A good way to do science is to ask the question ‘What if .. ?’. Posing this question is usually the first step in a hypothesis. The next step in such an exercise is to investigate how many unanswered questions you find a satisfactory answer to. The phenomena and experiments that do not match the hypothesis should also be considered of course. If they don’t match, the ‘What if..?’ assumption can be rejected as impossible or improbable. Important: bias should be recognized and avoided in this regard. Together, that is what I call: ‘Research with an open mind’. So switch your bullshit detector off. It is a fast but unreliable instrument. Read if you wish ‘Thinking Fast and Slow‘ by Daniël Kahnemann.
Isaac Newton must also have followed such a what-if thought: ‘What if the heavenly bodies attract each other with a force that depends on their mutual distance?’ Quite an absurd assumption at the time, given the question of how such a force could be exerted through empty space – although we already had experience with forces at a distance such as magnetism. In fact, that force-at-distance question still hasn’t really been answered today, but Newton’s what-if question did result in the classic gravitational mechanics that were beautifully confirmed by Edmund Halley’s comet and that we still start our physics study with.
The Case against Reality
A good recent example of what-if thinking and then consecutively seeing whether there are obvious conflicts with known facts and if it provides explanations for as yet unexplained phenomena is – as far as I’m concerned – Donald Hoffman’s ‘The Case against Reality‘. What if the reality that our senses present to us is just a construction that our senses and our brains create? Hoffman is a cognitive psychologist and convincingly argues that our senses developed by Darwinian evolution where the appearance of the most suitable version of an organism for survival – read also sense here – always offered the best chances for becoming inheritable .
Based on that assumption, we can say the following:
- It is not necessary that what is presented to us by our senses corresponds 1:1 to reality, whatever reality may be. What we sense as beneficial to our survival – an apple on a tree, a slice of bread, a glass of water – is just a translation that makes us act in such a way that we survive and are able to reproduce, in this case grab the food and consume it. Think of a VR program where the actual electric digital actions in the computer are hidden and are translated for us into an image that we understand, such as a map icon. There is absolutely no need for that translation to be equal to the underlying reality, as long as our response is adequate that’s fine. So here we see no apparent conflict with our experiences.
- Hoffman’s idea is broadly in line with the idealism of Bernardo Kastrup. According to Kastrup, everything, including our own senses and brains, is not material and does not exist in a solid state separate from us. All our observations are complex experiences that enter our consciousness through a translation (Kastrup evokes the image of a dashboard that represents the phenomena that are happening outside) and are only experienced within consciousness. Solid material reality as something that exists outside of us is an illusion. Again, there are no obvious conflicts with our experiences, although it requires that we switch our bullshit detector off.
- The question of what consciousness – that which experiences – is has not been answered, neither by Hoffman nor by Kastrup. However, it is the ground on which their philosophy rests. That is in itself not an argument against their idea as there is no philosophy where consciousness is fundamentally or even weakly explained. Neurologists are also limited to speculating about consciousness as some hazy emergence from a complex brain like steam rising from hot water, but that’s very far from even being a provisional explanation.
All in all, we thus arrive at the what-if assumption of primary consciousness which says that all matter, and the experience of it, are products of consciousness. By primary consciousness I mean something much more extended than our daily waking consciousness, which is probably only a small part of it. The next step in this what-if exercise is whether we can with the hypothesis of primary consciousness explain phenomena that we have not been able to explain with the materialist paradigm – also often called physicalism. Then, of course, we also have to see if there are phenomena that contradict it. That’s the scientific approach.
Step 1 – Explanations of observed phenomena not explained by physicalism
What observed phenomena is the hypothesis of primary consciousness able to explain where physicalism fails utterly, I count nine here:
- Quantum Physics: Quantum physics seems to tell us that the information available to the observer creates the observed reality in time and space. There are excellent arguments for this. I’ve published a complete book about quantum physics, information and consciousness, also and especially for the lay reader. If reality is a construct of our consciousness – including our body and bodily senses – then it provides an explanation for the otherwise incomprehensible results of quantum physics such as objects that can be in multiple places at once and are entangled over astronomical distances, to name but a few.
- Relativity Dilation: Special relativity says that when we observe a relative to us moving object such as a rocket, a bullet, or an elementary particle, the rulers, or whatever may pass for them, shorten in that object to zero and time slows down to standstill as its relative velocity increases to lightspeed. This effect has been confirmed by many experiments. This dilation effect is incomprehensible if we stick to the ideas of solid permanent matter, fixed space and time. But when the consciousness of the observer creates the world – the world is within the mind – it becomes suddenly understandable. Matter, space and time acquire then the same properties as thoughts (James Jeans: ‘The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter… we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.’
- Field Forces: Gravity, electromagnetic force, the strong and the weak nuclear force are all field forces. They affect matter remotely without direct contact through the use of force-transmitting objects, such as with billiard balls. If the world consists only of matter, then field forces are inherently incomprehensible, not even when we try to use the curved space-time dimensions of Einstein’s general relativity. But when consciousness creates reality, field forces become not fundamentally different from thoughts either.
- Dreaming: Dreaming is utterly common and incomprehensible at the same time. When dreaming we sometimes create fantastic virtual realities sometimes complete with all possible sensory impressions, seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling. You really see colors, hear sounds, touch objects. However, try evoking such a realistic experience in the waking state (without hallucinogens). Just try to evoke, with your eyes closed, the experience of seeing the color red or the picking up and feeling the size and weight of an object as a real experience. The result is never more than a faint shadow of a real experience. It always amazes me how little amazing most people find it that we can dream at all. If consciousness is indeed capable of creating vivid experiences of reality, then dreaming is no longer so different from what we do in our everyday waking world.
- Blindsight: Nicola Farmer has founded a school – the ICU academy – where children can learn to read, draw colored figures, and play with balls while blindfolded. Nicola also trains teachers who can teach this subsequently to children. This blindsight ability of these children has been confirmed by independent observers and recorded in a film ‘Children with real superpowers‘. Apparently our eyes are not really necessary to perceive the world visually. From the idea of primary consciousness creating the idea of matter this is understandable since what the children “see” is the creation of consciousness itself. Blindsight is also a phenomenon recognized by neurologists, but they attribute it to a different from normal visual processing neural path, ultimately still based on the signals that our eyes transmit to the brain. This cannot be the case with these blindfolded children.
- Psychokinesis (Pk): Pk has been confirmed in laboratory experiments, although they concern usually micro-Pk. This is nothing but the primary consciousness in immediate action.
- The NDE (Near-Death Experience): Since Raymond Moody’s book “Life After Life” – published originally in 1975 – worldwide interest in the NDE has exploded and large numbers of people have come forward with their NDE experience. The Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) has collected more than 5,000 experiences on its website since 2000. It is estimated that between 3 and 5% of the world’s population has had an NDE. Primary consciousness provides an excellent explanation for such a widely reported phenomenon, since consciousness being primary means that it cannot the product of a material brain and thus – after the death of the material body – can continue to exist and perceive independently. Skeptics’ claim that the NDE is neurologically explained is – sorry – bullshit.
- The ADC (After-death-communication): Since the beginning of this century, the After Death Communication Research Foundation (ADCERF) has collected more than 2,000 reported experiences of contact with recently deceased loved ones and animals. Polls show that more than 50% of people report an ADC experience shortly after the death of a partner, child or beloved pet. Read “The Departed among the Living” by professor Erlendur Haraldsson. This phenomenon is also perfectly explainable from the non-material death surviving primary consciousness.
- Evolution: The predominant neo-Darwinian view of the origin of life and evolution — life has come into existence by blind chance and by the survival of the most suitable organism plus a few billion years of single local mutations in DNA — is on the verge of collapsing. Read “Evolution 2.0” by Perry Marshall, “Evolution: A view from the 21th Century, Fortified” by James Shapiro or “Active Biological Evolution” by Frank Laukien. All life, from viruses and single-celled organisms to “modern” animals and plants, responds to challenges from its environment by actively modifying its entire genetic machinery (not just its DNA) – humans also. Amazingly often successfully and also inheritable by the next generations. The irrepressible suspicion that an intelligent reaction to the experiences of the organism is taking place here, starts to receive more and more attention. Primary consciousness, assuming it is also intelligent (a fairly obvious assumption), offers a good explanation.
Step 2 – Conflicts with established observations
Are there phenomena that conflict with the hypothesis of primary consciousness? At first glance (our bullshit detector) it seems there are at least four:
- The experience of solidity: Reality as we experience it is solid and rather permanent. We can’t walk through a wall. If we bump ourselves, it hurts. If we fall, we get hurt. Objects left behind remain there until we – or others – relocate them. Matter does not appear out of nothing, nor does it just disappear into nothingness. That would go against the well-known and soundly affirmed conservation laws of physics.
- Multiple observers: When my consciousness creates the world and everything in it, a problem arises with multiple observers (read ‘Tom Poes en de Kwanten’ in the bundle ‘Trammelant en Tierelier‘ by Marten Toonder, highly recommended, however only available in Dutch).
- Free will: Why – assuming I have free will – can’t I create the world I want. I cannot create or make matter disappear at will. The latter can probably be doubted if you take Mary Rose Barrington’s book – JOTT – seriously.
- Evil: Why does Evil exist? In itself this is not a physically definable conflict but nevertheless a valid question. If consciousness creates the world why also Evil? That question is food for philosophers.
I hope you can see that in all the above points the assumption is hidden that primary consciousness is identical to the individual waking consciousness. Which is not necessarily the case. When we can drop that assumption, all of the above points fail as strongly valid conflicts that might reject the primary consciousness hypothesis.
Furthermore, the above is not intended as a plea for idealistic monism, as for instance Kastrup advocates, and which completely denies the existence of matter. Most of the points mentioned in step 1 can also be explained with the dualistic view that matter and consciousness coexist and can influence each other. Something that René Descartes assumed in his Meditations. However, the question that is not answered in his dualism is how these two intrinsically different things, matter and consciousness, can interact with each other.
As far as I’m concerned, this what-if exercise provides ample confirmation that the primary consciousness hypothesis is at least worth taking seriously. While it’s probably not the ultimate scientific theory of everything, it can explain a lot of things that are simply inexplicable from the physicalist perspective that prefers to ignore en deny an abundant amount of clear facts.