Consciousness, the next dimension?

Consciousness is becoming a hot topic in the media

In the quantum physics and awareness courses that I give regularly, I show my audience that primary consciousness holds the best cards for an explanation of the ‘weird’ effects in quantum physics, like the observer effect and entanglement. No hard evidence, of course, but we will never get that in our laboratories. Hard evidence is only applicable for mathematical theorems. We also have no hard evidence for the Big Bang and yet it seems generally accepted as an acceptable scientific explanation for the universe we are currently observing. It suits the current paradigm.

That many people just refuse to even consider primary consciousness was showed excellently by a student who argued on the subject of the near-death experience (NDE) with me on the last day of the course. I support the view that the NDE shows that the mind survives death. Any reported NDE can be explained excellently with the assumption of primary consciousness. The same assumption explains also any quantum phenomenon, like the observer effect, very well. So, it explains effects in entirely different domains, which makes the idea of primary consciousness much stronger. Primary means that consciousness cannot be a product of that bundle of neurons in your skull. Well, according to this student, it was proven sufficiently that the NDE would be a neurological phenomenon. He could, very understandable, not provide the evidence so readily, but nevertheless he remained adamant. In the end, we agreed we disagreed friendly. In any case, the phenomenon of consciousness creates a lot of discussion these days. Even in the regular media appear nowadays articles on consciousness.

So, consciousness seems to enter these days into the spotlights. Especially in combination with AI. If physical neurons can become aware, transistors probably can too. So, what if such a collection of transistors becomes conscious, will we have then created a slave? A conscious aware slave who will eventually rebel against his masters? Not my idea, nor my fear.

The last guest in a podcast series on consciousness broadcasted by the NRC, one of the more important and rather science oriented Dutch papers, was cognitive neuroscientist Jacob Jolij, a fervent reseacher of consciousness. After having abandoned the idea of the neural source of consciousness, he brought his most recent idea forward in the podcast that consciousness is just another dimension. We have three dimensions of space and one for time. Consciousness should, according to him, be the next dimension. As far as I am concerned, this proposal is still the idea of a material thinker. I will explain this further.

What is consciousness actually? A tantalizing search from neurobiology to parapsychology. Dutch edition only.

So, at the present stage of his research, Jacob Jolij has arrived at the conclusion that consciousness is not a product of your neurons – I agree totally there – but that it is probably a dimension such as time and space. I disagree there. All things considered, that is of course far from being an explanation. You will not begin to understand consciousness more by putting a new label on it. It seems even a step back to Descartes’ ‘Res Cogitans’. According to Descartes there exists matter – in the familiar three dimensions – and there exists consciousness, two substances that cannot be traced back to each other. One is physical, the other is definitely not. They exist in fundamentally different domains. Such an idea of separate domains is plain dualism. The main objection to Descartes’ idea is that the interaction between those two domains (dimensions?) cannot be explained physically. For physical interaction you need the transportation of energy, which is in the same domain as matter. So, interaction between the two domains is impossible. This objection is based on the – unproven, rather dogmatic – assumption that every physical action always has a physical cause. Forget the Big Bang for a moment.

Dimension as label for unexplained phenomena

As far as Jacob Jolij is concerned, the question of consciousness is then solved with the word dimension, satisfying because consciousness becomes – seen that way – an element of the physical world, just as time and space are. Then perhaps the interaction between matter and energy on the one hand and non-material consciousness can become understandable. This solution to the hard problem of consciousness reminds me somewhat of the ether, the element that was supposed to act as a transporting medium for electromagnetic waves because waves as we know them need a transporting and coherent medium. The ether was already in the 19th century proved to be unsustainable.

So, it is actually a play of words that is done here. Replace Descartes’ ‘Res Cogitans’ with a word from the conceptual framework of physics and you seem to have found an explanation. Watch your way of thinking carefully! You are avoiding acknowledging the mystery.

Are dimensions fundamental?

I would also like to point out that time is not a fundamental dimension of nature. Einstein already showed that clock time also depends on the observer’s situation. Space too, because space and time are one weave. What is experienced as time for one observer can be experienced as space by another. In quantum physics, time and space appear in the becoming aware of an observation of the appearance of a material object. That’s the so-called quantum collapse, the reduction of the quantum wave happening on our observation. The collapse is the name physicists use for the disappearance of the non-material quantum wave and the simultaneous appearance of the object upon observation. The object is manifested including its history, which is therefore also retroactively recorded with the act of observation, and thus becomes ‘true’. Before that, the object did not exist materially, there was only an intangible wave of potentiality. This is the so-called observer effect. An effect that caused and still causes headaches for a lot of materialistic thinking physicists, which is reflected in rather unsatisfactory and vague explanations of the quantum collapse in – in a lot of other ways excellent – books on quantum physics.

Let’s not make it harder than it is.

A dimension is not some fundamental physical element, it is a concept, something that therefore belongs in the same category as a thought. As a result, a dimension is not something that contains the mind, it is clearly the other way around. Attaching the label dimension to the mind doesn’t add anything to our understanding. It obfuscates only the mystery.