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Expat Life

Considering consciousness, our own, our connection to that of others and to the universe

By Ed Konderla

What do you see? I used to carry a copy of this picture in my wallet and pull it out whenever I felt put upon by life. It functioned as a graphic reminder of how tough life is for many and that I had an obligation to be grateful for how good I had it and still do. It is always amazing to me that many of us wake up every day believing that the world should be concerned about my affordable health care and insuring I have the correct peanut butter available at the store.

So, what do you see besides the obvious 3-dimensional hell on earth millions face every day displayed in 2 dimensions?

What else do you see or better yet what do you perceive?  Do you perceive the approximately 30,000,000,000,000 individual cells composed of 200 different types that make up her body? All cells that originated from one fertilized egg. Do you perceive the approximate 100,000,000,000,000 atoms required to construct a single cell?

Do you perceive the electrons, neutrons and protons that make up the atoms?  While electrons are considered fundamental, neutrons and protons are made up of even smaller particles such as gluons and quarks. Can you perceive the bizarre world of quantum mechanics? A world that many scientists believe has 10 or more dimensions. This is the world that is the foundation for our 3-dimensional reality, 4 if you include time. It is the world that allows for the biology that is the source of this little girls suffering and pain. That word “fundamental” becomes important to our discussion later so let us define it now:

Fundamental: serving as, or being an essential part of, a foundation or basis; basic; underlying: fundamental principles; the fundamental structure.

You probably can perceive her consciousness. The consciousness that carries her pain and despair. The consciousness that almost certainly is about to slip away from the bounds of her biological self. What about that consciousness? Where does it reside? When does it appear? Is it in her 4,000,000,000 brain cells which comprise .01% of the total cells that make up her body? When those 4,000,000,000 brain cells stop functioning does her consciousness cease to exist? Or does that consciousness somehow bridge the distance between the biological world and the quantum world?

So far science does not have an answer for what consciousness is. That inability to understand consciousness is called the hard problem of consciousness.

The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining why any physical state is conscious rather than nonconscious.  It is the problem of explaining why there is “something it is like” for a subject in conscious experience, why conscious mental states “light up” and directly appear to the subject.

You might be able to imagine what’s going on in this poor little thing’s mind. You can see through her eyes, feel her weakness, her starvation, her fear for the reason the vulture stands watch over her. You can feel the weight of her necklace around her neck. You can feel the grittiness of the parched earth and the heat radiating from it. You can recreate the horror of her world in your consciousness almost instantly and it almost certainly causes you to recoil.

Why and how in the hell can you do that? I do not pretend to know.

To a certain extent does it matter that we are conscious? Does it really change anything?  To many, it does not matter. To many, they do not feel compelled to understand or know in order to better inform their world view. In a way I envy them. For people such as myself this adage applies, “If you have to ask the question why I am driven to understand you wouldn’t understand the answer.”

There is a theory that is starting to gain acceptance in science concerning consciousness.  It is a theory that would have been dismissed out of hand by mainstream science not all that long ago. It is the theory that consciousness is fundamental —that the physical universe is a product of consciousness, not that consciousness is the product of the physical universe. It is a theory that says in effect our reality is a thought.

There is no way one could hope to explain in a short article such a complex concept but for me it feels right. I have read a at least a 100 “Physics for Idiots” and “Quantum Mechanics for Morons” and “Consciousness for Drooling Imbeciles” books and articles, plus an equal number of books like the “Bible”, “A Yaqui way of Knowledge”, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. I have read books on Eastern Religions and pagan religions. I’ve read every book published by Joseph Campbell on mythology. In concert with that intellectual pursuit I practiced meditation experimenting with everything from transcendental to past life regression to lucid dreaming. I have taken countless journeys using hallucinogens such as psilocybin mushrooms. However, there was always something missing. The key discovery for me was that consciousness is fundamental. Once I thought of consciousness being the source, not the result, all of the puzzle pieces fell into place and there was the “ah ha” moment. I have come to accept that our consciousness is fundamental and that the perception that we are individuals is a façade.

My consciousness is part and parcel with this tragic little girl’s consciousness. At some fundamental level we are connected. All plants and animals no matter how small or disgusting are also conscious. We are all part of a grand scheme that is beyond our present paygrade to fully understand but which, upon our biological death, we always understand much more than we did before. I now understand that when we die our perceived separation from that universal consciousness evaporates. At some point we, including this little girl, will get back into the game of a biological existence to create another chapter in the journey. So, when I look at this little girl I feel the empathy as humans we feel for our fellow travelers when they suffer and say to myself, “Except for the grace of God go I”. I also see a fellow human’s consciousness about to have the perceived separation from universal consciousness removed. That consciousness will have something to report, it will have a story to tell. Her consciousness will have another chapter added to the journey, one of many.