This is one of the greatest questions and most profound mysteries in science and spirituality today, and perhaps of all time. Philosophers, theologians, mystics, and scientists have wrestled with this question for millennia. Who are we? What is this awareness that we seem to have, this “life” in us that makes us aware?
I think consciousness is perhaps the cosmos becoming aware of itself, the way the cosmos wakes up and knows itself. Matter/energy itself seems to have come alive, but perhaps it always had an inner “alive” side to it, but that aliveness only becomes evident in the right combinations and order of matter and energy, the way standing waves only become evident in a river when the right combination of water and energy are present, or the way a crystal forms in a snowflake when the right combination of water and energy are present.
The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.-Carl Sagan (1934-1996), popular astrophysicist
Consciousness is perhaps an emergent quality from this ordering process, a process that works against entropy (disorder), as in the open system of the Earth’s biosphere, receiving energy from the sun to drive this ordering.
Consciousness may be the “inner” experiential (spiritual) side of the “outer” material (physical) cosmos, when there is sufficient order and complexity present in the system. Spirit and body are perhaps two sides of only one coin, what we might call in spiritual terms the Holy (Wholly) One of the cosmos. These ideas also seem to be explored in the secular philosophies of dual-aspect monism, which seems related to dialectical monism. Note how “double-aspect theory requires the mental and the physical to be inseparable and mutually irreducible (though distinct).”
Spirit and body, mind and matter, subject and object, may not be two separate independent things, but two aspects of only One thing, the Singularity, the Cosmos itself, this Uni-Verse (One Song), the Divine, Ultimate Reality. It is perhaps God, Reality itself, that is waking up in us, and coming to know its Self. We are That.
Here’s a couple of intriguing insights/revelations from the prophet-mystic of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, on this subject:
And the spirit and the body are the soul of man. And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul.-D&C 88:15-16
For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy; And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.-D&C 93:33-34
There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.-D&C 131:7-8
It is all matter, and it is therefore all spirit as well. We can discern this through “purer eyes,” which I interpret to mean contemplative consciousness, seership. Only that deep inner sight can “see it,” when the mind is “purified” of other distracting thoughts which veil it.
Our “resurrection” is perhaps our direct realization of the unity of the spirit (mind) and the body (matter) in our Self, our true Self, the Christ Self, the Buddha-nature, the Atman, this manifestation of the God-Self of the cosmos, the “Son of God,” God’s incarnation in our own body-mind, the Word made flesh in us, the Cosmos knowing its Self.
This may also be our “redemption.” The “soul” of the cosmos has been redeemed in knowing its Self, the inner and outer sides of the cosmos as manifested in the human being, it thus being both fully human and fully divine; we are both fully human and also fully the cosmos and its eternal processes (aka hypostatic union in Christian theology). It is realized that the material elements are inseparably connected to spirit, and the spirit inseparably connected to the material elements, being two sides of the very same One cosmos, undivided, whole, inseparable from God or Ultimate Reality, not independent or alienated, but interdependent and co-arising as the Buddhists say.
When this is directly realized in deep states of altered consciousness, also known as contemplative and mystical consciousness, where the subject/object split collapses into One experiencing, knowing one’s Self at-one or nondualistically in all things (objects). There is a fullness of joy, knowing that we (the Cosmos) can never be separated from our Divine Self. We already are our Divine Self, we are the Cosmos, manifesting its Self in a human body-mind. This is liberation, salvation, awakening, resurrection. Until it is realized, we remain in darkness, in a state of separation and mortality, not knowing our true unified Self in the cosmos, the God-Self, being in God or Ultimate Reality. We don’t know who we really are. We don’t know our Self.