Now I a fourfold vision see/And a fourfold vision is given to me (William Blake)
Belief in the doctrine of many minds is a central feature of western culture. The doctrine of many minds states that my mind is separate from yours and independent of the physical universe. If we believe in God, then the doctrine says we are separate from Him. This is belief in separate islands of consciousness and is a doctrine that finds support in the tenets of materialism as well as in various western theologies.
While ‘many minds’ represents the established view of contemporary psychology, science, and religion we can ask if this doctrine is true. In other words, is there any evidence, scientific or otherwise to indicate that every person has a separate and solo mind? It may be a surprise to many to learn that there is no evidence – scientific or otherwise – to support this doctrine. Rather, all the evidence contradicts this belief and suggests instead that there is only one mind or consciousness in the universe.
In his book, What is Life the physicist and Nobel Laureate, Erwin Schrödinger writes that ‘consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown’ (Schrödinger, 1993, 89). He also refers to the arithmetical paradox of the one mind. Schrödinger suggests that the real world around us springs from the one source, which he calls the arithmetical paradox, that is, the paradox of how the many are one. This is the paradox of the many conscious minds ‘from whose mental experiences the one world is concocted’ (Schrödinger, 1993, 128).
In What is Life Schrödinger argues that while there appears to be a plurality of minds, with each one belonging to an individual person, this is untrue. The actual situation is that there is a unification of all minds in one consciousness. Schrödinger cites to the Upanishads as an ancient source of this wisdom and the Islamic mystic Aziz Nasafi. In addition he directs our attention to Aldous Huxley’s volume The Perennial Philosophy and says about Huxley’s book that if you open it anywhere you are struck by the miraculous agreement on one consciousness ‘between humans of different race, different religion, knowing nothing about each other’s existence, separated by centuries and millennia, and by the greatest distances there are on our globe’ (Schrödinger, 1993, 129).
Schrödinger does not, however, rely wholly upon religious statements for his case but argues that the principle of one consciousness is supported by the ‘empirical fact that consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular’ (Schrödinger, 1993, 130). He goes on to pose the question of how the doctrine of many minds arose in the first place and then answers it by saying that the plurality of similar bodies is very suggestive of a plurality of minds. The fallacy of many minds arises then when we associate mind with body in common materialistic patterns of identification.
One way to understand Schrödinger’s arithmetical paradox (of many minds being one) is through the analogy of the hologram. The example of a hologram can act as an explanatory image that may help us understand how each individual mind is different from others, yet at the same time is an integrated part of the fabric of a universal consciousness.
A hologram is a three-dimensional image that is imprinted onto a photographic plate. When a laser beam illuminates the plate it reveals a three-dimensional image that is almost identical to the original object. When a small region of the plate is cut off and is illuminated again by a laser beam, what we see is not a piece of the image but the whole image in a diluted form. This is extraordinary for it means that the whole of the three-dimensional image has been recorded in every part of the plate.
The complex structure of a hologram creates the exchange relationship of part-to-whole and whole-to-part that gives the hologram its undivided interconnectedness or wholeness. This is an excellent model of how what seems to be a multiplicity of separate minds are actually always unified by their underlying holographic interconnection. The theoretical physicist, David Bohm (1917 – 1992) thought that the entire universe operated like a hologram. Yet because he wanted to convey the dynamic and ever active nature of the enfolding and unfolding that creates the universe, Bohm preferred to describe the universe not as a hologram, but as a “holomovement” (Talbot, M 1991, 47).
The implications of a holographic model of consciousness suggest that the human mind is not caused by the physical brain, but instead the brain represents the secondary manifestations of those mental characteristics that Sir Arthur Eddington (1892-1944) suggested already exist within the whole universe. “The stuff of the world is mind-stuff. . . The mind-stuff of the world is, of course, something more general than our individual conscious minds” (Wilber, 1994, 180).
Something like this has to be the case if consciousness is holographic and singular. The ‘mind stuff’ of the universe should be discoverable within particles as ‘intelligence’ and such mental conditions would have to extend to include our intelligence, involving sight, insight, realization, intuition and awareness. This integrated and holographic model of consciousness implies an animated interconnected universal field of intelligent consciousness. From this holographic perspective the multiplicity of different human minds represents a diversity of prisms through which the larger (whole) shines.
The holographic model of consciousness contains within it the integrating principle of unity within diversity. For example, the diversity of many minds is unified by the underlying universal consciousness from which these minds have arisen. In relation to how we construct or understand mind, the principle of unity within diversity has been commonly treated in four ways: i) unity is over-valued and diversity ignored; ii) unity and diversity are separated; iii) diversity is over-valued while unity is ignored; and iv) unity and diversity are integrated as in a hologram.
The first treatment, where unity is over-valued and diversity ignored, is where we find patterns of identification that create the self-interest of our desires and ego. The second response, where diversity and unity are separated, is exemplified in the area of social interaction as them/us reactions. These are common tribal or group responses towards a foreign other. The third treatment, where diversity is over-valued and unity ignored, represents the secular, logical, mechanical and materialistic standpoint. Here a diversity of minds is seen to have arisen from a diversity of bodies, specifically from brains. For different reasons each of these three treatments supports the doctrine of many minds. Only in the final and fourth interpretation of this dialectic do we find the integration of many minds within the one universal consciousness. I have more to say about the four features of this holographic principle later.
A recent publication that reiterates and expands on Schrodinger’s view is, One Mind by Larry Dossey. This book cites a range of compelling research studies that provide supportive evidence for the principle of one holographic consciousness.
Are there any direct results from contemporary scientific experiments that support the holographic model of consciousness? Some features of quantum mechanics, such as entanglement and non-local connections do add weight to the proposition of one consciousness. However, even though both of these have been experimentally verified and accepted as properties of nature their meaning is still in contention. Perhaps the most interesting contemporary work is the experiments carried out by the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) program. Robert Jahn, then Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science first established this thirty-year program in 1979. In Consciousness and the Source of Reality: the PEAR Odyssey, (2011) Robert Jahn and Brenda Dunne record these experiments and their results.
Over the years this unique program has involved a wide assortment of experiments in human/machine interactions that have consistently demonstrated the ability of human operators to affect the performance of machines in line with their intentions and/or resonance with the machines. By resonance Jahn and Dunne mean some kind of emotional bond between the operator and the machine. The authors go on to tell us that these affects take place within a general field of consciousness involving both the operator and the machine. Mainstream scientists call these results ‘anomalous’. Yet the results of these many experiments point to the conclusion that consciousness is a field phenomenon that involves both human subjects as well as mechanical objects such as machine. This point takes us to the second principle.
The second feature of one consciousness is the implication that there is no point, space or time within the universe that is free from or devoid of consciousness. When Eddington said, ‘the substratum of everything is of a mental character’ (Wilber, K 1994, 187) he was saying that there is no part or whole of the physical, objective universe that is independent of consciousness. Eddington went on to say, ‘mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience, and all else is remote interference – inference either intuitive or deliberate.’ In other words, the experience of consciousness comes first in every circumstance and is always present in every situation.
The implications of this holism mean that consciousness is not a local and relative phenomenon. Unlike the sea it does not come in and go out with the tide, and in contrast to the air we breathe we cannot suffocate or die from a lack of it. The implication of this holism says that nowhere in the universe is there no consciousness. It will therefore be present everywhere, and all of the time. When you go to sleep consciousness remains. When your body is anesthetised, consciousness continues as the substratum of your waking mind. When your body dies, consciousness does not end because it does not have a beginning or end, rather it simply transforms. When the temperature on the sun reaches fifteen million degrees centigrade this heat will not exclude consciousness. And when the temperature drops to absolute zero at minus 273.15 degrees Celsius there is evidence of a self-generating field of intelligence. The holism of one consciousness means that every object and event in the universe, whether particle, cell, person or galaxy floats like a porous sponge in this background field of animating intelligence.
Also implicit in this holism is the conviction that consciousness cannot be cut by a scalpel, or shot by bullets, or pierced by arrows; it cannot be wet by water, burnt by a fire or affected by heat or radiation. Rather, it is beyond all these physical, causal everyday events, and as such it is also beyond the reference frames of time and space. Hence, it rests in the realm of a-causal connections that are everlasting and infinite and function as the foundations of eternity; beyond all change. From this position we can say that the absolute of one consciousness represents the background mnemonic resonance in which all mental and physical events occur.
This view is often called ‘panpsychism’, the doctrine that there is an inner intelligence in all beings, including animals and plants, that extends to include the particles of inorganic matter. This is not a new idea as most people in the world once believed it. From the holographic viewpoint panpsychism entails our common understanding of the three-dimensional reality of space. This reality is first and foremost the result of our visual system and as such, it is a feature of our consciousness. In addition, the concept of higher dimensions of space is now routinely accepted in physics. These higher dimensions are measured mathematically, and as mathematics is a language and language is a feature of consciousness we can agree with Eddington that ‘the substratum of everything is of a mental character’.
The principle that there is no outside to consciousness is compatible with the view that there exists an a-causal, infinite network of interconnections throughout the universe. Universal interconnection is also not a new idea for it is there within the Taoist idea of The Way, as well as early Greek thought about the nature of the cosmos. More recently the theoretical physicists David Bohm and Basil Hiley refer to this kind of interconnection in their book, The Undivided Universe (1995). Infinite interconnection means everything is interconnected all the time and there is no outside this holistic system. For example, the brain exists within the interconnections of consciousness and not the other way around.
The principle of ‘no outside of consciousness’ also means that life and death are not an oppositional pair where life in a body is valued more highly than the opposite, i. e., death – life without a body. A broad holistic perspective carries the conviction that consciousness is continuously present in both states and that death of the body brings about a transformation of mind.
The politics of one consciousness with no outside challenges those who believe that physics, chemistry, biology, neuroscience and mathematics are areas of study that should not include elements of mind. As most of the arguments against one consciousness are binary and oppositional these arguments begin by setting up oppositional positions such as the difference between subject and object, or between mind and matter. Schrödinger wrote that the dualism of object and subject is fallacious – subject and object are one. He went on to say, ‘The material world has only been constructed at the price of taking the self, that is, mind, out of it’ (Schrödinger, 1993, 119). Then he went further by suggesting that mind has erected the objective outside world out of its own stuff (Schrödinger, 1993, 121). This is a radical position but I would go further and suggest that the ‘stuff’ of consciousness is best explained through an analysis of meaning.
The alternative to one universal holographic consciousness is the doctrine of many minds. This is an old philosophy that has developed some contemporary expressions. One of these involves the scientific dogma of local realism. Local realism is the doctrine that physical objects only have innate causal properties that exist locally, that is, in a particular time and space. The different properties of objects can be measured but the measurements are regarded as independent of the actual objects. The ancient western religious acceptance that there exists a multiplicity of separate minds was the belief that prepared the ground for the local realism of science, which in turn has reinforced the doctrine of many minds. Thus we humans are seen to have separate minds because each body exists within specific differences of space and time, and since our brains are assumed to generate minds this means that the mind is local to the particular body it inhabits.
Local realism is the doctrine that has driven mechanical science for several hundred years and anything that violates this doctrine is immediately classified as anomalous or false. This doctrine is one of the reasons why there has been so much controversy over the meaning of the results of quantum physics, and why for example, Einstein called entanglement a ‘spooky action at a distance’. It was spooky because entanglement violates the doctrine of local realism. Entanglement means that a pair or group of particles cohere in their behaviour no matter how far apart they are. Under these circumstances their connection to each other is instantaneous (non-local).
Non-local connections are those that instantaneously connect distant particles faster than light can travel across that distance. Both entanglement and non-local connections violate the doctrine of local realism and yet they are now accepted properties of nature and this conundrum has led over many years to an ongoing debate about how it is possible to fit these anomalies into the old terms of a local realist paradigm. In terms of the holism of one consciousness, the simple answer is that they do not fit the parameters of local realism but mainstream science is currently having great difficulty in giving up or limiting this doctrine to a conditional and relative status.
The current and common acceptance and promotion of the doctrine of many minds has led to a socially alienating creed of individualism, the belief that each person is a private and separate island of consciousness. In the West the doctrine of many minds is accepted largely without question by all disciplines yet on close examination it is a difficult if not impossible proposition to sustain. Under close scrutiny we find that the belief in so-called separate minds of individuals always rests on a ground of unexplained connections. For example, if we humans had separate and private minds we would be unable to communicate with each other since all communication exchanges involve exchanges of a common element: meaning. Meaning, as I will argue, is a holistic and universal resource made available to each of us by its field properties and is not a private assert separately stored.
When we communicate we exchange the common codes of meaning (implicit and explicit meaning) that are inherently available to each one of us whatever our age, culture, skin colour or ethnicity. Hence, we are able to communicate to others across cultures and languages simply because our minds and our communication systems operate within the context of one universal consciousness in which the same universal codes, structures and relationships of meaning apply.
Traditionally, consciousness and mind have been discussed in psychological or rational philosophical terms. It has been my experience that such approaches have severe limitations and are unable to encompass the idea of one consciousness. This view is shared to some extent by the inventor and philosopher Arthur Young (1905 – 1995). In his The Reflective Universe Young wrote of psychologists who were overly influenced by physics and who: ‘dismissing all subtlety of the psyche as ‘metaphysical’, create their image of man as a biological machine which can have no mind that is not brain, and no psyche that is not explicable as chemical activity’ (Young, 1999, xix).
Young was not impressed with biological views of the mind because such views confuse and contaminate the language we use to represent the mental universe. Orthodox psychological explanations often propose that the mind is composed of different and heterogeneous faculties such as cognition, learning, memory, language, thought and perception. Such faculties are differentiated from each other and then analysed in terms of how they interact. This is a research strategy that Jerry Fodor has described as ‘divide and conquer’ (Fodor, 1983, 1).
The problem with all psychological approaches is that they begin by assuming that the mental is a local and private state of subjectivity and that it can be discussed and analysed through its discrete parts (faculties). In contrast to orthodox psychological explanations I would argue that meaning is by far the most useful explanatory tool we have when it comes to modelling the holistic nature of consciousness. As I discuss in Why is there Meaning?, (Forthcoming) this is because meaning has a universal structure built up from relations that have the capacity to interconnect and be self-reflective of the whole. But first I would make a distinction here between meaning and purpose since they are often confused.
The idea that the universe has an inherent purpose is proscribed in mechanical science. This is because the notion of a dead and purposeless universe is the logical outcome of an objective worldview. This is the view of mainstream science that splits the world in two by separating the subject from the object and, in the process, eliminates purpose and meaning from the world of mechanical science.
In contrast, the traditional religious idea of purpose in the universe relates it to the intentions of an external God removed from nature. Thomas Nagel’s ‘natural teleology’ offers a different perspective, an hypothesis that the universe has an internal purpose that creates living from non-living matter. Nagel makes these arguments in his, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian conception of Nature is Almost entirely False (2012) and his concept of purpose is more like an internal logic than the religious understanding of an external God’s intention. However, for both the religious view of God’s intention and Nagel’s ‘natural teleology’ the idea of purpose requires a direction, aim and endpoint or goal.
In Why is there Meaning? I argue that meaning is the organisational context or ordering dynamic that is intrinsic to every level of creation. In this view, purpose represents a feature of meaning; an important generative and intentional feature of the all-pervasive ordering field, which is the field of consciousness but this feature of purpose, is not equivalent to that field. For these reasons I have focused on the structure and relationships of meaning rather than dealing with differing views on the nature of purpose.
One of the benefits of using meaning as an explanatory tool is that it has an intimate connection to consciousness. So close is that connection that we can say that they are not two separate domains of activity, but one. In other words, every feature of meaning is also one of consciousness. Consciousness and meaning represent two sides of the same coin and as a consequence, they enable us to ask questions about meaning and get answers about states of mind.
One of the important consequences of viewing consciousness in terms of meaning relates to the question of the kind of meaning we make. Such a question has far-reaching implications. For example, this question does not engage directly with any specific argument or the truth of any message, text, script or discourse. Take any philosophical argument, the dogma of local realism, or many minds, or the nature of time, or the unity of apperception, or even the inherent value of sacred texts, all such issues with their special local arguments are here relegated to secondary considerations. Questions of content, of the truth of a particular text, are secondary to the umbrella question of how we make meaning. The most fundamental and critical question we can ask is the one that concerns the kind of meaning are we making when we engage in any of these discourses.
This question is often treated as being about interpretation. How we interpret the world may differ according to the time of the day or who we are with, or our age. Thus while each of us may interpret the same situations differently, depending on the context, the act of interpretation itself, whether active or passive, is an act of making meaning. The unity of meaning and consciousness suggests that meaning has the same holographic structure and is based upon the principle of unity within diversity. As with interpretations of mind, there are four interpretative strategies: i) unity is over-valued while differences and diversity are de-valued or ignored; ii) the connections of unity are seen to be separate from differences and diversity; iii) differences are over-valued while the connections of unity are ignored; and iv) a holographic strategy in which unity and diversity are integrated as in the principle of unity within diversity and also within a hologram.
Within these four strategies we make meaning through the discourses we use; with the experiments we conduct, by the texts we read, through the people we engage with and the behaviour we undertake, and by the judgments and opinions we hold. In all manner of activities we make meaning, but the most important question about any activity we undertake is: what kind of meaning are we making? This is the most important question anyone can ask; it is more important than the truth or falsity of a particular statement or text. As there are four strategies for making meaning there are consequently, four possible realities we can inhabit.
Most people do not realize that they have a choice in the making of meaning. Meaning is usually assumed to be like the wind, blowing ill or well but beyond our control. Yet making meaning is something we humans do naturally and well. As adults we take on the dispositions of these interpretative strategies along with their politics, largely through the educational training we receive by way of formal programs but also through informal learning that occurs in our relationships to parents and others in the broader community. But these four dispositions are not fixed; we do not have to go through life stuck in any one of them. Rather, since they are the result of training and of context we can change them through retraining and a change of context.
One of the main consequences of these four ways of making meaning is that we choose the world that is real to us by the meanings we make. To understand how making a particular kind of meaning will create our perception and reality of the world we need to return to the four strategies and see how each carries its own predispositions and its own politics.
The first strategy is when we over-value unity while differences and diversity are de-valued or ignored. The politics that goes with this interpretative strategy relates to a broad choice of activities that center on a narrow view of self-interest. The second interpretative strategy, to separate unity from differences, tends to produce prejudicial social reactions that lack tolerance towards various forms of difference. For example, racial, ethnic, age, gender and sexual preference are common differences that tend to be suppressed or excluded from social institutions or tribal groups that make meaning by a them/us strategy. The third strategy, where diversity and differences are over-valued while the connections of unity are ignored, has a broader secular appeal that focuses on the intellectual, the rational and the symbolic. This third strategy represents the politics of mechanical science where a schizoid world is produced, a world in which the scientist’s mind is deleted from all theory and experiment.
The world we choose through these four strategies centers on: i): ‘me’; ii): ‘the group or tribe’; iii) ‘secular, objective reason and logic’; and iv) ‘post-secular holistic integration’. The first three strategies for making meaning are very different from each other in their discourses and their intent yet they come together in the manner in which they respond to or consider the human mind. Each of these three supports or lays claim to the doctrine of many minds. For example, objective reason says: our brain produces our mind and this brain is distinct and separated from other brains, hence the doctrine of many minds. In relation to the second strategy, the group’s negative reaction to other minds beyond the group does not constitute a theory so much as a supporting response that assumes the existence of many other minds. Finally, the narcissistic strategy of making meaning about ‘me’ establishes a pattern of identification: ‘body as me’ that lays the basis for the doctrine of many minds developed by objective secular reason. Thus while each of these three strategies for making meaning have vastly different discourses each strategy creates a divided world where the separation of its elements constitute its defining characteristic. In relation to mind, this separating predisposition begets the doctrine of many minds. Such a view represents the traditional western social reality constructed, supported and maintained by western religious beliefs as well as by the contemporary tenets and practices of mechanical science.
If we adhere to the mechanical and scientific strategy of making meaning and have faith in material things then the meaning we make will tend to fragment our minds and divide each of us from the other and from a broader unifying context. This strategy assumes a split between the inner and outer worlds and between objects and subjects, yet these separations are not innate but arise out of the kind of meaning we have chosen to make. In other words, the mainstream interpretative practices of mechanical science are simply strategies for creating a split divided and separated world. Thus the scientific image of an independent physical world separate from subjectivity is a socially constructed reality that is the result of a limited form of making meaning. Such a strategy has produces a dead, objective universe that is seen to be devoid of purpose and independent of the private subjectivity of the observing person.
Is this scientific image of the universe real? It is only real if we leave out the effects of meaning making on our assessment. Within the scientific community many people are so wedded to their habitual schizoid method of making meaning that the splits and fragmentations of their partial world appear natural and as a consequence these methods are often celebrated as rational, real and superior to all others. However, the use and creation of a mechanical, objective worldview can only be held in place at the price of what Schrödinger has called the ‘exclusion principle’. Essentially, this is the principle of excluding mind and meaning from scientific discussion and analysis. Such an objective world is a partial one; the world we observe when looking through the end of a water pipe.
Yet not all scientific endeavours contain this disorganizing, schizoid approach. For example, the theoretical physicist, David Bohm suggested, ‘if there is a generalized kind of meaning intrinsic to the universe, including our own bodies and minds, then the way may be opened to understanding the whole as self-referential through its ‘meaning for itself’’. (Bohm, 1994, p. 92) This quotation is entirely consonant with the approach taken here in understanding mind and consciousness by
This brings me to the fourth and final meaning-making strategy that has a focus on post-secular holistic integration and a predisposition to concentrate on relationships, interconnections and the integration of differences. The human responses that are associated with this interpretative strategy are those of empathy. This strategy is post-secular in that it comes after the secular, objective reason of the third strategy. From this strategy comes the principle of unity within diversity and the use of the metaphor of the hologram to describe our relationship to one consciousness. As this strategy is inclusive of all features of meaning, these being, unifying connections that integrate distinct differences, this strategy is a reflection of the actual structure of meaning. Unlike the other three strategies, this inclusive process for making meaning has no weakness or partiality for there are no features of meaning that it ignores, devalues or erases.
The reality of one consciousness presented by this inclusive strategy is theistic. This strategy leads to theistic conclusions not in the terms normally presented by a religious tribe but rather, in post-secular and self-referential terms that foreground meaning, mind and consciousness. All religions have strong tribal elements that promote an exclusive ideal and a single path to God – a God that is usually seen to be separate from the human. Such theism is constructed by the second and tribal strategy for making meaning. It is these substantial tribal elements of religion that secular critics such as Richard Dawkins have so strongly condemned. However, critics like Dawkins are poor at building a platform from which to launch their criticism. The place on which the secularist stand is unstable in its partiality, that is, the strategy used for making their criticism does not take into account the structure, states and relationships of the very meanings these critics make. This significant erasure of the reflective features of meaning creates a space for the partial proofs of atheism to logically emerge.
Thus the post-secular theism that arises from the fourth strategy of making meaning is distinct from the exclusive brands of tribal theism evident in most religions, but it also transcends the secular position of objective reason. Instead of a dead and independent universe it presents one that is participatory and holistic, a universe devoid of splits and separations even between such states as an inner and outer world or between subject and object. The universe presented by the fourth strategy for making meaning is alive, enchanted and intelligent, one that is continually creative while operating on the basis of order and organization, rather than randomness.
In writing this paper on one consciousness I accept I am a holographic participant in this singular universe and that I am predisposed to favour finding connection and interconnection and the meaning I consequently make (hopefully) will be in sync with these values. In the book, Why is there Meaning? I have expanded on all the issues of this paper and have chosen to use a strategy of making meaning that connects our inner and outer worlds while making partners of empirical and spiritual matters. In this holistic endeavor I use the vocabulary of meaning as a way of revealing the network of relationships that show this universe to be unified through the meaningful characteristics of one consciousness.
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