Note to the reader:
I'm writing a series of books called A Short Course in ___title___ with accompanying online courses.
This article is in support of the book and online course: "A Short Course in Consciousness"
Available May-June 2020
There was a time when consciousness was virtually a taboo topic for scientists and academics. They were afraid to discuss it openly, and the word did not appear in the indexes of psychology textbooks. That all changed in 1994, at a conference in Tucson, when David Chalmers introduced the “hard problem of consciousness”.
In essence, this asks how is it possible to have the huge variety of subjective experiences that we all have, if consciousness is merely a product of neural processes in the brain. At that moment, the consciousness industry was born! There are now consciousness departments in academic institutions all over the world. There are hundreds of journals devoted to the subject. The Tucson conferences still continue, as do many others. And there are books galore!
However, today, 26 years on, the hard problem has still not been solved and, for most scientists and academics, consciousness remains a mystery. I believe that there are two main reasons for this. First, a lot of people still believe that consciousness is simply a product of the brain, and no more than that. And second, there is much confusion and lack of clarity about the actual meaning of the word. Much has been said and written about the first reason, and I will assume that you are familiar with the arguments. Very little has been said about the second reason. So, I will say a few words about this.
If you do a little investigation, you will find that the word means two things.
- It means “experience”, and this comes in many forms. This is the widely accepted meaning.
- But it also means something very different - the state of the universe before matter came into existence. I cannot think of a better way of expressing it.
And I assume that this what people mean when they say that “consciousness is primary, and matter is secondary”. This suggests that consciousness is some kind of entity, if indeed this is an adequate term.
If I understand the concept correctly, consciousness not only preceded matter, it also preceded naming! In any event, this suggests that the universe was pure consciousness before its material aspects emerged.
So far as science is concerned, the universe is one and the same as its material aspects. For them, there can be nothing more. It is physical, and only physical. And within that worldview, consciousness must simply the product of something physical.
Now, if we assume that there are some significant relationships between these two meanings of consciousness, then are we entitled to say that experience precedes matter? Although this might seem a stretch too far, I believe that there is good evidence that it does.
This evidence can be summarised in the idea that consciousness does not reflect the world. On the contrary, it creates the world! This is surely the experiential equivalent of the idea that consciousness precedes matter.
In my forthcoming book, A Short Course in Consciousness, I explore these thoughts, as well their practical implications for our daily lives.
1 April 2020
From the multi-article "Consciousness Series" by Chris Thomson
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Chris Thomson was a lawyer and economist in Scotland until the mid-80s, when he was asked to chair the Natural Medicines Commission in the UK. He then trained as a psychotherapist in London, before joining the Scottish Council Foundation, a think-tank in Edinburgh, set up in anticipation of devolution. From there he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he advised multinational corporations on various moral issues.
As well as passable Spanish and French, Chris speaks Chinese.
He now lives in the Catalan Pyrenees, where is a keen mountaineer. The ski slopes are only 20 minutes away!
Chris published Full Spectrum Intelligence in 2014. He is now writing The Inner Cosmos, and Intelligent Simplicity
YouTube or https://www.youtube.com/user/Vaguehighlander
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