Evolution within Consciousness

Evolution within Consciousness

In my previous post in honor of the late philosopher of the mind and consciousness, Daniel Dennett, I mentioned that I would post a follow up. This post relates to a different philosophy of consciousness, from a different philospher, one where consciousness is considered to be fundamental and all phenomena to arise within it, rather than for it to be a trait that emerges out of material interactions in the brain. So the brain and the mind exist within consciouness, not the other way around.

That philosopher is Amit Goswami, and I have long been a proponent of his model, since reading his seminal book The Self-Aware Universe at the advice of an old friend. I’ve read and re-read most of his books, and having just completed my second or third read of his book on evolution, I am just going to post my goodreads review of it here. I hope it makes sense, and makes his arguments and line of thinking clear.

In this 2008 book, Amit Goswami applies his theoretical framework of science within consciousness to biological evolution and the origins of life. His hope is to reconcile creationism with evolution, in accord with his greater goal of reconciling science with spirituality. For the first time in this body of work, he repeatedly uses the term “God” (this book was published in the same year as another of his books, “God Is Not Dead”). He defines God as “objective cosmic consciousness” – unitive consciousness as the ground of all being.

He frames the problem of creationism vs. Darwinism as one of conflicting worldviews, both of which are ultimately untenable. The simplistic model of creationism is clearly contradicted by real world data, but the Darwinist model of random mutation and natural selection is also unable to explain much of what is observable about life. For example, it cannot explain life’s purposiveness, or the biological arrow of time with its progression from simpler to more complex life forms. Nor can it explain the subjective feeling of being alive.

The problem is basing science on a reductionist materialist ontology; this makes it impossible to explain subjective qualia of experience without running into paradoxes. In addition, with Darwinism, everything must arise from chance and necessity, so the theory runs afoul of huge improbabilities. How can organic molecules arrange themselves into complex life forms by chance alone? The doctrine of natural selection is inadequate because it too is paradoxical – it declares “survival of the fittest” but then defines “fittest” as that which survives. This is circular reasoning which fails to address the fundamental question – why survive at all?

Something is lacking in the materialist worldview on which Darwinism is based, and Goswami’s proposition is that what is missing is the idea of the universe arising within consciousness as a consequence of self-referential quantum measurement. Such a measurement can arise when there is a “tangled hierarchy,” where cause and effect are intertwined. This is a key concept in Goswami’s theory, an idea you may have already encountered in the work of Douglas Hofstadter. An example from biology is how DNA encodes for proteins but proteins are used to replicate DNA. Which comes first, if each depends on the other? Clearly the whole living system must arise as one.

In Goswami’s model this happens because consciousness itself – the ground of all being – actualizes the living system in manifest reality out of the myriad quantum possibilities available at the microscopic level. In other words, the biological complexity evolves in the uncollapsed wave function, unrestricted by the laws of entropy which make its manifestation via material interactions alone so unlikely. When the gestalt of a functioning living system is available in possibility, consciousness collapses the wave function into that state in a self-referential measurement, actualizing the living entity and identifying with it in the process. Thus arises a sense of self, an experience of being separate from the world. This explains the subjective feeling of being alive, and why life forms have a drive to survive.

Quantum measurement alone is not enough to explain how a life form can exist; somehow consciousness must be able to recognize the proper arrangement of biological matter to represent a living function. This is where Goswami reintroduces his idea of subtle bodies and psychophysical parallelism – consciousness simultaneously collapses correlated physical and vital bodies, with the vital body acting as a blueprint so that consciousness can recognize the possibilities of life available to be represented in material form. Our experience of feeling is the manifestation of this vital body.

Similarly, as evolution progresses up the Great Chain of Being, a mental body, correlated with our biological brain, gives us our experience of thought. Goswami explains how perception manifests from mental image representation in the brain. He presents an intriguing road map of the evolution of mind which is similar to that espoused by Ken Wilber, whom Goswami has referenced in earlier works. He suggests some tantalizing possibilities for future evolution, and also speculates that as a species humanity is stuck evolutionarily because we have not integrated our emotional and rational minds. He offers some ideas of how we could overcome this blocker.

Goswami’s thinking is unconventional, but it does connect physics and biology with spirituality using a consciousness-based resolution to the measurement problem in quantum mechanics. He postulates an objective cosmic consciousness as the equivalent of what religions call “God,” which fosters creativity in the manifest physical world with the aid of archetypes of form. He also postulates subtle bodies which exist in parallel with our material body, which give us our inner experience of being alive, of having feelings and a mind. This is what religions call our “soul.” This is an idealist as oppososed to a materialist science, akin to the idealism of Plato, and it does indeed reconcile the idea of a creator God with the nitty gritty of the physical sciences.

I’ve written a super long review here, the longest of mine yet for any of Amit Goswami’s books. Goswami’s ideas make sense to me, and I find his philosophy satisfying. I hope I have summarized his arguments here accurately and in a way that motivates the reader to check out this book, or any of his others. I recommend starting with “The Self Aware Universe”.

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