The mystery of consciousness
CONSIDER the following statement: 'Without consciousness we are nothing'. It feels self-evidently true because no sane person would deny that consciousness is the one aspect of ourselves that we would be least willing to sacrifice. We could lose our arms and legs, hearing, eyesight and sense of smell, and yet, if we remained aware, retained our consciousness, we would remain an individual possessed of a unique view of the Universe. Without consciousness we are lost in unfathomable darkness.
If you seriously think about 'Without consciousness we are nothing', sooner or later you would be drawn to ask some fundamental questions. What exactly is consciousness? What is it for? Can we pin down where it is found in our brain? How does it interact with matter? And why should it do so anyway? If you were really curious, you would also have to wonder who the conscious ‘we’ actually are.
And let’s not forget the last word in the statement: nothing. What does that mean? Can a state of 'no-thing' even exist?
Consciousness was always a central theme in philosophy and it is now the one thing universally agreed among both philosophers and scientists – that the greatest mystery in the Universe, apart from the origin of the Universe itself, is consciousness.
We all know with total subjective conviction that we are conscious, but how do we know, with such unshakeable certainty, that we have an ‘I’ and that our conscious experience of our own identity is different from that of any other person? Furthermore, mystics have always said that the entire Universe is conscious, and many physicists now also realise that consciousness must be a universal property.
How could this be?
If such questions fascinate you, you can join us to explore them in consciousness raising workshops run by Human Givens College.
At the end of our book, Human Givens, we included an afterword, describing our view of how consciousness arose – and how there are two distinct types.
One, which we call ‘object-consciousness’, can be seen as resulting from a pattern-match between an external source of stimuli and an inner template, or internal pattern. Becoming conscious of a car in front of us when driving, for example, results from an inner template for a car matching to the pattern of reflected light entering our brain from the car itself. We also observed that when templates are pattern-matched to external reality this is not a mechanical process. Rather, it is the recognition of a relationship between the inner template and the outer stimulus – a recognition of meaning – and it is this connection that results in the release of object-consciousness.
We contrasted this type of consciousness with ‘subjective’ consciousness, or ‘self-consciousness’. Self-consciousness arises when there is a discordance between an inner template and an outer pattern of stimulation. For example, if we miss a step going down stairs, the sudden jarring of our spine alerts us to a discordance in our pattern-matching, and we become self-conscious of our discomfort. We immediately go into our imagination to assess how much damage we might have sustained, think about the discomfort that we are feeling and try to gauge how serious it might be. Thus, when we are self-conscious, thinking about the future or the past, we are usually in
our imagination. (The exception, when we are self-conscious in the present, is also possible but much more difficult. It involves being aware that we
are aware, what is sometimes called ‘mindfulness’.)
Our hypothesis that there are two types of matter – ordinary, atomistic, objective matter, and subjective matter – is in keeping with the physics. This second type of matter, so infinitely subtle that it permeates everything (because the more subtle something is, the greater its capacity for penetration), could account for the subjectivity we experience when we are conscious. Subjective matter and objective matter, we suggest, evolved from the singularity: they were and are part of the same process and retain a natural affinity for each other.
Wherever there is objective matter, subjective matter is present. And subjective matter has consciousness of objective matter because, as we show in our new book, it draws it together.
In order to talk about this we needed to give this newly hypothesised form of matter a name. So, since the primary characteristic of this hypothetical subjective matter would be that it recognises and forms relationships, we called each particle of it a ‘relaton’ (pronounced ‘relate-on’) and defined it as ‘that which is capable of a relationship’. In other words, we suggested that there was something else in the singularity besides the infinite density of spacetime, something that gave structure to it. We posited that this was a ‘universal relaton field’ – a field of influence through which relationships between substances are made possible. Relatons were in the Universe from the very first moment the Big Bang happened – they accompanied every shard of primordial matter. And thereafter, during the evolution of materiality, whenever elemental particles formed new relationships, they released relatons into this universal field.
Since all relatons bring their knowledge with them, as we shall see later, this field had awareness: it knew what was immediately happening with matter as it connected particles together so they could change form and evolve. Although all relatons at that point had an elementary object-consciousness, it would have been very dim because relatons would have been totally preoccupied with pattern-matching to matter. Nevertheless, consciousness was there from the start, unconfined, all-seeing, pervading everything.
This enabled us to make a case, in keeping with the laws of science, for evolution not having come about solely by chance. Instead, we suggest, it drew on knowledge and patterns accumulated and totally interconnected in the universal relaton field – a material phenomenon of such scope and subtlety that human beings can only experience it momentarily in states of profound intuition. That some people have done so is beyond doubt, as we clearly demonstrate in Godhead: The brain's big bang.
What we believe happened is that, when the cosmological Big Bang
occurred, not only was spacetime shattered into the minuscule precursors
of elementary and composite subatomic particles (which we call ‘solitons’), but the universal relaton field was also shattered; and every separate piece of primordial matter – every soliton – took with it a little piece of the relaton field. (In our idea, objective matter and subjective matter are always present together.) Each relaton – which, like any other particle, exists as a particle and a field – would be capable of making a perfect relationship with all other relatons and have an innate tendency to attract and join up with any of them in whatever ways presented themselves.
A perfect relationship is analogous to how two drops of water become one when juxtaposed. Once joined, the two drops cannot be differentiated: there is a common essence. In this way, as matter evolved more complex patterns, the accompanying relaton fields would also integrate.
It has been calculated that the first elements to appear, following the
cosmological Big Bang, were hydrogen and helium. We propose that the subsequent evolution of the elements, when these subatomic particles
started to coalesce, was directed by knowledge held in the relatons of what other relationships were possible. So, as more and more solitons joined to become subatomic particles of elements, which then formed atoms, they were attracted to one another and came together and, as their relaton fields merged, vast ‘gas’ clouds, and galaxies of stars and planets came into being.
Just as separate pieces of a jigsaw puzzle can create a coherent picture, so individual particles formed by, and after, the Big Bang retain the potential to create ever more coherent relationships. The relaton field and the precursors of the particles were once part of a unified whole.
This subjective substance would have a variety of characteristics:
First, since, like dark matter, it is undetectable, it will not be made of ordinary atoms.
Second, it must be capable of relationships, as it was in a relationship with the solitons that formed atomistic matter at the time of the Big Bang.
Third, since it is in the nature of relatons to be in relationships, they are always generating consciousness. We previously referred to the two different aspects of consciousness as object-consciousness and self-consciousness. The pattern-match between relatons (which are subjective matter) produces subjective self-consciousness and the pattern-match between relatons and objective matter produces object-consciousness. There is an inverse relationship between self-consciousness and object-consciousness because as we have previously seen, object-consciousness arises from pattern-matching and subjective consciousness arises when we can’t find a pattern-match. The poet in the throes of inspiration becomes the poem; he is the object. The poet
struggling for inspiration, however, is painfully self-conscious because he hasn’t yet found it.
Fourth, since we are capable of being conscious of so many different things, and other species are conscious of things that we are not (think of echolocation in bats, for instance), relaton particles must, in principle, be capable of forming a relationship with all matter.
Fifth, relatons can all relate to each other, so it is in their nature to share knowledge. Knowledge is the sharing of relationships (which applies to all matter, not just people), so any relationship always shares knowledge.
Sixth, relatons must therefore have the capacity to store knowledge. This would take the form of an impress of patterns (whereas atomistic matter stores most information in a sequential code such as DNA, or the binary code that computers use). The more integrated the pattern, the more knowledge is stored within it, and therefore fewer relatons are required to specify it. This is because every separate thing requires its own relaton field.
Seventh, this matter does not have atomistic matter’s limitations of time and space. As Martin Rees, the cosmologist and president of the Royal Society, says about dark matter, it can flow through us undetected.
So, relationships enable the making of meaningful connections. In other words, it becomes clear that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and the behaviour of the whole cannot be predicted from the characteristics of the parts. The flowing, freezing and boiling properties of water, for example, cannot be predicted by knowing the properties of the oxygen and hydrogen of which water is made. If the whole were not greater than its parts, there would be no basis for the relaton idea.
Nothing can exist without a relaton field and, in accordance with the nature of relatons, each relaton has the potential to relate perfectly and completely to all the others in the Universe. Relatons are capable of organising themselves into any pattern, or template, as long as that pattern is compatible with the singularity that gave birth to all matter.
What are termed the ‘laws of Nature’ are the restrictions placed on atomistic matter by patterns of information about what is possible. These patterns are not modifiable, they came into existence with the Universe and created it. (Gravity and the speed of light work according to certain rules, as do the laws governing biology, DNA and evolution, and we cannot invent new ones.)
As the Universe evolved and more and more pattern-matching occurred, eventually self-consciousness (awareness) was ‘squeezed’ out of object-consciousness so that the Universe could observe itself and ask questions. Spare consciousness arose when we developed imagination and could ask questions. Once you ask a question, you are the entity asking the question; hence self-consciousness. We are the Universe asking questions about itself.
If this is so, self-consciousness must have been latent throughout the
evolution of our predecessors. Relatons always find a pattern-match to each other and have always had the capacity to do so, but, up until human beings evolved, there were no spare relatons within Nature because they were all taken up with their individual pattern-matches. After the brain’s big bang, however, we could choose to turn down our instincts sometimes and thereby release spare relatons, or at least create enough spare capacity in the relaton field so that they could start to relate to each other and generate their own ‘I’ consciousness.
It is as if object-consciousness, which was present in the beginning (otherwise matter could not have formed), had an urge to know itself but could only do so by evolving self-consciousness.
Our approach to unravelling the astonishing mystery of consciousness, starting from human givens principles, makes up an important part of our new book.