The Answer to the Hard Problem Of Consciousness
Galileo made a huge error — Consciousness pervades the universe.
“You are the Universe, expressing itself as a human for a little while.” — Eckhart Tolle
There’s one thing we all can agree on. **If you’re reading this, you’re conscious. **But have you ever cared to ask yourself:
What is consciousness?
Where does it come from?
How is it related to the mind?
These are the questions that have been troubling scientists for a long time now. In fact, it has a good name in the scientific community — “The Hard Problem of Consciousness.”
Most of the science today has a traditional theory about mind and consciousness. They believe the brain creates consciousness — that our human existence is all about birth-to-death and nothing more. There’s one problem with this — it’s fundamentally flawed and utterly ludicrous. Because it ignores the fundamental element of all existence — consciousness.
We’ve made a lot of progress in understanding brain activity, and how it contributes to human behavior. But our existence is much more than these chemical signals. Humans have emotions, feelings, and perceptions. And for the most part, we’ve not been able to explain how all the brain activity leads to feelings, emotions, and experiences.
How Are We More Than Just “Robots With Chemical Brain Signals”?
In his new book [Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness](https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/599229/galileos-error-by-philip-goff/), philosopher Philip Goff considers a radical perspective: What if consciousness is not something special that the brain does but is instead a quality inherent to all matter? It is a theory known as “panpsychism.”
Now, what the hell is panpsychism? Let’s understand.
In the normal human and scientific understanding, consciousness is seen as existing only in the brains of highly evolved organisms. If we accept this as a fact, it would mean that consciousness is only in a tiny part of the universe. This also implies that consciousness appeared only in recent history.
Panpsychism flips all this upside down. According to panpsychism, consciousness pervades the universe and is a fundamental feature of it.
(It’s important to note here that this theory is perfectly in line with yogic science and much of what many religions preach. Perhaps one of the few times when science and religion agree on something).
Since consciousness pervades the universe, it is not dependent on the mind. It exists regardless of the mind. When the mind dies (that is, when we die), consciousness still remains. Even a rock has consciousness.
Human beings have rich and complex experiences. Horses, less so; mine less so again. As we move to simpler forms of life, we find that the experiences become simpler too — but the experiences are there. Perhaps, at some point, as we move toward lower life forms, consciousness may disappear. But that’s not a probable scenario.
“But it’s at least coherent to suppose that this continuum of consciousness fading while never quite turning off carries on into inorganic matter, with fundamental particles having almost unimaginably simple forms of experience to reflect their incredibly simple nature. That’s what panpsychism believes,” — Philip
Now coming back to our question we asked above — “How aren’t we just robots with billions of chemical signals inside our brains?”
You see, despite all the progress we’ve made in understanding the brain, we still don’t have even the beginnings of an explanation of how complex electrochemical signaling gives rise to our inner subjective world of colors, sounds, smells, tastes, etc.
This problem is broadly acknowledged. But the issue is many people think we just need to keep pushing on our standard methods of investigating the brain until one day, we find the answer to this problem. Yet, no matter how much we try, conventional scientific methods may never be able to answer these questions.
“The laws of nature are written by the hand of God in the language of mathematics.” — Galileo
The key to all this mess lies in the roots of the scientific revolution. A key moment in that revolution was Galileo’s declaration that mathematics was to be the language of the new science. This meant that sciences were to have a quantitative vocabulary.
But Galileo too realized that **you cannot describe consciousness in mathematical terms because it’s not entirely quantitative. **You can’t capture a mother’s love for her child or the taste of mint in an equation.
Take Einstein for example. He wanted to explain God in an equation, on a piece of paper! But he realized that even if he got a near-perfect equation, it would be useless — for doing something like this would be like describing Mozart’s music in the form of sound waves. You could do it, yes. But would you really grasp the spirit behind it?
And so Galileo decided that we have to [put consciousness outside the domain of science](https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/galileos-big-mistake/)! Once we do that everything else can be explained in mathematical terms. (Quite convenient, I have to say).
Thus, one of the reasons modern science has been successful is because it decided to put consciousness out of the picture. Phillip says,
“If Galileo were to time travel to the present day and hear about this problem of explaining consciousness in the terms of physical science, he’d say, ‘Of course, you can’t do that. I designed physical science to deal with quantities, not qualities!’”
In a nutshell, science has largely been unable to solve this problem because matter can be seen with the eyes, but consciousness can’t. It’s an internal experience.
Physics, which many would assume should be able to solve this problem, tells us nothing about the intrinsic nature of matter: what matter is, in and of itself. And here we stand with a huge hole in our scientific setup.
The proposal of panpsychism is to fill that hole with Consciousness. What this enables us to do, is to elegantly integrate consciousness into our scientific worldview, “of marrying what we know about ourselves from the inside and what science tells us about matter from the outside,” says Phillip.
Why People Have Difficulty Believing This
“Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.” ― Erwin Schrödinger
I know what you might be thinking “This is just crazy!” I can empathize. I used to think so too. That is until I had a taste of it.
The most challenging part of the puzzle is that consciousness cannot be tested. It just is. *In many ways, it’s beyond the comprehension of unenlightened beings. You can’t look inside an electron to see whether it’s conscious or not. I cannot take you into a lab and say “See *here’s consciousness!”
But nor can you look inside someone’s head and see their feelings and experiences. To know about it, you can only ask the other person. Similarly, you can ask the person about his consciousness and perceptions — but you can’t see it. As I said, it’s an internal feeling.
There’s a clear-cut lesson here —** we need both science and philosophy to formulate a theory of consciousness.**
“The science gives us correlations between brain activity and experience. We then have to work out the best philosophical theory that explains those correlations. In my view, the only theory that holds up to scrutiny is panpsychism,” — Phillip
At this point, your head may be spinning and all you can think of is putting this article down to go back to what you were doing.
But wait for a second and think about the best scientific discoveries — Einstein’s relativity, and Darwin’s survival of the fittest. These all were considered crazy. In many cases, the people who made such theories spent their lives convincing others. Doesn’t it then make sense to at least welcome panpsychism and think about it?
Everything Is Consciousness
Thus one should know oneself to be of the nature of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss[Sat-Chit-Ananda]. — Adi Shankara
Not a long time ago, people believed that the material reality is all that exists. Then came the understanding — which is largely accepted today — that matter itself is nothing but condensed energy.
There’s another reality that is known to very few scientists but is perfectly clear to yogis — energy is nothing but thoughts. Parmahansa Yogananda, a great Indian master, explained how the universe came into existence.
God, out of His pure Consciousness, first created a very subtle causal universe, made of thoughts and ideas. From those thoughts, He created the astral universe, which is less subtle, made of energy and light. *Out of that energy emerged the *physical universe which we know, made of solid matter.
So the difference between the astral and causal universe is that the astral universe is made of energy, and the causal world is made of thought. Thus, everything on the material, astral and causal plane is conscious. As I said above, even a rock is conscious but that consciousness is latent.
And finally, it’s safe to say that consciousness is the only reality, not matter.
How can all of us test this fact for ourselves? **By deep meditation. **It’s the only way to calm the senses, still the body, still the mind, and your thoughts. Once you do that (that is a herculean task in itself), then you can experience pure consciousness.
A research article in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, states that meditation and other Eastern practices will “prove to be a useful component of any future science of consciousness.”
Wolfgang Fasching further states in his research, “this practice can be understood as a special means of becoming aware of consciousness itself as such.” “In meditation, I would suggest, one ceases to be actively occupied with the objects of consciousness in order to become conscious of consciousness itself (which usually remains “hidden” behind what it is conscious of),” he adds.
Think about it. You can only find the Core Reality behind the fringe of your mind, once everything comes to a halt — that is, everything that makes you human and brings you into matter-consciousness.
If Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” the yogis would say, “When I stop thinking, then I really am.” — Dada Gunamuktananda
Just as with the development of technology, the world has become a smaller place, with the development of meditation ability and “technology” the Universe can become a smaller place. And I hope soon, scientists will soon accept this “inner” science as valid as the outer science we believe in. Because without it, nothing in the world would ever make sense.
The knowledge of all this is great. But why not experience the truths for yourself? As I said, the only way to even get close to form a theory of consciousness is through meditation. To put it simply, it’s the only way we can experience not what we’re aware of but what we’re aware with.
Try it right now
Make yourself comfortable, sitting upright, with a straight spine. With your eyes closed, look at the point midway between the eyebrows on your forehead.
To relax your mind, inhale, hold and exhale for eight counts. Repeat this 3-6 times.
After this, let the breath follow its natural rhythm. Don’t try to control it. Thinks of the inhalation and the exhalation as the rising and falling of waves on the ocean. You’re standing on the shore observing all this.
As the next breath comes in, mentally say Hong *(rhymes with song). Then, as you exhale, mentally say *Sau *(rhymes with saw). *Hong-Sau means “I am He” or “I am Spirit.” Do this for 2–3 minutes. If you get distracted, gently bring your mind back.
Open your eyes and relax your attention.
Now, I’m sure you had some thoughts. But what you must take away from this exercise is you’re the observer and not that which is being observed.
If you’re not the thoughts, then who’s the observer? Ask yourself “Who Am I?” This is the most important question for self-inquiry taught by Ramana Maharishi.
This is Pure Consciousness. I can’t define it. You can’t define it. It just is. Nameless, Changeless, Ever-Existing. Indeed, no matter which science we use, unless the scientists don’t adopt these inner methods of self-inquiry, we won’t be able to answer the hard problem of consciousness.
But you don’t have to wait for them! Solve this riddle every day from the comfort of your home. It’s the key to all life, it’s the key to the Universe. And the key is in your hands.