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.
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.
6 thoughts on “Qualia, Consciousness, Christ, and Cosmos”
I’m getting you up through “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.” But I lost you after that. If it is true that the simplest explanation is usually the best, the simplest explanation might be that consciousness is that which is prior to everything, in which everything moves, and out of which everything derives its being. What we think of as ‘we’, or ‘qualia’, or anything else, exists in and as consciousness, without respect two sides, or inner and outer. Two sides, two anything, is the essence of duality, as opposed to not-twoness, or non-duality, it would seem. But I agree that “you are that Cosmos shining.” And that “body and spirit are one.” I would not make any distinction between body and spirit, or mind and matter.
Hi Walt. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I too have thought that consciousness might be prior to everything, and even synonymous with God. And that may be. All mind and matter may derive from that consciousness, and be subordinate to it. And yet, we still have mind and matter, seemingly two different things, at least at this level of our experience in the world.
Although I do think that God is a nondual One, I think God may manifest itself in duality and multiplicity. It’s a paradox, for sure, that nonduality may manifest itself in duality, but that seems to be what we see in the world, many dualities (or polarities). It’s related to the philosophical problem of “the one and the many,” as well as dialectical monism, or dual-aspect monism. In an ultimate sense, these dualities find union in a nonduality that is transrational and incomprehensible to our minds. We have to transcend the mind to know pure consciousness (i.e. God, or the One).
What I was suggesting was that the dualities that we commonly see as spirit (mind) and body (matter) might be the inner and outer sides of the nondual One. In other words, they may not really be two separate things, but one and the same thing, which we see as two at this level of perception and reality. What we see as neuronal activity in the brain may be how things look on the outside, but the appearance of red is how it is experienced on the inside, of the same nondual One. We may see these as two different things, instead of one, because of our limited and dualistic perceptions. But in an ultimate sense, they are One.
Alan Watts once wrote, “Really, the fundamental, ultimate mystery – the only thing you need to know to understand the deepest metaphysical secrets – is this: that for every outside there is an inside and for every inside there is an outside, and although they are different, they go together.”
This also sounds similar to something Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower… then you will enter [the kingdom].”
Thanks for your thoughtful response, Bryce. I think it’s fair to say that on a day to day, relative level, there does seem to be a distinction between mind and matter, but I’m also reminded of a another Alan Watts quote: “As you make more and more powerful microscopic instruments, the universe has to get smaller and smaller in order to escape the investigation. Just as when the telescopes become more and more powerful, the galaxies have to recede in order to get away from the telescopes. Because what is happening in all these investigations is this: Through us and through our eyes and senses, the universe is looking at itself.” I don’t think there is any real distinction between mind, body, matter, or spirit. An apparent one, yes, but this apparent distinction falls apart, or is seen through, in the light of non-dual knowing. And then the reality, that there is no distinction, becomes clear.
I agree that God manifests in duality, and I would suggest that all duality is nothing more or less than the manifestation of God’s non-dual essence. An essence I would equate with Consciousness, or Brahman, or God, using all three words synonymously. In this understanding, the notion of God manifesting as Jesus, for example, who was fully human and fully divine, would not be unique to Jesus, only to the Christian conception of Jesus as being the only one granted (to borrow another Alan Watts expression) that special status.
I agree that it’s trans-rational or incomprehensible, at least until we’ve seen that it’s true with a knowing that goes beyond what we’ve previously conceived of as knowing. In other words, if the rational or logical mind tries to apprehend this on its own, it is likely to reject it as absurd. But once the knowing has been received as clarity arising from a place beyond reason or intellect, then reason or intellect can be employed in an attempt to articulate it. When I said in my previous comment that consciousness-being-prior is the simplest explanation, I don’t feel able to articulate it well enough to convince anyone who doesn’t see it that way, but I would say that, having undergone a significant paradigm shift in how I view the world, I see it that way, and can no longer see it any other way, and the truth of it seems obvious to me now, whereas it would have seemed laughable before. So I certainly respect anyone who sees it differently, and recognize that I could be wrong, even if I’m convinced I’m not. I also recognize that this may come across as a little off-putting, but I feel okay saying it because it’s not an intellectual conclusion I arrived at that my ego is invested in. It feels more like a truth revealed.
Thank you for the comment. I agree with much of what you say. Great thoughts! I like that quote from Alan Watts: “Through us and through our eyes and senses the universe is looking at itself.”
It’s remarkable that Carl Sagan said almost the same thing: “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
It’s like the universe is a mirror and the universe is reflecting itself in us. Mirrors reflecting mirrors, which is an infinite reflection.
I like your thoughts about duality and nonduality. It seems that it is our mind which constructs the dualism from the nondual, our minds break things apart, create boundaries, distinctions, differentiations, in order to separate this thing from another thing. But in their essence they are not two, but one. The dualism seems to only be a convention of mind, so that the mind may know things in the traditional sense.
As you said, we have to transcend the intellectual or rational mind in order to see the nondual, we have to go beyond that part of the mind that wants to break all things into parts and pieces. Then we’ll know the Divine, beyond all words. Then we’ll know our Self, what we are in this cosmos, as this cosmos, and perhaps as Consciousness itself, beyond all mind.
have you read upon non-duality? t seems you have come to understand it through Christianity the way western and eastern philosophers have come to understand it.
Hi Roger, yes, I have read a lot about non-duality. I approach it largely from a Christian perspective, because that is my personal background, but I also love the Eastern perspectives, and all other mystical perspectives as well.