Conscious Universe Epiphany

#1
Hi all,

I wrote an email to a dear friend, intending to briefly share a quick thought I had, and then it evolved into this rather long thought about our view of the universe, and the role consciousness plays in it. I realised suddenly that it made so much sense that consciousness or mind or whatever you want to call it must be the real underlying stuff of the universe, and not matter. Below is my email in full, posted here for discussion.

"So....
I'm sitting here, minding my own business, when for no reason, it suddenly occurred to me just how improbable any of this reality or universe is. I mean, the fact that anything exists at all is simply mind boggling. It doesn't have to exist at all, and probably shouldn't exist. But it does exist. And here we are totally baffled by, and unable to explain our very existence, in a very improbable universe.

It suddenly dawned on me though, that we have two incredibly improbable and inexplicable problems when dealing with the fact that our universe exists, and we along with it. In fact, two miracles have occurred (if you accept the conventional explanation).

The first, is why the universe should start up in the first place (not "how", coz big bang has that covered, weakly, admittedly, but still lets go with it for now). So first there's nothing, then BOOM, a few pops, fizzes and whistles later, and here we all are looking out at a universe which shouldn't be here, and worrying about our taxes. MIRACLE!!!

The second miracle, is that there are minds to witness any of it. Matter, is nothing more than glorified lego. Stick the pieces together in different combinations, and you get different material and chemical compounds - that's it, not really very complicated (what's complicated is explaining how it all occurred, but again, lets leave the how for now). No matter how you may arrange the lego pieces, consciousness simply should not arise. No single piece has any degree of consciousness, and no infinitely complex combination of pieces has any consciousness to it. So, we have another kind of Big Bang, but this one seems to happen inside our heads. BOOM ... Huh? where am I? ... What's this stuff? ... How did I get here? ... Who am I? ... who is she? ... hubba hubba ... You get the idea.

So two Miracles, and two seemingly impossible events without any satisfactory scientific explanation. Humorously, without these two miracles, there would be no science, no scientists, and no thing for science to investigate. Talk about shaky foundations lol. Don't get me wrong here, I am the world's biggest science fan, but what is funny is that the current "paradigm" under which science is functioning, quietly tries to brush these two fundamental miracles (something from nothing, and conscious mind from unconscious matter) under the carpet.

To recap simply, the miracles go like this:

Before the universe nothing. Then

MIRACLE 1
Big Bang, material universe bursts out of nowhere (or bursts into somewhere, whichever you prefer). However, no one knows about this incredible event, as there is no one there to see it (or for that matter hear it, so did it make a sound?), until billions of years, and an inconceivable number of atomic and chemical interactions later (and maybe a bit of lego) ...

MIRACLE 2
Bigger Bang (but perhaps quieter, however this one could be heard, whereas no one heard the first one, so don't quote me on that), consciousness arises from stone cold, unconscious matter.

So, I thought, maybe, just maybe it's because we have it the wrong way around that all this seems impossible. Because, duh ... Obviously, nothing comes from nothing. Nothing can ever come from nothing. Matter cannot contain consciousness. No "matter",,, no matter how complex, can become aware of itself, or of anything else.

And here is the simple bit.

What if we turn the arrow of causality around 180 degrees. So rather than start with nothing, we start with, dare I say it, CONSCIOUSNESS.

Can consciousness contain matter? Of course it can. It does, when we as conscious beings interact with the world of matter, that is what is happening. The entirety of the matter we behold, is in our minds. When you look up at the milky way, it is not only out there, but "in here", in our minds. Dreams are also seemingly full of matter aren't they, and can feel as real as this.

So, suddenly everything changes. The birth of matter is not some inexplicable something from nothing trick, but instead, it is a creation of consciousness, a thought, a concept, a dream of some much larger dreamer. The big bang was perhaps the starting point of the dream that we call the material universe. The opening scene. Maybe it began after an equally impressive and unimaginably complex prior dream, with just as much diversity, maybe more.

Now, I realise I also have some explaining to, just like the materialist. How and why did the dreamer, the big consciousness within which all this is playing out, come into being? However, I would only need to explain one miracle, whereas the materialist must explain two. So Occam and his legendary Razor would be quite happy here.

First consciousness, then BOOM, universe comes about, energy, atoms and chemicals (lego) popping up all over the place, witnessed by consciousness, then BOOM, the lego gets arranged in nice little patterns and structures that allow consciousness to pop up in biological bodies and immerse it self in its universe in a deeper way, and look out from behind material eyes at it's own creation. Its own dream.

It's all flippin miraculous, but it is surely going to be easier and more credible to have to explain only one miracle, rather than two? Like I always said, I don't exist because the big bang happened. The big bang happened, because I, WE, exist. Give that last one some serious thought, and let it really wash over you.

Let me know what you think. Sorry it's so long winded. When I began writing, I only intended to write literally a paragraph, but it just kind of overflowed the dam."

Seems to make so much intuitive sense to me right now. Let me know your thoughts everyone. Look forward to some interesting dialogue.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#3
Really interesting stuff, in line with what a lot of people have thought when considering Idealism as a possibility. I especially like you noting that consciousness can contain matter since all we know of matter is gained via subject observation, which is what Berkeley argued as well.

It fits in well with a few interpretations and even existing results relating to quantum mechanics, though there's no smoking gun it's amazing how weird things get at the basement level of reality.

It's all flippin miraculous, but it is surely going to be easier and more credible to have to explain only one miracle, rather than two? Like I always said, I don't exist because the big bang happened. The big bang happened, because I, WE, exist. Give that last one some serious thought, and let it really wash over you.
I don't even know if I'd count Idealist creation stories as miracles in the same sense as the Big Bang and the emergence of Mind from Matter. Both of those have a "something from nothing" quality that seems to call for something to arise outside of the very frames imposed by materialism.

Idealism's big problem is to explain why there seems to be a consensus world that we could call "objective" in the sense it's a reality we seem to all share on some level. This can be done by positing a Mind holding everything together or some confluence of minds engaging in a shared dreaming experience...or perhaps a combination of the two like Bernardo once suggested.
 
#4
Idealism's big problem is to explain why there seems to be a consensus world that we could call "objective" in the sense it's a reality we seem to all share on some level. This can be done by positing a Mind holding everything together or some confluence of minds engaging in a shared dreaming experience...or perhaps a combination of the two like Bernardo once suggested.
Could be, as the ancients told us, that separation is an illusion.

Robert Pirsig said:
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

In all of the Oriental religions great value is placed on the Sanskrit doctrine of Tat tvam asi, "Thou art that," which asserts that everything you think you are and everything you think you perceive are undivided. To realize fully this lack of division is to become enlightened.
 
#5
Idealism's big problem is to explain why there seems to be a consensus world that we could call "objective" in the sense it's a reality we seem to all share on some level. This can be done by positing a Mind holding everything together or some confluence of minds engaging in a shared dreaming experience...or perhaps a combination of the two like Bernardo once suggested.

In principle we never can be absolutely certain of an objective reality. But the principle of parsimony given the vast preponderance of multitudinous types of interactions with the external world would indicate that it is much more likely it is real and separate from human consciousness.

The world was still round when people believed it was flat. The earth still revolved around the sun when people believed in the Ptolemaic system of epicycles. The development of science is where old beliefs about reality finally gave way to new understandings based on experimental data measuring how things actually work. There is a vast body of scientific physical experiments and resulting predictive theory that give countless confirmations of an invariantly apparently external, interactive self-consistent reality going back billions of years. This mountain of data may not be absolutely conclusive and constitute proof, but it makes the existence of a truly objective reality very much more likely.

Whatever the world of apparent objective reality really is, say "a creation of ultimate Mind" this consciousness certainly isn't human. It could be something remotely analogous to a supercomputer virtual reality interactive simulation created by vastly advanced intelligent beings. "Objective reality" would be ultimately a production of the intelligence and power and imagination of these unimaginably superior beings, its properties being the arbitrary selection of these beings. Or the world could be simply the direct creation of supernatural beings, or ultimate Mind. In such schemes physical reality would not be a truly objective and unchangeable "stuff", but it also would still be truly independent of human consciousness.

For humans the existence of an objective reality is a brute fact of the physical universe that we inhabit.

An old saying: if wishes were horses beggars would ride.
The Refutation of Bishop Berkely
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."
James Boswell: Life of Samuel Johnson book 3.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#6
The world was still round when people believed it was flat. The earth still revolved around the sun when people believed in the Ptolemaic system of epicycles.
I think there's a difference between observers deciding reality versus pinning it down (or for more poetic language invoking it). Consider the observer-participancy postulated by Wheeler and extended by Josepson & Yardley.

The more I read about observer-participancy the more I think it would explain things in a Neutral Monist fashion where Mind & Matter derive from something more fundamental which one might call "aether" though this might differ from the original conception. John Maguire has an interesting take.

I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."
But this isn't a refutation at all, merely a misunderstanding about what Berkeley was talking about.
 
#8
I think the "something from nothing" is just a, perhaps unintended, acknowledgment of our own ignorance. At one time the Universe outside our galaxy was "nothing" because all we thought existed was our galaxy. But, now it's all "something". Likewise with the Big Bang. We can't fathom what came before it, which leaves a void in our conceptual framework , so we conceive of it as "nothing".

Same thing with the spiritual realms, which I think is what's partly behind the saying "The Kingdom of Heaven is spread out upon the Earth, but men do not see it". What we can't see, or what we can't perceive, or what we're unconscious of or simply can't understand, has a tendency to fall under the category of "nothing". It's like the mind refuses, by default, that which it cannot fathom. The process of having an open-mind (in the case of science) or faith ( in the case of spirituality) is to think about the currenty unthinkable and bring it into the realm of the known, or the realm of the "something's" ;-)
 
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#10
I think there's a difference between observers deciding reality versus pinning it down (or for more poetic language invoking it). Consider the observer-participancy postulated by Wheeler and extended by Josepson & Yardley.


The more I read about observer-participancy the more I think it would explain things in a Neutral Monist fashion where Mind & Matter derive from something more fundamental which one might call "aether" though this might differ from the original conception. John Maguire has an interesting take.

Interesting.
A few layperson comments on the Maguire link:
(1)The world cannot be a giant machine, ruled by any preestablished continuum physical law.
It behaves and can be understood that way at the macroscopic level, to a high level of approximation. The technology of our civilization is derived from science using these laws and principles, and it works.

(2) There is no such thing at the microscopic level as space or time or spacetime continuum.
Subatomic level. We as humans live in spacetime.

(3) The familiar probability function or functional,and wave equation or functional wave equation, of standard quantum theory provide mere continuum idealizations and by reason of this circumstance conceal the information-theoretic source from which they derive.
Yes, ultimately reality seems to be information, designed in such a way that the objective macroscopic world results. This is fascinating, but what can we do with that insight? The practical reality is that physical world is an objective something separate from us.

(4) No element in the description of physics shows itself as closer to primordial than the elementary quantum phenomenon, that is, the elementary device-intermediated act of posing a yes-no physical question and eliciting an answer or, in brief, the elementary act of observer-participancy. Otherwise stated, every physical quantity, every it, derives its ultimate significance from bits, binary yes-or-no indications, a conclusion which we epitomize in the phrase, it from bit
To say it is observer participancy seems to be controversial in quantum physics. It is usually noted that this is actually a process of elementary measurement, not requiring an "observer".


But this isn't a refutation at all, merely a misunderstanding about what Berkeley was talking about.
Yes, but it makes a good story that illustrates the practical reality.
 
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