Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
Consciousness is the hard problem. Philosophers speculate on it, scientists work around it, but an actual detailed explanation of consciousness has eluded mankind. Think of this essay as an exploration. I may not get it right, but this is a journey, not a destination. There are many reasons for the challenge of understanding, starting with the nature of consciousness itself. There is no question that consciousness is important; after all, it is the conveyor of all experience and without it, we cannot experience anything at all.
In most areas of human experience we find that there are are shades of meaning and that the explanation changes as we add more detail. But this isn’t the case with my previous statement. There is nothing I can think of that we can state with more certainty than this: consciousness is absolutely and completely required for acquiring ALL experience, no matter how trivial. No consciousness = no experience.
Where this leads us is clear: consciousness is required in order to study consciousness. So even before a discussion begins, we are faced with a riddle wrapped in an enigma. How can you properly look at something when you’re never in a position to examine it objectively? This is a little like trying to describe water from the inside of an endless bottomless ocean with no access to open air and no previous concept of what being outside of water would be like. We can only describe water in relation to things that are not water, but we’re not really sure what that might be.
You can never be sure that you’ve found something outside of consciousness if you can never get outside of consciousness to look at it. From there we can surmise our First Property of Consciousness:
1. It is impossible to describe or conceive of a state of “Outside Consciousness.” (Because we need consciousness to imagine what this might be.)
Therefore all descriptions of the properties of consciousness are based in consciousness. That’s the way it is and there is nothing to be done for it.
The sciences have had a particularly hard time creating theories of consciousness because they cannot wrap their heads around the First Property. Materialism, the philosophy upon which most scientific fields are based, operates on the premise that there exists such a thing as “Outside Consciousness.” (i.e. an objective universe) Yet if such a state of “Outside Consciousness” exists, it is completely unprovable and therefore unscientific since it is impossible to prove that this state exists in any form.
This does not mean that we need to toss out all the sciences, but merely recognize that they are all fundamentally products of consciousness. Because all input is dictated by conscious awareness, all products of that input are products of consciousness. Where this gets confusing is that the products of consciousness apparently operate according to rules that are different from consciousness itself. For the sake of clarity, we’ll refer to products of consciousness as physical existence. This brings us to our Second Property of Consciousness:
2. Physical existence is reducible and scalable. Consciousness Itself, is not reducible or scalable at all.
If you start with all the pieces of a car, you can put them together in a certain way and it becomes a car. If you take a hundred and fifty people and put them together in a certain way, you do not get a tribe. In order for a tribe to come into being, the people have to choose to work together to create one and be successful at it. What they create has no physical presence; it is composed entirely of a social agreement based on ideas and emotions shared by a group of people. No social agreement = no tribe. As ephemeral as this sounds, it is every bit as real as a car.
Physical existence, let’s say a car, (but it can be anything with a physical existence) can be broken down to pieces until they are too small to measure. Cars are also part of a physical system of matter the size of the universe, which may itself be part of a larger system of universes, and so on. Physical systems can be scaled up and down. They have obvious pieces that fit in certain ways and have specific interactions that can potentially be figured out.
Consciousness however, does not work this way. Thoughts and emotions are not reducible. There is no such thing as half a thought or half an emotion. There are no pieces that you can put together to come up with a thought or emotion. Even if you consider consciousness systems, such as an ant colony or a tribe of humans, those are not reducible either. An ant, by itself, is perfectly definable as itself. It does not necessarily need to be defined as part of a system. Similarly, an ant colony is not defined by its individual ants, but rather by their collective efforts. If you remove half the ants, what you get is a smaller colony, not half a colony. A colony or a tribe is a thing that is made up of individuals that are complete conscious entities in their own right, but is not defined by them, but rather by their system of thoughts and emotions. You can add and subtract these individuals ad infinitum (and they can be very diverse) and as long as the system of thoughts and emotions stays intact, the colony or tribe remains intact. Because it has no physical presence, size is irrelevant. Whether a tribe has two people or a billion, it is still a tribe.
Consciousness, as we’ve seen behaves in some very fundamentally different ways than our physical existence. Here is another way in which it is different.
3. physical existence tends towards simplifying. (i.e. entropy) Consciousness tends towards complexity. (Towards increasingly complex patterns)
The easiest way to understand this is to look at a physical object when it possesses consciousness and then look at what happens when that consciousness leaves. An object with consciousness grows in complexity (in its thinking) for as long as the physical existence allows, and the same object begins decaying immediately when all consciousness (life) is removed. You can also see the tendency toward complexity in any family in the world where even identical twins have different personalities. The bigger the family, the bigger the spread of different personalities. As social groups get larger, they get more complex as people learn and adapt to those around them, who are also learning and adapting. More than that though, social groups will have a tendency towards internal diversity. Consciousness works to achieve a complex interaction, not a simple one. It is within living systems that one finds the greatest complexity for a reason. Consciousness is required for an increase in complexity.
Thoughts and feelings do not have any physical component. People simply share the same thought or feeling. It is through this sharing of thoughts and feelings that complexity multiplies. Thoughts can exist forever, transferred through a wide variety of mediums such as oral history, writing, video or other means and are not copied. Because they lack physicality of any sort, it is not unreasonable to assume thoughts do not age or dissipate at all regardless of the passage of time, although there is no proof for this.
4. Consciousness is not tiered. Terms like greater and lesser do not apply. All consciousness interacts equally with all other consciousness.
Consciousness is basically all one thing with many forms, so there are no greater, or master consciousnesses and no lesser or slave consciousnesses. There is no system for interaction and no organizational methods. Some forms function with greater intensity than others, but they also are part of larger forms in which each portion only plays a role. There is no “winner.”
In conclusion, I think that it helps to think of consciousness this way. We are so caught up in a physical existence most of the time, it’s hard to remember that this existence is essentially the product of our thoughts. By expanding our awareness of how different consciousness is from what we normally experience we can see our own reality in more depth.