One of the most important ideas discussed in my new book Brief Peeks Beyond, particularly in Chapters 2 and 9, is the notion that empirical reality – all things we see, hear, touch, smell and taste – can be understood as a nervous system. This may sound extremely counterintuitive at first, even absurd, but it elegantly solves many of the most important unanswered questions in science and philosophy today, such as the nature of matter and the so-called ‘hard problem of consciousness.’ The simplicity and parsimony of this interpretation of reality, together with its surprising explanatory power, render it nearly self-evident in my view. The point is so important that I decided to summarize it in this essay, so to give you a brief sense of its logic and perhaps encourage you to explore it further in the book.
‘If you daydream about a tropical holiday location with trees, waterfalls and singing birds, all those images will correlate with particular, measurable patterns of activated neurons in your head. Theoretically, a neuroscientist could identify different groups of neurons in your brain and say: group A correlates with a tree; group B with a waterfall; group C with a singing bird; etc. But, based on your direct experience of what it feels like to imagine this scenario, is there anything it is like to be group A in isolation? Is there anything it is like to be group C in and of itself? Or is there only something it is like to be the whole daydreaming you – your whole brain – imagining trees, waterfalls and birds as component parts of an integrated scenario? Do you experience multiple separate streams of imagination – one for trees, another for waterfalls and another for birds – or only one stream wherein trees, waterfalls and birds are all together? Do you see the point? Unless there is dissociation, there is nothing it’s like to be separate groups of neurons in a person’s brain. We can only speak of the holistic stream of imagination of the person as a whole. For exactly the same reason that there is nothing it is like to be an isolated group of neurons in a person’s brain, there is nothing it is like to be an inanimate object.’ (pp. 44-45)
Clearly, there is no reason to say that a rock is conscious the way you and I are. The universe as a whole has an external and an internal aspect, the rock being simply a segment of its external aspect, like an isolated neuron is a segment of a brain. Unless we have good reasons to think otherwise, we must assume that – just as is the case with our own inner life – the internal aspect of the universe is an integrated, holistic stream of conscious contents; ‘God’s dream,’ so to speak. The empirical world we perceive is like a ‘scan of God’s brain’ while dreaming. Creation is the external aspect of ‘God’s’ creative mental activity, just like an active brain is the external aspect of a person’s inner life. Indeed, a striking comparison published in The New York Times a few years ago shows the similarity between the structure of the universe at the largest scales and biological nervous systems (see the figure linked below). A more thorough study has shown that these similarities go way beyond mere appearances.
But wait: you and I seem to have entirely separate streams of consciousness. My inner life is not the same as yours, neither do they seem to be connected in any fundamental way. Moreover, neither my nor your inner life has the presumed cosmic scale of ‘God’s inner life.’ Why is that? As I explain in detail in the book, a living organism is the external aspect – the outside image – of a dissociative process in ‘God’s mind.’ Dissociative processes are well known in psychology. They cause a particular segment of our stream of consciousness to separate from the rest of the stream. This separation happens through different forms of amnesia or obfuscation of mental contents. For instance, a person with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) has multiple ‘alters,’ or identities. Each alter is seemingly separate from the others and often unaware of the others’ existence, unless told by another person. What I am thus saying is that ‘God’ has DID and we are Its alters. Indeed, I am saying that every living being is what a dissociated alter looks like in the ‘scan of God’s brain’ we call empirical reality. That we can identify biology in the universe is a diagnostic confirmation of ‘God’s DID’ just as the identification of a spot on an X-ray is a diagnostic confirmation of pneumonia. (By this I don’t mean to convey any negative connotations, such as to suggest that life is a disease; the metaphor breaks down at this point.)
The elegance of this view is that it dispenses entirely with the need to postulate anything other than the obvious: consciousness itself. We do not need to postulate a whole material universe outside consciousness anymore. Empirical reality is merely the outside image – the external aspect – of the mental activity of a cosmic consciousness, while body-brains are merely the outside image of dissociated segments of this cosmic consciousness. And what is a body-brain but something we can see, touch, measure; something with the qualities of experience? Indeed, the empirical world is the experience, by an alter, of the rest of the stream consciousness outside the alter. It is dissociation that creates the duality between internal and external aspects. But this duality does not imply or require anything outside experience: the external aspects are themselves experiences; experiences of alters. As explained in Chapter 9 of Brief Peeks Beyond, ‘everything that currently motivates us to believe in a world outside consciousness can and will be understood as the effects of mental processes outside our particular alter, which we witness from a second-person perspective.’ (p. 207)
So there you go: a simple, parsimonious and, dare I say, elegant and powerful explanation for the most vexing questions facing science and philosophy today. Most significantly, this explanation is not arrived at by adding new theoretical entities or postulates, but precisely by getting rid of unnecessary and inflationary theoretical entities and postulates that have clouded our understanding of reality for centuries now. It’s time we cleaned up the house and restored reason and empirical honesty to our ontology. It’s time we saw a postulated material world outside consciousness – which, absurdity of absurdities, allegedly generates consciousness – for what it is: the tortuous fiction of confused minds.