An Ode to Consciousness

What makes us think we’re so different?

What makes us think we’re supreme?

Why do we feel that we rule the world?

As God’s creatures, we’re part of his dream.

**

We’re not alone in being aware

Of ourselves and of being alive.

Elephants, apes, even octopi, too,

They know ‘self’, have the will to survive.

**

Scientists, chemists, the ‘-Ology’ Kings,

Search for the secrets of life.

Try as they might, they have no success.

We’re safe from their digital strife.

**

‘Intelligence’ – that gift we know well.

That deepens and changes with time –

Part of our make-up, the sum of our traits,

A route up that mountain we climb.

**

“Cogitùr ergo sum,” the philosopher’s words,

Descarte’s – disputed by Hume.

Behind those fine words lay christian belief,

Not blind faith. No death will consume.

**

“I think, so I am.” When I don’t, am I not?

But machines just don’t think, they process

Info, facts, data – you know, all that stuff –

Bytes of binary – M-G-T back to nano- or less.

**

No one likes in these times to talk about ‘soul’.

Even ‘spirit’ ‘s anathema to most.

Consciousness dwells in the mind – don’t ask where –

Does it matter? You’re its transient host.

**

Consciousness, soul – I know what they mean.

I know I am I, me, moi, ich ­– never you.

The energy source that drives my ‘self’ on.

Life’s spark that survives – passing through.

**

‘MC2’ equals E, indestructible ‘me’.

Sparks grow to flame, then dim to a glow.

When you die that spark must migrate,

Re-kindle its fire; mine will, I know.

**

‘Reincarnation’ – the wrong word to use –

This me I’ve passed on to my young.

A new me won’t remember what I was, what I did,

Won’t recall all the flings I have flung.

**

Man-made life is way out of reach.

Machine is machine is machine.

Talk of transhumans – the Borg is so close –

“Resistance is futile!” they mean.

**

Implants, prosthetics, add this, renew that.

Evolution’s too slow for us now.

Expectation is all – satisfaction’s the word.

Today’s ‘must-have’. Go do! Don’t ask ‘How?’

***

JWT, Bean, 25 March 2015

CONSCIOUSNESS

EVERY MAN, WOMAN and child on earth is completely individual. We may share characteristics that are physical – skin, eye, hair colour, shape of features (racial, coincidence, breeding). We may share cultural, educational, and linguistic similarities and so on ad infinitum, but the odds against any single person being identical to anyone else are impossibly large. The same goes for virtually every living, breathing thing on earth, animal or vegetable. The same goes for all inorganic substances – take every snowflake that ever fell or will fall. It is reliably claimed that no two are ever the same. The same applies to every crystal form known to mankind.

Mathematicians and Physicists worldwide still seek The Theory of Everything as if life on earth depended on an answer. Reputations certainly seem to. The man most frequently identified with this search is one of the most revered academics in the world, whose name springs to everyone’s lips every time the subject is mentioned – Stephen Hawking. For many reasons, not least the superiority of his brainpower, SH is a man worthy of huge respect. Most people know him from his characteristic computer-synthesised voice issuing from the apparatus on his withered, wheelchair-bound frame. They know him as the man who, through sheer determination, has defeated a terrible wasting disease and gone on to excel far beyond the prognostications of eminent doctors, all of whom expected him to be dead long since. For his survival alone he deserves our respect; like all human beings he has his faults that have been pitilessly and frankly revealed to the world.

A mid-twentieth century philosopher Kurt Gödel postulated, basing his theory on the Liar Paradox, that no Theory of Everything (or anything) can possibly be proven – ever. It will always remain a hypothesis, since – like everything else in the universe – truth is relative. Now even Professor Hawking says that ToE doesn’t exist. His latest cooperative publication proposes five complementary theories to explain how the world works. That said for what it’s worth, even if it were provable, what benefit could it possibly bring us that scientists cannot eventually achieve following well-established (and almost exponentially advancing) technology and scientific principles?

Fantasy writers would have us believe that time travel is a desirable aim, that the ability to launch ourselves into the depths of the universe at ‘warp’ speed, many times the speed of light, is a realistically achievable aim. They – we – dream of being able to teleport ourselves from place to place but it can only ever be a dream. It has been proven beyond doubt that individual subatomic particles can indeed be transported from place to place over very small distances (centimetres, if not millimetres). Even such less than mind-blowing feats require huge amounts of electrical energy to perform. To replicate such ‘teleportation’ of any visible, single-element object, let alone a whole human being, would require impossibly large amounts of energy and a suspension of all laws of probability.

No, we have to be content in the knowledge that we aren’t and never will be gods, who perform miracles at the wave of our hands, however well we may ever come to ‘understanding’ the laws of physics and advanced quantum mechanics. Better and cleverer men than I can explain why with great clarity and authority.* We have our dreams, our adult fairy stories otherwise known as science fiction.

A recent discovery in experimental psychology has shown that it is possible to expand the brain’s power to use telepathy, a gift pooh-poohed by most conventional psychologists and psychiatrists who consider it to be a brain function deep in the backwater of parapsychology, the realm of shamans, wizards and witches, to say nothing of confidence tricksters. Having recently written a sci-fi trilogy on the subject of the discovery of the ‘reality’ of parapsychological powers, using equipment not very far removed from that used by the real-life scientists in their latest experiments, I feel somewhat vindicated, although the real research team have got a long way to go to catch up with mine.

Developing my theme, I delved in to the far reaches of parapsychology, exploring the benefits that could be achieved if psychokinesis could be added to telepathy, giving ‘adepts’ in the practice of these powers the ability to harness them for the good of others. My researchers, benefiting from the luxury of unlimited electrical energy available from nuclear fusion and the use of artificial general intelligence controlled quantum supercomputers discover how mankind can use the powers once used by ancient priesthoods to manipulate the lives of the people they controlled through their physically rich and powerful leaders.

In their exploration of these fascinating powers my fictional research team realises how easy it would be to use them for evil purposes as well as good. They go to great lengths to ensure that what they discover can never be harnessed by the underworld. However, on the way they find that even they are not totally free from the temptation to misuse their powers, especially when they find that their ability to combine telepathy and psychokinesis gives them – amongst other things – the power to transport themselves in avatar form wherever they will.

This is, of course, the long-claimed power of the shaman/witchdoctor and any other practitioner of parapsychological powers you can think of down through the ages. It is the stuff of fairytales, including sci-fi ones such as Star Trek and its many imitators, and may even be behind the recent research designed to prove that it is possible to remove matter from one place and make it rematerialise in another, using the known laws of physics.

It is probably the case that self-proclaimed shamans self-hypnotise themselves into a trance-like state and ‘fly’ in their imaginations, awakening with tales of their fantasy travels, invisible to the eyes of the peoples they visit. The usefulness of such abilities has obvious limitations.

The Star trek version of teleportation envisages physical objects, including human beings, being transported lock stock and barrel from place to place, i.e. removing them completely from A and depositing them unchanged at B, complete with all their existing faculties. By contrast, my sci-fi version of moving from place to place using only the powers of the mind has the limitation that the body stays put, while the mind travels in avatar form. The ‘host’ body, like the shaman’s, remains discoverable and therefore vulnerable. It is not a power that can be used to escape from real life disaster situations. Once ‘out-of-body’ the avatar is, however, able to escape from danger by returning to its host body, hopefully safely concealed on home territory.

Perhaps there is more scope for scientific achievement in the field of parapsychology than there is in the (to the layman) equally fantasy realms of quantum mechanics and the transience and dubious usefulness of bosons and weird and wonderful energy fields that hold the atoms and molecules of all things together – unless scientists really are searching for the alchemists’ dream of turning lead into gold (possible, even if the cost is prohibitive).

 

Consciousness IV

IT IS DANGEROUS to say or write that anything in the world of consciousness studies is categorically proven or disproven these days. Hardly are the words out of your mouth or the ink dry on the page, than some clever-clogs will appear on U-Tube to prove that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

It’s the same throughout the world of advanced science. Even such brilliant mathematicians as Stephen Hawking have had to retract/revise their words of wisdom in recent years and months, particularly on the subject of the Theory of Everything and its foundation stones, String Theory/Superstring Theory and M(Meta)-Theory.

‘Hardcore’ mathematicians and scientists pin their faith firmly on the continuing research into particle science and the maths underlying it, happy in the certainty that nobody outside their tiny eclectic circle can possibly begin to understand what the hell they’re talking about. They are perfectly safe (in their view) in verbally putting down anyone who dares to challenge their beliefs that (some day) a method of proving their claim that superstrings that can only be defined by acceptance of 10 dimensions (7 of which cannot be seen) + time really do exist and will ultimately bring together Einstein’s Theories of Relativity and the mysteries of Quantum Mechanics. It is a matter of huge relief that these people do not have the power of a latter-day pope with the inquisition at his beck and call. We simple folk who dare to cry ‘Rubbish’ would all be burnt at their stake.

There is, however, another school of thought out there that is beginning to gain a toe-hold in the ‘race’ to explain the universe and how man perceives it. This school agrees with all the explanations of particle theories. Some of its members can even claim to understand the quantum mathematics involved. They depart from their hardcore colleagues insofar as they are not prepared to accept that superstrings as such will ever be observable (even if they do exist) and therefore there must be another explanation for the origin of our universe in The Big Bang that even they seem to accept as the only possible Truth behind our very existence.

This school accepts that beneath the chaotic mass of sub-sub-sub particles made up of superstrings there has to be an infinite well of calm all-knowing Consciousness that transcends everything. If this is beginning to sound like recognition of some kind of metaphysical entity, then there is plenty of proof of that. Most of the explanations I have seen tend to compare ideas with eastern religion (primarily Buddhism). Those who profess to have academic qualifications from established Asian universities in the validity and practice of the Buddhist belief system are as convinced that this Consciousness is knowable through deep meditation as practised by the highest degrees of Yoga masters (or whatever they call themselves) as are the particle theorists that only continued research into quantum mechanical explanations will ever reveal how the universe works.

Both schools call on the services of distinguished philosophers to help bring substance to their claims to have all the answers. For the layman it is difficult to choose which side to believe or even to decide if there is any substance to either case. Will the world suddenly cease to follow its daily path around the sun, if we refuse to believe in the tenets of the superstring theory (or should I say faith)? Should we all be turning to Buddhism and learning how to meditate? (I suspect learning to meditate might be more beneficial to one’s health than trying to learn how to manipulate the 7 fudge factors of quantum mechanical mathematics).

For all practical purposes mankind will be better served by developing inter-religious understanding and following the known laws of physics defined thus far in our human evolution. As science has developed more and more complex theories about the origins of our universe (or universes), the more religion of all kinds tends to be sidelined as people the world over embrace the selfish, materialistic and hedonistic attractions of of the modern Western mindset.

Thankfully, most scientists and engineers with their feet firmly anchored in reality recognise their duty to direct their skills towards perfecting cures for the ills that have afflicted animal life in all its diversity since it emerged from the perpetual slime of creation. Flights of fancy there are a-plenty. The ultimate goal of an anti-gravity force that will allow us to defy Newton’s laws and fly around in weightless machines or rebuild the pyramids without ramps and cranes (or millions of slaves) is unlikely to be gained any time soon. Talk of quantum supercomputers appears to be wildly optimistic even amongs people who ought to know better, while the search for sources of electrical power to run such machines that must, of course, be both renewable and sustainable as well as limitless (fusion?) is as controversial as it is disorganised.

The science of electromagnetics and the development of materials that opitimise the ever more practical devices that emerge from the innovations of brilliant engineers is still expanding and enabling them to satisfy the thirst for better and better definition of the microworld of biology and genetics, allowing the medical world to advance its understanding of disease and its techniques to deal with it on all fronts from cancer research to alzheimer’s disease, from neurosurgery to prosthetic orthopaedic surgery, not to mention the elimination of blindness and deafness – and the rest.

The brilliance of our more grounded electrical, electronics, mechanical and civil engineers is propelling research into materials of ever-increasing strength and adaptability that can only be of ultimate benefit to the world at large. Geophycicists are surging ahead with technology that will allow them at least to predict if not counter the more terrifying disaster scenarios (earthquakes, floods, tsunamis and so on) that cause so much damage to the world.

There are areas of scientific research that are disturbing as well as being fiendishly expensive. These range from particle research focussed on the Hadron Collider and other such worldwide projects, to the search for extraterrestrial contacts, the funding for which is not quite so astronomic (pun intended). The ultimate scam is that perpetrated by the International Panel for Climate Change, a phenomenon which has been proven to be mere cyclical change in weather patterns caused by the earth’s journey around the sun and the sun’s journey around the galaxy. The fortunes being exacted from taxpayers around the western world to combat this so-called threat are being channeled into the pockets of both politicians and ‘weather scientists’, both doing very nicely thank you on the proceeds and who have no intention of owning up to their colossal deceit.

A worrying development comes in talk of transhumans. This should be ringing alarm bells. It has all the appearance of a modern version of eugenics that led to the birth and ultimate acceptance of Hitler’s Nazism. It is, of course, an off-shoot of fascinating research into advanced robotics and its sister science, artificial intelligence. Why spend fortunes on developing androids (which will assuredly arrive on the scene in our lifetime), when it will be perfectly possible to ‘develop’ human capacities, both mental and physical?

The World Transhumanist Association wishes to produce a super race of human beings that has access to genius-level intelligence across the board with physical attributes that will place them on a par with the gods of old. The ethical barriers to such development are, to be fair, recognised, but so were they in early talk of eugenics at the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth century. Be careful what you wish for is a good maxim!

Consciousness – The Dawn of a New Religion?

SINCE DISCOVERING FOR myself the weirdness of quantum mechanics and the increasing difficulty physicists are having in explaining their evermore ‘weird’ theories of everything without descending into semi religious themes, I begin to wonder just how much longer it will be before one or other of them really does go nuts.

It would seem there is a strong move away from the conventional ‘mechanistic materialism’ behind the physics of the universe. Particle physicists cannot agree on what happens at the quantum level of particle behaviour. Are the quarks, muons, bosons and all the other quantum level particles there or aren’t they? If you observe them they behave as particles. If you don’t they behave as electromagnetic waves. Is ‘entanglement’ a far more common feature of these particles than previously thought? Do more ‘twinned’ particles exist that can communicate with each other across the universe instantaneously? Is it possible that information can be transmitted faster than the speed of light? Can what I know be exactly the same as what you – my telepathic twin – know without some electromagnetic speed limit getting in the way? Do dark matter and its counterpart dark energy exist? If so, what are they? Do they really compose some threequarters of the substance of the universe?

What started out for me as a mild curiosity about a theory that called itself ‘biocentrism’ that has been around for three or four years has morphed into a romp through a whole ‘new’ way of looking at consciousness that has adopted the name of non-dualism. This philosophy links its definition of consciousness to the theory of everything in a very different metaphysical way via Buddhist and/or Hindu meditational beliefs and practices, quoting the Mahayana/Vedanta and the great Yogis/Maharishis that have expounded on their beliefs over hundreds of years.

Far be it from someone as ignorant of eastern religions as me to pour scorn on the beliefs of highly educated men and women – some holding university chairs in complex scientific subjects such as particle physics, neuropsychology and advanced stem cell development – but their claims that the mathematicians and particle physicists have gone as far as they can go in slicing up (or down) matter into its smallest parts are way beyond the boundaries of my simple comprehension.

They posit the theory that the materialist scientists with their blind faith in quantum mechanical mathematics can go no further in their search for a theory of everything without recognising that the only true definitions will be found in acceptance of the existence of an all-pervading, infinite consciousness beyond mankind’s comprehension, a level of consciousness that can only be approached by resorting to extreme meditational exercises as practised by yoga adepts. The non-dualists believe (and it is very much a belief of the religious kind) that the origin of the universe (and, indeed, the infinite multiplicity of universes that follows from their belief) lies in a ‘fizz’ (in the actual words of a prominent microphysicist) of particles like that which produced the ‘Big Bang’ (if, indeed such an event ever occurred).

Personally, I am not prepared to delve into the mysteries of oriental religions, much as I respect their advanced humanity by comparison with the Abrahamic religions evolved in the Middle East. I am no atheist, nor am I a devout theist. However, I do believe that fanatical adhesion to any one religious belief is a recipe for human conflict, with words like ‘blasphemy’ being bandied around to denigrate others who cannot or will not accept a particular interpretation of dogma.

Like one school of oriental religious thought I do believe in the soul or spirit, the ultimate me (Atman?). I do believe that it is something like – not necessarily the same as – the energy that Einstein proved is indestructible with his general theory of relativity, with the beautiful simplicity of its defining expression, e=mc2. While I do not accept that I will be reincarnated as a being deserving of a new life reflecting my behaviour in this one, I do believe that there will always be a consciousness – a soul – that will essentially be a continuation of me. (Here my belief parts company with anything I was taught in Sunday school.) I may not have any recollection of what this life is all about. I don’t know whether I will come back as a poisonous microbe or a brain surgeon. Will I even come back to an awareness of self in this universe or some other parallel one with dimensions I cannot experience in this one? Who knows?

There is evidence – refuted by most neuroscientists and advanced psychology practitioners – that human beings can and do reincarnate with memories of their former existence. Rare cases have been investigated using modern research techniques and documented where children barely out of nappies and only just able to talk can recollect facts from a previous lifetime that cannot possibly be explained in any other way. It is said that such memories tend not to last beyond early childhood, which is probably why more cases have not been recorded. Certainly, this gels with Buddhist beliefs in reincarnation.

Whether or not reincarnation can be proven, belief in an afterlife seems to be fundamental to the mental well-being of most human beings no matter what their cultural background. It takes a peculiar form of bloody-mindedness to be an atheist, someone who believes that death is the end of all things – when your brain dies that’s it, there’s nothing else – nix, zilch. You will never see another sunrise; you will never smell another flower, taste another sweet; you will never perceive of beauty; you will never experience love.

“What dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil?”

It will be interesting to see what comes of this debate between the materialists and the dualists or non-dualists. As one protagonist of the latter said in a recent gathering of like-minded people (Rupert Spira in a U-Tube lecture on non-duality), we stand on the threshold of a major change in scientific knowledge, a change as profound as that in the mid 16th century, when Copernicus expounded his (then) heretical theory that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, that it circled round the Sun and not vice versa.

We know from history what changes that brought about in the world, slowly at first, then accelerating to where we are now, where technological and scientific development in all disciplines has reached exponential levels. What will that change be? Will it be something wholly revolutionary or are we on the verge of a return to a belief in a force (The Force?) that cannot be comprehended by ordinary man? Is this new acceptance of a Consciousness that is beyond comprehension, beyond even the most erudite scientists to define, because it is unknowable, going to become the new age religion, with its own ‘priesthood’ with all that portends?

Those of us who are not into philosophy will need some sort of moral guidance from those who are. I do not have the time or inclination to go back to school and learn a new religion and a new code of living. I am perfectly happy with my own interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ unfettered by the religious dogma imposed by any branch of Catholicism or Protestantism. I do not ‘know’ the bible backwards and have no ambition to do so. I know the bits I like and what I have taken away with me as I’ve progressed through life. I like the familiarity of some church services, the hymns I grew up with. I don’t like the changes that have been introduced in the general dumbing down of teaching to accommodate every relaxation in moral standards. Not being a religious fanatic I would not dream of imposing my beliefs on anyone else. They are my own distillation of my own experience and I’m comfortable with them.

Nevertheless, I would like to know where these guys are expecting to take us.