The mind of man is a remarkable
entity. Within it, he can calculate the rocket-fuel requirements
from Cape Canaveral, Florida to the Sea of Tranquility on the
moon, while simultaneously holding a love for and trust in his
This is humanitys paradox: We are at once masters of our
world and cowering animals terrified of our own impending demise.
In the words of the poet, Yeats, We are eternal beings
fastened to dying animals.
Throughout their existence, humans have searched for messages
in the arrangement of sticks, animal bowels, and tea leaves;
in crystal balls, Tarot cards, Ouija boards, palms of the hand,
planetary movements, lumps in the skull; through the wisdom of
spirit guides, prophets, gods, sorcerers
even science, for
clues to their destiny, their purpose, the meaning of it allThe
What is it about the universe
and their place in it that bewilders humans so profoundly?
Humans are enthralled with the
magic, the inscrutability of it all. We sees ourselves at the
universes center, as somehow integral to the Great Mystery,
but at the same time, we distrust what we discover, what we know
about how the universe works. We suspect that the world is capricious;
randomness, uncertainty, and unpredictability create anxiety
in us. Humans need to be assured that their lives are important.
The belief that we can somehow control nature is our illusion
of salvation. Belief becomes obsession, addiction, because we
are ultimately controlled by the universe rather than
becoming the master of it. The need to predict and control
our fate causes us to compulsively reduce the universe to fragmentsto
dissect, categorize, examine our world in an attempt to fashion
it to own will. We invent science to understand our world, to
lord over it, to harness it for our own uses, so that our own
destiny is guaranteed. We become slaves to our inventions.
We also seek reassurance in gods and other miraculous processes
to guide us, appease our fears of insignificance and loss of
control. This drives us to invent order and purpose through magic
and superstition, supplanting natural laws. We flounder and prostrate
ourselves before our gods and our technology. We then become
more miserable than ever because deep down we suspect the success
we attribute to our magic are random and unpredictable
It is our doubt in our universeand ultimately in ourselvesthat
incites us to impose impossible conditions on our fellow humans,
seek justification of our belief systems through involving others
in our rituals and ceremonies. We gather our flocks to believe
as we believe, that we may continue to believe we are right,
and therefore safe.
It is a deadly and limiting road humanity has chosen to walk.
For in our few thousand years as thinking animals, we have failed
to achieve our goal: making the universe behave. We know on some
level that we are at the mercy of natural laws that we do not
understand and cannot control. We function on despair, ultimately
destroying all that we love.
Why am I here? How has all
of this come to be? What purpose does it serve? What meaning
does my life have in the Great Mystery? What am I supposed to
do, or be? How do I matter in the Big Picture?
If you have ever asked yourselfor anyone elseany
of these questions, then you have encountered this book to help
you understand how you fit in the scheme of Everything
You will begin a magnificent journeyinvestigating the nature
of reality and knowledge, how the universe works, the role consciousness
plays in it, and your function as a conscious constituent of
the Great Mysterious. May your life begin anew as you
grasp the contents of these pages.
to the Reader
You will encounter mini-glossaries
in appropriate sections throughout this book. This is to ensure
that we speak the same language, that we understand the words
used to have the same meaning. As it turns out, people do not
have the same understandings of word definitionseven words
we use commonly, such as love and try. There are
emotional connotations associated with words that color
their lexical denotations.
Words may denote something
specific and concrete (the dictionarylexicaldefinition)
or connote something emotional and abstract. Loaded
words are full of connotation. They contain subtle nuances and
carry emotional baggage (a prime reason advertisers and politicians
carefully select certain words in their campaigns). Consider
the denotation or connotation of these pairs of similar words:
fit in a smaller place
a male human
possibly a low-life
someone might want it
no one wants it
articles of possible value
maybe trash...or not
Consider how the following words
can have different connotations, depending on your values:
change in the gene pool over time
humans are descended from monkeys
sleek, graceful, and self-reliant
sneaky, contrary, and territorial
open-minded, unhampered by orthodoxy
or tradition, progressive
bleeding-heart, egalitarian, wimp,
termination of a process
murder of an innocent being
concerned citizen who takes action
terrorist who takes the law into
his own hands
The accents we place on words
in speechor writingis known as prosody. Prosody is
also important to our understanding of language. Consider the
following sentence, and how the change in word accent changes
the entire meaning of the sentence:
to buy the red coat.
(No one else wants to buy it.)
I want to buy the red coat.
(I desire it.)
I want to buy the red coat.
(I wish to purchase it.)
I want to buy the red coat.
(No other color will do.)
I want to buy the red coat.
(I dont want any other red item.)
Philosophy and Physics
We may have heard of quantum
physicsthe so-called new physics. We may know
that cosmology is the scientific inquiry into the origins and
evolution of the universe. What then, is quantum cosmology?
refers to the world of the very smallsubatomic particleswhile
cosmology concerns the largest structure known: the universe
itself. The unity of these two disparate worlds gives rise to
a new paradigm of realityan understanding of how the very
small and the very large interrelate.
The progression of physics from the classical model to the quantum
model, likewise, has necessitated scrutiny and interpretation
from outside physics, from disciplines such as cognitive science,
psychology, and especially philosophy. While science is proficient
at collecting and analyzing data, psychology allows us to understand
how our perceptions affect our interpretations of reality, and
philosophy and cognitive science have given scientific findings
meaning. It is the strong interplay of these complementary
disciplines that is at the heart of this book. Everything
is connected to everything else. Nowhere is this more apparent
than in the unity of quantum mechanics, cosmology, psychology,
and philosophy. Indeed, it will become evident to readers that
it is impossible to speak of one field of inquiry without invoking
While physics allows us to ask what is, philosophy compels
us to ask why it is. Cosmology permits us to measure the
universe, to trace its origins, and to contemplate its possible
fate. But, we often find that the greater the knowledge, the
deeper the mystery. When cosmology revealed that the universe
may have sprung from nothingness, science paused, utterly
dumbfounded. Philosophy stepped in and asked, Why something
First, it is important to appreciate
that the definition of nothing diverges among scientists,
mathematicians, and philosophers. Nothing derives from the two
words no and thing.
Nothing means zero to a mathematiciana placeholder
for an absent value. It is as important as something,
as silence is as important as musical notes to a musician. Computer
programmers understand that nothing really is something
in binary code, because without zero, one has no meaning.
Zeroor nothingmeans off or to
close a circuit; one means on or to open a
To a philosopher, nothing has a deeper meaning. Nothing
may mean something of no consequence. It may mean something that
does not exist. (But, if we think of something that does not
exist, then it is not nothingit is something
in our imaginations!) Nothing may also be a frightening metaphysical
entity devoid of and opposed to being.
To a scientist, nothing simply means the absence of somethingthat
is, something detectable. But as scientists continually
discover, nothing may turn into something when
the tools of observation become more sophisticated. This is the
kind of nothing to which physicists and cosmologists refer:
Nothing that may actually be something as we refine
our observational techniques, extend our perceptions through
technology. In physics, nothing is frequently a temporary
Another problem we may encounter in our philosophical journey
through quantum cosmology is the definition of is. Lexically,
is simply means a state of being actual. However, as we will
discover, what is actual may not be what we perceive.
Again, we are limitedor extendedby the sophistication
of our observational tools.
Philosophers construct diverse and provocative visions of the
universe and reality. Which philosophy do you favor?
Physics is the foundation of reality,
and that information arises from the physical world.
We create a model of reality as we grow to understand it.
Reality iswe simply
Information creates reality.
Mathematical truth, aesthetics, and ethics are somehow built
into the universe. We just have to tune into it, allow it to
The human mind and body are a unity,
a perfect fusion of matter and the God force.
The universe is a neutral monistic
entity in which all substance is reduced to pure experience.
There is no place in objective discourse
for the existence of a subjective I.
Alfred North Whitehead
- The fundamental building blocks
of the universe are not material objects, but throbs of
- Object-events have both objective
and subjective components.
- Object-events endure only fleetinglythey
flash in and out of existence in spacetime. The apparent durability
of object-events is due to many collections of entities happening
one after another in rapid succession.
- Each actualized entity has nexus
with all other actualized entities.
- An actualized entity is a product
of its own creation. Self-creation involves integration with
all other previous entities.
- The result of the process is
one new throb of experience.
The great spiritual traditions,
despite differences in approach and tenets, lead to the same
fundamental truth about the nature of reality:
- reality is more unified than
- reality is better than it seems
- reality is more mysterious than
anyone can imagine
Standard Philosophical Concepts
- Ontology: the study of the nature and existence
- Logical Positivism: physics is the model for all of the
knowledge of the universe.
- Objectivism: there are truths that are valid universally.
- Pluralism: there are more than two kinds of reality,
or there are many separate levels of reality.
- Rationalism: reality is knowable through reasoning
and thinking alone, without experience or observation.
- Transcendentalism: intuitive reality is superior to experiential
- Pantheism: God and the Universe are one in the
- Solipsism: nothing is real but ones own
perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.
- Personalism: the personality is the supreme value
self-interest while benefiting others as a consequence.
- Epicureanism: pleasure and happiness as goals; of
a mental rather than physical nature.
- Teleological Ethics: whether an action is morally right
depends on expected consequences.
- Utilitarianism: all actions are judged for morality
based on their consequences.
What is reality? This is one of the most enduring philosophical
Aside from the lexical definition of the state of actually
being or existent, reality may be more simply defined as
anything experienced. Well, what does that mean?
It means that reality is essentially subjective; that it depends
on somethingor someoneto experience it. Does that
mean that there is no such thing as objective realityof
a reality out there independent of someone to experience
it? By this definition, yes.
Human material existencerealityis limited by ideas,
not by stuff. It is what happens in the mind that constitutes
and defines reality, resulting in the experience of it. We know
this because there are two different kinds of reality: consensus
reality and non-consensus reality. We can experience both
kinds of reality, but for most people, our sharedconsensusexperience
of reality dominates.
The idea that we perceive things
as they actually are has been refuted by philosophers
and other investigators for thousands of years (case in point:
optical illusions.) The mundane conscious, awake
reality most of us experience on a daily basis may be considered
consensus reality, in that we agree that certain things
are actual, and consent to describe them and interact with them
in specific ways. We reach a consensus that certain things
are so, and that other things are not so. We concur on the truth.
(However, as we will find out later, acknowledging a truth is
not synonymous with accepting or endorsing it!)
We are able to enjoy magicians and illusionists, without believing
that what they do is real. We delight in the understanding
that we are being fooled, and are able to grasp that equating
fiction with falsehood would be a mistake and diminish our enjoyment
of magic. Indeed, without illusions, a clear grasp of reality
is nearly impossible.
Everyone has a personal model of reality. Our perceptions
structure our understanding of reality; what we think we know
may be nothing more than an interpretation of our experiences.
Humans have access to only the manifestations of reality,
not its inherent unity. Reality always appears distorted by the
imperfections of our human senses and the filters of our human
Proponents of perceptual reality claim that the laws
of physics are a mere agreement (consensus) within a community
of scientists about how to discuss nature, that physical laws
are products of concepts. We experience what we experience because
thats all we can experience.
However, as we will see later, mathematics is able to reveal
aspects of reality that no one has ever observed or experienced.
And just because we cant see something, doesnt mean
we cant infer its existence from the things we can see.
The most important thing science has learned about reality is
the relationship and connectedness of everything. Not one property
of reality is fundamentalall properties follow from the
properties of other components. The overall consistency of their
mutual interactions determines the structure and behavior of
the entire web of existence.
Non-consensus reality describes any experience that is essentially
unshared with the majority of the population. It is unique to
specific mind or body states, and there is little agreement as
to its character or meaning. Non-consensus reality is internal
and personal, and is difficult to convey to others. Four percent
of the populationthe majority femaleexperiences non-consensus
reality in which spiritual, religious, or paranormal incidents
dominate everyday events. Non-consensus reality is commonly attributed
to fantasy-prone personalities, mental illness, hallucinogens,
or exposure to unusual environmental influences, but it may still
impart great meaning for those whose experience it, and therefore
has value for that reason alone.
Novel mental states are frequently
initiated by brain abnormalities and alterations in chemistry,
producing a variety of unusual experiences.
An anatomical abnormality may produce perceptual distortions
such as synesthesia, a rare sensory condition in which
the normal five senses become cross-wired, generating
unusual effects such as tastes that have shape and sounds of
certain colors, and may be due to a fault in the sensory channeling
area of the brain called the locus coeruleus.
External environmental influences can alter perceptions of reality.
Anomalous electromagnetic fluctuationsfrom solar flares,
seismic activity, radio and microwave transmissions, and other
sourcescan produce disturbances in the brain resembling
epileptic seizures. Epileptic seizures in the left temporal lobe
can generate intense mystical experiences.
Illness, injury, and stress can revise perceptions of reality.
Migraine headaches, epileptic seizures, dreams, delirium tremens,
high fever, sensory deprivation, hypoxia, and psychosis can all
generate visual distortions. (The visual disturbances most commonly
reported comprise four geometric patternslattices, spirals,
tunnels, and cobwebs.)
Hallucinogens such as mescaline and LSD can also produce geometric
visual distortions. Drug flashbacks (especially those due to
LSD) may produce sensations of strangeness and unreality,
even physical dissociation. (Habitual drug-users may confuse
altered states of consciousness with spirituality.)
Hallucinations and dreams can
impart meaningful and true informationeven life-altering
revelations. Dreaming is a natural altered state.
It is interesting to note that in dreams, we frequently observe
ourselves as if outside ourselves. (Sometimes we even see
ourselves from the outside when recollecting memoriesa
sure sign that memory is not accurate; it is constructed
Out-of-body and near-death experiences are altered states that
usually occur during traumatic events. Many researchers believe
that out-of-body experiences (OBEs) may be nothing more than
an altered state born of the human compulsion to construct models
of the self. The near-death experience is frequently expressed
as heavenly, peaceful, and loving, but at least 50% of those
experiencing NDEs report them as hellish, like being trapped
in a terrifying emptiness. Altered states can even be purposefully
self-induced through meditation for purposes of healing and relaxation.
However, habitual meditation may also produce adverse effects,
such as suggestibility, neuroticism, depression, insomnia, nightmares,
dysphoria, anxiety, and psychosis.
The ultimate non-consensus reality
is insanitythe recurrent or permanent break from consensus
reality. The most interesting thing about insanity is that its
definition and diagnosis are not staticthey change with
the decades, with changes in social norms and standards
of acceptable behavior. Some researchers assert that insanity
is merely an adaptation to stressful circumstances, to needs
gone unmet for too long; others reason that insanity may be a
heightened awareness of a reality above and beyond the one on
which we agree. In fact, all great spiritual teachers challenged
social norms to the point they could have been diagnosed as insane.
As consciousness expands, so does the risk of insanity (or of
being judged insane). Schizophrenia frequently meets three or
more of the criteria for mystical experience. Mysticism that
persistently places the subject at the center of the action is
usually regarded as mental illness. Powerful mystical experiences
can retard psychological development and support delusions of
grandeur. Frequent mystical or religious experiences may lead
to narcissism (to the point of pathology, in which the ego expands
to encompass everything), fanaticism, even hatred.
The most important thing to know about non-consensus reality
is that the current consensus reality paradigm was most likely
non-consensus in nature at some time in the past. Most of our
accepted truths were once regarded as balderdash, as delusions
of twisted minds, before they were accepted as satisfactory representations
of reality. This is assuaged by the distinction between belief
and empiricism, discussed in Part IIIHow Do
We Know What We Know?
Ultimately, reality itself may
be nothing more than metaphora description of our experiences
shaped by the symbolism and allegory of the times in which we
live. Our brains tell us stories about what we experience, and
we relate these stories to others, share our experiences through
imagery and elaborate translations, such as language. As metaphors
vary throughout history and from culture to culture, reality
must also vary culture to culture
and mind to mind. In the
end, we may each live in our own metaphorical universe. In a
metaphorical sense, we may not really share the same
space or time with others.
Glossary of Some Important Terms
state of actually being or existent
real state of things; fact; actuality
- Perception: awareness through the physical senses;
comprehension; discernment; discrimination
- Sentience: perception through the senses; being
conscious of ones internal and external environments
- To Know:
to perceive directly; to understand; understanding gained through
actual experience; to be aware of the truth; to learn a truth
- Philosophy: critical study of fundamental beliefs;
theory; concepts; ideas; convictions
- Sapience: wisdom or intelligence through refined
accumulated systematized knowledge; observation and verification
- Evidence: outward sign; proof; visible without
study of the motion and forces that govern energy, matter, and
- Rational: having reason or understanding
ruled by tests of sound thinking and proof of reason
founded on truth or fact and verifiable
- Inference: deduced by what has come before; generalization
based on specifics
- Extrapolation: to predict, project, or extend on known
variables through inference
- Intuition: quick insight; belief without rational
thought or inference
to accept as true; faith; to suppose
- Conviction: strong belief; opinion
a belief stronger than impression but less strong than positive
confidence; loyalty or allegiance to something, as in God
- Religion: belief and practice within a group
employing ritual and ceremony; worship of the supernatural; devotion
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