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Consciousness

Science As We Know It Can’t Explain Consciousness – But A Revolution Is Coming

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Philip Goff, Durham University

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Explaining how something as complex as consciousness can emerge from a grey, jelly-like lump of tissue in the head is arguably the greatest scientific challenge of our time. The brain is an extraordinarily complex organ, consisting of almost 100 billion cells – known as neurons – each connected to 10,000 others, yielding some ten trillion nerve connections.

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We have made a great deal of progress in understanding brain activity, and how it contributes to human behaviour. But what no one has so far managed to explain is how all of this results in feelings, emotions and experiences. How does the passing around of electrical and chemical signals between neurons result in a feeling of pain or an experience of red?

There is growing suspicion that conventional scientific methods will never be able answer these questions. Luckily, there is an alternative approach that may ultimately be able to crack the mystery.

For much of the 20th century, there was a great taboo against querying the mysterious inner world of consciousness – it was not taken to be a fitting topic for “serious science”. Things have changed a lot, and there is now broad agreement that the problem of consciousness is a serious scientific issue. But many consciousness researchers underestimate the depth of the challenge, believing that we just need to continue examining the physical structures of the brain to work out how they produce consciousness.

The problem of consciousness, however, is radically unlike any other scientific problem. One reason is that consciousness is unobservable. You can’t look inside someone’s head and see their feelings and experiences. If we were just going off what we can observe from a third-person perspective, we would have no grounds for postulating consciousness at all.

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Of course, scientists are used to dealing with unobservables. Electrons, for example, are too small to be seen. But scientists postulate unobservable entities in order to explain what we observe, such as lightning or vapour trails in cloud chambers. But in the unique case of consciousness, the thing to be explained cannot be observed. We know that consciousness exists not through experiments but through our immediate awareness of our feelings and experiences.

Only you can experience your emotions.
Olga Danylenko

So how can science ever explain it? When we are dealing with the data of observation, we can do experiments to test whether what we observe matches what the theory predicts. But when we are dealing with the unobservable data of consciousness, this methodology breaks down. The best scientists are able to do is to correlate unobservable experiences with observable processes, by scanning people’s brains and relying on their reports regarding their private conscious experiences.

By this method, we can establish, for example, that the invisible feeling of hunger is correlated with visible activity in the brain’s hypothalamus. But the accumulation of such correlations does not amount to a theory of consciousness. What we ultimately want is to explain why conscious experiences are correlated with brain activity. Why is it that such activity in the hypothalamus comes along with a feeling of hunger?

In fact, we should not be surprised that our standard scientific method struggles to deal with consciousness. As I explore in my new book, Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, modern science was explicitly designed to exclude consciousness.

Before the “father of modern science” Galileo Galilei, scientists believed that the physical world was filled with qualities, such as colours and smells. But Galileo wanted a purely quantitative science of the physical world, and he therefore proposed that these qualities were not really in the physical world but in consciousness, which he stipulated was outside of the domain of science.

This worldview forms the backdrop of science to this day. And so long as we work within it, the best we can do is to establish correlations between the quantitative brain processes we can see and the qualitative experiences that we can’t, with no way of explaining why they go together.

Mind is Matter

I believe there is a way forward, an approach that’s rooted in work from the 1920s by the philosopher Bertrand Russell and the scientist Arthur Eddington. Their starting point was that physical science doesn’t really tell us what matter is.

This may seem bizarre, but it turns out that physics is confined to telling us about the behaviour of matter. For example, matter has mass and charge, properties which are entirely characterised in terms of behaviour – attraction, repulsion and resistance to acceleration. Physics tells us nothing about what philosophers like to call “the intrinsic nature of matter”, how matter is in and of itself.

It turns out, then, that there is a huge hole in our scientific world view – physics leaves us completely in the dark about what matter really is. The proposal of Russell and Eddington was to fill that hole with consciousness.

The result is a type of “panpsychism” – an ancient view that consciousness is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of the physical world. But the “new wave” of panpsychism lacks the mystical connotations of previous forms of the view. There is only matter – nothing spiritual or supernatural – but matter can be described from two perspectives. Physical science describes matter “from the outside”, in terms of its behaviour, but matter “from the inside” is constituted of forms of consciousness.

This means that mind is matter, and that even elementary particles exhibit incredibly basic forms of consciousness. Before you write that off, consider this. Consciousness can vary in complexity. We have good reason to think that the conscious experiences of a horse are much less complex than those of a human being, and that the conscious experiences of a rabbit are less sophisticated than those of a horse. As organisms become simpler, there may be a point where consciousness suddenly switches off – but it’s also possible that it just fades but never disappears completely, meaning even an electron has a tiny element of consciousness.

What panpsychism offers us is a simple, elegant way of integrating consciousness into our scientific worldview. Strictly speaking it cannot be tested; the unobservable nature of consciousness entails that any theory of consciousness that goes beyond mere correlations is not strictly speaking testable. But I believe it can be justified by a form of inference to the best explanation: panpsychism is the simplest theory of how consciousness fits in to our scientific story.

While our current scientific approach offers no theory at all – only correlations – the traditional alternative of claiming that consciousness is in the soul leads to a profligate picture of nature in which mind and body are distinct. Panpsychism avoids both of these extremes, and this is why some of our leading neuroscientists are now embracing it as the best framework for building a science of consciousness.

I am optimistic that we will one day have a science of consciousness, but it won’t be science as we know it today. Nothing less than a revolution is called for, and it’s already on its way.The Conversation

Philip Goff, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Durham University

This article is republished in collaboration with The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Consciousness

A Spiritual Perspective On Smoking Cannabis: An Important Viewpoint To Consider

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    In the video below, Sadhguru shares his perspective on smoking marijuana and why it's not truly needed to achieve the feeling one may receive to do it.

  • Reflect On:

    I'm not saying there isn't medicinal value and that we should outlaw this plant, I'm saying we have a very large societal challenge, just like with alcohol, where we are not facing our inner challenges and are using substances to cover them up.

I was having a conversation yesterday about something that has always been a reflection point for me. Since I was a kid, I was never drawn to substances, even alcohol. I always felt great, high even, when just being.

As I got older and I finally tried cannabis for the first time, and then a few more times after that as years went on, I started to realize it actually brought my state of being and clarity down. The tough part was trying to explain that to others when having conversations about how these substances don’t produce a true experience of higher consciousness, but more so give you a glimpse in a sense.

Before we go on, I want to bring something up. The challenge with this topic is that we tend to get very emotional and rigid about it. Not only that, but we aggressively try to lump people into FOR or AGAINST cannabis. I’m not here to do that. I’m simply creating a reflection point as my desire is to help shift consciousness and empower us within to create a world where we can truly thrive. So for a moment, set aside your own hard coded beliefs and just be open to what this article is shining light on.

Societal Cannabis Culture

For the most part society either breaks down into people who judge cannabis as a drug that is for ‘stoners’ and are very against it. These people tend to believe there are no positives to cannabis. On the flip side are the people who feel cannabis is an amazing wonder plant that can do no wrong, and that the “highs” it provides expand the mind and we experience peace.

The truth is, cannabis has good aspects and not so good aspects to it. And while the positives can be really helpful for a very small subset of people on this planet, smoking it is one of the worst ways to use cannabis health wise. Not only that, society is using its medical benefits to turn attention away from the addiction many users have to it. This is a tough pill to swallow and makes many people aggressive and angry when I bring it up, but it’s true. In a big way, but not all the time, we are using cannabis as a society to help cope with feelings deep down that we want to shut off or hide from. As a note, we are also using food, TV and other things in the same way, but right now I want to focus on this reflection.

Cannabis can assist people with autism, people who have seizures, and in some cases it may have helped people cure cancer. There are benefits that can come from this plant being used in a proper medicinal way, but we must remember to look at the downsides that come from regular cannabis use that many simply don’t want to acknowledge.

A Note On Legalization

First off, I do not believe the plant ever needed to be illegal to begin with. In fact I’ve done much research on how it became illegal and it really had more to do with protecting an industry more than anything else.

That said, there is something to consider here that many of us aren’t looking at too clearly when it comes to what legalization really means. It means that powerful people are going to be the ones who profit most from it, that’s why it’s becoming legal. Not only that, but the reason it is taking so long is so they can get in place the many aspects required to make sure they achieve what they want: stripping medicinal aspects out of the plant profiles, controlling the seeds, and ultimately feeding society cannabis focused solely on creating a THC based ‘high’. This is no different than controlling alcohol and feeding it to society in the ways we currently do.

The cannabis industry is worth over $40 billion, making it the second-most-valuable crop in the U.S. after corn. As stated in a powerful article by GQ, “And even though weed is still federally forbidden, it sounded like whoever was behind BioTech Institute had spent the past several years surreptitiously maneuvering to grab every marijuana farmer, vendor, and scientist in the country by the balls, so that once the drug became legal, all they’d have to do to collect payment is squeeze.”

Humans should be able to make choices as to what they want to do to themselves and their bodies i.e. smoke cannabis or consume alcohol, but I believe greater education needs to be placed behind both and ultimately: we must start looking at the real reasons as to why we use both of these substances so often.

Looking At Cannabis Differently

I see that in many ways the use of cannabis is making the average user numb, in the same way alcohol does. I’ve used cannabis before, in a number of ways -smoking, edibles etc. I’m not saying the feeling is the same for every single user, but I’ve also been around thousands of cannabis users in my lifetime while they were high and you notice the same ‘vibe’ virtually every time. Perhaps there are varying degrees, but for the most part it numbs us out and sometimes quiets the thoughts to create a calmness. Is this like meditation? No, but it can be confused as that. I know, I’ve been there too.

Below is a video of a perspective on cannabis I feel is very important for us to consider. Let me be clear, I’m not saying there isn’t medicinal value and that we should outlaw this plant, I’m saying we have a very large societal challenge, just like with alcohol, where we are not facing our inner challenges and are using substances to cover them up. I am inspired to help create a world where we can truly empower ourselves form within, move beyond our mind and egoic challenges that help us grow and do just that – grow. But if we continually bury our challenges in substance, we won’t.

I believe it’s time we come to the uncomfortable truth and face the fact that as a society we have not done the greatest job in encouraging one another to truly explore, express and move beyond many of the emotional challenges life’s experiences have provided us, that are there for our growth. Think about it, do we want to just cope through life? Or do we want to truly move beyond our stuff? There is SO much suffering we can prevent by making it a societal norm to work through our challenges on a deep level. This is where I believe we must go.

Note: You can try meditation to help calm the mind and move more clearly through challenges. Here are more tools as well.

Lost relationships, divorces, losing jobs, feeling unloved, lack of confidence, depression etc. All of these things are not here so that we can use bandaids everyday to cover them up and get through them, they are here for us to learn more about ourselves, grow and evolve as people and as a society. To create a world where we can truly thrive. To get there, we must begin to face our challenges.

I made this choice 10 years ago when I started to discover meditation and inner reflection, and although I wasn’t a user of substances like alcohol or cannabis, I would use food to cover up my emotions or I would distract myself with TV, whatever worked. But I can share from experience, the incredible changes that come from shifting those stories within and gaining true empowerment will change everything in your life, and everyone can do it.

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Consciousness

New Moon In Virgo: Efficiency & Practicality

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We are having a New Moon in Virgo on September 17th. This is initiating a 29.5 day lunar cycle and new wave of energy for the coming month; however, the astrological configurations mentioned in this article will be more prominent over the following two weeks. This cycle will include a Full Moon in Aries on October 1st/2nd.

Virgo season began on August 22nd/23rd, nearly a month prior to this Lunation, and will end on September 22nd/23rd when Libra season begins. However, his New Moon will still carry some of its Virgo themes into the first eight days of Libra season prior to the Full Moon.

This is a good period of working with and co-creating with the energies of this sign. Virgo is associated with productivity, duties, service, health, cleanliness, and purity. It is organized, adaptable, conscientious, skillful, orderly, punctual, diligent, efficient, analytical, detailed, discerning, precise, and practical.

Virgo is about problem solving, adjusting to changing conditions, and coming up with solutions. Negatively, this energy can be cynical, fussy, high strung, and perfectionistic. It can also be exorbitantly mentally oriented as well as overly critical and discriminating.

Mars began its retrograde a week prior to this New Moon which will last until mid-November. This energy is a significant part of the current astrological backdrop. Generally it is a time that can ultimately help to facilitate a change in how we apply ourselves in certain areas of life, however, the retrograde period itself can bring frustrations and challenges that help with that process. You can read more about this Mars Retrograde here.

New Moon Trine Saturn & Quincunx Mars Retrograde

This New Moon is in a tight trine with Saturn in Capricorn which is transitioning out of its retrograde at the end of the month. This can be a good period for operating in a responsible, cautious, orderly, productive, realistic and practical way. However, considering that Saturn is finishing up its backwards motion, these next couple of weeks are generally better for getting things sorted out and prepared as well as perhaps focusing on tasks that you have already been working on.

It is possible that in late September and in early October, we can experience some sort of shift, or change in gears, that can take things into a different direction. Saturn will be in a square with Mars Retrograde at that time, and we may have to contend with limitations and obstacles that can affect how certain things move forward.

This New Moon is also in a quincunx with Mars retrograde which can reflect annoyances, tension, or conflicts that may require adjustments and adaptability. Issues that come up may be at odds with our needs or the way we want to express ourselves. This energy is the strongest on the 19th/20th but can also be more noticeable on the day of the New Moon.

New Moon Square Lunar Nodes, Mercury Square Jupiter

This New Moon is also in a close square to the North Node in Gemini opposing the South Node in Sagittarius. We may be at odds between the past (South Node) and the future (North Node), beliefs (Sagittarius) and facts (Gemini), our immediate aspects of life (Gemini) and the world at large (Sagittarius).

However, the focal point should be the North Node in Gemini and expressions of the South Node in Sagittarius energy should be serving that focal point and not be the emphasis. The rulers of the Nodes, Mercury (Gemini) and Jupiter (Sagittarius) are also in a tight square with each other at the time of this New Moon. This can reflect tension between these two sides and potentially conflicts between ideas, viewpoints, and opinions.

Jupiter is in the limiting Saturnian sign of Capricorn while Mercury is better placed in Libra, the sign of diplomacy, seeking common ground, considering different needs/perspectives, and fairness. Mercury square Jupiter can be good for learning but it can also be excessive when it comes to information and we can more easily be mentally scattered.

Mercury Quincunx Neptune, Then Square Pluto, Saturn & Opposing Mars

Mercury is in a quincunx with Neptune which is strongest on the 18th/19th. This energy makes it harder to integrate or juggle our intuitive, creative, imaginative, compassionate or spiritual expression with our mind, communication, tasks, and thought process. Issues pertaining to lack of boundaries, flakiness, delusion, escapism, intoxication, may come up.

Mercury moves towards a square with Pluto which is strongest on the 20th/21st. Our thoughts and communications can be deep, powerful, penetrating, investigative, raw, real, and potentially intense. This can also reflect obsessive or compulsive behavior, suspicion, fears, anxiety, or conflicts pertaining to power or authority.

Mercury then moves to a square with Saturn (22nd/23rd) followed by an opposition to Mars retrograde (23rd/24th), creating a t-square formation in that time period with the separating Pluto energy (20th/21st, mentioned above) tied into it a bit. This can be a time of obstacles, delays, communication issues, pessimism, and conflicts while we can get more easily irritated or angered. Circumstances may come up that can be pushing us to be more cautious, realistic, or responsible.

This period is the beginning of Mercury’s pre-shadow period in which it will be returning to another square with Saturn. Some of the issues or developments that occur at this time may be connected to things that will play out during the retrograde (October 13th/14th until November 3rd/4th) and weeks surrounding that period. It will also be the Equinox and therefore this energy is imprinted into the following three months in which it can manifest in other ways/areas separate from this initial period.

Making Intentions & Things To Consider

What can you do to be more practical, productive, and efficient? Is there anything you can or should implement to improve your health and functionality? What have the circumstances, developments, or challenges over the last week (leading up to this New Moon) shown you in how you should be applying yourself? Do you need to implement stronger boundaries? Do you need to be more adaptable? Are you clinging to the past or are you willing to take steps to help you grow? What aspects or details of your immediate life, surroundings, or relationships do you need to focus on more and what excesses or broad aspects of your life are getting in the way of that?

These are just some examples of what to consider or focus your intentions on at this time. However, it is good to reflect on anything else that is coming up for you. It is generally best to make any intentions within the first 24 hours following a New Moon. The exact moment it will occur is 11:00am Universal Time on September 17th. You can click here to see what that is in your time zone.

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Consciousness

Why We Get Into Fights When Sharing Information

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We’re in a time when mainstream media and traditional conversations are failing to address a number of important topics within society, anything from current events to politics and so on, and this is birthing a great deal of ‘alternative conversation’ that often stems from alternative media.

But with this, comes to the common ‘fight’ between various ideas and ideologies that is much more avoidable than we often realize. I wanted to share a quick tid bit from a recent episode discussing how we can reflect to develop better communication and connection faculties that can make a big difference in how we communicate important ideas that are emerging without creating such huge divides ad tension.

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