The greatest mystery of existence is existence itself. There is the existence of the universe and there is the existence of the awareness of existence of the universe. Were it not for this awareness, even if the universe existed as an external reality, we would not be aware of its existence, so it would for all practical purpose not exist. Traditional science assumes, for the most part, that an objective observer independent reality exists; the universe, stars, galaxies, sun, moon and earth would still be there if no one was looking. However, modern quantum theory, the most successful of all scientific creations of the human mind, disagrees. The properties of a particle, quantum theory tells us, do not even exist until an observation takes place. Quantum theory disagrees with traditional, Newtonian physics. Most scientists, although respecting quantum theory, do not follow its implications. The result is a kind of schizophrenia between what scientists believe and what they practice. When we examine this hypothesis of traditional science, we find it more a metaphysical assumption than a scientific assertion.
How can we assert that an observer-independent reality exists if the assertion itself is dependent on the existence of a conscious observer? This raises the additional dilemma of who or what is the observer and where is this observer located? When scientists in general describe empirical facts and formulate scientific theories, they forget that neither facts nor theories are an insight into the true nature of fundamental reality apart from any observer. What we consider to be empirical facts are entirely dependent on observation, in agreement with quantum theory. The scientific observer in this case is an activity of the universe called Homo sapiens usually with a Ph.D. in physics. However, many scientists have never really asked the question “Who am I?”
Most neuroscientists who still don’t believe that quantum theory has anything to do with the brain would assert that “I,” the conscious observer, is solely an epiphenomenon of the brain, that consciousness is produced by the brain, just as gastric juices are produced by the stomach and bile is produced by the gall bladder. The problem with this of course, is that any neuroscientist worth his/her tenure will tell you that there is no satisfactory theory in neuroscience that explains how neurochemistry translates into conscious experience. How do electrochemical phenomena in the brain create the appreciation of the beauty of a red rose, the taste of garlic, the smell of onions, the feeling of love, compassion, joy, insight, intuition, imagination, creativity, free will, or awareness of existence of self and the universe? There is no physicalist theory based on classical physics to explain these subjective experiences. Nor is there any obvious means for coming up with one.
When traditional science finds itself in such an impasse it might be time to question some of the basic assumptions about so-called independently-existing reality. We must revisit the idea that science is a methodology and not an ontology. Current science, however, is based on a physicalist ontology. This is the basic belief that reality is physical and mind is an epiphenomenon of matter (the nervous system). Nonetheless, we are baffled when asked to explain how matter becomes mind. We suggest here a fundamental revision in our most cherished scientific assumptions. We boldly suggest that matter, force fields, particles, waves, even the fabric of space and time are not denizens of fundamental reality, but that they are perceptual and cognitive experiences in consciousness. Actually, what we propose would be in agreement with what the great physicists who founded quantum theory almost 100 years ago would hold. But we are also going beyond, taking the statements of quantum theory to the next level: All of physical reality is a perceptual experience in consciousness alone. The experience may turn out to be different for different species.
What is physical reality to a bat, a honey bee, a nematode, a whale, a dolphin, an eagle, an insect with numerous eyes? There is no fixed physical reality, no single perception of the world, just numerous ways of interpreting world views as dictated by one’s nervous system and the specific environment of our planetary existence. We propose that the worldview of current science as it is being practiced, which operates from the assumption that human perception and particularly facts emanating from observations made with human scientific methods are the only fundamental truth, is clearly flawed. Furthermore the subject/object split that is the basic premise of the current scientific methods has led to the creation of arguably detrimental technologies including mechanized death, petroleum products in our food, genetically-modified foods, global warming, extinction of species, and even the possible extinction of the human species. Building on the quantum view of the cosmos, which accepts a non-local, entangled reality that includes observers as fundamental, we suggest the next natural step, a new science rooted in consciousness, one that strives to interpret the entire universe, with all its observers, all modes of observation, and all objects observed as nothing other than consciousness and its manifestations!
Rejecting what we believe is the most reasonable and rational approach proposed here will lead nowhere and force us to accept randomness and lack of purpose as the hallmarks of the universe. Such a view is, ultimately, leading to no meaning for our own very existence. We suggest that perceptual objects experienced in consciousness, including our very brains, are not the source of consciousness. We suggest rigorous testing of this radically-different ontology. We feel a holistic science that does not separate observer from that which is observed would lead to the unraveling of the mysteries of the universe that at presently seem beyond reach, leading to an understanding of a conscious universe in which all are differentiated activities of a single field that is an undivided wholeness and in some sense bridges external reality with inner being.
Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP, is the author of the forthcoming book, God: A Story of Revelation.
Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University, co author of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles.
Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author of the forthcoming book, Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being.
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