Dear Francis, In Eternity Now you speak of there being no evidence for a material world outside of awareness and that the body along with the rest of the world is made out of sensory perceptions. If something is being perceived does it not then have a certain “reality”of its own in order to be perceived? If something is locked away in a vault for 100 years we could know from eye witness testimonies know, that it is the same object when it is uncovered 100 years later. Our intelligence tells us that it remained in the vault during the intervening period, outside of anyone’s conscious perceptions. Does this not then prove that it existed “outside of awareness” for 100 years? Similarly, if all living beings on this planet died at this very moment we know from experience that certain objects still have the potential to exist although at this moment, there would not be any conscious beings to observe them. Also, everyone would unanimously agree that metal is hard and that cotton wool is soft, through our sense perceptions, so why the concurrence of this difference if there is no objective reality to these objects? I would be grateful if you could clarify these points for me. Thank you Francis.
I agree that if something is being perceived it must have a certain reality of its own. What about the nature of this reality in the absence of perception?
A first possibility is presented by the experience of dreams. The example you are describing could be part of a dream, waking up of which we realize that the 100 years have in fact lasted only 30 seconds and that the vault, its content and all the witnesses have absolutely vanished. In this case too the witnesses would agree that the diamond in the vault is shiny and hart. This intersubjective agreement is therefore no evidence of the continued existence of objects while not being perceived. The reality of the perceived object is the consciousness that perceives it. (Proposition A) Consciousness is defined as that, whatever that is, which truly perceives these words in this very moment (Definition1)
A second possibility, the one you are suggesting, and the one which is generally admitted in our culture, is that a physical object has a continued existence in an external reality called the universe. According to this view, this object is made of particles or wave packets dancing together a dance that lasts for as long as the existence of the object lasts. Just as a vortex in a river doesn’t have a separate existence from the rest of the river, this dance is simply a local convergence of universal forces, an expression of the underlying universal reality, subjected to its laws. The dance that is perceived and the instruments through which it is perceived according to this view (sense organs, nerves, brain, body) are all objects of this universe, the dancing object being perceived by a dancing observer in a “pas de deux” organized by their underlying common reality and ruled by its laws. The reality of the perceived object and of the perceiving object is the same universal reality. (Proposition B)
Is there a way to reconcile these two apparently irreconcilable perspectives? The answer is yes, and can be formulated as follows:
Consciousness is the universal reality. (Proposition C)
Let us now focus on proposition C. The main objection to it is that there is a strong body of evidence showing that consciousness is particular, separate, dependent upon a body, localized in space and time and therefore doesn’t meet the universality requirement of proposition C. If we take a closer look at the evidence, we discover that the particular, separate, local, limited, body dependent consciousness is the one whose presence is inferred in sentient beings from our interaction with them. A computer answering our questions following a sophisticated program (one that passes the Turing test of Artificial Intelligence) could fool us into believing we are interacting with a conscious being and could be called conscious because it would meet all the objective criteria of inferred or objective consciousness. Such a consciousness could be regarded as local, limited, etc…for the simple reason that it is inferred to be present in a localized, limited, etc sentient body. However, inferred consciousness doesn’t qualify as the real or subjective consciousness of Definition 1. Real consciousness is experienced as subject, inferred consciousness is experienced only as an objective phenomenon appearing in a body. The identity between real and inferred consciousness is never experienced. It is assumed without any experiential supporting evidence. This assumption is in fact rather childish and simplistic. Imagine a time traveler from the Neanderthal age landing in one of our living rooms while the Jay Leno show is being watched on TV, and trying to liberate poor Jay from the flat screen in which he believes him to be imprisoned, ignoring that the same show is viewed simultaneously by millions of people in different places, and that the real Jay doesn’t reside in the TV set, but somewhere in Beverly Hills or Malibu (another assumption). His presence in the set was only inferred, not real. Similarly, the presence of consciousness in a limited body is always inferred and never experienced. Once Jay has been liberated from the TV set and consciousness from the body through the understanding that they were never there in the first place, the strongest objection to Proposition C has been lifted. At least the Neanderthalean visitor had probable cause in trying to rescue Jay from his jail, but there are no mitigating circumstances for the ignorant who believes consciousness to be located in the body without the slightest piece of supporting evidence.
Let us now look at a few corollaries of Proposition C:
There is no need to choose between Propositions A and B. They are both equally valid under Proposition C. This answers your question.
The physical reality of proposition B was often regarded (without reason) as mineral, indifferent, devoid of love beauty or intelligence. The materialist outlook was one of pessimism and despair. The eternity and infinity of mineral reality had the temperature of intergalactic space. Consciousness, being identical with this reality, brings into the picture the warmth of intelligence, love and beauty. God is back, in that sense.
Consciousness is subjectively experienced as the reality of our human experience, the changeless background of all the changing perceptions. It is only natural that this subjectively experienced reality be identical with the absolute reality of all things and beings, since there is only one reality.
There are many more corollaries. I leave them for you to discover as exercises.