What is qualia? What is the source of individual instances of subjective conscious experience, like seeing the redness of an apple? Where does the redness come from? I don’t know, but here are some ideas.
Energy in our environment impinges upon our sense organs causing a cascade of electrochemical reactions and nerve impulses that are sent to the brain. In the brain these nerve impulses seem to give rise to a conscious perception. We know that a certain wavelength/frequency of photons, for example, striking the retina cells in our eyes correlates with the experience of red arising in consciousness. But why red? Why is it red? Why do we experience that color? Why do we experience anything?
How do those nerve impulses translate into the perception? How can electrical impulses along neuron cells be something that we “see” or experience in consciousness? How does the redness of the apple appear in our awareness? This is known as the “hard problem of consciousness.”
Perhaps part of the problem is that we think there is a “me” seeing the perception. Where is that me? Is it in the eyes? Is it in the brain? Is it the whole of the body? Is it in my parents who taught me to recognize red as some thing? Where is the “self” that sees the perception?
It seems consciousness divides itself when there is any perception, into a subject and an object. We feel like the “self” or subject that is perceiving the perception or object, perhaps the beginning of all dualism.
Maybe this could be better framed as an interaction. There has been an interaction, an exchange, energy encountering other energy, energy encountering its self. As theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli has noted in his latest books, all of reality is interaction. Maybe there is no “self” perceiving an object, but rather there is an interaction of energies within energy. One type of energy gets absorbed by the other, or becomes one with the other. They merge or at-one.
And in this merging a reaction takes place. The merging interaction causes a deluge of more energetic reactions and interactions, like the first shot in billiards, a tremendous chain reaction of energy unfurls.
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Maybe what we usually think of ourselves is that reaction, that lightning storm of energy. What “sees” this storm? What is the “self” that experiences this consciousness? It is perhaps the energy itself, energy’s inner side, what we might call the “spiritual” or “conscious” side of energy.
Jesus said that we are the “light of the world” (together with him; Matt. 5:14, John 8:12). In the Greek it is the “phōs” of “kosmos.” Phos means to shine, like rays, luminousness, fire, or light. Maybe we are that shining, that fire, those rays of energy shining from out of the cosmos itself, as the emanations of the Big Bang came from an initial gravitational Singularity.
Which may be why Jesus said to not hide it, to not hide yourself, but to let your light, your fire, your energy shine among humanity. This glorifies the “Father” or Source of that energy, the One, the Singularity of the cosmos, the unified field in which we are all embedded and from which our finite body-minds emerge. Allow your energy to shine brightly throughout the world, as the sun shines on the world, even throughout the cosmos, because you are that Cosmos shining.
Of course, this still doesn’t explain qualia, or how conscious experience seems to arise from neural impulses. But maybe this is not really two separate things. Maybe what we think we see as one thing causing the other thing is really one and the same, two sides of the same coin.
Maybe consciousness is the inner experience of the outer dance of energy in the cosmos. Maybe it is the Cosmos’ own inner experience of that outer energetic dance in its Self. Maybe the spirit/consciousness/mind is the inner side of the outer play of matter/body/energy. Maybe spirit and body are really One, two sides of a single Holy (Wholly) One. Maybe the realization of this unity of spirit and body is part of what the Christian “resurrection” means.
The modern Christian mystic and teacher Richard Rohr has said:
All matter reveals Spirit, and Spirit needs matter to “show itself”! “The Second Coming of Christ” happens whenever and wherever we allow this to be utterly true for us.
So maybe it is not that one causes the other, or that we could ever know why qualia appears in consciousness as it does. That neuronal activity when we see an apple may be the outer activity of the cosmos, while the inner experience of the cosmos is red. Perhaps these are not really two separate things in an ultimate sense. Maybe they are two sides of the very same One, the One that manifests itself as all of creation, including you and me.