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We began this journey with an awakening from dreams. The first awakening was from the Dream of Matter. The existence of mental events is undeniable. Also the arguments against epiphenomenalism show that mental events do not simply exist, they are able to exert causal influence on physical events. This may indicate that the dualist interactionism is the only viable solution to the mind-body problem, or it may suggest that some form of panpsychism is true, in which all matter-energy is viewed as having a psychic aspect. If the latter, orthodox scientists would not need to abandon their beloved principle of the causal closure of the physical world. Of course, if scientists ever do develop testable hypotheses regarding the influence of “souls,” or for that matter mini-Shins, these “new” entities could be incorporated into the body of physics, and the physical world might become causally closed once again (through an act of definitional fiat).
It should be noted that many of the scientists who most vehemently defend the tenet of the closure of the physical world seem to subscribe to an outmoded deterministic Newtonian view of the physical world that has been overthrown by development of modern theories of quantum mechanics. Other scientists, not so mired in Newtonian determinism still fall victim to the psychological pressure for closure, the need to believe that one’s worldview does not leave out essential facts. Such scientists, while affirming quantum indeterminism, steadfastly adhere to the principle that all quantum events are randomly determined and are not subject to influences from outside of the physical world as described in current theories of physics. However, a substantial minority of physicists and neuroscientists contend that the macroscopic behavior of the brain is governed by the outcome of quantum processes that may be influenced by a self or field of consciousness that is not described within the theory of quantum mechanics itself. Henry Stapp (2005b), for instance, notes that quantum mechanical laws must be used to describe the process of exocytosis (the emission of neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft between neurons). He suggests that conscious attention may stabilize the quantum state of the brain, thus biasing it toward a particular outcome. The results of several lines of parapsychological investigation also suggest that conscious minds may be able to bias the outcomes of such quantum events.
The existence of psi phenomena, with their apparent spacetime independence, suggest that existing theories of physics are woefully incomplete and that there may be nonlocal influences between physical and mental events that cannot be explained on the basis of current theories of physics. The evidence for psi phenomena was reviewed in Chapters 3 through 5. As yet, laboratory investigations of psi have not succeeding in producing an effect that can be readily replicated by the vast majority of experimenters. Also a determined skeptic can construct counterexplanations of most apparent cases of spontaneous psi, such as apparently precognitive dreams, on the basis of sensory cues, unconscious inference, false memories and confabulation. For these reasons, the existing body of evidence for psi phenomena, while suggestive, does not compel belief in such phenomena.
Psi phenomena are, in any case, not needed as an alarm clock to wake us from our second dream, the Dream of the Person. We are not our thoughts, our memories, our beliefs or our emotions. These cognita are ephemeral and fleet away the moment we try to grasp them. From an introspective standpoint, it appears clear that we are a center of pure consciousness that feels our feelings, that senses our sensation. In short, our essential selves seem to be akin to the “Cartesian theaters” so abhorred by Daniel Dennett and other modern deniers of the self such as Susan Blackmore and Thomas Metzinger. What is less clear from an intuitive point of view is that we may be one among many such centers somehow attached to our present brain (and possibly even inhabiting cells elsewhere in our bodies). This realization is what is needed to wake from the Dream of Atman and Brahman.
We have already shed countless emotions and several “personalities” and in fact innumerable physical bodies on our journeys from womb to tomb. Likely too, our bodies have already shed many “souls” or mini-Shins. Such “naked fields of consciousness” may prove to be identical with physical particles or fields already known to science. Alternatively, they may prove to be sufficiently similar to such fields and particles to earn the rubric “physical” under some future extended theory of physics. On the other hand, they may prove to be so dissimilar to physical matter and fields that, when eventually characterized, they will be regarded as “nonphysicial” or “immaterial.” If so, dualism will once again rear its ugly head, but this time with sharpened teeth.
As the present time, it is not exactly clear how such mini-Shins or “souls” might be empirically studied. Experimental methodologies may evolve that will allow scientists to distinguish between the hypothesis that human brains are associated with only a few mini-Shins and the hypothesis that millions of mini-Shins are at work in a single brain. With a little creativity, the mini-Shin hypothesis may be rendered testable. Certainly the hypothesis that there is only a single Shin in each brain can be falsified in experimental tests and indeed has been falsified in split-brain research and other lines of neuropsychological investigation, as argued by Patricia Churchland.
We are not our physical bodies. Each of us has already shed several such bodies the way a snake sheds its skin, if our memories are correct. Of course, our memories may not be correct. Most likely, our memories of past years are just our present decoding of records stored in the vast array of synaptic connections in the brains we temporarily call home. If we can somehow become attached to a particular brain at some time shortly after conception and detached at the moment of death, what would prevent us from “glomming on” to our full-grown brains yesterday and “checking out” of them tomorrow, in much the same was as the physical particles that make up our bodies do? In the meantime, mired in our present brains, we generally fall victim to the network of memories, hopes and aspirations embedded in our temporary housing and fall once again under the Dream of the Person. Perhaps, having lost our memories of our previous existences at the time we departed from the physical (or nonphysical) systems that formerly held us, we quickly fall under the delusion that we are our physical bodies, that our essential selves are the patterns of memories and feeling that we are presently experiencing (however temporarily), and that we have been present in our current brains through the spacetime history of the ever changing bags of molecules that we call our physical bodies.
We likely play a role in the world that is at least as fundamental as the roles played by electrons and quarks and probably more fundamental than the temporary agglutinations of material particles that comprise our physical “selves” under the Dream of the Person. Unlike the prevailing view in modern science, we are, under the view fostered here, not ontologically inferior to elementary physical particles after all. If physics has taught us anything about the universe, it is that it loves to conserve quantities (including for example baryon number, mass-energy, electrical charge, momentum, and angular momentum). Mini-shin number may well be another example of a conserved quantity. Mini-Shins leaving our bodies may be no more likely to wink out of existence than are oxygen atoms expelled through our nostrils.
This universe appears to be a place of transformation rather than a place of de novo creation and ultimate destruction. It is likely just as enamored of mini-Shins as it is, say, of up quarks, and thus may preserve the former as it does the latter.
Consciousness may even be, as Colin McGinn (1995) has argued, prior to space and time themselves. For the time being, however, we might as well lie back and enjoy the show. Somebody (possibly we ourselves embedded in an unimaginably complex and long forgotten system) went to a lot of trouble to put it on for us, although it admittedly suffers from design flaws that may need to be corrected on the next Iteration.
One might imagine that a conscious system so complex and vast as to be able to create (perhaps literally to dream up) such a startlingly wonderful (and frightening) world as this one might well become bored with its omniscience and may wish to lose itself in its creation, if only temporarily. It may need to fragment itself and temporarily shed much of its omniscience to accomplish this. Then it may begin the task of solving the puzzle of the universe once again. We too might well begin to stagnate and become bored if we were to somehow become immortal and become trapped in our present bodies and mired in our present personalities and situation for all eternity. Death may be the rope thrown to free us from the quicksand of our current identities.
If these thoughts are correct, each of us, as centers of consciousness, will be around for a long time to come. But the lengths of our associations with our present personalities may be much shorter than we think. Our true selves, however, may be both much less than and much greater than we think.
The musings in this book are but hints of what shape the answers to our Ultimate Questions may take. Given the present state of our knowledge (and the facts that our brains are not that far removed from those of chimpanzees and our bodies contain only a small number of genes when compared to many plants), it is not possible to do more than sketch a fuzzy outline of what the Ultimate Answers may be.
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