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Consciousness Issues

"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them."
Galileo Galilei circa 1600

Controversies in Consciousness & in Understanding Reality

The notion of an external reality presupposes that there is a physical world that is external to our mind and senses, and that it exists whether or not we as observers exist, and whether or not we are observing it. Since just about all of our everyday experiences seem to confirm this view of reality, we hardly ever question it.  However to many scientists and philosophers this view is an assumption and one that we all commonly make without even thinking about it. 

The view of an external physical reality is necessary for science to function and to flourish. For the most part, science is about discovering, understanding and explaining “objective reality”; things we all can measure and observe and reach the same conclusions about without being influenced by personal feelings, emotions or biases. Without this assumption, there would only be subjectivity (e.g. the thoughts and images produced by our own mind) so there would be no need of science since there would be no objective reality.

At one extreme of understanding reality is the view of materialism.  It refers to the theory that physical matter is all there is. In this view everything in reality is matter (or energy) or arises from it and there is nothing to a spiritual or intellectual existence. Consciousness is therefore a bi-product or epiphenomena of physical brain processes and when the brain / bodies dies mind ceases to exist.

The opposite of materialism is idealism which is concerned only with subjective experience and is based on internal beliefs, feelings or opinions rather than external facts or evidence. It is often associated with intellectual and / or spiritual concepts. In idealism only what the mind can conceive is real. And there is no physical reality until the mind focuses upon it. Which view is the correct one? Is all of existence we experience a great thought in the mind of the creative force of the universe or is it what is experienced attributed to the physical processes of our brains? Evidence and logical reasoning would suggest that experience is somewhere between these two extreme positions. As Einstein one said “The moon does not simply disappear when we are not looking at it”.

One thing we can say for sure is that all of our experiences are interpreted by the filters of our mind. Our consciousness utilizes the information that we perceive from our senses and filters and interprets it based on our prior experiences stored in our memories. Since each of us has had different experiences throughout our lives and because all of the experiences that arise in our minds are therefore subjective, we all have differing interpretations of the external information we perceive. To the extent that we have similar prior experiences, we may be in close agreement with our interpretations;  However to the extent that the further apart our prior experiences diverge from someone else’s, the less agreement we may have in the interpretation of an experience we share in common.  

So how can we get beyond our interpretations of external reality to the ultimate truths? The short answer is that we really have no way to get beyond our subjective experience to any kind of objective reality that might exist. Therefore, in ordinary waking consciousness, it is impossible for an objective reality to reveal itself through any observation which must be subjective by its very nature. Thus, an idealist would say that the existence of an objective reality can never be directly verified and, even if such an objective reality existed, it could never affect any of our observations.

We list below links that take varying positions on these issues and the nature of consciousness in the hopes that it will enlighten the reader as to the issues inherent in the study and understanding of both the nature of existence and consciousness.

Consciousness Links

The Problem of Consciousness by John R. Searle

The Hard Problem of Consciousness from Wikipedia

Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness by David J. Chalmers

Hard Problem of Consciousness by Howell and Alter

The Hard Problem of Consciousness by Weisberg

Videos on Consciousness

Video by Dan Dennett: Can We Know Our Own Minds

 

Video by Peter Russell on the Primacy of Consciousness

Video by David Chalmers on Consciousness

Video by Stewart Hameroff on Quantum Consciousness

Video by Bruce Lipton on The Power of Consciousness