into all aspects of your life, everything, no matter how difficult, is suddenly worth the effort. 

That’s what the word “gospel” means—life is good! Sure, it hurts, but it’s worth it. 

When we live our lives as though they are brimming with possibility, it keeps us moving forward.

Instead of running away from everything, we seek out new experiences, better relationships, more meaningful vocations, and a heartfelt desire to cooperate, not fight. 

So, even if you don’t believe in God or Jesus Christ, this is still the best philosophy in town. It WORKS! It makes life infinitely better. 

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