July 24, 2023
SF Gate

Why Does Consciousness Leave So Many False Clues?.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, FRCP

The hunt for consciousness seems all-important and insignificant at the same time. It is all-important because consciousness—the state of being aware—gives us every experience we will ever have. It seems insignificant because in everyday life we take consciousness for granted. Like the air we breathe, it has always been there. Billions of people owe their lives to the gases in Earth’s atmosphere without bothering to learn what those gases are.

For the better part of 400 years science adopted the viewpoint, for all practical purposes, that consciousness was a given and not worth exploring. Only in recent decades has the hunt for consciousness become important, largely thanks to the emergence of sophisticated imaging technologies for looking into the brain. Since more than 99% of scientists agree that the brain creates consciousness, the answers to the mystery of consciousness seem closer than ever.

This was the basis of a widely circulated news story about a 25-year wager between a philosopher and a neuroscientist. In 1988 the prominent neuroscientist Christoph Koch bet the prominent philosopher David Chalmers that the mystery of consciousness would be solved in a quarter century. But at a recent conference devoted to the study of consciousness, Koch conceded that he had lost the wager. The mystery remains and research continues.

Chalmers, who gained fame by calling consciousness “the hard problem” (i.e., the most difficult riddle yet to be solved) wasn’t a sore winner. He was quoted by news media saying, “There’s been a lot of progress in the field.” In other words, the mechanics by which neurons produce the workings of the human mind are being steadily, if slowly, unraveled.

However, there’s a strong argument to be made that no progress at all is being made, that neuroscience has been following a series of false trails all along. Here’s an analogy that tells the tale. Imagine that you are in the Arctic wilderness following the tracks of a fox in the snow. The tracks are unmistakable, and if you follow them, they will eventually enable you to corner the fox in its den. You set off, but to your consternation, after a while you wind up exactly where you started. The tracks have led you in a circle. Your hunt has come to a dead end.

The significant part of this example is that it is physically impossible. A line of tracks in the snow cannot be circular. They must begin and end somewhere. The next most significant thing is that continuing to follow the same tracks won’t get you any closer to finding the fox. You must discover another explanation in order to get past the impossibility.

The tracks left by consciousness are in the brain. Brain imaging reveals more and more clearly the intricate neural operations associated with the mind. Research has reached a point of astonishing accuracy, so that simply looking at patterns of brain activity can tell you what a person is thinking. Conversely, the process can be reversed: you can hook a subject up to electrodes, ask him to have a specific thought, and the thought will appear as words on a computer monitor.

This looks like progress, and yet the progress is built up from false clues, for the same reason that pertains to circular tracks in the snow. It is physically impossible for brain cells to create the human mind. Brain cells are composed of the same basic organic chemicals as any other cell in the body, and organic chemicals can’t think. It doesn’t matter how many billions of neurons the human brain contains, or the quadrillions of synaptic connections between them. Complexity doesn’t get around the simple impossibility that chemicals aren’t conscious, and the brain is nothing but chemicals. The presence of electrical activity in the brain is also a false clue, because electricity can’t think, either.

Why does such an obvious conclusion elude the most advanced neuroscience? It’s a matter of being ruled by an iron assumption. The assumption is that consciousness must be found in the brain, no matter what. This assumption is iron because it goes back to an even more unshakable assumption, that all answers about anything in the universe come down to physics and chemistry. If consciousness refuses to fit this model of reality, too bad for consciousness.

There are logical ways to expose the false clues that arise from a false assumption. If someone told you that Mozart’s genius can be explained by taking apart and studying his piano, you’d immediately see that a mistake has been made, the same as if you were told that Rembrandt’s genius can be explained by looking very, very closely at his paintbrushes.

It is a little harder to refute someone who claims that Mozart can be explained by studying the notes on the score of a Mozart symphony, or that Rembrandt’s genius yields up its mystery if you study his brushstrokes. That’s the current state of tracing consciousness to the minute activity (i.e., the brushstrokes) made by brain cells. Brushstrokes tell you what Rembrandt did, not how and why he did it. Likewise, brain activity is merely incidental until someone can locate exactly where in the history of the universe atoms and molecules learned to think. So far, this has proved to be a physical impossibility.

A growing minority of cosmologists has broken ranks with the iron assumption that all answers must be physical. They have changed the game by asserting that consciousness is innate in creation; it exists in Nature the way gravity exists, as part of the very fabric of creation. This position, loosely known as panpsychism, is still tied to physical assumptions that are misleading if not downright false. Saying that an atom or molecule possesses consciousness is just a workaround. Failing to prove how atoms and molecules learned to think, with a wave of the hand you declare that they have always been thinking since the big bang. It’s a neat workaround but not an explanation.

There is only one way to get past every false clue in the hunt for consciousness. You must make it the “stuff” of creation, a non-physical state from which matter, energy, time, and space are created. Every phenomenon we can experience doesn’t have consciousness or exhibit mind. It is consciousness, shaping itself into every mode of knowing and experiencing reality. In other words, the “hard problem” isn’t a problem at all. Consciousness, being our source and origin, explains everything by itself, needing no outside explanation.

This sounds like a leap into metaphysics, which the physical sciences totally reject, but the alternative is to keep hunting for consciousness along a circular path based on a physical impossibility, like the Arctic fox that refuses to be found.

DEEPAK CHOPRA MD, FACP, FRCP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation.  Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 91st book, Total Meditation: Practices in Living the Awakened Life  explores and reinterprets the physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual benefits that the practice of meditation can bring.  For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution. His latest book,  Living in the Light co-authored with Sarah Platt-Finger. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com

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