In the western analytic-modern theories of consciousness, i.e. those which understand themselves as empirical-scientific, a correlation between matter and consciousness is always assumed. This is relatively undisputed in itself, since actually the very most thought buildings assume it. Birth and death mark the corner points of this correlation.
Now the question arises, how does this correlation look like? Does the consciousness determine the matter, or the matter the consciousness, or is it an interaction?
3 variants of the relation between consciousness and matter
The first variant, that consciousness determines matter, is a position we find in most spiritual thought buildings, but also in an analytical transcendental philosophy or idealism. Consciousness here is a separate force acting out of itself and, if necessary, anchored in a higher consciousness. These thought constructs have in common that they start from oneself in the sense of an autonomous ego or soul.
The second variant we find in materialistic thought buildings, i.e. the strictly empirical theories, or analytic reductionistic thought buildings. Biological beings are determined solely by materialistic processes. Consciousness is a luxury and runs after the materialistic processes. There is no free will, this is an illusion, which possibly brings an evolutionary advantage, but nothing more.
The third variant, that of interaction is what is closest to our everyday sensation. We sometimes feel driven by our material existence, i.e. by our body or constraints of our environment. We have the feeling that we function automatically. At the same time, however, we also have experiences of free will, for example, when we cannot make a decision or leave familiar paths, we think these are free decisions.
What does this mean?
In empirical science it is often attached that there are many studies supporting the second variant. In essence, the experiments look like this: A person is connected to an EEG, i.e. his brain waves are measured. This can also be done in a more differentiated way with computer tomography. Then the test subjects are asked to make a decision. If now a rash is to be seen on the measuring instruments, which indicates that the decision was made in the brain, and this measurement precedes the consciously communicated decision of the test person. Then, according to the claim, free will is an illusion. The important thing is that there is a time difference at all, not how long the time difference is. That moves anyway in the millisecond range.
What would the opposite model look like, i.e. the first variant? The subject would make a decision, express it, and then the brain would execute the command. And how would this look empirically? The consciousness changes the sensory apparatus, the body, in order to express a thought, i.e. a decision, which on the one hand has already been made, on the other hand is not yet physically materialized. While expressing the thought, the decision is first realized on the neuronal level.
The third variant, that of interaction, is the most difficult. Two very different systems are assumed to interact here. One the physical, biochemical world, the other the world of human consciousness. An important question here is that of the link. What does the bridge look like? One assumption is that both systems are ultimately logical, i.e. both empirically scientific on the one hand and rational on the other.
Does God play dice?
Einstein said, God does not play dice. That sums up the paradox actually quite nicely. God, who created the universe and with it the dice and the laws of the coincidence, is not subject to them.
In the Vedas this is expressed by the relation of Brahman (Universal Self, not in the sense of a personal God), Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (the material world in motion, nature). In this triple relation Atman appears, the individualized self (however not in the personalized sense)1.
It is amazing how differentiated the Rishis, i.e. the seers, saw the relation between consciousness and matter in deep meditation more than 3000 years ago. Their view that evolution is preceded by an involution sounds strange today, but actually describes only that mutual relation, the interaction between consciousness and matter in a temporal stretching.
Levels of consciousness
The beginning is not in the big bang, but in the common ground of matter and consciousness. We can call this logic, law, rationality, Brahman, creator, nirvana, it doesn’t really matter at this point, we are dealing with a priori. Not in the epistemological sense, but in the ontological sense.
Laws of nature are not created by matter, but matter follows them. What if the universe follows a law that precedes it? This is somehow the basic assumption of the reductionist scientific worldview. However, this world view does not explain where the laws came from. Were they already there before the big bang? Or did they originate together during the big bang? Quite certainly they did not originate after the big bang…
To me it seems much more plausible to assume that there is consciousness which can act itself – different forms of consciousness, on different levels of consciousness.
Free will does not lie in asking whether the choice between an apple and a pear has already been made in the brain before it appears in consciousness. Freedom lies in thinking. The adventure of thinking is open and expanding. May we not be blinded by regressions.
On the ladder of knowledge, thinking is followed by Vijnana and Satchitananda. A higher consciousness that goes beyond the purely rational or emotional way of thinking. Vijnana is thinking that involves a worldview. A real view of the world, in its complexity and implications. An understanding of world that involves a high degree of insight, reflection and wisdom. Satchitananda are the higher levels of spiritual consciousness. It is possible to experience these, but it is hard to argue with them. I have spent decades trying to convince myself and others that there is no such thing – unsuccessfully.
hiraṇmáyena pā́treṇa satyásyā́pihitaṃ múkham |
tát-tváṁ pūṣann-ápā́vṛṇu satyádharmāya dṛśtáye |15|.
(15) The face of Truth is covered with a brilliant golden lid; that do thou remove, O Fosterer, for the law of the Truth, for sight. (Isha Upanishad)
In Sanskrit there is a beautiful word: Dvaitadvaita – dualism-non-dualism, that is, the duality of duality and non-duality.
1A somewhat daring parallel can be seen in Christianity, the relation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit symbolizes the same principle. God as Creator is equated to Brahman, the Holy Spirit resembles Purusha/Shakti, and Praktriti and Atman are contracted and replaced by the patriarchal Son. This is then called the Trinity.