I’ve argued in the past that logic demonstrates conscious awareness is non-local to the brain, but I haven’t really delved too deeply into what this implies. In this article, I’d like to consider some of the ramifications of a non-local consciousness. As a brief refresher for those who haven’t read my previous article, the problems of strong emergence, the quantum mind-body problem and near death experience reports all lend logical support to the non-locality of conscious awareness. This implies that our conscious awareness existed prior to our birth, resides outside the flow of time, continues on after our death and is a fundamental component of the physical universe in the same way matter, energy, space and time are. Working from the assumption that all of the assertions in the previous sentence are true, I want to present some thought experiments that relate to our present existence.
The question that has always nagged me about such a scenario is, why would I ever chose to incarnate here in this physical world, in this particular body, at this particular time? Why would I chose to forget where I come from and what I really am? Why would I limit my consciousness to this body? Why would anyone chose this existence over simply being pure consciousness? The questions I just posed assume I had some kind of a choice in being here. If I didn’t have a choice, does this pose an argument against free will? Could it be that even soul’s don’t have free will? Given that free will seems self-evident, and that if we don’t have free will arguing about it is completely pointless, I will move forward assuming that I actively made a choice to be here.
I suppose this line of questioning really revolves around my present level of happiness and contentment. If I were totally content and happy here now, then it makes sense that whatever prior state of existence I came from must be equal to or worse than what I am experiencing as a physical person. However, if I am not content with my present state of being, then I’m lead to believe that being pure consciousness could potentially be a more comfortable and happy state of being than what I am presently experiencing.
It seems clear to me that taking on a physical body automatically leads to some level of discontentment that I did not previously have to deal with. I now must feed, shelter, protect and clothe my physical body from the elements. And because physicality goes hand in hand with scarcity, I must accomplish these feats under the pressure of time and limited resources. These are obviously some very substantial burdens. Further, the fact that I have no memory of any past existence as anything other than what I am now adds a large amount of additional fear and uncertainty to my present state of being.
So is being a disembodied consciousness really so terrible a thing that I would actively chose to take on all of those burdens? When I listen to reports of near death experiences, for the most part, they all say that dying is returning to a timeless state of pure bliss and joy. To me, these reports just add an additional level of confusion as to why I am here. If being dead means being in a state of timeless bliss, why in the world would I chose to incarnate here?
Making an active choice to forego pure timeless bliss for a physical existence is an act of masochism. But let us take this one step further. If emotional states of being are a choice, then clearly anyone who chooses to be in any emotional state, other than pure contentment, is engaged in an act of masochism. If this is true, then at some level, we are all masochists! That would sure explain a lot about the present state of humanity!
However, before I declare all of humanity to be pathologically insane, there is one other thing to consider. That being, emotional states can only exist as polarities. In order for a person to know joy, the opposite of joy must exist. Just as with all other things, to know what something is, the opposite must by definition exist or else no comparison could be made. Beauty could not be appreciated without ugliness. Light could not be appreciated without shadow or darkness. Sound could not exist without silence. Matter could not exist without space. If something recognizably exists, so too must its opposite. The essence of experience is made up of noticing these polarities.
When we consider that life cannot exist without the possibility of death, we can see that choosing to incarnate amounts to choosing to add additional levels of experience to our existence that we would otherwise never know. By forgetting what we really are, we come to experience the opposite of knowing. Indeed, for us to “know,” the opposite of knowing must exist. It cannot be any other way. So perhaps we don’t have a choice in being here, since in order for the polarities of life’s experiences to exist, life must exist. And for life to exist, embodied consciousness must exist – and some beings must fill the various roles that consciousness plays in this world.
Perhaps the question is not whether free will exists or not, but a more accurate question would be to what extent does free will exist? Consider that if life is like a river that simply exists, and consciousness is an external force that can act upon the river, then we can see that it may be possible for us to alter or shape the flow of the river to our desires, but it is not possible for us to completely eliminate the river entirely. The water exists, and it must go somewhere. In my analogy, eliminating the river entirely would be “choosing” not to ever incarnate as a physical being, which would be as impossible as making the water in a river disappear.
I hope that be presenting these arguments I can direct the flow of life to a more comfortable place of all of us. When we understand that death has no real meaning, killing becomes pointless. When we understand that material things are just toys for us to experience, greed becomes pointless. When we understand that evil must exist in order for good to be appreciated, loving our enemies becomes a real possibility.
For some more provoking thoughts along these lines, listen to philosopher Alan Watts discuss the nature and meaning of life: