There is something that feels

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

I discover two sides of consciousness: on the first side a constitutive consciousness that is the state of being conscious of the phenomenon, and on the second side, the being or existence of this very consciousness itself.

Boss's Dialogue with Heidegger, Freud, Sartre, Buddha and Jung : On Being Authentic


While most of us run out of words, poets caught in the midst of impressions, feelings, and connections imagine “ what it is like” to unveil “what is”. The ontological status of consciousness is defined as follows:  “there’s something that feels”. That ‘something’ represents that which is, regardless of whether it is unseen and intangible. What is that which is? How much consciousness is out there? How is it for that which is to feel? Is an atom’s consciousness external to the Sun’s of which it is a part? 


Do we believe that the mind is only the result of a collection of biological circuitry, or is it something more or different?

The Routledge Handbook of Emergence


Without shared resonance, consciousness is confined to a single emergent layer. With shared resonance, it becomes layers upon layers of intertwined emergence. The Universe may be a composite subjectivity, formed of many individually conscious parts. How do those parts bind together? At the very least, they need to obey principles of reflexivity and transitivity.  If time is my common denominator, how to relate the experience of a star to that of a human being? 


Whatever objects might appear through a mental state, the latter, besides being a consciousness of these objects, is necessarily an awareness of time passing.

Aron Gurwitsch


While it appears to our mind and body that consciousness is grounded in natural science, it may be an element of the quantum Universe. A model of consciousness will need to prescribe a relation between states of experience on the one hand and the natural world or the quantum Universe, on the other.  If analogical terms and fractal representations are imaginative but reductionist to explain the Universe, how to remediate their insufficiencies? 


The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe.

P. W. Anderson


What it is like refers to how it is for the subject itself, whether it be the Universe as a whole or an electron. Although analogies refer to relations and similarities between aspects of experience, there is no conception that allows one to establish the identity of a ‘what it is like’ aspect of experience with a physical state. Since mathematics is considered essential to gain understanding into the Universe, could those relations be translated into a mathematical structure?  


In any scientific approach, writes Johannes Kleiner in his paper on mathematical models of consciousness, two fundamentally different methodological approaches allow one to gather information: a first-person perspective and a third-person perspective. A scientific model of consciousness addresses both. What is an act of consciousness? How does it unfold? In the case of the universal wave function, in which the Universe is as much the observer as it is the observed, the process starts during superposition and ends with collapse. What exactly happens during the intervals between events of collapse and what flows throughout these intervals might need to be taken into account in regard to the transfer of information, feeling, or consciousness. Could the idea of cosmic consciousness be addressed within a general mathematical framework?


Free-floating Evaporating Gaseous Globules (ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Sahai; CC BY 4.0)

Free-floating Evaporating Gaseous Globules (ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Sahai; CC BY 4.0)

how much is what we “see" affected by the scientific theory and, more generally, the worldview or paradigm we happen to hold?

Paavo Pylkkänen


No scientific methodology applied to date, writes Johannes Kleiner, can be used to address non-collatable aspects of experience.  A part, property, or feature of conscious experience is non-collatable if there are no reasonable means to identify this part, property, or feature over experimentation. Non-collatability implies limitations on how aspects of experience can be referenced in a theory or empirical investigation. How then do we define cosmic Consciousness that is ineffable and inaccessible? The observed is the experiencing subject. How experience reveals itself to the Universe, how it finds itself experiencing, defines cosmic consciousness. Its conscious experience constitutes the totality of feelings. 


One of the mathematical models of consciousness is the Integrated Information Theory. At the heart of the theory is an algorithm that aims to determine both the quality and quantity of a physical system’s conscious experience. It is constantly under development, with new and refined definitions being added every few years. Johannes Kleiner and Sean Tull published in a paper this year their mathematical analysis of the theory.


The idea that we can only talk about consciousness of the self and not a universal consciousness feels limiting. For me, the thinking process unfolds internally as if I were conversing with other minds around a table. It is reminiscent of a fictional dialogue cleverly written in 2014 between Medard Boss, Heidegger, Freud, Sartre, Buddha, and Jung. The quotation at the beginning of this post is part of it. Words of Josiah Royce, Thomas Nagel, and others resonate in my head. 


If there is conscious life elsewhere in the Universe, says Thomas Nagel, “it is likely that some of it will not be describable even in the most general experiential terms available to us” because there might be out there, asserts Josiah Royce, “a depth of meaning, a completeness of expression, a wealth of facts, a clearness of vision” to which we may not have access. Even so, it does not mean, observes Nagel, that “we should deny all the possibles that come from what we can never describe or understand”. It is not to say either that “such an understanding may be permanently denied to us by the limits of our nature”. 


If the theory we are allegedly testing is also the one we use to interpret the results, and the one which defines what counts as observation, problem, method and solution, how objective, neutral and impartial can such testing be judged to be?

Paavo Pylkkänen


There appears to be a difference between self-consciousness and cosmic consciousness as if we need to access one to attain the other. Not everyone reaches such a level of symbiosis with the Universe. There is a transition, claims Richard Maurice Bucke, between self-consciousness and cosmic consciousness, that is when a person who was self-conscious enters into cosmic consciousness. As a result, one feels how the Universe is “not a dead machine but a living presence” and is motivated to “take on enormously greater capacity both for learning and initiating”. Either we’ll transcend individually to a higher level of consciousness, or the day will come when the entire species will evolve. We will then understand the Universe in the most subtle way. Such a new aspect of ourselves will demonstrate an evolved behavior. But when discussing the future of humankind, we often mention how we could benefit from being artificially augmented. I would rather know what will happen to our sense of empathy, sensitivity, and intuition. Will those human traits grow in the future to help tackle the socio-economic and environmental challenges?


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