The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"


According to idealism, mind is the only substance that makes up all of reality.

The German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (17th century) believed that only minds exist.  Humans are not the only ones to have minds. Everything has a mind. Even matter is made of minds. Minds come in degrees, starting with matter (whose minds are very simple) and ending with God (whose mind is infinite). Reality is the set of all finite minds (or "monads") that God has created. Everything has a mind. This extreme view of idealism is called "panpsychism". One way to get rid of the mind-body problem was to get rid of the body.

The Irish philosopher George Berkeley (18th century) thought that all we know is our perceptions, and whatever concepts we can build up from them ("esse est percipi"). We cannot directly know that there is an external world. We only know the internal world of our perceptions. When we talk of an object, we talk of what we see, hear, taste, touch, smell: we talk of something that is inside our mind. An object is an experience. The whole universe is a set of experiences. Ultimately, the only thing that exists is the experiences of our mind.

In the 1920s the British mathematicians and philosopher Alfred Whitehead proposed that mental life occurs in a field of protoconscious events. His units are similar to Leibniz's monads, but they are limited in time, and therefore better thought of  as "mental events". Mental life is a sequence of such mental events that occur in this mental space.

As brain studies have proved that the senses present us with a fictitious view of the universe, and subatomic Physics has shown that matter is but clouds of floating particles, and Quantum Mechanics has stated that reality is ultimately in the observer's mind, it has become more tempting to embrace idealism. If everything we see and hear is but an illusion, how can we claim that there really are "things" out there? The only thing that we perceive is what the senses fabricate for us. What we call "reality" is the work of our mind. If Physics even predicts that reality cannot be "measured" without an observer (as Quantum Mechanics does), how can we claim that reality exists independent of our mind?

The problem with idealism is that one cannot do much more than claim to be an idealist. Once that claim has been made, reality cannot be used to prove it, since reality is a mere illusion of our mind. Everything is an illusion, including the things that one could use to prove this statement right or wrong.

Most scientists believe in a milder form of idealism: the senses do fake reality, and reality does need an observer to become what it is, but sensations do relate to an external world and measurements do measure an external world. The senses and the brain simply alter reality so that we can move about and survive in a world that we can comprehend and manage. And Quantum Physics does not forbid reality from existing, it only forbids us from completely perceiving it.

Most scientists believe that the reality that we perceive is indeed a fabrication of our mind, but it does correspond to a reality out there, that exists regardless of our mind.


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