Consciousness and the physical
In the earlier post “Can the mind heal the body?” I talked about how the mind may be able to induce changes in the body, including some that seem almost surreal (like heat blisters during hypnosis). If this is indeed possible, then this points to a potentially much stronger connection between the mind, or “consciousness,” and the physical than what we are used to believe in. In this article I will consider some of the implications, which are potentially immense. All this touches upon the basic question: What is real? And what underlies the fabric of our reality?
We normally are taught that the fundamental building blocks of our reality are atoms and their subatomic parts, which combine into increasing larger structures, from molecules to planets to biological cells to our brains. And somehow, and that remains completely unexplained as of yet, within the whirly connections of the billions of neurons in the material brain, consciousness arises. This is the most prevalent view today, called atomism or realism, as presented by science. It leaves very little room for things like God or free will.
There are other explanations of reality. Idealism states that consciousness is primary and that out of this consciousness, may it be God’s or your own, our physical reality arises.
In either view there remains an unexplained gap between consciousness and the physical. Neither view explains the whole story, and there is some kind of hand waving where, as if by magic, the other side pops out.
Science unearthed even more puzzling evidence: If we probe reality at the atomic level, introducing a conscious observer into an experiment can change its very outcome (the so called Schrodinger’s Cat paradox in Quantum Physics). So science can neither fully explain consciousness, nor explain it away.
And then we have these strange experiences as described in the previous article, where altered states of consciousness supposedly manifest physical change in the body. What are we to make of these?
Both sides seem to have their evidence. On one side, clearly the neurotic connections in our brain (“the physical”) do influence our conscious thinking; on the other, if experiences as described above are indeed true, then consciousness can shape the physical, too.
So which side underlies the other? Or is there some yet to be discovered connection? Or are both extremes but two different sides of the same thing? I don’t pretend to have the answers. Personally I find this a most interesting problem to think about – with my consciousness, and my brain made up of billions of tiny atoms. And maybe it stimulates you to probe the very fabric of reality as well. Ultimately, reality remains a mystery, and consciousness an even greater one. And ain’t this great?
“We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”
By Robert Frost
Copyright Hanns-Oskar Porr, 2011