Note to the reader:
This post, ‘The Conscious-Created Universe’ will address a truly enormous topic, encompassing science, philosophy, parapsychology and spiritualism. While I would love to expound on every side-topic, I think it would strain the patience of even my most ardent readers. I’ve decided to divide this topic into at least three parts, each which can only serve as an introduction to this fascinating philosophy. I will, of course, provide sources and links so that you can study any particular aspect of this topic more in-depth.
In part I, we are exploring the history of the divide between dualism and materialism, the consciousness-taboo and the evidence for a conscious-created universe found in physics and cosmology. Enjoy!
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
As Voyager I rounded Saturn on its journey toward the Kuiper Belt, engineers turned the satellite around to look back at Earth one last time. The awe-inspiring image of our tiny planet cast against the immense black expanse of space inspired Carl Sagan to write his now-famous ode to the ‘pale blue dot’, and it perfectly illustrates the emotional intent of materialism, the dominant worldview of the scientific establishment: relative to the immensity of the cosmos, the sum of our thoughts, actions and life experiences are ultimately inconsequential.
Some people find this scientific existentialism comforting. No universal force has assigned meaning to our lives; we are free define our own. There are no rules to follow and no judgement afterward; no destiny to fulfill as we trace endless ellipses around the sun, using our giant mammalian brains to ponder our own irrelevancy.
Materialism is responsible for some truly astonishing feats of human achievement through advances in physics, chemistry and biology in the 20th and 21st centuries. However, materialism also organizes reality solely through physical laws incompatible with some revered aspects of our personal reality. There is no room, for example, for a mind with a will of its own. Our feeling of conscious control over our actions is instead described as the result of the complex inner workings of our brain, itself beholden to the molecules, atoms and quantum particles of which it is composed. As Richard Dawkins put it, we are ‘lumbering robots’, simply following the code of instructions unique to our biology, set in motion through an impossibly complex chain of reactions at the instant of the big bang.
Consciousness, when it is regarded at all, is thought to be biological in origin and, of course, temporary – a collection of atoms that will one day disassemble and reassemble into a myriad of other forms in the endless cycle of life.
As we move into a post-materialist future, a philosophy is beginning to converge from both science and spirituality, forming a strange parallel that could bridge the gap between faith and reason for the first time in three centuries. This philosophy states that consciousness, once relegated to a backwater of softer sciences like psychology, or regarded as a sort-of ‘side-effect’ or evolutionary quirk of biology, is a fundamental aspect of the universe, playing a staring role in the formation of reality. Although it is rebuked viciously by materialists and pseudo-skeptics on every front, the evidence is compelling and gaining traction.
The consciousness-first model doesn’t overturn materialism as much as it places consciousness in a fundamental role at the base of the pyramid; a field of creative consciousness over which familiar space-time is superimposed. Instead of a quirk of evolution, the human experience is instead a vital part of the ever-expanding complexity of this rich tapestry of consciousness with our brain acting as an interface between our physical experience and our mind. Thought, not matter, is the essential creative element. When our bodies perish, our awareness, personality and memories return in-tact to the consciousness field with infinite non-physical environments to imagine ourselves in.
The evidence for a conscious-created universe can be found in both science and spirituality. Though it is still just an untestable philosophy, its possible that this idea – should it remain viable – could usher in a new holistic path that recognizes certain spiritual truths as scientifically evident and leads humanity into a less destructive, selfish and materialistic future.
“The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.”
-Sir James Jean
I. The History of Materialism and the Consciousness Taboo
Humankind in the 21st century is reaching past the pinnacle of a scientific worldview that for 300 years has gifted us with the most marvelous advances in technology, communication, travel, industry and medicine than at any other time in human history. One could be mistaken for thinking that scientific materialism is the ‘gift that will keep on giving’ forever. In fact, most of the scientific establishment insists on it; even as advances in quantum physics and cosmology point to a clearly less materialistic future for exploration. Today, scientists routinely talk of multiple dimensions, time travel, worm-holes, parallel universes and other such constructs that once belonged firmly in the realm of science fiction. What one will not find discussed so breezily in the halls of academia, however, is the mystery of human consciousness, which despite its obvious importance to humanity, remains a taboo area of scientific exploration.
I am not referring here to neuroscience, which most certainly studies the neural correlates of consciousness, but instead to the understanding of the subjective experience of qualia, named ‘the hard problem of consciousness’ by philosopher David Chalmers in 1994. He subsequently published a paper in the Journal of Consciousness Studies listing the following aspects of consciousness as easy to investigate, as they relate specifically to how consciousness integrates with the brain:
- the ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli;
- the integration of information by a cognitive system;
- the reportability of mental states;
- the ability of a system to access its own internal states;
- the focus of attention;
- the deliberate control of behavior;
- the difference between wakefulness and sleep.
According to Chalmers,
The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. As Nagel (1974) has put it, there is something it is like to be a conscious organism. This subjective aspect is experience. When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual field. Other experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains to orgasms; mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of emotion, and the experience of a stream of conscious thought. What unites all of these states is that there is something it is like to be in them. All of them are states of experience.
While neuroscience has made tremendous progress in determining which areas of the brain correlate with certain cognitive processes (refer again to Chalmer’s list), the biological mapping of subjective states remains as elusive as it ever has. Bernardo Kastrup discusses this issue in his book Why Materialism is Baloney: How True Skeptics Know There is No Death and Fathom Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.
Neuroscience today is very far from being able to provide a consistent one-to-one mapping between the qualities of a subjective experience and measurable parameters of the corresponding neural process. It is possible to argue that this merely reflects our currently limited progress in finding this mapping and that it will be found in the future as more research is done and new techniques are developed for measuring the finer parameters of brain activity. As a vague and promissory argument, this is unfalsifiable. But we should keep two things in mind: first, decades of research and very high investments have already been made in the pursuit of this mapping, so it’s not like we’ve just started. Second, much of what we have found thus far seems to contradict the notion that there is any such consistent one-to-one mapping (pp. 32-33).
Although neuroscience has yet to provide an adequate theory to address ‘The Hard Problem’ of consciousness, there is no lack of opinion. In fact, The philosophical ‘mind-body problem’ is an ancient debate with two distinct and incompatible beliefs: materialists believe that consciousness has a purely biological origin, while dualists believe that the mind is a non-physical entity that is separate (though connected) to the physical brain. The consciousness taboo in science today and their unwillingness to explore any dualistic hypotheses is an echo of this debate, crystallized into distinct factions by the separation of religion and science in the 17th century.
Religion, with its concept of a human soul, has historically represented the side of dualism. Living things were endowed with the spirit of the creator who set the planets in motion, created the various forms of animals, and governed the universe. Human beings, set apart from animals and created in the image of God, were alone gifted with an immortal soul. This was the dominant explanation for universal processes until Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics, ushered in a whole new understanding of physical processes in the universe that did not require a guiding hand by a creator. God was instead replaced by the laws of motion, gravity and thermodynamics. The fantastic advances in the study of chemistry, biology and physics painted the universe as a marvelous machine that followed predictable, mathematical laws. The discovery of DNA and the theory of evolution bolstered the idea that living things, such as animals, plants and humans, were simply the complex organization of these basic constituents of matter and energy, all following static rules governing their interactions. The church, still clutching its outdated creationist theories, receded into dogma and orthodoxy.
Scientific materialism replaced religion as the dominant way of explaining our universe and it was wildly successful, leading to the incredible technologies of the industrial and information ages. Dualism was relegated to the superstitious past; to the dark ages of pre-scientific age of religious dogma. Anything even remotely resembling a dualist philosophy was forbidden in materialism, as it harkened back to religious ideas of the human soul, life after death, and all of the anti-scientific rhetoric that had come along with centuries of religious domination.
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collisions of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system; and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be built.
Burtt, E. A. (1932), The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science, cited from Sheldrake, Rupert. Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery
II. Quantum Physics Resurrects Duality
By the nineteenth century, scientists had well-established the physical laws that governed the interactions between matter and energy. In this clockwork universe, time was fixed and immutable, and matter and energy behaved according to fixed mathematical laws. By the turn of the century though, Albert Einstein would make a startling discovery about light that would usher in a new branch of physics; the study of particles smaller than atoms, called quanta. It didn’t take quantum physicists long to discover that reality at the most fundamental levels wasn’t at all static and determinant, but rather fuzzy and indecisive. Reality, it was discovered, is inherently probabilistic in nature, with particles only entering our reality when it’s properties are forcibly revealed through measurement. Other more unsettling attributes of this strange quantum world were revealed over time as well, such as the ability for two entangled particles to simultaneously affect each other over infinite distances, and their apparent ability to travel backwards in time.
These seeming violations of causality and locality were certainly unsettling. But the most disturbing aspect of quantum physics, at least to many materialists, is the mysterious connection between the probabilistic quality of quanta and the role of the observer. Although the smallest constituents of matter are probabilistic, clearly our everyday world is not. Some mechanism must be responsible for converting this roll-of-the dice fuzzy world of probable reality into the solid, predictable macro-world that we interact with. Since particles exist first in a wave of probabilities, this conversion to definite reality is called wave collapse. What scientists discovered, in experiment after experiment, that the mechanism to induce wave-collapse appeared to be the act of observation itself. That is, wave collapse appeared to occur when the results of the measurement were gained by a conscious human observer.
“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
– Max Planck
This aspect of quantum behavior has been named ‘the measurement problem’, and has led to different explanatory interpretations ranging from those who believe that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe (known as the von Neumann-Wigner interpretation) and therefore required for wave-function collapse, and those who interpret the experimental results differently, leaving out the need for a conscious observer completely.
The most extreme proposal is the ‘Many Worlds Interpretation‘ put forth by Hugh Everett in the 1950’s. It denies wave-collapse entirely, and suggests that nature is not probabilistic at all. In fact, according to ‘many worlds’, all possible solutions exist, just in parallel universes that spring into existence the moment a decision must be made. Ultimately, this means that there are a near-infinite number of universes all containing copies of you following all of the branching probabilities of your life. Many scientists admit that ‘many worlds’ is rather far-fetched, especially because it is an untestable hypothesis, though it is still considered a viable alternative to the von Neumann–Wigner interpretation. The notion that ‘consciousness causes collapse’ is understandably deeply unpopular among physicists.
“Despite the unrivaled empirical success of quantum theory, the very suggestion that it may be literally true as a description of nature is still greeted with cynicism, incomprehension and even anger.”
-Physicist Tim Folger
Scientists have another very compelling reason to want to avoid the consciousness-causes-collapse conclusion. I’ll let Alex Tsikiris from Skeptiko explain it, from his book Why Science is Wrong… About Almost Everything:
If my consciousness is something—anything—other than a product of my brain, then science is out of business until it figures out exactly how my consciousness interacts with this world. If my consciousness is more than my physical brain, then consciousness is the X-factor in every science experiment. It’s the asterisk in the footnotes that says, “We came as close as we could, but we had to leave out consciousness in order to make our numbers work (p. 7).”
Although most physicists do not support any role of consciousness in the formation of reality, there are some notable scientists who have endorsed this idea whole-heartedly and have, unfortunately, been subjected to the derision of their peers. The apparent ‘defection’ of Dr. Robert Lanza, American Biologist, was shocking to the scientific establishment. Dr. Lanza is one of the most influential and accomplished biologists in the world. With groundbreaking research and discoveries in the area of cloning and stem-cells, he has been named one of time’s most influential people and called ‘one of the three most three important scientists alive’ by the New York Times. Dr. Lanza was highly respected and praised by the scientific establishment, that is, until 2009 when he stepped fully out of the mainstream to publish his controversial book Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe.
Lanza’s Biocentrism folds together quantum physics, the theory of a finely-tuned universe and consciousness itself in his own ‘theory of everything’ which places biology above physics as the mechanism for explaining reality. According to Lanza and his principles of Biocentrism, the universe is pervaded by consciousness which continues to shape and develop matter and energy. Not surprisingly, Lanza is a dualist and survivalist, believing that consciousness is not tied to the human brain, and therefore can survive death. There was a lot of head-shaking and clucking from his fellow scientists, blaming Biocentrism on Lanza’s inability to cope with his sister’s death, an insulting dismissal to be sure.
Lanza is far from the only scientist who has been brave enough to put forward such ‘radical’ ideas. Dr. Dean Radin has made a career out of studying PSI and consciousness, with experimental success. Dr. Radin is the Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and author of several books, including Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality, which discusses much of the interaction between quantum physics and consciousness. In fact, recently, Dr. Radin performed a series of experiments testing the hypothesis that a conscious observer can affect quantum particles without direct interaction. You can read about the experiments in my post Groundbreaking Research Shows Conscious Intention Directly Affects Quantum States: Scientific Basis for Mind Over Matter?
III. The Finely-Tuned Universe
Dr. Lanza’s proposal for the conscious-created universe set forth in Biocentrism includes another set of scientific observations that may support consciousness as fundamental to the origin of our universe. During the study of inflation, a hypothesis related to the Big Bang theory, it was discovered that “if the Big Bang had been just one part in a million more powerful, the cosmos would have blown outward too fast to allow stars and worlds to form”. By itself, the perfect speed of inflation would have simply been considered a lucky accident. But as scientists began to discern the mathematical properties of physical forces that were created at the time of the Big Bang, the same ‘lucky accident’ was found again and again. In fact, there are hundreds of finely-tuned constants which must be exactly calculated to hundreds of decimal points in order for our universe to have evolved just right for the existence of life. Here’s an excerpt from an article at phys.org that lists only three so you can begin to understand the magnitude of the issue:
The main drivers here are some truly perplexing developments in physics and cosmology. In recent years physicists and cosmologists have uncovered numerous eye-popping “cosmic coincidences,” remarkable instances of apparent “fine-tuning” of the universe.
Here are just three out of many that could be listed:
Carbon resonance and the strong force. Although the abundance of hydrogen, helium and lithium are well-explained by known physical principles, the formation of heavier elements, beginning with carbon, very sensitively depends on the balance of the strong and weak forces. If the strong force were slightly stronger or slightly weaker (by just 1% in either direction), there would be no carbon or any heavier elements anywhere in the universe, and thus no carbon-based life forms like us to ask why.
The proton-to-electron mass ratio. A neutron’s mass is slightly more than the combined mass of a proton, an electron and a neutrino. If the neutron were very slightly less massive, then it could not decay without energy input. If its mass were lower by 1%, then isolated protons would decay instead of neutrons, and very few atoms heavier than lithium could form.
The cosmological constant. Perhaps the most startling instance of fine-tuning is the cosmological constant paradox. This derives from the fact that when one calculates, based on known principles of quantum mechanics, the “vacuum energy density” of the universe, focusing on the electromagnetic force, one obtains the incredible result that empty space “weighs” 1,093g per cubic centimetre (cc). The actual average mass density of the universe, 10-28g per cc, differs by 120 orders of magnitude from theory.
Physicists, who have fretted over the cosmological constant paradox for years, have noted that calculations such as the above involve only the electromagnetic force, and so perhaps when the contributions of the other known forces are included, all terms will cancel out to exactly zero, as a consequence of some unknown fundamental principle of physics.
But these hopes were shattered with the 1998 discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, which implied that the cosmological constant must be slightly positive. This meant that physicists were left to explain the startling fact that the positive and negative contributions to the cosmological constant cancel to 120-digit accuracy, yet fail to cancel beginning at the 121st digit.
Curiously, this observation is in accord with a prediction made by Nobel laureate and physicist Steven Weinberg in 1987, who argued from basic principles that the cosmological constant must be zero to within one part in roughly 10120 (and yet be nonzero), or else the universe either would have dispersed too fast for stars and galaxies to have formed, or else would have recollapsed upon itself long ago.”
The great theoretical physicist Richard Feynman remarked on these finely-tuned constants in his 1985 book The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. Here he is specifically referring to the strong nuclear force which is responsible for holding atoms together:
“It has been a mystery ever since it was discovered more than fifty years ago, and all good theoretical physicists put this number up on their wall and worry about it. Immediately you would like to know where this number for a coupling comes from: is it related to π or perhaps to the base of natural logarithms? Nobody knows. It’s one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the ‘hand of God’ wrote that number, and ‘we don’t know how He pushed his pencil.’ We know what kind of a dance to do experimentally to measure this number very accurately, but we don’t know what kind of dance to do on the computer to make this number come out, without putting it in secretly!
The existence of a finely-tuned universe is both baffling and disconcerting to materialists, as it suggests that some intelligent force directed the specificity of these constants in order to ensure that life would develop and progress to a level of self-awareness. If the universe is indeed shaped by a conscious field or force, then the fine tuning of the universe would be perfectly logical; even expected. If time is no barrier, then adjustments could be made backwards and forwards in time throughout the creation process to insure the conditions desired for our physical experience.
Materialists try to explain away this apparent fine-tuning in two ways. First, they rely on the anthropic principle, which suggests that the universe only appears to be finely tuned because this random collection of properties resulted in conscious humans with brains sophisticated enough to discover these finely-tuned properties. In other words, the universe must be finely tuned for life because we are here to observe it. It’s at best circular reasoning, and at worst, a philosophical cop-out.
The anthropic principle also does not address the statistical improbability of a universe with so many finely-tuned constants appearing together without resorting to their second explanation: multiple universes. Instead of just one Big Bang with a very specific set of constants that appear to be finely tuned for life, there are likely a near-infinite number of universes, all with different combinations of values for their physical constants. Some universes, like our own, are just right for the formation of carbon-based life and some are just vast stretches of hydrogen clouds, lacking the right ingredients to form stars or galaxies. We just happen to find ourselves in the one that had the necessary combination needed for developing stars, galaxies, planets, and living organisms.
In both cases, the multiverse cannot be tested nor proven, and to date, we have no evidence that multiple physical universes exist. So the question remains for science to answer both anomalies of physics. For proponents of a conscious-created universe, however, these ‘bugs’ are most certainly ‘features’.
The statistically improbable features of our universe don’t end with the physical constants. There is, for example, the highly improbable formation of our moon which many scientists believe was vital for complex life on our planet, or the mystery of how life itself even got started from supposedly ‘dead’ chemistry. Scientists disagree on the statistical probability of abiogenesis, but even the most conservative estimates put the chances at billions to one.
Now certainly we have to be careful not to fall into a ‘god of the gaps’ argument or confuse a conscious-created universe with intelligent design. The latter implies a separate force that designed the universe according to its specifications. In the conscious-created universe, all conscious beings are part of this universal force, and creation is both continual and communal. In fact, a related philosophy, called panpsychism, suggests that all matter has a primitive form of consciousness, which may have a will to combine into ever more complex forms. In a conscious-created universe, no aspect of scientific discovery can rule out consciousness as a foundational aspect; it only implies that we have designed a more intricate self-evolving system.
Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer famously said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
History has taught us that there is no greater hindrance to scientific progress than from science itself. One only needs to look back at the remains of the many great scientists sacrificed on the altar of scientism to see how biased scientific belief systems can contaminate the objectivity of scientific exploration. Alfred Wegener, the originator of the theory of continental drift, is just one tragic example. He was accused of ‘delirious ravings’. Continental drift was labeled the worst of pseudo-science, a ‘fairy-tale’ which would instantly doom the career of any geologist who dare show any interest. One scientist remarked:
“If we are to believe Wegener’s hypothesis we must forget everything which has been learned in the last 70 years and start all over again.”
Wegener died an apparent failure; ridiculed, harassed and cast out of his field. Less than a few decades after his death, continental drift became self-evident.
We cannot yet know if a conscious-created universe is that truth that will become self-evident. We do know that materialism certainly isn’t the end of the story; the universe seems to be imbued with contradictions, surprises and mysteries waiting to be discovered by our inquisitive minds. We are reaching the stage of violent opposition, however, and what it calls for in response is nothing short of resolute bravery.
In the next part of this discussion, we will be discussing a different kind of evidence which may support this philosophy: PSI research, mediumship, terminal lucidity, near-death experiences, and what these phenomena may teach us about our interaction with a unifying field of consciousness.
Sources and Recommended References
Kastrup, Bernardo. Why Materialism Is Baloney: How True Skeptics Know There Is No Death and Fathom Answers to life, the Universe, and Everything. John Hunt Publishing.
Lanza, Robert and Berman, Bob. Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe. BenBella Books, In
Radin, Dean. Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality. Pocket Book
Sheldrake, Rupert. Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery. Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony
Tart, Charles T.. The End of Materialism. Fearless Books
Tsakiris, Alex. WHY SCIENCE IS WRONG…: About Almost Everything. Anomalist Books.
This is a discussion series, so let’s discuss! Do you think this sounds too far-fetched or perfectly reasonable? Do you think the theory of multiple universes contradicts a conscious-created universe or does it just suggest probable realities? How do you feel about panpsychism?