Philosophy of Consciousness

Alfred North WhiteheadAlfred North Whitehead, perhaps the last great Western metaphysical philosopher, suggested that orthodox science is committing the “fallacy of the misplaced concrete” by taking highly abstract, instrument mediated, observations and using them to try to explain and predict the human experience and other emergent phenomena in the universe instead of grounding our knowledge in our actual concrete human experience.

Rather, Whitehead suggests, we should base our knowledge in our real experience, which is what we know most clearly and intimately about the universe.  Any explanation of the universe (or any aspect of the universe) that does not conform with the essential structure of our actual experience is flawed, to the degree that it doesn’t so conform.

Our Experience of the World Is a Conscious Experience

One of the most important insights that the rediscovery of philosophy can offer to science is that our experience of the world is a conscious experience.  Our consciousness – our thoughts, our feelings, our sensations, our intuitions – provide our most basic form of knowledge.  The world has to be the kind of place where this type of consciousness exists, because this type of consciousness is our most intimate experience of the world.  In fact it is our only experience of the world

Therefore, if each human being is a conscious living organism, it is much more likely that the universe is also a kind of conscious living organism, than that the universe is a non-living, non-conscious machine that somehow makes itself and then somehow gives birth to conscious humans that are inherently alien to it.

But, you may reply, we don’t experience the larger consciousness of the universe.  Well, the most realistic hypothesis may be that the universe has many levels of consciousness, a consciousness spectrum like the energy spectrum, but, again like the energy spectrum, we only experience a relatively narrow band of the consciousness spectrum.

Think of the cells in your bodies.  It’s probably pretty hard for them to imagine what your consciousness is like, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  And your consciousness clearly affects your cells, for example flooding them with adrenaline and stimulating them to different kinds of action when you get very excited or very happy or very angry or very frightened.

So what happens if we shift our Ontology and consider the universe as a conscious, living, evolving organism?

The Anthropic Principle

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn argued that normal science moves in a relatively smooth fashion, integrating new knowledge into preexisting theories, which exist within particular world views.  However, periodically there are scientific revolutions when the whole world view or, as he puts it, the paradigm changes.  Moving from a geocentric to a heliocentric solar system and from Newtonian to relativistic physics are two such examples of changing a paradigm.

From the perspective of Planetary Philosophy, we are in the middle of another, perhaps even more basic paradigm shift, from a mechanistic/probabilistic universe where human consciousness is a sort of accidental epiphenomenon that requires special explanation to a conscious universe in which human consciousness exists along a narrow band of a much broader spectrum of universal consciousness.

In Western thought, this paradigm shift has been formulated as the Anthropic Principle [further elaboration at link]. The standard form of the Anthropic Principal holds that observations of the physical universe must be compatible with the conscious life that observes it. The strong form of the Anthropic Principal asserts that the universe must be compatible with conscious life, which means that it is most likely that the universe is a living place that contains a spectrum of consciousness.

Philosophy of Consciousness Part 2