The Question of Consciousness

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Brendan D. Murphy

Etymologically, the word consciousness derives from the words scire (to know) and cum or con (with). Consciousness is “to know with.” So if you, the persona, cognize (to know or be aware of), who are you cognizing with? Is there more to consciousness than the Freudian ego and unconscious?

Mathematical physicist Roger Penrose has written: “A scientific world-view which does not profoundly come to terms with the problem of conscious minds can have no serious pretensions of [sic] completeness … I would maintain that there is yet no physical, biological, or computational theory that comes very close to explaining our consciousness or intelligence.”

Indeed, in the past (and even today?) some scientists have taken the absurd position that consciousness is an illusion. This, while providing a nonsensical reason to ignore the problem of consciousness, obviously fails to sate the curious inquirer’s queries regarding how we got here and what we are doing here as conscious beings.

Materialistic philosophy—derived from the mechanistic worldview—steadfastly maintained more or less since the Age of Reason in the 1700s that what we call experience arises solely as a by-product of the brain’s internal workings. No brain, no consciousness.

But is it really that simple? What about functions of consciousness that appear to transcend the cranial boundaries of our heads? The Age of Reason said that these forces had only ever existed in man’s imagination; only reason could show man the truth about the universe. “The trouble was,” according to Colin Wilson, “that man became a thinking pygmy, and the world of the rationalists was a daylight place in which boredom, triviality and ordinariness were ultimate truths.”

The Age of Reason glorified the rationalist, who, enamored of his endless linear cogitations, was blinded to faculties of consciousness that actually transcended them: faculties that would have allowed him not to merely philosophize about deeper levels of reality, but actually access them.

“This is the great tragedy of modern man,” wrote occultist, philosopher and composer Dane Rudhyar. “His much acclaimed scientific spirit frees him of the compulsions of subrational and subconscious states of mind, only to bind him to an empty rationalism and a quantitative analytical intellect, both of which actually entomb him in a sarcophagus filled with only the mimicry of life. This sarcophagus is the ‘megalopolis’—the monstrous city.”

But something stirs in the bowels of the concrete jungle. An international online survey of paranormal experiences met with an overwhelming response, according to Australian researchers in 2006. The survey, on phenomena that cannot be explained using the current “laws” of science, was conducted by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne.

A Gallup poll revealed that 75% of Americans hold at least one paranormal belief, and a UK newspaper poll showed that 60% of Britons accept the existence of the paranormal, said the researchers. According to them, the survey was not about beliefs or whether parapsychological phenomena exist; rather it was about what people had experienced and the impact it had had on their lives.

Some 2,000 people made contact via the internet within six weeks of the survey’s beginning. A whopping 96% of respondents claimed to have had at least one brush with the paranormal. The exercise sought to gauge the frequency, effect and age of onset of unexplained phenomena such as premonitions, out-of-body and near-death episodes, telepathy, and apparitions.

Results as of 2006 showed that 70% of respondents believed an unexplained event had changed their lives, mostly in a positive way. Some 70% also claimed to have seen, heard or been touched by an animal or person that wasn’t there; 80% reported having had a premonition; and almost 50% recalled a previous life.

Earlier, in May 2000, the NEW YORK TIMES Sunday Magazine published results of a poll conducted by Blum & Weprin Associates in which a huge 81% of respondents said they believed in life after death.

Virtually all of these beliefs hint at (and require in order to be true) the existence of other realms—realms in which consciousness can operate. A 2005 poll taken by the Scottish paranormal society showed that more people are likely to believe in ghosts and the paranormal than any organized religion. A Gallup survey taken in 2005 showed that about three in four Americans profess at least one paranormal belief.
Buy now on [url=][/url]!This is a massive amount of “paranormal” experience and belief—all of it depending on the existence of other levels of reality, without which such experience can only be labeled as delusion and fantasy. While the fanatical skeptic would find such convenience irresistible, convenience and expedience are not our goals here.

Did you know that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has now been amended so that genuinely psychic people are no longer considered “disordered”?

Intuition & Creativity

Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887–1920) has been called the strangest man in all of mathematics and probably in the entire history of science. Working in isolation from his peers, this Indian genius was singlehandedly able to re-derive a hundred years’ worth of Western mathematics.

As Michio Kaku reports in HYPERSPACE, the tragedy of Ramanujan’s life is that much of his work was wasted rediscovering known mathematics. Most interestingly for this discussion, Ramanujan claimed that the goddess Namakkal inspired him in his dreams; in other words, the source of his creative genius was the realm within his sleep, rather than ordinary waking consciousness.

Is there a link between this other realm of sleep and paranormal phenomena? At a glance, such a presumption appears to be a stretch, but the reservation of judgment is highly recommended at this point. Carl Jung stated: “The images and ideas that dreams contain cannot possibly be explained solely in terms of memory. They express new thoughts that have never yet reached the threshold of consciousness.”

Ramanujan appears to provide an excellent example of the type of non-ordinary information access that the Russian paranormal researchers might call hypercommunication, but he isn’t alone among specialists, pioneers, giants of science, and so-called regular people.

In fact, pioneer psychiatrist and consciousness researcher Stanislav Grof found that during LSD experiences his own patients were capable of accessing the “collective unconscious” and obtaining very specific, accurate and detailed knowledge. In the LSD training program for scientists, relevant insights occurred in fields as diverse as cosmogenesis, the nature of space and time, subatomic physics, ethology, animal psychology, history, anthropology, sociology, politics, comparative religion, philosophy, genetics, obstetrics, psychosomatic medicine, psychology, psychopathology, and thanatology.

Assuming he really did receive detailed formulas in his dreams via the subconscious, Ramanujan provides some indication of just how accurate and detailed this knowledge can be. As we will see, these insights that defy the Freudian and Newtonian-Cartesian (reductionist) worldview/s abound in the literature.

In 1862 the chemist Friedrich August von Kekule famously arrived at the solution for the chemical formula for benzene in a dream wherein he saw the benzene ring in the form of a snake biting its tail—an archetypal symbol in itself known as the Ouroburos.

In a supreme historical irony, Descartes’ principles of what ultimately became the mechanist philosophy originated from a dream on the eve of St. Martin’s day of 1619 in which the “Angel of Truth” explained to him that mathematics was the key to unlocking the secrets of nature!

Similarly, Nikola Tesla constructed the electric generator … after the complete design of it appeared to him in great detail in a vision. The design for the experiment leading to the Nobel Prize–winning discovery of the chemical transmission of nerve impulses occurred to the physiologist Otto Leowi while he was asleep. Albert Einstein discovered the basic principles of his special theory of relativity in an unusual state of mind; according to his description, most of the insights came to him in the form of kinesthetic sensations.

Einstein said: “The supreme task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can reach them.”

Many of the great scientists have said similar things. From out of nowhere a revelatory vision or understanding hits them, as if suddenly downloaded into their minds from some esoteric conceptual repository.

It is interesting that in lucid dreams many people find they can learn skills that translate directly into real waking life or can solve problems in the conscious dream state that in the physical world had stumped them. Moreover, these solutions actually work.

Francis Crick was under the influence of LSD in 1953 at the moment when he perceived the double helix shape and unraveled the structure of DNA. The chemist DI Mendeleyev saw his entire periodic table of elements one night in a dream. And of course, many of history’s greatest and most successful musical artists came up with their best material under the influence of one drug or another.

Oprah Winfrey said, “My business skills have come from being guided by my inner self—my intuition.” She’s not alone among the financially abundant. Researchers have tested CEOs of successful corporations for their ability to see the future, such as by predicting a string of numbers they would be shown later. The CEOs who are good at this are usually those who are also highly successful in running their corporations, while CEOs who did not have this ability tend to have mediocre success rates in their corporations.

“In one study,” says Dr. Larry Dossey, “experimenters were able to predict in advance the most successful corporate balance sheets by how well the CEOs did on tests that measured their ability to predict the future, such as a string of numbers they’d be shown later.”

In 1982 the ST. LOUIS BUSINESS JOURNAL, testing how a psychic would fare against professional stockbrokers over a six-month period, reported that the psychic, who had no formal training in stock market trading or analysis, outperformed 18 of 19 professional stockbrokers. During the testing period, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 8%, but the psychic’s stocks went up an average of 17.2%, while the sole broker who beat her achieved 17.4%.

Physicist and psi researcher Russell Targ’s research group Delphi Associates succeeded in psychically forecasting for nine consecutive weeks the fluctuations in the silver commodity futures markets, earning them a tidy $120,000. Today psi techniques are playing an increasingly important role on Wall Street, according to Dean Radin’s sources.

In 1987 Richard S. Broughton, scientist and former president of the Parapsychological Association, pointed to the need-serving nature of psi and the competitive advantage it often provides in the struggle for survival. Darwinists, rejoice!

Many scientists have had profound interests in fields beyond the reach of the science of their day. For instance, Isaac Newton was an obsessive alchemist and Freemason in search of the way to transform consciousness, Thomas Edison built machines to try to facilitate communication with the dead, and Marie Curie attended séances. The list of such eminent scientists with keen interests in the paranormal goes on and on.

Is it a credible suggestion that they all were merely deluded into pursuing these areas by cunning charlatans or irrational, wishful thinking? We are about to see that there is clearly more to it than this.

Even Freud, whose attitude towards the occult was originally negative, changed his tune as he matured and learned more about it, suggesting in a 1949 paper called “Psychoanalysis and Telepathy” a union between psychoanalysts and occultists: “[O]ne might expect a mutual sympathy between the two … [A]n alliance of, and collaboration between, psychoanalysis and occultists would seem to be both plausible and promising.”

What about those modern-day scientists and professionals who have experiences in the “paranormal” realm? Brian Weiss, psychiatrist, hypnotherapist, and author, wrote: “The respected chairman of a major clinical department at my hospital is a man who is admired internationally for his expertise. He talks to his deceased father, who has several times protected him from serious danger. Another professor has dreams that provide the missing steps or solutions to his complex research experiments. The dreams are invariably correct. Another well-known doctor usually knows who is calling him on the phone before he answers it.”

If these insights come from only one man, imagine what else we might be missing out on.

No Sacred Cows

With so many people (many being iconic historical figures) experiencing what they are supposedly not meant to, the reasonable individual might be forgiven for wondering if there is something more to consciousness than our materialistic paradigms would have us believe.

Can we go further than questioning the assumed legitimacy of orthodox materialistic theories which reduce consciousness to a mere epiphenomenon (by-product) of physical matter (the brain) and even—heaven forbid—suggest that they are not merely incomplete, but actually superstitions in themselves?

W. Heitler, a theoretical physicist at the University of Zurich, thinks so and writes in his book MAN AND SCIENCE: “Belief in a mechanistic universe is a modern superstition … based on a more or less extensive series of correct facts, facts which are subsequently generalized without warrant, and finally so distorted that they become grotesque … The ‘witch superstition’ cost innumerable innocent women their lives, in the cruelest fashion. The mechanistic superstition is more dangerous … When once we have got to the stage of seeing in man merely a complex machine, what does it matter if we destroy him?”

The process of generalizing without warrant, as Heitler puts it, is essentially inductive logic that is theoretical science’s proverbial bread and butter. This process starts with particular data or concepts and then extrapolates or derives broader generalizations (that may or may not be accurate). As we shall see with the mechano-materialistic outlook, many of these broad generalizations are, in fact, inaccurate.

An example: scientists discover that brainwave states and neurochemical processes affect and alter states of consciousness and perception. From this, the materialistic scientist draws the conclusion (interprets) that consciousness is entirely a brain-based phenomenon. Inductive logic is a great way to go drastically wrong while remaining entirely logical within a given framework.

Deductive logic works the other way: you start with broader conclusions/premises and try to draw more detailed facts. This too obviously has its limitations. You could make the complete opposite mistake; for example, someone has an “out-of-body experience” and concludes that, since they could still perceive while completely separate from brain and body, the brain has nothing to do with human consciousness.

This is a silly example but illustrates the point. Incidentally, the Tibetan word for body is , which means something you leave behind, like baggage. Could the Tibetans know something we sophisticated Westerners don’t?

I can state confidently that consciousness does not arise from the brain; however, once anchored by the brain, the brain mediates conscious experience (unless consciousness is completely separated from the brain as in the “near-death experience”). In the words of physicist Amit Goswami, “Yes! says the quantum theorist, because changing the measurement apparatus does certainly change what can be measured, and therefore changes the event.”

Canadian brain researcher and specialist Dr. Michael Persinger, who discovered connections between electromagnetic (EM) fields and changes to the brain’s temporal lobe, established that exposure to weak magnetic fields can induce altered states of awareness reminiscent of psychic and mystical experiences, the sensing of a “presence,” experiences of “God,” and other physical effects. The temporal lobe has been linked to out-of-body and mystical experiences, as well as to feelings of dissociation and hallucinations, by neuroscientist Peter Brugger.

Such studies in the nascent field of neurotheology do indeed show the mediation of conscious experience by the brain. But to infer from these facts that the brain actually generates consciousness where previously there was none is an unjustifiable and counterproductive leap of faith.

The brain acts, as authors such as Grof have put it, as a “reducing valve” for consciousness, tuning and altering it, acting as a conduit rather than the generator. Case in point: studies in near-death experiences reveal that transcendent states of awareness can be experienced by people who are clinically dead, with no brain function or signs of life at all. Offering validity to their claims, many have returned from death with true information gleaned (sometimes from distant locations) that they—according to the brain-as-generator theory—should not have had awareness of, let alone access to.

Similarly, respected computer engineer and author Bernardo Kastrup points out that, contrary to accepted wisdom, psychedelics produce “hallucinations” not by stimulating brain activity, but by reducing it. “Reduction of brain activity impairs the filter/localization mechanism, allowing one to temporarily and partially escape its entrapment and come closer to perceiving reality as it truly is.”

According to the metaphysicist and co-founder of theosophy Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Professor George T. Ladd, a psychologist and philosopher, observed in the late 1800s that the “assumption that the mind is a real being, which can be acted upon by the brain, and which can act on the body through the brain, is the only one compatible with all the facts of experience.”

Nothing has changed since then. More recently, Goswami’s revealed that he had vainly seeking a description of consciousness within science, when “instead, what I and others have to look for is a description of science within consciousness.”

In fact, it was (and is) the former approach that got so much in the way of progressing our understanding of consciousness. The late physicist Evan Walker was more specific, commenting that “an understanding of psi phenomena and of consciousness must provide the basis of an improved understanding of [quantum mechanics].”

Copyright © Brendan D. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

About Brendan:
Host of Truthiverse podcast. Author of the epic THE GRAND ILLUSION: A SYNTHESIS OF SCIENCE & SPIRITUALITY. Founder of The Truthiversity 📽
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