Tag Archives: consciousness

Panpsychism, could it really be true?

Have you ever wondered how or where consciousness arises? I have and “Pan what?” was my first question when a good friend mentioned to me in conversation that what I was actually describing to him had already been theorised hundreds of years ago. “Phew, I am not the first idiot to think this” was my second thought and then “wait a second it would have been cool to come up with something new” was the third though. After the discussion, I read up on the subject I could not have been more amazed, as the inherent beauty and wisdom slowly sank deeply into my being.

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Panpsychism postulates that consciousness is everywhere and in everything and that this non-local or cosmic wide phenomenon is also without cause. Even stones and elementary particles have consciousness, not just people, bugs, or plants. Even for me, this sounds a little far-fetched until you delve into the subject a bit more. The earliest known references to panpsychism are likely attributed to early religions like Shintoism, Taoism, Paganism, and Shamanism. Even Aristotle is quoted as saying “that everything is full of gods.” Plato argued in his Sophist that all things participate in the form of being and that it must have a psychic aspect of mind and soul. “This world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.” Wow, that is a big idea and not so easy for an individual to wrap his mind around it. That is probably the problem, the idea of panpsychism takes us from the comfort of our strongly held idea of an individual or ego and even the religious idea of a soul or atman to the understanding that not only are all beings one being but that all things are united in a blissful unity or beingness.

This is illustrated in Robert Fludd’s depiction of the world soul. I thought it might illustrate the idea of Panpsychism in an interesting way.

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Panpsychism has some competition it is not the only theory about the origin of mind, the emergence theory has many followers as well. Emergence Theory postulates that consciousness has emerged from some as yet unknown evolutionary chemical process. Philosopher Professor Galen Strawson articulates the relationship between panpsychism and emergence quite acutely: “The issue of emergence of mind is important because it is the mutually exclusive counterpart to Panpsychism: either you are a Panpsychist, or you are an Emergentist. Either mind was present in things from the very beginning, or it appeared (emerged) at some point in the history of evolution. If, however, emergence is inexplicable or is less viable, then one is left with the panpsychist alternative. This line of reasoning … is the (panpsychist) ‘argument from Non-Emergence.”

Interestingly there is no proof anywhere of consciousness or mind emerging from any process but either is there any proof of panpsychism. Panpsychism is, however, in my opinion, far more elegant and takes mind or consciousness a few steps further than the emergence of mind as an evolutionary or materialistic process. Even with a rather superficial level of understanding of panpsychism, one might find some comfort in this theory that we are never alone and connected to everything in every way. However, this may also strike fear into the hearts of those who are so deeply attached to their own individuality or egos. Regardless if one finds comfort or fear lets discover some more of how Panpsychism, Quantum Physics, and Buddhism might be related.

When we analyze subatomic particles, one might say that there is no difference between the protons, quarks, and leptons in my body, and the protons, quarks, and leptons in the desk in front of me except that I am conscious and the desk is not. Or is it, but at a dramatically reduced level? David Bohm theoretical physicist and philosopher said “That which we experience as mind … will, in a natural way, ultimately reach the level of the wave function and of the ‘dance’ of the particles.  There is no unbridgeable gap or barrier between any of these levels. … … in some sense, a rudimentary consciousness is present even at the level of particle physics” So here we can surmise that there is no barrier between me and the desk.

To this day we do not understand where or how consciousness arises and the role the brain plays in its formation if it plays a role at all. It could be just a receiver or radio, receiving information on several channels of perception that we would call our senses. Panpsychism skips this need to discover the relationship between the brain and the rise of conscious awareness completely, its simplicity is simply profound. No matter how shocking or strange panpsychism sounds I am reminded at what Sherlock Holmes said, that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Can science accept this deduction and if not how do we prove that which we have not been able to prove, other than keep trying even though the truth is already in front of us?

Buddhism teaches us that all beings have mind and or what we call Buddha nature, that is the ability to realize one’s full potential. Many teachers, when asked if plants have mind, would deny it and say that simply if it moves like an ant or something then it has mind. As we know plants only sort of move in their relationship to water and sunlight and the various degrees to which they require their nutrients. This could be a very basic version of attraction and aversion. This rather narrow view is on the outset not as encompassing as panpsychism. However, Buddhism requires us to break down any borders or boundaries between us and other things, this even applies to all concepts and ideas so why not to all phenomena as well. At an ultimate understanding of mind, where nothing has any true or independent existence in and of itself, all things would seem to have all the same qualities; conscious and otherwise. I would like to quote David Bohm once more here: “The notion of a separate organism is clearly an abstraction, as is also its boundary. Underlying all this is unbroken wholeness even though our civilization has developed in such a way as to strongly emphasize the separation into parts.” From the Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory

This oneness without separation or boundary is exactly what we are talking about when Buddhists say that subject, object and action come together as one. This is known as the state of Mahamudra or complete and full awareness or consciousness. Once we have reduced this ontologically either in meditation, philosophically, or scientifically all that there is left points to just consciousness or mind and nothing else seems to matter, even matter itself. Imagine that, matter doesn’t matter. In this simple state of just being, connected with everything, and aware of all that there is, a state of great joy and bliss arises. Total freedom of mind, no more running from or reaching for, just complete happiness and wisdom resting in the suchness of everything. Here is where we can be really effective in this confused and angry world. Here is where we can really be the change that we wish to see in the world.

So is consciousness everywhere and in all things? I think so. Its simple beauty is both profound and inspiring, especially to the Buddhist ear. Modern science seems to agree more and more with this conclusion and I can only ask when or will modern society see the light as well? Perhaps Panpsychism is even the solution to the hard problem of consciousness. Which is to question how and why sentient organisms have qualia or phenomenal experiences.
Personally, I think the Buddha Dharma has already answered this question, but that’s a topic for another post. This for me is just another way in which we see that consciousness is the vehicle in which the universe is becoming aware of itself. Why else would it be so beautiful and blissful to experience it either in meditation or by scientific discovery? Let us take this and use it as a tool to better the world and our fellow beings in every imaginable way. Whatever your view is on this topic I would love to hear from you, please feel free to comment below.

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Choose your Own Adventure

More and more every day modern science is coming to terms with what on the outset was an uncomfortable reality. That is that the observer (you and I) play not just an important role in reality or in our universal experience but actually that we are the deciding factor at the centre of it all. I think for the most part modern science has tried to stay an arm’s length away from any of the organised or generally accepted world religions and this is not necessarily a bad thing, while many of the world’s religions seem hellbent on destroying each other and have become so inflexible because of dogma. There is, however, one notable exception the Buddha Dharma. The Buddha Dharma is without a doubt the most peaceful, humanistic, and scientific of all organised religions. Please note that I personally do not subscribe to the fact that Buddhism is a religion, and I object to the suffix of “ism” as well, but common convention begs to differ and I use the term religion here in this light. If science was ever looking for or in need of a partner to explain the world as it is, the Buddha Dharma is up for the challenge. Why do I say that? Certainly not just because I am convinced of that myself, but because a growing number of scientists are also convinced or at least make comments that lean more and more in this direction. This is not an easy thing to do as science tends to push back on individuals who cross the perceived line of separation between science and religion.

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Let’s examine and discuss three quotes that I have found inspiring and relevant to this discussion.

R.C. Henry professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University in a 2005 essay is quoted as saying:

A fundamental conclusion of the new physics also acknowledges that the observer creates the reality. As observers, we are personally involved with the creation of our own reality. Physicists are being forced to admit that the universe is a “mental” construction.

Pioneering physicist Sir James Jeans wrote

“The stream of knowledge is heading toward a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter, we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter. Get over it, and accept the inarguable conclusion. The universe is immaterial-mental and spiritual.

– Eugene Wigner, theoretical physicist and mathematician said:

“It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.”

So how is this relevant to the Buddha Dharma? The underlying theme to these three quotes can be summarized in the following points and the following ideas:

The role of the observer and consciousness in the perceived reality of the universe.
The pointing out or pointing to the idea that Subject and Object are interdependent.
1. The mental processes the observer goes through when perceiving something is described by Buddhist Theory of Perception and is traditionally called the study of the five Skandhas. Skandha is Sanskrit for heap, collection, or grouping. “The five skandhas are form, sensation, perception, activity, consciousness. A form can arise in the mind or outside of the mind. This form gives rise to a sensation, which gives rise to perception, followed by activity (mental or physical), and lastly consciousness. In the Buddha’s explanation, the five skandhas occur one after the other, very rapidly. They are not a continuous stream but rather a series of discrete or discernible moments. A form arises or appears, then there is a sensation, then perception, then activity, then consciousness.” Thank you to Americanbuddhist.net for this description, the full article can be read here. I personally find that the activity phase of this process is the most interesting, it is here where we colour the perceived experience with a combination of all the impressions in our store consciousness and immediately decide if what we perceive is good or bad. This is the very basis of aversion or attraction, this is what keeps us busy our whole lives running to or away from the things we see. Each and every time we perceive something the process of the five skandhas is repeated without stopping over and over again. Each individual instance may be named “a moment of mind or consciousness” and many moments of mind strung together is best described as our “Stream of Consciousness”. Our consciousness directs our awareness from one form or arising to another. We are very clearly caught up in a process of observation, judging or evaluating and then acting on all phenomena that we in one way or another come into contact within the universe.

2. The interdependence of subject and object are central to many philosophical discussions within the different schools of Buddhism. One can summarise the major point here with the age-old question, what came first the chicken or the egg? The answer is rather simple you simply cannot have one without the other therefore it is irrelevant as to what came first when we must have both. So to go a little deeper the thought process goes like this: if we have a universe of objects with no subjects we should have to ask what would be the point of it be? All these wonderful things with nothing to enjoy them. Conclusion, objects without subjects are meaningless. On the flip side, what use is a subjective universe full of subjects with no objects to perceive or enjoy? It simply makes no sense to have one without the other. Consciousness requires something to be conscious “of”. So we have this absolutely amazing universe and we are here to discover and enjoy it.

The only thing missing here is action. What do I mean by that? Well in Buddhism we learn that not only are subject and object inseparable, so are subject, object, and action. Action is important as if there are only subjects and objects and nothing happening well this is just boring. Luckily there is unlimited action in our universe, things never stop moving and changing. Everything is in a constant state of flux as each and every time we interact with something the “Whole of the Universe” is changed as it reacts to our play with it. These are the views held by the Madhyamika school of Buddhist Philosophy.

I firmly believe that we are evidence that the universe is conscious of itself and furthermore, we are constantly creating and choosing our past, present, and our future and we then choose how we see or interpret it as good or bad, in the way the Buddha Dharma has shown us. If you can agree that we are indeed choosing our adventure, lets all consciously decide to choose a positive and joyful adventure for the benefit of all beings.

Niels Bohr and the Buddha “Awareness or Creation”

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“Everything we call real is made up of things that cannot be regarded as real” Niels Bohr. What exactly did Neils Bohr mean here? In modern Quantum Physics, we begin to understand that what we have learned such as particles or atoms to be nothing more than probabilities and potentials. We don’t actually know what an atom looks like or exactly where they are and we likely never will. We guess as to their exact positions and properties with complex mathematical equations and complex experiments some costing billions of dollars. To a Quantum Physicist, the idea of a Ven Diagram showing how oxygen and carbon atoms react is like teaching the Dalai Lama about the Buddhas birth. Quantum Physics has completely changed how modern science looks at the reality in which we think we live. To a Buddhist, this is music to our ears. It sounds very much like the teachings of emptiness. To some, the concept of emptiness is troublesome and it can be hard to wrap your mind around it. It has been described by some very early Christian translations to mean nothingness. This makes us Buddhists sound like nihilists. This was likely done on purpose as to discredit, to falsely portray, or confront Buddhism and further the creation myth by the Church and her missionaries. However, Buddhism is as far from nihilism as Christians are from hell. We define emptiness by saying that all phenomena have no intrinsic or independent existence of their own. To detail this teaching classicly we need to discuss the twelve points of dependent origination. But to make things easy I will simply try to answer that age-old question “if a tree falls in the forest does anyone hear it?” For example, let us take something beautiful like a rose. Does a rose really exist? Another way to ask this is to say does the rose exist independently in and of itself? In Buddhist Philosophy for something to really exist it must be independent of all other phenomena. The answer is no, the rose does not exist independently of anything, it is as we know dependant on sunlight for example. One step further and we see that there is no sunlight without the sun. There is no sun without the sun’s ongoing nuclear reactions and no reactions without Helium and Hydrogen. We see here that rose is empty of independent existence. Or as some might say the rose is an expression of emptiness or empty in nature or essence. We agree with Niels Bohr and we understand the rose to be real but it is not.
Is there another way that we can understand the rose to not exist independently? Yes, if the rose is to be considered to be real and independent it must exist as it does now without changing. It cannot grow, bloom, and we could not even cut one from the plant as it would die and rot away. We know this independence to be false because the rose changes in every moment fully dependent on all the conditions it requires to be as it is. This is also understood as impermanence, as no thing lasts forever.

Now if I stop here I can imagine that some of you might say, “see this is Nihilism no things exist in Buddhism. And you might be right, however, I am reminded of a quote from a famous Buddhist Philosopher Nagarjuna, who said “If you think things are real you are as dumb as a cow, if you think they are not real you are even dumber” If you think trains are not real please do not stand in front of one that’s moving, as you will be suddenly surprised. We know phenomena are there because we can perceive them and be aware of them, they are however dependent on our perception and awareness. The famous double slit experiment is good evidence of this. Our observation imparts a temporary existence to them as we observe them. Just as the waveform collapses into particles that we can perceive as we observe them. They arise, exist, and dissolve back into the space or the field where all information exists as space is information. It would seem that we give phenomena their essence or that our observation is responsible for their creation. When we look around and see the sheer complexity and beauty around us it is clear that life is amazing and so full of potential and joy. We just need to slow down and simply pay attention to it; this is what we learn in meditation. So clearly Buddhists are not nihilists. Now for one to think that the traditional biblical creation myth we talked about earlier as the truth, one needs to assume that all of creation was finished after just 6 days. I firmly understand that it is preposterous and hubris to think anything other than, that creation is continuous and infinite. And when you come this far you might just see yourself as an integral part in all of it.

So the falling tree in the forest is dependent on the sun, the rain, and many other conditions around it not the least of which is us. Without someone to notice it there simply is no meaning or reason for the tree to exist in the first place.

“If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.” Niels’ words here are truly inspiring, I would expand to say this: If Buddhism hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet. The more I learn the more I am shocked by the Buddha Dharma. I am often moved to tears when concepts like emptiness finally begin to sink in and are understood on deeper and deeper levels. I am convinced that Niels Bohr must have understood things in a similar fashion or he would not have said what he said.

QP

Buddhism, Religion or Scientif-ically measurable experience?

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As part of the scientific process, we ask a question, formulate a hypothesis design the experiment and carry it out and measure the result as objectively as possible. It’s the same in meditation. In the sceince of mind, the laboratory of traditional Buddhist meditation we look within ourselves as objectively as we can and observe our mind and inner being while listening for the wisdom and answers that are already there deep within our personal inner universe. We then apply this new found wisdom found in our meditation and look for and measure results in our daily lives we are often surprised to see how wonderfully we have changed and developed during our life experience.

So let’s begin our meditation experiment:
A traditional well thought out Buddhist meditation can be comprised of two main parts. In the first part called shine (shyiné), shamatha, or calming and abiding we find ourselves learning to hold our attention using our body, speech, and mind, in fact, we can use our entire totality here and calmly stay on one point of beautiful focus. When distracted we calmly accept and return without any ado. After sufficient time, we can be flexible here, we relax our calm focus and allow our full being to either become one with the object of the focus or to dissolve the object of the focus from its state of energy and light into wide-open awareness. After a few moments of open suchness, called laktong (lhagthong), insight, or vipassana we gently return to our normal state of awareness and wish that all beings can find a state of equanimity free from attachment and aversion.

So thankfully much of the preparation for the experiment has already been done during the 1000’s of years of yogis meditating and teaching others in the many traditions passed down from teacher to student in the far east. This is an important clue here, as with science every student needs a qualified professor to question and keep one on track, meditation requires a good teacher, one who understands western life and can communicate and direct the student at all points in the process of inner development is indispensable.

Once we understand the process and have our clearly stated hypothesis such as “meditation is a healthy way to increase my quality of life”, we begin. And sit and sit and sit……..

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Are you still sitting?

What are the results? Well, they vary as much as individuals are individual, and while we should not try to grade or evaluate the meditation too much, but generally hindsight of a few weeks to many years shows some profound results. What are the more general results?:
1. Calm and relaxed behaviour.
2. Quiet acceptance of our situation.
3. Stress reduction
4. Space in mind to choose between tragedy or comedy within the challenges in life.
5. Ubiquitous love for all beings.
6. Compassion.

7. Timeless wisdom.

The open laktong, space, or suchness phase of the meditation is where I have many of my best ideas and inspirations. The calm breathing and focusing follows me throughout the day and helps me complete my tasks at hand with love and sometimes creativity as well.

As with any experiment, unexpected results may arise. It is best to chat with your trusted professor or Lama as to how or why the results have occurred. Allow yourself to incorporate their advice into your personal experience and grow. Just like Quantum Physics is not for everyone and you might be better suited for some sort of Biology or Chemical studies, meditation is not for everyone. A good teacher will know if you are in the right place and may recommend yoga or even just mundane like running if meditation is not for you.
There may be challenges and hindrances that arise and a good teacher can guide you through them. One common one is “I just cannot quieten my mind or the hamster never stops running in his wheel” This “condition” is commonly called “monkey brain” and everyone suffers from it especially in the beginning. When we begin to look inside we start to see just how distracted we are all the time it’s not more or less than normal we just notice it for the first time, and it will subside.
It is also worthwhile mentioning that some individuals who suffer from deep depression or any type of psychosis should likely not meditate or do so only under the supervision of their therapist.

Thank you, have an amazing meditative and joyful day

QP

The Mahamudra of Max Plank

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As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clearheaded science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about the atoms this much: There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles 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.

Das Wesen der Materie (The Nature of Matter), a 1944 speech in Florence, Italy.

“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.”

As quoted in The Observer (25 January 1931)

We have been ignoring modern science for more than 100 years now in the struggle against impermanence of all things composite. We glorify everything material and honour those who can amass the most. We could not be moving in a such a completely wrong direction as a species, how could we misunderstand or even ignore such a clear and concise description of the material world, from one of the most preeminent minds ever, as this? What did Max see on his blackboard filled with equations erased and scratched over once again that could lead him to such a profound observation such as this? After his years of study experimentation and research and this is how he sums it all up in the final years before the end of his life by saying consciousness is the root of all there is, there is no thing behind it.

Let us compare his summary to that of another scientist, not a normal scientist but a scientist of the mind, the third Karmapa. Rangjung Dorje born in Tingri Tibet in 1284. He studied mind within the laboratory of meditation. His professors were highly respected monks from a very long tradition of mind exploration dating back more than two thousand years earlier to old India, the birthplace of modern science. Well, we haven’t recognized it as such yet but one day we must, the Greeks as great as their minds were, only recycled what they had learned in the east, and claimed much of it as their own. Anyway, I digress. Karmapa wrote a song of Mahamudra, I put forward two verses for our comparison of these two masters of intellect.

Verse 9: All phenomena are projections of the mind. Mind is not “a” mind; the mind is empty in essence. Although empty, everything constantly arises in it. May precise examination sever mistaken views of the ground.

And

Verse 18: Through the examination of external objects we see the mind, not the objects. Through the examination of the mind we see its empty essence, but not the mind. Through the examination of both, attachment to duality disappears by itself. May the clear light, the true essence of mind, be recognized.

So we can surmise from both Max and the Third Karmapa that everything comes from mind. Max did not say where things go when they cease to exist but today we can logically infer that they must go back to where they have come from, as the Karmapa said.

Don’t you find this comparison interesting, from two totally different times and sources that are saying almost the same thing. It begs us to look deeper and just outside but within as well.