As a dualist, I see the divide in the universe as being one of mind vs matter not matter vs energy or antimatter vs matter or any other readily observable polarity we can examine, measure or imagine.
It’s obvious, mind versus matter, your mind versus the rest of the universe, but what exactly is mind?
What are we really talking about when we discuss terms like ‘mind,’ ‘consciousness,’ or ‘awareness’.
To understand this clearly and properly we need to look at how our minds understand the universe around us and what really happens when we are thinking, feeling or imagining things.
To start simply, let’s look at the obvious boundary between ‘you’ and the rest of the world.
It’s simple, outside your skin is the rest of the universe, inside your skin you will find your internal organs and the stuff that you need to keep your body alive.
Deep down inside all of that, we come to the brain where sits the observer of all things. The deep down inside watcher that sees the world through our eyes and listens to the outside world through our ears.
The watcher is somewhere near the middle of our head, that’s what we tend to think (in the Judeo-Christian West) but in truth, it must be everywhere that our nervous system extends to.
As a simple thought experiment take a moment to imagine how it would feel to be you if instead of having eyes upon your head they were somehow or other fixed at your knees.
How would the world seem to you if your eyes were upon your knees? What if your nose was on your left hand and your ears attached to the right?
How would reality seem to you then? Would it change your perspective that it’s all in your head?
Where would your mind live if your eyes were mounted upon your knees?
What we see and understand as reality is just the continuous input of our sense organs, meeting and clashing in the brain. That’s stage one! Input via senses meeting at the brain!
Stage one is simply the mechanics of reality hitting our senses right there, right now…
Stage two is when something else takes all of that input and creates an experience of reality that meets all of our needs so that we can see colours, touch things, walk about, run away from tigers, and throw spears at other things that we’d like to eat!
It’s not possible to see, feel or touch naked reality, the deep down inside you, the nexus of consciousness that you call ‘I’ or ‘me’ can only play with and understand the mental model of reality that it has created for that precisely that purpose.
To see true reality is an impossible experience. After all radio waves and infrared particles stream from the sun every day, but we do not see them despite the fact that they are functionally the same as the particles that form visible light.
An electromagnetic wave hits your eyes stimulating electrical receptors in the back of it at the retina which in turn send electrical signals to the brain which produce more electrical stimulation deep within the Visual Cortex.
It’s all electricity and excitement to the brain, but our mind takes all of that input and models it into a beautiful sunset or the delightful shimmer of the moonlight across the yawning darkness of a lake at midnight.
There is no such thing as an azure sky, there is only matter, it’s movement and the model presented to your mind that turns it all into a beautiful vista.
Long ago before you were born something in the primitive organism that was the ancestor to us all decided that infrared would be felt as heat and that it had no need of x-rays.
In naked reality, there is no such thing as ‘green’. The universe is just a cloud of excitable atoms that goes on for billions of light years and ‘green,’ is just a mental attribute that we use to describe one part of our mental model that we might experience as a rolling field or a beautiful tree.
That’s what the brain does. All of those clashing and chaotic electrical inputs and various stimulations become a model of reality and a vehicle of expression for something else. That something else is your mind which in turn is the vehicle of sensation and expression of another ‘something else,’ namely the awareness of self that sits somewhere near the middle of your sense of ‘I’ within the universe.
The brain is the sense organ of your mind, which itself is the sense organ of your awareness. That awareness is the deep down inside ‘you’ that exists.
We have already illustrated that you are not your brain, how can you be? all the brain can offer is biomechanics, the firing of neurones and the sloshing of chemicals.
It’s certainly interesting and worthy of study but only in the same way that a liver or a kidney is worth studying in order to understand it’s functions.
So ‘you’ are not your mind. Thoughts and feelings are just things that happen to you as they occur. They often inform and guide your mood with no real choice as to when they’ll come or how they will feel.
‘You,’ are not your thoughts. Thoughts arise instantly and are fully formed in the mind as they appear. You can’t tell when your next thought will come or what it’s content will actually be. You might hear your thoughts as a disembodied voice in your head or you might see pictures when you think of things but something else is listening to those words and enjoying those pictures.
That something else is you. The deep down inside you that really exists. Pure awareness!
It’s like watching television or a movie at the cinema you cast your eyes upon the screen and the pictures are fully formed and instantaneous. Complete in every way as they are broadcasted or projected. That’s thinking for you!
Yes, you can consciously choose to think about things and to enjoy feelings such as when you relive old pleasant memories or even unpleasant ones but for the most part, the mind runs on autopilot and each thought, feeling or mental sensation will come unbidden.
So you are not your thoughts or feelings as these are only things that are experienced by your awareness.
Thoughts and feelings belong to the mind, this is not to say that they can’t be shaped by or affected by the body as neither mind nor matter is superior to one another. It goes both ways. Mind finds expression through matter and material states influence the mind.
You can’t have one without the other. Mind and matter are essential to the continued experience of life.
So what is the mind exactly and where does it arise, given that we now know that we have physical brains, yet non-physical mind, both of which ultimately feed into a personal awareness of self?
Materialists take the view that consciousness in all of its forms arises as a product of the central nervous system that somehow or other the sloshing around of chemicals and neurotransmitters in the brain is consciousness.
There is a problem with this argument though and that is anything else that sloshes around or moves must also be conscious at least in a rudimentary form. This means that the ocean and the rivers are all conscious as is the sky which never stops moving.
If you bang a drum it’s conscious when you hit it. As is the planet’s atmosphere when the sound wave of the beating drum passes through it.
You never know the materialists might be on to something! It seems that they might be unwittingly turning into mystics if they take the view that consciousness is simply the moving of chemicals in the brain and the opening and closing of firing neurones.
If it moves it must, therefore, be conscious…
It’s easy to refute the above and I include it only to show how weak the mechanical argument is for the ‘hard question of consciousness,’ a satisfactory answer to which has eluded many all philosophers or scientists for the entire length of human civilisation.
The Dualist position is that the consciousness comes from somewhere else and that the brain is a bit like a radio transmitter and receiver broadcasting on a frequency that your own particular awareness is listening to.
If you could change frequency then you’d be someone else…
Both dualists and non-dualists have no choice but to agree that should you damage the brain or the nervous system then the mind will not be able to express itself as readily as before or in some cases not at all, resulting in a very poor experience for the awareness that tuned into this particular broadcast.
My personal preference is that mind and matter are expressions of the same fundamental thing. Like two sides of a coin. The head side of the coin can equate to matter and tails can equate to mind.
You are nothing!
It’s like this you need both mind and matter to experience anything. It’s not possible to have an experience of ‘nothing’. Nothing is so difficult a concept that we can’t even imagine it.
When most people are asked to think of an experience of ‘nothing,’ they immediately think of themselves suspended in a void of eternal blackness going on for all time, despite the fact that eternity, blackness and time are all ‘something’. True nothingness is an unimaginable state that doesn’t include any of these things.
Nothing is the absence of everything, not a single sensation is allowed in true nothingness which as we know cannot exist because the universe is full of ‘something,’ which itself is the opposite of ‘nothing.’
Some people might agree that this is all well and good whilst you are still alive, but isn’t death the ultimate nothingness. Well, the answer is ‘not really’. I’ll explain why in a moment but for the time being we need to look at existence in the simplest way possible.
For something to exist it must have matter and it must have a mental observer. Unobserved matter cannot exist.
I have a cup on my desk, it’s an interesting arrangement of atoms that keeps my tea in one convenient location. When I leave the room the cup can only exist as a memory as such rudimentary matter as this can only exist when it is being observed.
I am not claiming that the matter vanishes when I leave the room or when it’s out of sight. I am only claiming that it cannot exist until I come back into the room and take another swig of tea.
Matter that is beyond the senses of any observer is in a state of non-existence because for something to exist it must occupy a place in our mental model of the universe.
Building on this premise, I’m sure that you’ll all have had the experience of some friend giving you a small gift like a keyring or other such trinket that whilst it was nice and thoughtful you soon forget about it. It’s lost in a drawer or a cupboard and completely forgotten about for years as it’s disappeared from sight and memory.
Years later whilst having a ‘clear out,’ you come across the trinket and suddenly upon mental recognition of the item, it all comes flooding back. You’d had no idea that you even owned this thing but here it is again.
Whilst it was lost and forgotten it had no existence as soon as it was recognised or encountered by the mind it suddenly had existence, history and memory.
Going one step further let’s consider all of the matter that we cannot see beyond our solar system. Until we can see it through a telescope or send a robot probe to extend our senses to it it cannot exist.
I stress again that I am not claiming that the material isn’t there, I am only claiming that objects, whether big or small cannot exist until the senses project them onto the mind for the enjoyment of our awareness.
If matter cannot be observed by your awareness via the mind then it is in a state of non-existence, similarly, if mind did not exist then all experience is impossible.
So where does that leave us?
Our minds sense reality all around us. If all of the matter that makes up the greater universe were to suddenly disappear then our minds would be left with nothing to experience which is the exactly the same as non-existence.
The mind might exist but without the ability to sense anything then it is at best asleep, and at worst completely dead.
Conversely, a universe of total mind would be in exactly the same state as a universe of total matter and no mind. The result would be the same. If there is nothing to experience then there is no awareness, no life to be examined. No existence.
Matter and mind need each other. The mind needs matter to observe and matter needs a mind to be observed, one without the other is exactly the same as non-existence for both.
What about mind without a body, isn’t that non-existence you may well ask?
Well, probably, it goes to show that all other realities whatever they may be such as other dimensions, parallel universes or spiritual places must be made of matter.
If these places exist then you must have a mind as matter cannot observe itself.
Please note I am not making any claims to the reality of these other places which I leave to quantum physicists and theologians to resolve as they please.
I am only illustrating the fact that to exist anywhere at all, even outside of this universe you must have matter and you must have it’s opposite property namely mind.
I exist therefore I am!
In the absence of matter, there can be no sensory input, meaning that the mind cannot make a model of reality which would, in turn, result in the observing mind having an experience of ‘nothing’ which is exactly the same as non-existence.
This tells you that the meaning of life is simply to keep on existing, any other claims are absurd!
To recap we have discussed how it is not possible for you to have a direct experience of ‘nothing’ and that if it were possible it would be the same as non-existence.
A state of nothingness cannot exist, that the divide, in reality, is one of Mind Vs Matter and that the relationship between mind and matter is complementary, not adversarial and that items or arrangements of matter are mental constructions within the mind that have no independent existence when they are not being observed.
This is exactly the same thing as saying ‘Existence precedes essence,’ the most famous example being that the essence of a hammer is that it can be used to hit things.
Dualists will go on step further with this and say that the hammer is only a hammer when it is being used to hit something, when it is discarded out of sight it’s just empty matter devoid of all purpose, identity and memory having no mental attributes and that this state is non-existence.
This further means that awareness or consciousness on its own without matter to experience is ‘nothing’ in the same way that a mirror without anything to reflect is no longer a mirror.
This ultimately means that each and every one of us is in fact ‘nothing’ doing something. That when we strip away the sensations of our physical being, the collective inputs of our thoughts and feelings that we’ve previously discussed are just things that happen to us, then the experience of consciousness is simply one of watchful, passive awareness that disappears into nothingness when there is nothing to experience such as when you fall asleep, die or find yourself disembodied and floating in a parallel universe of no matter and no sensation.
In the absence of sensation, the awareness has no choice but to disappear, which is why you are nothing doing something…
Part 2 Coming soon!