By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP, Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University, P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) Beth Israel Medical Center -- Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York
Reactions to our previous posts in this series are ample proof that Truth with a capital T outrages and offends people. A few comments have come from sputtering atheists. But among some of the critics the main accusation is that consciousness is "outside science." It offers no physical evidence; it cannot be quantified. All of which is true, if you insist on the old materialist or an external physical reality paradigm.
Consciousness is the one thing in creation that isn't a thing in any respect. It has no mass or solidity, no color or texture, no specific place, no specific lifespan, not even the hint of substance - in short, nothing that can be measured. Science is all about making observations and taking measurements to prove theories. It can measure brain waves and the regions that light up on an fMRI. But it cannot measure meaning, beauty, truth, morality, and purpose, not to mention higher experiences of God, the soul, or the afterlife.
These are all created in consciousness. Far from being irrelevant, we believe that they make life worth living. The subjective world gives us the only reality we know, and the activity of measuring reality falls short in the most everyday experiences.
You cannot measure the value of close friends.
You cannot measure why finishing a marathon is a matter of pride.
You cannot measure why love feels eternal - and actually is.
Even if brain scans measure physical correlates of conscious activities (for example, the brain centers that light up when someone falls in love, or the hormones associated with love), we would not be able in the least to explain where they came from or what they really are. As in our previous "radio metaphor", while detailing the engineering of a radio will convey how it produces sound for our ears, it will not explain the nature of that sound because the radio waves that turn into sound are not located in the radio. They propagate in the universe and they get "captured" by the radio. Clever engineering and clever research, but it doesn't explain the creations of Beethoven or Beyoncé or Rush Limbaugh.
So, you have to know that love exists subjectively before you can identify its neurochemical markers. A person incapable of love would see brain regions light up for no reason (although people who feel love could at least give him a label for the activity he is observing). In the end, measurement is secondary (at best) when it comes to knowing where the universe came from and how it came about. By chance? By extreme order? None of the above? That can only be answered by the mind investigating its own origins.
It's a daunting task. Imagine a kettle on the stove furiously boiling away. Could you measure each and every bubble? Yes, if you had the right kind of camera using stop-motion photography. But can boiling water measure its own bubbles? No, because boiling water is always changing; it has no fixed position from which to measure itself.
From the quantum perspective, the same trap has ensnared the human brain inside the skull. It is a boiling kettle of activity, which means that it is both the thing we want to observe and the observer. Science as it is being practiced today depends on separating observer and observed. In fact this is a huge assumption and is based on what the senses seem to be telling us. The thinking mind is the one instance where this cannot be done. Observer and observed are fused. That is why in Eastern spiritual traditions there is a state that precedes thinking, where consciousness is aware of itself. From this quiet state observer and observed emerge together as one.
The result is an origins story like no other, because cause and effect are not a part of it, because there is no before or after. Even the Big Bang may be one event in the process of constant creation, with cause and effect one of its local rules, not a rule that governs reality. Asking what happened before time began defies logic. There was a pre-created state, no doubt, but it wasn't "before" the universe started - rather, in some sense it was "outside" our universe, outside the universe of four-dimensional "space-time continuum". That's another contradiction, since "outside" implies space, and space also supposedly arose with the Big Bang. We are hampered by the inescapable fact that the human brain operates inside time and space. We are like color-blind creatures looking at a rainbow.)
It comes as a great advantage that consciousness doesn't need time, space, or cause and effect. Imagine someone who says, "Every morning I look out the window and the sun has come up. So I must be responsible for creating the Sun." Of course, the statement makes no logical sense. We know that looking at the sunrise doesn't create it. However, at the quantum level the link between observer and observed becomes much more ambiguous as fundamental uncertainty guides quantum events. The classic example has to do with photons, which have a dual personality, acting like either particles or waves. Light only assumes its form as wave or particle when an observer makes a conscious decision to set up a measuring process and actually measures it. In the act of observation, a physicist might say something very like the man looking at a sunrise: "Without me to observe it, it doesn't exist."
This situation already represents a much softer definition of cause and effect from Newton's billiard balls knocking each other about. There is no settled explanation for the observer effect - some physicists deny its existence or question the classic explanation - and it would be immensely helpful to clear up its ambiguity. A consciousness-based universe clears it up immediately by saying that observer and observed co-arise. They only seem to be separate if the human mind decides on such a separation. Feeling that you are in love co-arises with the brain activity that corresponds to love. You can't have one without the other. But if you insist that brain chemistry causes love, you wind up with the same troubling ambiguity that physics faces over photons. Common sense tells us that if someone you're attracted to says, "I love you," there's no doubt that the words caused love to arise as a feeling, taking the brain along. Since our bodies respond to feelings, and of course the inverse, then the brain responds to love.
The quantum version of the universe's origins story has made room already for a pre-created state that is "nothing." This supposition runs into the objection that this "nothing" cannot be verified - after all, it's nothing. What if the pre-created state can't even be thought about? Then science as a system of thought will be forced to accept its built-in limitations. But consciousness isn't stumped. There can be a pre-created state that has the potential to turn into the universe, containing the necessary seeds of creation (i.e., intelligence, creativity, evolution, and self-organization). This accords very well with our own minds, for everyone has a vocabulary stored out of sight. When you want a word, the potential for saying or thinking of that word exists invisibly. Is that potential the source of everything you verbally think or say? Yes. So why not give the universe the same reservoir of possibilities? There's no scientific reason not to. Indeed, if the pre-universe contains mathematics, it would solve the riddle of where math came from, which has baffled the greatest minds for centuries. (The acclaimed British physicist Roger Penrose has even gone back to ancient philosophy and labeled the qualities of the pre-universe "Platonic values", which he claims exist at the Planck level where space-time comes to an end).
Science has been the greatest boon of modern civilization, but at the end of the day, experience is more important. A complete description of how the brain produces the sensation of being in love would be pointless if a supernatural dictator gazed down upon us and eradicated our ability to experience the sensations of love. Without the experience, measurement makes no sense. Now come the "Aha!" moment.
If consciousness pervades the universe, and if consciousness can be aware of itself,
then by looking at itself, consciousness can know the most fundamental aspects of the universe.
Such was the position taken by the Indian rishis who developed the most sophisticated model of consciousness that we possess. In their view though it was not just to see or observe, the most important aspect of consciousness was to experience. The brain can't pause to measure its own thoughts, just as boiling water can't count its own bubbles. But awareness isn't in motion. It's the still point around which the universe turns. The dead end that science has reached by excluding consciousness turns into a limitless opportunity for knowledge once consciousness is allowed back in. In the next post we'll explore what this means for everyday existence. The possibility of achieving greater freedom is hidden within consciousness, and also the return of God in a guise we can place our faith in once more.
(To be cont.)
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation and host of Sages and Scientists Symposium - August 16-18, 2013 at La Costa Resort and Spa.
Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)
P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.
Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)
Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center -- Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com