After decades of ignoring the whole issue of consciousness, recent years have seen a boom, or at least a boom, of scientific interest. So it wasn’t quite a breakthrough when a recent issue of New Scientist devoted his cover article to consciousness, asking “the ten greatest questions about the greatest mystery in the universe.”
The headline is meant to be provocative, but the vast majority of scientists will not be interested in consciousness, and their indifference can be easily explained. When conducting an experiment in the lab, the air in the room is irrelevant (unless you’re experimenting on air). Likewise, consciousness is just as irrelevant. Like air, it’s necessary, but it doesn’t matter. Air and consciousness are just a given.
Ironically, this layoff actually contains the answer to all ten questions asked. Let me first discuss the ten questions, which need not be discussed in detail, as one answer applies to all ten.
1. What is consciousness?
2. Does consciousness create reality?
3. Is the Universe Conscious?
4. When did consciousness arise?
5. What is consciousness for?
6. Can we see consciousness in the brain?
7. Can we know if a machine is conscious?
8. How many states of consciousness does man have?
9. Can Physics Explain Consciousness?
10. What is consciousness like in other animals?
You can pick up on a lot just by going through these questions. First, it was very helpful to ignore awareness because once you look at it, countless questions arise. Second, consciousness is like the mythical Hydra – answer one question and two more will appear. What if the questions are actually endless? That’s a real possibility, and it’s already creating a sinking feeling among physicists trying to explain the universe. Multidimensions have turned into infinite dimensions, and one universe has turned into a multiverse so large (in theory) that it is infinite for all practical purposes.
But all these problems are red herring. The ten questions about consciousness can be broken down into one question, which isn’t even on the list. Can we explain consciousness at all? A fish cannot know that water is wet because its environment is made up of water. Flying fish would have a chance to become gurus as they jump out of the water and can experience dehydration. They have something to contrast with wetness. But people cannot jump out of consciousness to experience contrast.
As long as we are awake, consciousness is the ocean we swim in (sleep, by the way, is not the opposite of consciousness, as adept yogis can remain conscious during deep sleep). We have no escape route beyond consciousness. Stepping out of consciousness would be like stepping out of existence. All ten questions asked by New Scientist treat consciousness as a thing, as a quark. One thing is outside of yourself. You can see it from every angle. It would be great for science if consciousness could be treated like a quark, but that’s not possible. Consciousness is not outside of you, and you are not outside of consciousness.
This is what the ancient Egyptian symbol of the snake biting its tail was supposed to show: consciousness is continuous and whole. When dealing with anything in the universe, you use consciousness to look at itself. In that light, let’s answer the ten questions. Any answer, it turns out, will be a variation of one answer: Consciousness is the same as existence.
1. Does consciousness create reality?
2. Is the Universe Conscious?
No, the universe is an experience in consciousness.
3. When did consciousness arise?
It hasn’t evolved. Consciousness has no cause, so it is timeless.
4. What is consciousness for?
In humans it is for the infinite journeys we undertake in consciousness – what else could it be for?
5. Can we see consciousness in the brain?
No, you can only see brain activity, which is an experience in consciousness. The brain itself is an experience in consciousness.
6. Can we know if a machine is conscious?
Yes. If a machine is hungry, has sexual experiences, suffers from insomnia and worries about existential dilemmas, then it is aware. Anything less is an imitation. 7. How many states of consciousness does man have?
One. All other numbers are mental constructs.
8. Can Physics Explain Consciousness?
New. Consciousness explains physics.
9. What is consciousness like in other animals?
It is their fundamental experience, just like ours.
These questions hit the mark once you accept that consciousness creates, rules, and controls reality. It’s not like a drop of water. It is not a quality like the wetness of water. It creates new appearances without changing in any way, just as ice, current and water vapor are appearances that do not change the H2O molecule.
A holistic view of consciousness solves all the existing questions that science has asked or will ever ask, but there is a catch. People experience applied consciousness, not pure consciousness. We are absolute masters at creating words, ideas, models, societies, technology – the creative uses of consciousness are endless. But whatever the mind invents and creates, it cannot invent or create consciousness itself. Such a task would be like asking fish to create the ocean. Pisces cannot create the thing that created them. A whirlpool cannot make water. The same goes for the human brain. Because it is the creation of consciousness, it cannot create consciousness.
The snake biting its tail solves the consciousness problem, but you have to look closely at it and let its meaning sink in. The serpent biting its tail, symbolically points to something that has no beginning or end, is immune to death, stretches infinitely in all directions, and gives man access to a field of infinite possibilities. If you let this sink in, don’t be surprised if you suddenly become awestruck and amazed.
DEEPAK CHOPRA™ MD, FACP, founder of Chopra Foundation, a nonprofit organization for research on wellbeing and humanitarianism, and Chopra WorldwideA modern health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a clinical professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego and a senior scientist at Gallup Organization. He is the author of more than 89 books translated into more than forty-three languages, including numerous, New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book, Metahuman: Unleash Your Infinite Potential, unlock the secrets of going beyond our current limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. For the past thirty years Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution and his next book, Total Meditation (Harmony Books) will help to reach new dimensions of stress-free living and joyful living. Time magazine has Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.”
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