"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.
The Problem of Consciousness by John R. Searle
Hard Problem of Consciousness from Wikipedia
Up to the Problem of Consciousness by David J. Chalmers
Hard Problem of Consciousness by Howell and Alter
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