A frustrating but still amusing hobby is watching scientists who are bound by a “fundamental dogma” of atheistic materialism continue to stumble toward a consciousness-based understanding of reality… by exhausting every other possible theory. Some readers of this blog have reproached me for being too hard on mainstream science. How is it possible that universities in the twenty-first century still are enforcing something so inane as a fundamental dogma about anything?
It is, sadly, all too possible. Watch a brilliant professor who is on the cusp of actually discovering how consciousness interacts with the brain take on a deer-in-the-headlights look when someone suggests to him that his theory of reality is rather close to one that was first advanced by an eighteenth-century bishop.
Donald D. Hoffman Ph.D. is a Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California, Irvine. His TED Talk on the fact that we are not perceiving an accurate and objective reality is simple and enlightening, and I urge you to watch it all; but if your time is short, I’ll summarize what for our purposes are the important parts and then urge you to watch the last few minutes.
Dr. Hoffman begins by asking, “What is the relationship between your brain and your conscious experiences?” He believes that the reason this problem has so far proven to be insoluble is not that its solution is beyond our capability. He suggests instead that we can’t solve what scientists call the “hard problem” of consciousness simply because we have made an incorrect assumption. We have assumed that we are perceiving reality accurately.
Dr. Hoffman has done simulations based on the theory of evolution, and has found that evolution does not favor our seeing an accurate objective reality. He tells us that one-third of our brain’s cortex is engaged in vision, which is an astonishing fact all by itself when you consider all the other functions that traditional scientists ascribe to the brain. But “Is it true that accurate perceptions are fitter perceptions”? “Does natural selection favor seeing reality as it is?” Dr. Hoffman reminds us that fitness, and not objective perception, is the key to our evolutionary survival. He has run hundreds of thousands of evolutionary game simulations, and he has discovered that accuracy of perception of an organism’s surroundings seems to be beside the point: nearly always it is fitness alone that is most evolutionarily successful. We are the product of our evolution, so he concludes that we – like all other animals – are not perceiving reality as it objectively is.
So calculations based in the theory of evolution reveal that “Perception is not like reality, and reality is not like our perceptions.” “There is something that exists when we don’t look, but it’s not space-time and physical objects.” “That reality – whatever it is – is the real source of cause and effect in the world. Not brains or neurons. Brains and neurons have no causal powers.” “What does this mean for the mystery of consciousness?”
Now we come to his point, and it’s a wonderful one. “Perhaps reality is some vast interacting network of conscious agents, simple and complex, that cause each other’s conscious experiences.” This is an insight very close to what we have learned about reality from the afterlife evidence, which is simply that all that exists is infinitely creative Mind, and each of our minds is a part of that Mind. Eureka!
Or… maybe not. As you will shortly see, there are places where this earnest fellow feels that he cannot go, even though he is touchingly enthusiastic about his liberating insight. “Once we let go of our massively intuitive, but massively false assumption about the nature of reality, it opens up new ways to think about life’s greatest mystery.” “I bet that reality will turn out to be more fascinating and unexpected than we ever imagined!”
Then at the end of Dr. Hoffman’s talk, he is asked whether his work doesn’t support the work of Bishop George Berkeley (12 March 1685 – 14 January 1753), who supposed that consciousness causes matter and not the other way around. The question comes just after 21:00 on the clip linked above, and I urge you to watch it so you can see the horror with which this heretofore confident and cheerful scientist greets this dread suggestion. Dr. Hoffman fumbles that Bishop Berkeley was a “deist” while the look on his face says, No! Can’t go there! The theory that consciousness does not arise in the brain is something close to a third rail of science: you touch it, and your career dies. So Dr. Hoffman recovers with the statement that what he is talking about here is “conscious realism – quite a different approach.” Although why it is different is a puzzler to me.
Dr. Hoffman is a brilliant and thoughtful research scientist. And what he is working on is close to the same insight – but arrived at from a different direction – that was advanced by Max Planck, who was the father of quantum mechanics. In 1931 Dr. Planck said, ”I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
He said in 1944, “As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”
Consciousness is the water in which we swim like fish, so immersed in it that we know no other reality. The evidence that it does not and could not arise from a material brain is so manifold at this point that the fact that serious scientists stuck with the foolish dogma of atheistic materialism still waste their time trying to figure out how consciousness arises in the brain makes me sad. What a waste of time and talent! We can take heart, though, from the work of pioneering researchers like Donald Hoffman, whose curiosity is such that no amount of peer-pressure bullying will entirely silence them. Dr. Hoffman is right. And he will win.