Of Course the Universe is Conscious

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A smart person once told me while I was looking up at some stars, to “please be aware that you are seeing.”

I’ve heard that and said it a few times since, and the initial reaction to that remark is typically something like, “Well, no shit.” It was mine, for a moment.

But it is really something profound, if you stick with that thought longer than a moment.

We are aware, to some degree, almost all the time. Awareness isn’t just a big part of life, it comprises life as we know it. So it rarely occurs to us that it needn’t necessarily be this way.

Yet we are aware. If we know nothing else, we know that is true. I mean, if there’s anything we take for granted, it’s this astonishing fact that we are aware of stuff. And it’s the coolest, most empowering fact of all.

If you can look down and see your legs, then I guess you could say you’re aware of yourself. Again, duh. But which part of you is aware of your legs? You’d probably say your brain, and while I’m not convinced that’s entirely correct, let’s say it is. Already we have something interesting happening. One part of something is aware of its other aspects.

Or at least some of its other aspects. I doubt anybody would be aware they had a liver if nobody told them, or if they did not deduce it somehow by becoming aware of other livers in other people. So your self-awareness is not complete, meaning you’re not aware of every single thing going on in your body. But we don’t need to have every possible bit of information about ourselves in order to be aware of ourselves or to know ourselves.

You are a part of the universe, I’m going to presume. So when you’re out late on a long weekend, leaning back on the hood of a ’76 Vista Cruiser looking up at the stars from some campsite here on earth, one part of the universe is suddenly acutely aware of another part of it.

It’s fair to say then, that at least in that moment, the universe is conscious of itself.

Well wait a minute… not quite, right? Something in the universe is aware of something else in it.

But is that really different from the way in which you’re aware of yourself? A chunk of matter in your head is aware of (among other things) some other lengths of matter sprouting from your torso. Is this not a body being aware of itself?

So if a part of something is aware (to some degree, anyway) of the rest of that thing, then you can say that thing is self-aware. Is that not true for the universe?

And these “parts”… how do you really define something as truly distinct from something else? The boundary between my body and the environment surrounding it is not so definite, if you look closely. I exchange matter with the “outside world” as a matter of course, in my breathing, eating, sweating and bathroom activities. Bits of my skin dry up and float away, maybe landing in your drink. Then are they me or you? Seriously.

A less silly example. We think of the sun as being “over there” and we see it from here. But when you’re seeing the sun, what’s really happening? Photons, little bits of the sun, are shooting 93 million miles through space into the backs of your eyeballs, setting off an electrical reaction with which your brain creates a genuinely brilliant experience.

It’s not a You over here and a Sun over there, with one of those separate things aware of the other separate thing. It’s a seamless interaction between the universe and itself. But it cannot be denied that an experience is occurring — that awareness is present. You can argue all day about “whose” experience it is.

Those distinctions that we so casually make — between the soil and the grass, or the breeze and the palm trees — are really only conceptual boundaries we impose on our experience to aid communication and understanding. Where does one end and the other begin? They are only definite as a matter of thinking — which is a function of consciousness. So these boundaries couldn’t exist without awareness. “We are all one” is not just a flaky hippie notion.

Help me out here. Am I missing something? Because no matter how I dice it, it seems to me that if I’m self-aware, then the universe clearly is too.

Now, I don’t know quite when this began. I don’t remember the moment when my awareness “switched on”. But since I do remember being bitten by a duck at Wisconsin Dells when I was three years old, I suppose I can be confident it was somewhere between age three and age negative nine months.

But the point is it did turn on somewhere during the proceedings.

It’s worth pointing out that there really is no question about that. I can deny all sorts of things. I can deny that the sky is blue, I can deny that the world is round, I can deny that Elvis is dead, I just can’t deny that I am aware. I think, therefore I am, someone once said. (Elvis?)

It’s even tougher to reckon exactly when the universe’s self-awareness turned on during its proceedings, but clearly it did, if you’re looking at this screen.

To the best of our understanding, thirteen-some billion years ago, something (nothing?) exploded, flinging unfathomable amounts of matter and energy outward.

By way of gravitation, nuclear forces and other apparent rules of the game all that stuff began to combine and interact, and settle out to form chemicals, dust, asteroids, planets and galaxies.

But all that combining and interacting didn’t stop at boring lumps of rock and fire. If you were to zoom in on one of those lumps, you’d see even more interesting things forming. Earthquakes, volcanoes, atmospheres, storms, clouds, lightning. Rivers. Tides. Sand.

Somewhere along the way, in certain corners of the universe, a phenomenon arose that we regard as very special. Certain arrangements of matter developed the ability reproduce themselves, maintain themselves and eventually propel themselves around. They grew more complex, developing the ability to sense the surrounding environment and respond to it.

I won’t speculate on why, but these forms eventually gained the ability to experience. Again, this is undeniable, unless you want to try to deny that you’re reading this, but I bet you are.

And what do these interesting little corners of the universe experience? The universe. The dirt, the grass, the stars. Maybe a slurpee.

The universe, through its own nature, has become aware of itself. It is experiencing itself. And its awareness is expanding. I think the chances are pretty remote that the universe is only aware of itself through what’s happening here on earth.

It’s too bad that the notion of a conscious universe is typically rejected as New Agey feel-good drivel. That’s a pretty limiting way of thinking. It’s a shame, because at the moment, we have at our disposal evolution’s coolest trick so far: matter getting its own sense of just what the hell it is.

Of course the universe is conscious. What else could be?

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Photo by David Cain


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{ 61 Comments }

Andy July 10, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Reminds me of the Carl Sagan quotation: “We are a way for the universe to know itself.”

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Julia July 11, 2011 at 5:11 am

Remeber this too. It was one of his essay, right?

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David July 11, 2011 at 7:05 am

Yes, exactly. Sagan understood this and talked about it a lot. He didn’t make distinctions between the life on earth and space. He understood that the universe is not a big empty sphere with things floating around in it. It is a network of inextricable relationships, and we get to experience some of those relationships.

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Moller December 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm

hi David,

Clear thinking here on this tricky matter of awareness etc.

You asked;
>>Help me out here. Am I missing something? Because no matter how I dice it, it seems to me that if I’m self-aware, then the universe clearly is too.>

(M) I agree about the way you describe self-awareness. But I fail to see the connection between self-awareness, and the universe being aware of itself? Are you suggesting the moon is aware of mars and a stone on earth is aware of a stone on some asteroid? Seems improbable.

Andy quoted Sagan:
“Reminds me of the Carl Sagan quotation: “We are a way for the universe to know itself.”.

(M) This seems a little closer to the mark. In this statement, Sagan seems to take human life as his point of departure by suggesting that human life enables the universe to become aware of itself. My sense is that only as humans can we say the universe (let’s be a little more modest, and limit our ‘universe’ to present experience) is aware of itself. Present experience (the universe) is a human phenomenon and appears only because we are humans. Without human life the question of a universe (or any experience) does not arise.

As a sideline may I just add that the universe is not ‘conscious of itself’, as you suggest, other than as a thought projection. This statement has no foundation in present experience. And to make sense of our human condition, we would do well to remain with present experience, and present evidence as far as possible, lest we fall into the trap of mere philosophical posturing – mistaking thoughts for reality.

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Joe T July 10, 2011 at 9:59 pm

You gotta define what “aware” means if you want to ask questions involving the word. Do you believe in free will or vitalism? Personally I see no evidence for either; so, awareness is just another abstraction of little things interacting according to the laws of physics, and is therefore no different from an earthquake or wind. Experience is just a brain’s memory of passed stimuli; that’s really it, and for humans without photographic memory experience is pretty fuzzy and unimpressive. Malleable, even.

I love your blog, but I’m going to have to disagree here and say that saying something has consciousness implies that that something is a bunch of matter that is generally glued together and contains in its structure a running brain.

With all due respect, is the universe red because Mars is red?

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Brian Kung July 10, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I think you may have missed the point. The basis for David’s assertion of awareness supercedes all knowledge we have of the universe outside of ourselves. You bring up the laws of physics, but, we cannot be sure of the laws of physics without first having experienced them.

Then there must be something with which to experience, doesn’t there? Therefore, we must begin with awareness and consciousness. It’s very reminiscent of Descartes.

Also, even considering that “consciousness implies that that something is a bunch of matter that is generally glued together and contains in its structure a running brain,” the universe contains many such devices. It is a larger subset, and thus the universe is definitely conscious. To a degree.

But even besides the semantics, who is to say that these brains don’t operate toward some greater consciousness? Is a single neuron in your brain aware of your consciousness?

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Joe T July 18, 2011 at 11:22 pm

I’m not sure what you mean by “It is a larger subset”. The set of things with conscious brains is a larger subset than the universe? It’s impossible for a subset of a set to be larger than a set, isn’t it?

To your query “who is to say that these brains don’t operate toward some greater consciousness?”, well, who is to say that they do? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Should consciousness not be considered an illusion of biology until proven to be something greater?

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David July 11, 2011 at 6:15 am

No, I don’t think it’s necessary to define awareness, nor is it necessary to discuss free will or any other ism. Awareness is self-evident if anything is self-evident.

The “red” analogy doesn’t work, and here’s why. Red is what we humans call something when red wavelengths of light coming from it are more apparent to us than any other. Redness is an aggregation, a result, and whether the observer calls it red or not is a judgment call. I have a shirt some people would call red and others would call maroon.

The mere presence of red wavelengths of light does not make something red. There are red wavelengths of light coming from the sun all the time, but that doesn’t mean it is red. Because there are so many other wavelengths coming from it at any time, we usually experience it as white, and this is a mental phenomena. If something has the quality of awareness, however, it is aware, regardless of whatever other qualities it has.

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Joe T July 18, 2011 at 11:28 pm

I’m still not sure what you mean by aware. Should consciousness/awareness not be considered an illusion of biology, as basic as red wavelengths, until proven to be something greater?

Though we may not be on the same page because we don’t share the same definition of “universe” and/or the idea of what it would mean for the universe to be aware. Is it the case that you say the universe is aware because awareness, to you, is some property that if some parts of the universe have it, that means the whole universe has it? Like a computer can “read CDs” if its disk drive can read CDs? On that basis I would agree with you.

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Steve July 10, 2011 at 10:45 pm

This post seems quasi religions in nature. You almost seem to be describing panentheism, not to be confused with pantheism. In pantheism, God is the whole; however, in panentheism, the whole is in God

I know you admire Emerson and he too was a proponent of a type of panentheism. From Wikipedia:

The German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause (1781–1832) seeking to reconcile monotheism and pantheism, coined the term panentheism (“all in God”) in 1828. This conception of God influenced New England transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. The term was popularized by Charles Hartshorne in his development of process theology and has also been adopted by proponents of various New Thought beliefs.

Is this what you were going for, or am I misreading you?

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David July 11, 2011 at 6:20 am

Let’s leave the G-word out of it to avoid the hopeless confusion that comes with it. Let’s also avoid reducing this idea to some pre-existing “ism” too, for a moment. I have no desire here to reconcile any ism with any other ism. Given what I’ve said here, does it make sense or not?

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Mabel July 11, 2011 at 3:20 am

Very nicely written David. It’s hard to understand why being conscious is nowhere near as joyful as it could be. The universe, we, must be still getting the hang of it. (Might I say reading your articles always goes very well with watching Star Trek episodes.)

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David July 11, 2011 at 7:06 am

Thanks Mabel. We definitely haven’t gotten the hang of it yet :)

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DiscoveredJoys July 11, 2011 at 3:30 am

Got to agree with Joe T.

That some very small parts of the universe exhibit behaviours identified as ‘awareness’ is true by experience and observation. To claim that the whole universe shows those behaviours is bordering on mysticism.

My computer exhibits complex behaviour, electrons rush about, waveforms arise and collapse. Is the universe therefore a computer?

We may be made out of star stuff, but to claim we are stars is woo.

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David July 11, 2011 at 6:50 am

The “proportion” of the universe that exhibits consciousness (as it is apparent to us) isn’t relevant. Is the following statement true or not: Through its own nature the universe has developed a consciousness of itself.

It does not need to be a “thorough” awareness, just as your awareness of your body can’t ever be thorough, unless you find a way of maintaining an awareness of all cellular and molecular activity going on in there. And we shouldn’t assume that it is necessarily “very small parts” of the universe that exhibit awareness. We really have no way of knowing that. It is only very small parts of the universe that exhibit stars, and we can only see a tiny proportion of them, but that doesn’t mean they are some isolated or irregular phenomenon.

I didn’t say we are stars, and I’m not sure where you’re coming from with the computer analogy. Just because there is some computation going on in the universe does not mean that it makes any sense to reduce our concept of the universe to that of a computer, any more than calling your house a computer because it contains a computer.

The universe is altogether different than other conceptual objects we deal with every day like houses, computers and people. There is nothing we can exclude from it. I think people reject out of hand the notion of the universe being conscious because we are so used to dealing with objects that we regard as being self-contained and exclusive of each other.

As Brian Kung alluded to above, awareness is primary. It is self-evident like nothing else, and all conceptual knowledge about stars or computers is derived from it. It is not an aggregate interpretation, the way “red” is, or the way “computation” is. It is plain if anything is plain.

If consciousness arose from matter, and matter arose from the universe, consciousness arose from the universe. If that consciousness is aware of the universe, in whole or in part, then the universe is conscious of itself, in whole or in part, just like you are aware of yourself. No?

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DiscoveredJoys July 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm

No.

If you were to say (as you nearly do) that tiny bits of the universe are self aware and also aware of other bits of the universe outside themselves, I would agree. But to make the claim that therefore the whole universe is aware is misleading.

Most of the universe is empty (apart from quantum fluctuations and a few widely spaced molecules) and we cannot see most of the remainder. Did you know that we can only see a couple of other galaxies by naked eye?

I read your phrase ‘Through its own nature the universe has developed a consciousness of itself’ as a teleological one, the universe having a purpose. I’m not sure if you meant it this way. If you did, I would have to say that it was an assertion that is unproven.

But if you feel happy with your personal experience that’s fine by me. Just don’t expect me to cheer.

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David July 13, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Hmm, I think you’re conflating what I’ve said here with some of the more wistful claims about a conscious universe we hear sometimes. I did not say the whole universe is conscious, only that the universe has developed consciousness, and that that the object of that conscious must be itself (because there is nothing else for it to be conscious of.)

I also think that the notion of the universe displaying consciousness has people presuming that I mean that the universe (in the same sense as humans) thinks, decides, harbors intentions or makes judgments as some kind of single-minded entity, and that’s not what I’m saying at all, though I know others have said that.

Rather than a big empty space with stuff in it, It’s probably more accurate to think of the universe as an inextricable network of relationships. Even across the vast “empty” stretches that we regard as dead space, there is all kinds of activity, the least of which is light and gravity interacting. By all accounts it is a vast and entirely interdependent system, of which our consciousness (and the consciousness of any other conscious beings out there) is an integral, inextricable part that is as natural and fundamental an occurrence as light or gravity. Just as the universe exhibits light, it exhibits consciousness.

When the universe came into existence by way of the big bang, it was not just space and matter that were created, but also time, gravity and all the other relationships that govern the whole thing. It is a single system, entirely interdependent. So all of this is a way of saying this: as the universe has developed in accordance to its natural laws, it has developed another kind or relationship we know as subjective experience, or consciousness. I think people commonly presume that life and the consciousness that evolved from it is some sort of mistake, an inert and isolated curiosity. But it’s clear to me that it’s not some bizarre and irrelevant offshoot, but yet another way for the universe to interact with itself.

When you look at the stars, or anything else, the universe is seeing itself. As I said before, it is not the proportion of “how much” of the universe is conscious that is important (which is unanswerable and meaningless, just like asking how much of the universe is illuminated) it is the recognition that all of this matter, space and radiation have given rise to the ability for the universe to experience itself, in whatever proportion. If you see nothing fascinating in this then there’s nothing to talk about here.

Antony July 11, 2011 at 7:08 am

I look at the stars.
I see myself.
I am stardust.

In this moment
I see life.
I am in Awe.

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Anna July 11, 2011 at 7:27 am

This is what Symphony of Science has made of this idea:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGK84Poeynk

- makes me happy :)

This is not religion. Well, not in itself, I guess you could make it religious, or experience it as such. But a question like “where does the grass stop and the earth begin” is totally valid.

What if we called grass + soil “groil”? We’d see soil and say “look at this groil without green stuff on top of it”. And that’s what it would be, to us. (Cool stuff, groil, you can pull it apart and use the elements separately!)

That we have good, practical reasons to use certain labels doesn’t mean they say anything about the actual situation “out there”. Because the situation “out there” is that it’s all one big beautiful mess without true discernable boundaries :) Terminology is handy but we let it confuse us.

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Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor July 11, 2011 at 7:52 am

i lost part of an essay grade for critical thought! apparently being aware of class readings and linking to other lit and own examples, was not the way to show awareness of ones thinking and values governing bshaviours. i left ~:-)

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Lindsay July 11, 2011 at 8:29 am

Very nicely written. You took what could be a complex concept to grasp and made it very easy. I think it’s also a reminder that we are all connected. Every single one of us.

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marc van der Linden July 11, 2011 at 8:30 am

Everyone can be aware at his own level what is important for them.

Of course the universe is conscious. What else?

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Kyle Voss July 11, 2011 at 8:42 am

Wonderful essay, David. I was relieved when a friend shared this on Facebook and I connected with another ‘self’-aware human being. It seems as if you have written down all of the observations I’ve been making throughout the last six months.

There is so much energy around us that we are not aware (to use your term) of. Like, sure I can feel the blood pumping through and almost out of my puny legs when I’m riding up a huge hill on my bicycle, but how many of us stop to feel the earth blazing past the “emptiness” of space? How much energy is also being sustained from its rotation? And this is just a pattern as you know, for our solar system, galaxy, and everything else we have yet to discover and understand.

Maybe this energy is consciousness?

Do you meditate? It has opened up all new perspectives for me.

This short film may interest you. It’s a short, very poetic perspective on the history of human thinking. It leaves a sense of optimism, as did reading your essay for me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IBRDBuI9bQ

I really enjoyed this. I hope this message means as much to you as yours did to me.

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Laura July 11, 2011 at 9:08 am

I love it when someone more articulate than myself puts thoughts into words that I have been thinking myself but didn’t have the words to explain it. I love noticing the fractalline nature of everything, and this post reminded me of that. :)

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Melody | Deliberate Receiving July 11, 2011 at 9:39 am

Hi like the point you made about not having to be aware of everything all at one. Of course, the Universe is aware. It’s a collection of all consciousness (whether on Earth or otherwise), physical, non-physical, human, animal, plant, amoeba, subatomic particles. But just because something has the ability to know everything, doesn’t mean that it would choose to focus on everything at once (just as we don’t.) So, to me, it’s more that the Universe is a huge collection of awareness, and the potential for 100% awareness exists. I wonder what would happen if the entire Universe decided to focus on the same thing at the same time? :)

Hugs,
Melody

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David July 11, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Hi Melody. It does lead to a whole bunch of other questions I have no clue at all about, like how awareness relates to volition, what experience is like for other forms of life, and how are we ever going to know those things?

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EDLESS September 2, 2013 at 12:43 am

hey man. love your blog. just discovered it last week. i’m especially thankful because it pointed me toward douglas harding. i had never heard of him prior to reading your essays. since then i’ve been reading as much as i can about the headless way. re: your comment here – i’ve been wondering about this: what is the relationship between volition, awareness, and the ego? i’m starting to open up to this notion that awareness is not something that anyone owns and that it not directed by the ego. but does awareness direct the ego? awareness seems to certainly influence the ego, yes? when awareness becomes aware of itself along with the thoughts and sensations of the ego, it seems like those thoughts dissipate more quickly than they would otherwise. prior to reading Harding, i probably would’ve said something like, “mindful awareness helps me let go of thoughts more quickly”. but now i’m beginning to believe that “me” is simply an experience that results from thoughts. so now i’m more apt to say “the thoughts dissipate more quickly” rather than saying “mindfulness helps me let go of the thoughts more quickly” because there’s no solid I/me to let go of the thoughts. the headless way seems to be saying that there is nobody (ego/I/me) being aware because awareness subsumes the ego/I/me, not the other way around. still, like i said before, it seems that awareness influences the ego. and i’d say that awareness also influences volition. but i get tripped up by the question of, WHAT is it that’s being volitional? what is it that is making decisions around here? what is it that decides to meditate? the ego? awareness? your comment above was from 2011. i’m wondering if you’ve given more thought to the question of how awareness relates to volition.

i have a feeling that you’ve already listened to this. but this episode of This American Life feels very relevant: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/220/testosterone -dude had all his testosterone removed (i don’t remember how or why). he said that without testosterone, he stopped desiring anything. and without desire, he stopped thinking. it seems like, what was left was bare appreciation. to him, everything was beautiful.

anyway, thanks for your time David. hope you’re well.

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Ceci July 11, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Fantastic! Thinking about ourselves this way is absolutely beautiful to me, and feels completely natural. I cannot think about it any other way anymore, since it entered my head.

I’m doing a painting about exactly this at the moment… it’s wonderfully inspiring!

Thanks for the amazing post :)

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David July 11, 2011 at 5:26 pm

It is beautiful.

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Tom K July 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm

It sounds like you’d get a charge out of reading Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon. Maybe you’re already aware of it?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Maker

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David July 11, 2011 at 5:24 pm

I was not aware of that :)

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David July 11, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Wow, sounds awesome from the wiki article.

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Spencer July 11, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Nice post – only one comment “I Think Therefore I Am” is known by Buddhists to be one of the fundamental untruths of Western society. The correct term, which coincides perfectly with your article, is “I Know I Think Therefore I Am” – the I is knowing consciousness whereas the I in the original quote is just ego/the brain!

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David July 11, 2011 at 5:24 pm

I know Descartes didn’t have it quite right there, but it still gets the point across. He was a bit off about other stuff too, particularly in his claim that non-human animals were not conscious.

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Turan January 4, 2014 at 9:34 am

I prefer:- I am, therefore thinking happens. The ‘I am’ being a brain that has ‘self’ consciousness.
Nice article David, well explained.

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David Cain January 5, 2014 at 10:59 am

Thank you Turan.

Char Psi Tutor Mentor July 11, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Your argument makes sense. From personal experience, literature support and other histories.

mysticism, spiritualism…etc. etc…. more labels. definitions are important, but the definition I feel you presented me in your writing is: What is awareness? rather than, is it a good/bad thing to talk about, assuming that these labels are good or bad. How that contributes to discussion, as opposed to judging it and stagnating it, I am unclear about.

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Char Psi Tutor Mentor July 11, 2011 at 9:51 pm

…and ~:-) to ad to the labels; I am calling this orientation headless, and maybe just a bit frogless too.

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Andrew Olson July 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Recently on the TV show “Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman” there was an episode (The Sixth Sense) that addressed this very issue of cosmic consciousness. In fact, there’s a great deal of research going on that has essentially proved this concept. I would highly recommend finding a re-airing of this episode if you can.

There’s one experiment where a researcher has setup dozens of random number generators around the world that pick a random number every second, and the data is recorded. But they’ve been finding that during significant times, like 9/11 or Obama’s Election, there have been very clear anomalies in the random numbers. Possibly, the global consciousness is causing the numbers to behave in non-random ways. Very interesting. They have a website that shows the live data: http://noosphere.princeton.edu/

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Jonathan July 13, 2011 at 4:20 am

If you ask me, the Descartes quote is horribly wrong. But I guess that’s just my stupid opinion.

I don’t know if I would believe in the oneness that many spiritual people proclaim if I didn’t experience it for myself. It just came over me one day when all my thinking just stopped. It was nothing permanent, but it remained for the day. There was no worry anymore, no drifting away into the past or the future. The colors seemed brighter and the world – with all it’s failures – seemed to be perfect just the way it is. Before that day, oneness was just another abstract concept to me.

Without experiences like this, the oneness and the idea of a universe that is aware of itself is difficult to understand for most people because it is so far away from our normal thinking. It’s not something you can really understand with logic only, I presume.

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David July 17, 2011 at 9:01 am

I think Descartes was really only saying that he can’t deny that he exists, because he is aware and thinking.

You are on to something when you say “I don’t know if I would believe in the oneness that many spiritual people proclaim if I didn’t experience it for myself.”

That’s the hallmark of spiritual experience, and it drives empiricists nuts because you can’t prove your own experience if nobody else can observe it. There can be no peer reviews of the inside of your consciousness, and for good reason. Many people think we should categorically deny these accounts, because they are subjective and unprovable. I think that’s a mistake.

What you describe has been described by many, many people. It can only ever be anecdotal, but that doesn’t mean it is imagined or that it should be dismissed.

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Avi July 13, 2011 at 10:19 pm

I keep reading this as “Of Course the Universe is Couscous”

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David July 14, 2011 at 6:25 am

Haha

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Rohit Nalluri July 14, 2011 at 8:07 am

Hi David,

This is one of my favorite post of yours. Thank you for writing this.

There are many roads that lead us to a single moment of spirituality. As I live, I am finding more and more ways that lead me to that moment. Of course, there is no difference between spirituality and that moment that gives it to me. The moment itself is spiritual and the journey towards it is too.

I am not sure if I’ve explained that right. I am sure your mind has found words to explain what I am trying to.

The reason I am writing this comment is to tell you about another path that these days is leading me towards a spiritual moment.

In this post you talk of how the difference between our ‘self’ and the world around us is something humans have mentally built in order to aid communication and understanding. All these differences are born and stored in our brain. I’ve been reading up about this amazing organ of ours lately, and there is a phenomenon called Hyperempathy and Mirror-Touch Synesthesia that completely amazes me.

People with these conditions can actually sense that they are being touched when they witness others being touched! This happens due to a special kind of neuron in our brains that work when they see other people work. Mirror Neurons inform us that it is empathizing with the other person, but as there is no input from the skin that the work is being done, people without this syndrome do not feel the reaction of the work being done. However, some people can actually feel the reaction from the brain when it sees someone else perform an action.

This usually happens to people who have lost a limb. As there is no reaction from their skin to tell them that what they are seeing is not actually happening TO them, their brains cannot understand the difference between their self and the other. So, to meet your point here, the only difference between me and the everyone else is skin, and if I anesthetize the connection between my skin sensors and my back bone, so that my brain does not receive inputs from my skin, then I can actually physically feel what the other person is feeling.

If you are interested in this line (all roads lead to Singularity :) ), then I’d humbly suggest you read ‘The Tell-tale Brain’ by V S Ramachandran.

Have a great day!
T+

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David July 17, 2011 at 9:06 am

That’s fascinating. In terms of our knowledge of the universe we are just scratching the surface here, and I think that’s easy to forget. It’s easy to think we’ve got a fairly complete model nailed down and we’re just filling in gaps that remain, like subatomic physics and the behavior of light.

But what happens (again and again) is that we discover something that just will not fit the existing paradigm, and we must reimagine the whole thing, which should remind us that it is all a mental model anyway. We have experience, and we have a mental model of the workings behind of that experience, which we call science.

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Cory Emanuel July 14, 2011 at 6:28 pm

There’s reality and there’s the objects of reality;there’s existence and the objects of existence; there’s consciousness and there’s the objects of consciousness; there’s you and there’s the objects of you; when we refrain from creating a distinction between the nature of the two, we think of the two as one and the same.There is indeed a fundamental connection ( or perceived disconnection ) but only one of contextual expression that is created to make sense of it all… There is only one true sense… it is the sense of self-awareness from which all things shall either emerge or cease to exist…

Think of it like this: Consciousness is an interface to the object world.. the world of form as we know it . All object have a certain level of consciousness; depending on the level of complexity of these object’s interface, they are more or less conscious, but are all of a fundamental formless origin.

Truth lies at the heart of everything… by truth i mean consciousness…everything includes our objects… including universes ..including infinity… for they are all things interfacing space, right ? :)

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Ron August 9, 2011 at 2:20 am

As the universe is conscious, we people living in this world must also be conscious of all the things that happenings to us. Awareness is one factor that lead us to awaken our consciousness and be able to explore the life we are living. I guess that we should be very careful with what we are doing here on earth.

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Ali of Spinner's End August 10, 2011 at 11:44 am

David! I just discovered your blog and am happily reading past articles and skimming around.. I’m not sure if you read comments on past entries, but on the off chance you do I wanted to direct you to this post written by Chris Ballew on Soul Pancake (an amazing forum for daily discussions of life’s big questions). He discusses “body intelligence” and then equates it with “universal intelligence” in a very simliar way as this post. Ever since I read the post, I’ve been preoccupied by how much truth I find in it. Chris Ballew even goes so far as to say that this universal intelligence may be the “meaning” of life and the answer to the eternal question “why are we here?” Regardless of the “answers” or the “truth” of this notion, it has definitely helped me to feel more like a working cog in the whirligig of the universe rather than just some girl awkwardly spinning alone in it. What’s really interesting here is also how well this notion can go along with your idea of a “dying on purpose”.. rather than feeling trapped by the machine of the world or feeling pressure to experience the “right kind” of consciousness, I find myself calmed by not only the idea that I am a part of bringing awareness to the universe, but that the universe will go on with or without my attachment to it.

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Jenny October 3, 2011 at 9:28 am

Very good reading, so much thoughs now in my head… Universe!

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Russ Banai February 24, 2012 at 12:03 am

sad that it takes too long to explain, but after studying neuroscience, psychology and philosophy in undergrad and medical school.Iive come to the same conclusion as you….past that i have even felt it at times, which sounds strange and is hard for people to understand but is very real(well at least to me)….we believe we are separate from the world because our skin is a border, but we indeed are not, we are in the world, we are the world, this conscious self is a reflection of the universe observing itself. It serves the purpose of being able to regulate itself on a much faster and effective basis than a purely biological and mechanical pathway. Each person is essentially the same, the small deviation in genetics cant come close to accounting for the self that is created through the interaction of billions of neurons forming trillions of network connections, each of our brain is physically unique because it receives a unique set of data at all times, think about it…no one can stand in the same spot as you at this current time, and if they do stand in the same physical location, they must do so at a different time…so based on the uniqueness of your temporal and your spacial location relative to other brains and body machines you will therefore form a unique consciousness…..you see…we are nature displaying nature….all the same thing looking at an objective reality at different angles…

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Sarah February 28, 2012 at 5:18 am

…we believe we are separate from the world because our skin is a border, but we indeed are not, we are in the world, we are the world, this conscious self is a reflection of the universe observing itself…

You make perfect sense to me in the way you say this – it is so simple and so beautiful, I feel a peaceful awareness of all things and I feel aware of being accepting of myself as a part of it all, a part of everything that IS… being infinitely connected to everything because I am another part of that same “everything”. I “knew” this already on some level I guess, but I’ve just had one of those perfect moments of singularity where everything becomes unified into one interconnected whole. Thank you for that moment :)

And this quote…

…think about it…no one can stand in the same spot as you at this current time, and if they do stand in the same physical location, they must do so at a different time…so based on the uniqueness of your temporal and your spacial location relative to other brains and body machines you will therefore form a unique consciousness…..you see…we are nature displaying nature….all the same thing looking at an objective reality at different angles…

Nature displaying nature… displaying nature… reverberating into and around and above and beyond itself in an infinite reflection of itself… from my unique viewpoint here at my laptop I am at one with it all and it is just absolutely beautiful :)

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Paul October 17, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Hi all,

Davids intuitive theory of consciosness, and the universe, may soon be verified by cold hard science. If your interested, take a look at Stuart Hammeroff’s website. Google “The big wow” theory, William Penrose, Paola Zizzi, or just “Are stars conscious”.

These people reckon quantum physics can explain consciousness, and that the universe was at one point conscious, and also that stars may be “superconscious”. One quote was interesting. “The brain creates consciousness in the same way the well digger creates water, i.e it doesnt, it merely taps into something thats already there”

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Keith November 27, 2012 at 12:03 am

I think the biggest flaw in your reasoning is presuming that “conscious” is a concrete idea. Awareness is something so flexible, that to suggest there is a connection between matter and the physical world (i.e. universe) and consciousness, requires a little more solid explanation than “self-evident.” The fact is, we actually can deny that we truly “experience” anything. Benjamin Libet’s experiments on mind delay suggest “free-will” or decisions may be nothing more than stimulated physical responses (http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674018464). What would this mean for “experience” or “awareness?” If we assume we have free will and that is an illusion, is “consciousness” also an illusion? Unfortunately, all this mumbo jumbo is just circular arguing and while your blog is food for thought, it ranks somewhere around Twilight. The nature of the Universe is just allusive to you and the rest of us, as life was to Bella Swan. But this shouldn’t be a repulsive idea. I just think that a philosophical and introspective idea should have a stronger basis in reality and less smoke-screen from all the weed.

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Kurt December 3, 2012 at 1:32 am

If we are part of the universe, and part of everything that is, can even what we perceive as death, destroy us or separate us, from being a part of the conscious universe?

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Ramya R. March 25, 2013 at 1:55 pm

There is scientific evidence for this as well. String theory, an advent of modern day science, essentially states that there is a unified field of energy/consciousness/intelligence that gives rise to the universe and the material phenomena that is constantly unfolding around us. I guess many spiritual teachers throughout the ages have attained/become a part of this universal consciousness through deep introspection; perhaps because they are able to experience it first hand through mind body awareness. Good stuff, this article.

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chrispy May 5, 2013 at 10:07 pm

I think that quantum physics come ito play with the basic strangeness, where one photon will react to another far from the same site. Has anybody studied this?

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karl May 17, 2013 at 1:22 am

Dear David, thanks so much for your interesting blog! The fundamental question here is; what is primary, matter or consciousness?If I understood you right, you seem to assume that matter was primary and that consciousness emerged from organized matter. Well, I sure do not know, but Quantum physics seems to suggest something else! Matter only manifests from the field of infinite possibilities if there is a conscious entity observing it! (Double slit experiment) No observer, no world! This clearly proves that consciousness must be primary and that matter and the whole universe is secondary and only appears as a phenomena IN the light of consciousness! In that sense, the universe as such can only manifest if a conscious entity is observing it. (You as the ONE consciousness) Therefore, how can the universe be conscious if it is merely a phenomena in the (observing) consciousness which YOU ARE!!!… (The ONE consciousness, call it Matrix, field of infinite possibilities, G-word, or whatever)
A word on Descartes: I think therefore I am.
The error is that Descartes equates thinking with being. Well, my experience tells me that I can very well BE without thinking, (state of transcendence in meditation for example) but I surely cannot think without being! So again being (consciousness) must be primary, thinking, in others words “form”, merely appears in it!
Looking forward to hearing from you!

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Boyce Booth November 29, 2013 at 5:41 pm

A good, short philosophy class. Many questions and some answers. Mr. Cain, your article was well appreciated by me anyway. The idea that we, or our Universe, is all an illusion was settled years ago on the basis of arguments in philosophy, though I now forget exactly who settled this, in favour of It not being an illusion. I won`t go into argueing for or against all the silly things said by those unimformed critics. But I will suggest that any open minded person read the collection of Seth books by Jane Roberts and some serious reading into quantumphysics. Both speak of difficult concepts, but if one is not firmly decided previously, many wonderful things can be realized. Both about ourselves and things outside our bodies. Yes, even the minutist of things is conscious, though I`m not sure of their all being self- aware. Thanks for the posting.

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Mario April 14, 2014 at 9:38 pm

I always,say ” I am aware of being conscious but Consciousness is aware of being me”. Yea I made that up :-) read it a few times

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Neil April 20, 2014 at 7:18 am

Great discussion.

My conclusions after many years of thinking on this subject are that there are only two things which are completely irrefutable:

1 – Existence is a fact (i.e. at least something exists)
2 – Consciousness is a part of that existence

Everything else is a belief.

This may seem pretty useless for any practical purpose, but it does raise the importance of conscious awareness which is often neglected by die-hard rationalists.

To illustrate why these are fundamental facts, let’s look at two very different belief systems:

Idealism – Nothing exists except for awareness
Materialism – Material exists which, under certain circumstances, gives rise to conscious awareness

For either to be true, the facts of existence and consciousness have to be true. And that is an amazing place to start any journey of discovery.

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DiscoveredJoys July 15, 2011 at 11:08 am

Thanks for replying. I understand more fully now what you were saying. I suspect ware not so far apart conceptually.

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