What is the Connection Between Physics and Consciousness?

At first glance, the two are polar opposites: one is the external, objective, material world, while the other is the interior, subjective world of direct experience.   Physics is matter in motion, the concrete and the measurable, while consciousness is the private being of self.  Each could exist, seemingly, without the other.

But old assumptions are wearing thin.  Physics has undermined its own metaphysical foundation, and now must take consciousness into account.  There is a revolutionary shift underway in the relation between physical dimensions and “the role of the observer,” i.e. consciousness.  The old assumption of conventional physics (and of everyday life) is that consciousness is to be found somewhere inside of space and time, inside peoples’ heads (and other living organisms) that are themselves inside of the dimensions.  In my work, I turn this around to suggest that space and time are to be found inside of consciousness. 

A model for the conventional view is what I call The Box.  Everything“real” is inside the Box: galaxies, planets, tables and chairs, atoms and quarks.  The joists and beams of the Box are space and time dimensions. This universe exists, it is assumed, whether or not anyone is looking at it.  It is outside of conscious experience.  Consciousness exists within some of the objects floating about in the Box – within people and within some animals.  Life evolved inside the Box, and there are lots of consciousnesses in there, all looking at the same physical universe. 

The Box makes good common sense.  It provides a solid metaphysical basis for science, especially for physics.  It worked without a flaw until, in the early twentieth century, quantum mechanics and relativity theory came along to disturb it.  In the light of these developments, I attempt to improve upon the Box with a model I call The Screen

The Screen reverses the relation between consciousness and the dimensions.  Space and time exist within consciousness, as fundamental structures of a perceptual screen, much like a TV or computer screen, except that there are three dimensions of space instead of two.  A holograph might be a better model.  Everything perceived is on the Screen: all physical objects seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or touched.  Empty space is empty perceptual consciousness.  But the Screen is only part of consciousness; non-perceptual experiences that are not on the Screen include thought, emotion, dreams, imagination, and spiritual experience.  This “non-dimensional” experience is as “real” as perceptual experience on the Screen.  

Everything – physical and otherwise – is within consciousness.  Experience is more fundamental than matter.  You can’t have planets and galaxies, tables and chairs, or atoms and quarks unless somebody is looking at them.  They are images on the
Screen.  There is no such thing as “matter” existing independently of perception.

The big problem with this view, interestingly, is not matter.  We can do science – and go about our everyday lives – as well without the concept of matter as with it.  The big problem is; “Whose consciousness is this?  Yours or Mine?  The Western tradition within which science originally took hold does not understand consciousness well.  We have not studied it in a disciplined manner the way we have the physical world.  The scientific tradition assumes, as does everyday common sense, that consciousness and self are the same thing.  But they are not.  The Eastern tradition can be of assistance in knowing the distinction. 

At this point, I should apologize to the practical, hard-headed, no-nonsense scientists out there who have little patience for the ramblings of philosophy.  I am sorry to have mixed their solid, concrete science of physics with the mushy speculations of metaphysics.  But this is not my fault.  Physics has led itself into this conceptual quagmire by way of its own scientific discoveries.  Before the twentieth century, space was everywhere rigid and unchangeable, and time always passed at the same rate no matter what.  But now, modern physics is telling us that:

  1. For objects moving near the speed of light, space contracts (in the direction of motion), time slows down, and mass increases.
  2. Light travels at the same speed relative to all objects, no matter how fast they may be moving relative to each other.
  3. Light can be a particle or a wave, but never both at the same time.
  4. Time slows down in a gravitational field.
  5. Energy is not infinitely divisible into smaller and smaller parts; it comes in discrete bundles, or quanta.
  6. The dimensional components of energy (space, time, and mass) become indistinguishable at extremely small values.
  7. The behavior of “material” particles is affected by the “act of observation.”
  8. Mass, supposedly the measure of material substance, is equivalent to energy, an immaterial substance, by a factor of the speed of light, squared.  It is in this equivalence that the Screen is created from minute tactile sensations.  When mass becomes energy, four new dimensions of space and time are created from nothing.

These enigmas are too small to affect everyday life in the middle latitudes of space and time.  That is why we did not notice them until fairly recently.  But they do show up in a big way at dimensional extremes – in the realm of the extremely small, the extremely fast, or extremely large, massive, or distant.  They are very real and tell us what we could not know previously about the physical world.   All of the enigmas have to do with dimensions.  All have to do with observation, that is, with consciousness.  All have to do with light.  All distort the space-time Box to the point where it no longer serves as a meaningful model of physical reality.

The Screen becomes a more viable model once we realize:

  1. Light is not in space-time; space-time is in light.
  2. Light is visual consciousness.
  3. The structure of the Screen is the structure of light.  One second of time is equal to 300,000,000 meters of space.  Objects traveling across the Screen near the speed of light become distorted because they strain the space-time structure of the Screen itself.
  4. Where and when you see an object on the Screen is where and when you will hear, taste, smell, and touch it.  It is this coordination of the senses in space and time that gives the illusion of matter independent of perception.
  5. The concept of material substance is unnecessary to science.  The supposed material content of a physical object can be understood as a location in the mass dimension.  This additional dimension is revealed as a second time dimension: the per second per second that you feel under acceleration.

The progress of science is a continuing refinement in the understanding of experience.  A physical world external to experience has never been experienced, and never will be.  The concept of matter, therefore, stands in the way of scientific progress.

The Box does not allow for a meaningful connection between physics and consciousness.  The Screen unites them as a single whole: physics and consciousness become one and the same.  There is no absolute proof or disproof of either model; the only question is “Which better describes what we actually know?” 

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