Ask Dr. SETI ®
by Dan Duda
from the April, 2016 issue of Penn Central,
the monthly newsletter of Central PA Mensa,
used by permission
Why is the nature of reality such an enigma? In my personal opinion, there’s a simple explanation. Since we’re part of nature, we’re trying to understand it from the inside—so we never see the big picture. According to Einstein “No problem can be solved using the same level of consciousness that created it.” We always assume that nature is something separate from us and ‘out there,’ and that’s where we make our mistake.
Recent advances in particle physics make the case even stronger. A very non-intuitive hypothesis is emerging—that our consciousness is actually the essential factor in creating the reality we perceive. Of course, for most of us this is not just counter-intuitive—it’s nonsense. But the onslaught of hard scientific evidence continues to suggest that the hypothesis just might be true.
First, let’s look at a couple of breakthroughs that support a more traditional view of consciousness. According to MIT physicist, Max Tegmark “I conjecture that consciousness can be understood as yet another state of matter. Just as there are many types of liquids, there are many types of consciousness.” When approached this way, consciousness can be analyzed and studied mathematically and included with the other physical laws that govern the universe. But this is a view from the inside.
Next, Italian Neurobiologist Giulio Tononi is in the process of focusing our understanding of consciousness with a blend of revelations from particle physics, metaphysics, neuroscience, art and philosophy. He’s applying mathematical discipline to this dissonant composite of perspectives by employing information theory. “Consciousness," Dr. Tononi says, "is nothing more than integrated information." Information theorists measure the amount of information in a computer file or cellphone call in bits, and Dr. Tononi argues that we could, in theory, measure consciousness in bits as well. A very innovative approach to the consciousness problem. But again, from the inside.
More compelling to me, at least based on results of actual scientific experiment, is the hypothesis that consciousness actually creates reality, rather than the other way around. The grandfather of particle physics investigations is the popular “double slit experiment” which was first conducted by English physicist Thomas Young. The bizarre interpretation is that particles behave differently when a conscious being is looking. In fact, it appears that the particle exists only as a wave of possibilities when we’re not looking. So reality of the particle requires consciousness. This realization has been de-fined by mathematics. The Schrödinger wave equation describes the effect precisely—and its predictions have never been wrong.
OK, you’ve no doubt noticed that all of these hypotheses are views from the inside. But since we’re part of nature, how is anything else possible? Well, there is another option.
Eastern religion, including Zen Buddhism, posits that we can achieve a link with ultimate reality through meditation. In fact, according to Zen masters, the assumption that we are something separate from ultimate reality (duality) is the primary problem of humanity. And meditation just brings us home to the natural state of things. But, ironically, being “one with everything” seems to be the ultimate view from the inside. If accurate, that means there is no “outside” perspective to be had. But back to our main question: is consciousness a feature emerging from reality? Or, is reality an emergent feature of consciousness?
In the words of the Buddha:
“what we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow. Our life is the creation of our mind."
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this page last updated 6 August 2016
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