by Ervin Laszlo
The following is excerpted from The Intelligence of the Cosmos by Ervin Laszlo, published by Inner Traditions.
What about mind? If the world is vibration, is also mind and consciousness a form of vibration? Or on the contrary, are all vibrations, the observed world, a manifestation of mind?
Although it is true that when all is said and done all we know is our consciousness, it is also true that we do not know our own consciousness, not to mention the consciousness of anyone else. We do not know what consciousness really is or how it is related to the brain. Since our consciousness is the basis of our identity, we do not know who we really are. Are we a body that generates the stream of sensations we call consciousness, or are we a consciousness associated with a body that displays it? Do we have consciousness, or are we consciousness? Consciousness could be a kind of illusion, a set of sensations produced by the workings of our brain. But it could also be that our body is a vehicle, a transmitter of a consciousness that is the basic reality of the world. The world could be material, and mind could be an illusion. Or the world could be consciousness, and the materiality of the world could be the illusion.
Both of these possibilities have been explored in the history of philosophy, and today we are a step closer than before to understanding which of them is true. There are important insights emerging at the expanding frontiers where physical science joins consciousness research.
On the basis of a growing series of observations and experiments, a new consensus is emerging. It is that “my” consciousness is not just my consciousness, meaning the consciousness produced by my brain, any more than a program transmitted over the air would be a program produced by my TV set. Just like a program broadcast over the air continues to exist when my TV set is turned off, my consciousness continues to exist when my brain is turned off.
Consciousness is a real element in the real world. The brain and body do not produce it; they display it. And it does not cease when life in the body does. Consciousness is a reflection, a projection, a manifestation of the intelligence that “in-forms” the world.
Mystics and shamans have known that this is true for millennia, and artists and spiritual people know it to this day. Its rediscovery at the leading edge of science augurs a profound shift in our view of the world. It overcomes the answer the now outdated materialist science gives to the question regarding the nature of mind: the answer according to which consciousness is an epiphenomenon, a product or by-product of the workings of the brain. In that case, the brain would be like an electricity-generating turbine. The turbine is material, while the current it generates is not (or not strictly) material. In the same way, the brain could be material, even if the consciousness it generates proves to be something that is not quite material.
On first sight, this makes good sense. On a second look, however, the materialist concept encounters major problems. First, a conceptual problem. How could a material brain give rise to a truly immaterial stream of sensations? How could anything that is material produce anything immaterial? In modern consciousness research this is known as the “hard problem.” It has no reasonable answer. As researchers point out, we do not have the slightest idea how “matter” could produce “mind.” One is a measurable entity with properties such as hardness, extension, force, and the like, and the other is an ineffable series of sensations with no definite location in space and an ephemeral presence in time.
Fortunately, the hard problem does not need to be solved: it is not a real problem. There is another possibility: mind is a real element in the real world and is not produced by the brain; it is manifested and displayed by the brain.
Mind beyond Brain: Evidence for a New Concept of Consciousness
If mind is a real element in the real world only manifested rather than produced by the brain, it can also exist without the brain. There is evidence that mind does exist on occasion beyond the brain: surprisingly, conscious experience seems possible in the absence of a functioning brain. There are cases—the near-death experience (NDE) is the paradigm case—where consciousness persists when brain function is impaired, or even halted.