Rediscovering Wonder

Our understanding of the nature of consciousness is far from complete. Conventional wisdom says our brains generate consciousness, that the matter of our brains, the billions of neurons firing off moment to moment are the mechanism by which we think what we think and by which we are who we are. This mechanistic, materialist way of imagining consciousness is the prevailing view of our day. While our brain matter certainly plays a major role in cognition–the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses–cognition is not consciousness, that primary, anteawareness that is you. This conflation of cognition and consciousness is common and key: our physical brains may be the mechanism by which we think what we think, but it’s not necessarily what makes me me or you you.

Perhaps, instead, matter does not create consciousness or mind, at least not entirely. What if instead, the opposite is true, that mind creates matter? Is it not reasonable to consider the possibility that rather than mind emerging from dead, lifeless matter, perhaps matter is imbued with with the energy or the life force of mind or consciousness? While I make no claim to fully understanding what, exactly, this energy or life force is–no one can for certain–there is evidence to suggest that matter may indeed be “minded” in some way. Quantum physics says all matter is energy at the level of the very small. It also says some very weird stuff happens at that level (more on this in future posts). At the macro level or our everyday existence, minded matter would also account for some of the very weird stuff that has happened across cultures and throughout recorded time, and is still happening today. It makes the impossible–things like telepathy and precognition, among other impossible things, possible (a lot more on this in future posts). Moreover, it makes the myriad concepts of an overarching metaphysical realm plausible. Imagine, then, that rather than generating conscious awareness, our brains receive it and filter it, much like our eyes receive and filter light and our ears sound waves.

There was a period of time I considered myself an atheist. In the mid-00s, a number of books, part of a “new atheists” movement, were published by philosophers like David Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and others arguing forcefully against the existence of God. While some of their arguments were convincing, what really, in retrospect, made them influential to me was they made atheism, toward which I was already leaning, more culturally acceptable. Prior to the publication of those books, the most prominent atheist was the caustic and combative Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

As an atheist, the world made sense to me. All phenomena were reducible to their physical causes. All the weird stuff was dismissed as things simply misunderstood, or misinterpreted. Life was, in many respects, simpler. But ultimately it was also less meaningful, somewhat depressing and a lot more boring. 

How we understand what philosopher David Chalmers calls the hard problem of consciousness informs at a primary level how we understand the world and our place in it. Observing consciousness can only be done reflexively, with consciousness. An anteawareness comprised of minded matter, or soul, is not something we can prove objectively–it has to be experienced, intuited, thought through. We sense it, get flashes of insight, inklings. I flipped from an atheistic to a spiritual worldview sometime in the late 00s. It radically changed how I think about and understand, well, most everything. Most significantly, it helped me reclaim something I’d missed desperately for some time: a sense of wonder. In the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.