Maybe there is something wrong with me. Maybe it’s some unclassified aphasia that makes me take stupid questions seriously.
What IS? Now that’s a stupid one. Obviously it’s the hot dog I just bought from the truck. It’s the construction of a new building on the corner of 14th Street and Sixth Avenue. It’s the wrinkled old lady sitting on the curb gumming her food. People and things in motion.
It’s also my thoughts. I see and hear everything around me and I immediately identify them in my mind. But the hot dog cannot be just a thought. I eat it, and it slowly becomes part of my body, I think. (I can feel it travelling through my digestive system, but that’s about it)
Therefore, what is, is the collection of all the objects, forces, transformations, people and movements that we encounter during our sojourn on earth. Materialism cannot be baloney, it’s what we experience. A material universe must be all that is.
Our thoughts? Even though I can eat a hot dog, my idea of a hot dog is surely something I can’t taste or touch. But where do my ideas come from? Well, I experienced hot dogs when I was a small child. My brain stored that experience, and I can recall it at will. Just like a computer, a human biocomputer.
So why then should anyone bother with the question “What IS?” at any age, since the answer is so obvious? Our success as a species arose from our serious investigations of the physical world around us. The result is that we have conquered nature to a great degree. This conquest, therefore, confirms the material nature of the universe.
Or has it?
For instance, mathematics is the key ingredient of modern natural science, which studies the apparently physical external world. Mathematics, however, is pure thought. Non-physical ideas. There is no zero, or “=”, or infinity among natural objects. They are all imposed from pure thought.
What about the physical brain being the only source of thought? Dr. Eben Alexander reports that when his brain was being destroyed by meningitis, and he lapsed into a coma, he experienced a more vivid reality than this one. He came out of the experience convinced that consciousness was the core essence of the universe. Think about this. As his brain shut down, not only did he continue to experience reality, but a more vivid reality. How is that possible if we assume that the physical brain generates thought?
Bernardo Kastrup, computer scientist turned philosopher, has come to the conclusion that materialism is baloney. One of his reasons is that the more physicists have zeroed in on the basic building blocks of matter, the more impossible it seems that they could generate consciousness. That is, if these tiny particles are nothing but spin, velocity, mass, and charge, then there is no way we can extrapolate from these properties the one thing that we know is absolutely real: our consciousness.
What IS? If matter cannot generate consciousness, could it be that consciousness generates matter? Could it be that consciousness is all that is?
How could a single, unified consciousness account for the power, the vastness, and the complexity on display in the visible universe?
We therefore need to answer a fundamental question: If consciousness alone is real, and which is essentially my inner experience, how is it possible that seem to share a common, physical, and external world of vast power and extent?
The testimony of human beings throughout the ages from Abraham and Lao-Tzu, from Moses to Jesus, Mohammed, and Aurobindo, all speak of a Source of this consciousness. They called it YHVH, the Tao, God, Brahman. We could call it the primordial Mind.
There are different theories to explain the journey from primordial Mind to external world. Dr. Alexander writes about “filter theory.” The physical brain acts as a reducing valve that acts as a filter that allows only restricted perceptions of the One Mind.
Bernardo Kastrup, in his recent work on Decoding Schopenhauer’s Metaphysics, suggests that Dissociative Identity Disorder gives us a clue as to how individual personalities can emerge from a single mind. The disorder was once called multiple personality disorder because several distinct personalities existed within a single physical body. These personalities were generally unknown to each other.
So how can that explain the fact that I see many people definitely distinct from me when I walk down the street?
Kastrup reminds us that since the One Mind is the only existing thing, the analogy would be more appropriate if we consider the dream life of a patient with a DID diagnosis. The different personalities should interact in their dream life, just as we seem to interact with other people in our ordinary life. Indeed there is evidence that that seems to be what happens.
My own thinking on this is that the descent of the One Mind into the apparent diversity of the external world is in line with many spiritual traditions that call it a Fall. The original unity is erased from our consciousness through a process of forgetting. Dr. Alexander calls it the Supreme Illusion. Many traditions speak of an unfolding process. The creation stories, the Gnostics, the Neoplatonists, the Vedas all speak of it .
I believe our unconscious memory of our original unity is the source of our need to seek out the eternal golden braid of goodness, truth and beauty, the need to ask dumb questions.
We have descended from the One, and we struggle inch by inch to go back.