Once again, Matt Rouge offers some fascinating philosophical insights, this time focusing on Leibniz's theory of monads. Take it away, Matt ...
Thank you, Michael! Always an honor and a pleasure.
On this blog, Michael frequently talks about the theory that information is in some way fundamental to reality, and I subscribe to this view as well. But the word “information” has a connotation problem. In a recent comment on this blog, our friend Bruce Siegel said,
If it's a choice between over-using one or the other, I'll choose "consciousness" because it refers to a *living* thing rather than a dead one.
Bottom line: I think life/consciousness/love is central to both the universe and my own being, not some abstract, bloodless, nebulous, concept like "information." […]
For me, the undue focus on "information" is closely related to an obsession with matter. And that's because in its normal use "information" is always associated with some form of physical substrate.
Bruce has done me the favor of outlining rather completely the problems with using this word to mean what we want it to mean in this case. But what if someone had solved this issue way back in 1714? And what if he had, likely without understanding he had done so, elucidated the theory of information as fundamental to reality in a concise, intelligible, and illuminating way?
I think that that, with his La Monadologie (The Monadology), mathematical and philosophical genius Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz did exactly that. Here is the complete text. It’s not very long, so I’m going to go over much of it right here. For the sake of brevity, I won’t quote and comment on everything, but I invite you to read the entire text as I go through it.
Now, before we begin, I will ask you to mentally participate in this way: Imagine that when Leibniz says “Monad,” he is actually saying “unit of information.” Further, please accept for the moment my definition of “information.” It is not limited to data contained in a medium like paper, silicon, or neurons. Rather, it is any fact, thought, or qualia. Ultimately, it is any actual or potential object of awareness. Perhaps you will agree that, if you read the text with these concepts in mind, The Monadology leads to some stunning insights.
Without further ado…
1. The Monad […] is nothing but a simple substance, which enters into compounds. By ‘simple’ is meant ‘without parts’.
2. And there must be simple substances, since there are compounds; for a compound is nothing but a collection or aggregatum of simple things.
We can see the Monad as a unit of information and compounds as relationships with other information. Information ultimately does not have parts in the physical sense, though it may be divisible and compoundable in our minds.
3. Now where there are no parts, there can be neither extension nor form nor divisibility. These Monads are the real atoms of nature and, in a word, the elements of things.
Ah, right away we get some good stuff. Monads have no geometric characteristics or form whatsoever, which is true of information. In other words, information is non-local. Further, it is nevertheless fundamental to what we call “physical reality.”
4. No dissolution of these elements need be feared, and there is no conceivable way in which a simple substance can be destroyed by natural means.
Information is indestructible, in other words.
7. Further, there is no way of explaining how a Monad can be altered in quality or internally changed by any other created thing; since it is impossible to change the place of anything in it or to conceive in it any internal motion which could be produced, directed, increased or diminished therein, although all this is possible in the case of compounds, in which there are changes among the parts. The Monads have no windows, through which anything could come in or go out. […]
This matches pretty well how we think of information: we cannot alter information itself, but we can alter how we form “compounds”/relationships with it in our minds.
14. The passing condition [i.e., changes in the Monad], which involves and represents a multiplicity in the unit or in the simple substance, is nothing but what is called Perception, which is to be distinguished from Apperception or Consciousness, as will afterwards appear. […]
There is a lot that comes before this, but in essence Leibniz argues that monads must be different from one another; otherwise, they would not exist as units. Further, they must be subject to change. So what is the content of the monad? Perception! And this makes sense with respect to the definition of “information” I earlier described. The unit of information is essentially the object of awareness, however the mind at that moment chooses to relate to it (e.g., looking at the face instead of the entire person, looking at the nose instead of the face, and so on).
Now we are getting into pan-consciousness and, since monads are non-local, the holographic universe that friend and frequent commenter Art espouses. This theme will only be spread on thicker as we proceed.
Manuscript page of The Monadology
17. Moreover, it must be confessed that perception and that which depends upon it are inexplicable on mechanical grounds, that is to say, by means of figures and motions. And supposing there were a machine, so constructed as to think, feel, and have perception, it might be conceived as increased in size, while keeping the same proportions, so that one might go into it as into a mill. That being so, we should, on examining its interior, find only parts which work one upon another, and never anything by which to explain a perception. Thus it is in a simple substance, and not in a compound or in a machine, that perception must be sought for. Further, nothing but this (namely, perceptions and their changes) can be found in a simple substance. It is also in this alone that all the internal activities of simple substances can consist.
Here is a brilliant insight by Leibniz that also gets into the problem of qualia. If we were to increase the size of the brain, we would see neurons and so on, but we would not see perception itself. Materialists would say that perception lies in the relationships between neurons, but what if perceptions lie within information itself? That is, the perception is its own content. This is a kind of Copernican Revolution in reverse, in which information does not revolve around the mind, but the mind revolves around the information; or rather, the mind is a relationship among infinite non-local modes of experiencing awareness.
18. All simple substances or created Monads might be called Entelechies, for they have in them a certain perfection (ἔχουσι τὸἐντελές); they have a certain self-sufficiency (αὐτάρκεια) which makes them the sources of their internal activities and, so to speak, incorporeal automata.
Here is perhaps the word that can replace the bloodless word “information”: entelechies. Also, Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome. George Clinton knows his Leibniz!
19. If we are to give the name of Soul to everything which has perceptions and desires in the general sense which I have explained, then all simple substances or created Monads might be called souls; but as feeling is something more than a bare perception, I think it right that the general name of Monads or Entelechies should suffice for simple substances which have perception only, and that the name of Souls should be given only to those in which perception is more distinct, and is accompanied by memory.
This is directly relevant to our discussions of souls and what kinds of things might experience the Afterlife. A soul, in other words, is a sufficiently complex relationship among entelechies that also has access to memory (which itself is information, or more entelechies, I would myself add in explanation).
26. Memory provides the soul with a kind of consecutiveness, which resembles reason, but which is to be distinguished from it. Thus we see that when animals have a perception of something which strikes them and of which they have formerly had a similar perception, they are led, by means of representation in their memory, to expect what was combined with the thing in this previous perception, and they come to have feelings similar to those they had on the former occasion. For instance, when a stick is shown to dogs, they remember the pain it has caused them, and howl and run away.
An interesting observation by Leibniz. Our minds are constantly running on the fuel of association between various pieces of information.
27. And the strength of the mental image which impresses and moves them comes either from the magnitude or the number of the preceding perceptions. For often a strong impression produces all at once the same effect as a long-formed habit, or as many and oft-repeated ordinary perceptions.
28. In so far as the concatenation of their perceptions is due to the principle of memory alone, men act like the lower animals, resembling the empirical physicians, whose methods are those of mere practice without theory. Indeed, in three-fourths of our actions we are nothing but empirics. For instance, when we expect that there will be daylight to-morrow, we do so empirically, because it has always so happened until now. It is only the astronomer who thinks it on rational grounds.
Some more good observations. I think these passages reflect an important aspect of spiritual development: getting out of habit (lower-dimensional thought) and moving toward true reflection and understanding (higher-dimensional thought).
33. There are also two kinds of truths, those of reasoning and those of fact. Truths of reasoning are necessary and their opposite is impossible: truths of fact are contingent and their opposite is possible. When a truth is necessary, its reason can be found by analysis, resolving it into more simple ideas and truths, until we come to those which are primary.
46. We must not, however, imagine, as some do, that eternal truths, being dependent on God, are arbitrary and depend on His will, as Descartes, and afterwards M. Poiret, appear to have held. That is true only of contingent truths, of which the principle is fitness [convenance] or choice of the best, whereas necessary truths depend solely on His understanding and are its inner object.
Leibniz is here describing what I call “a priori reality” and “a posteriori reality,” which I think is a very important distinction. For example, the truths of mathematics are true in all possible universes, are uncreated, and unalterable. God/Source cannot influence them and is in fact bound by them. We have the ability to understand these truths (at least to some extent, currently, with our human minds), but they are not “information” in the same sense as, say, the perceptions I have of the room I am in.
47. Thus God alone is the primary unity or original simple substance, of which all created or derivative Monads are products and have their birth, so to speak, through continual fulgurations of the Divinity from moment to moment, limited by the receptivity of the created being, of whose essence it is to have limits.
There is a lot before this in which Leibniz talks about the nature of God. But the above sounds to me quite close to the New Age definition of Source. This “original simple substance” could also be called, per the Sanskrit term of Indian thought, “Cit,” or universal consciousness. Leibniz is of course operating in the traditional top-down European mode of thinking about spirituality. I personally add in the concept that all entelechies are striving to compose Source/Cit. There is therefore causality in both directions, in my view.
53. Now, as in the Ideas of God there is an infinite number of possible universes, and as only one of them can be actual, there must be a sufficient reason for the choice of God, which leads Him to decide upon one rather than another.
It’s interesting that Leibniz had the concept of multiple universes. He goes on to argue that this must be the best possible universe, since that is the only choice per se that a perfect God can make. I don’t agree with this argument, but it does lead to some interesting thinking on his part:
56. Now this connexion or adaptation of all created things to each and of each to all, means that each simple substance has relations which express all the others, and, consequently, that it is a perpetual living mirror of the universe.
Things are connected and adapted to achieve the perfection that God wills. I don’t agree with that, but here Leibniz has conceived of the holographic nature of reality—all the way back in 1714.
57. And as the same town, looked at from various sides, appears quite different and becomes as it were numerous in aspects; even so, as a result of the infinite number of simple substances, it is as if there were so many different universes, which, nevertheless are nothing but aspects of a single universe, according to the special point of view of each Monad.
OK, wow. In other words, all entelechies (in my conception actual or potential objects of awareness) are reflections of each other and of the entirety, Source.
58. And by this means there is obtained as great variety as possible, along with the greatest possible order; that is to say, it is the way to get as much perfection as possible.
This jibes with Michael’s recent speculation: “Of course, a brainstorming session makes no sense if the solution to the problem is already known. Brainstorming is something we do when we don't know the answer. Which leads us to the conclusion that the universe, or whatever lies behind it, doesn't know all the answers. The universe is a work in progress, and the various experiments – whether successful or failed – are its way of working out its own unanswered questions.”
60. […] For God in regulating the whole has had regard to each part, and in particular to each Monad, whose nature being to represent, nothing can confine it to the representing of only one part of things; though it is true that this representation is merely confused as regards the variety of particular things in the whole universe, and can be distinct only as regards a small part of things, namely, those which are either nearest or greatest in relation to each of the Monads; otherwise each Monad would be a deity. It is not as regards their object, but as regards the different ways in which they have knowledge of their object, that the Monads are limited. In a confused way they all strive after the infinite, the whole; but they are limited and differentiated through the degrees of their distinct perceptions.
This statement is directly analogous to the concept of the holographic universe, even though holography or even photography didn’t exist in Leibniz’s day. Each monad has a clear perception of what it is itself about and a less clear perception of that to which it is more distantly related. Similarly, as a holographic plate is broken into pieces, each of the pieces still contains the entire picture but is fuzzier the smaller it is.
69. Thus there is nothing fallow, nothing sterile, nothing dead in the universe, no chaos, no confusion save in appearance, somewhat as it might appear to be in a pond at a distance, in which one would see a confused movement and, as it were, a swarming of fish in the pond, without separately distinguishing the fish themselves.
The parts before this are quite interesting but long. In essence, everything in the universe in all dimensions is conscious and alive.
70. Hence it appears that each living body has a dominant entelechy, which in an animal is the soul; but the members of this living body are full of other living beings, plants, animals, each of which has also its dominant entelechy or soul.
Here is where we get into our recent discussions of the I-Thought. I would say the “dominant entelechy” in any mind is Cit itself, or Universal Consciousness. Through psycho-spiritual mechanics, this nature in turn leads to the I-Thought, and so on, relating more or less strongly to other entelechies as it reflects the entire Universe in its own manner.
77. Thus it may be said that not only the soul (mirror of an indestructible universe) is indestructible, but also the animal itself, though its mechanism may often perish in part and take off or put on an organic slough.
The parts before this need to be read through the lens of modern science, but Leibniz is here in essence stating what I believe is the reason why we experience an Afterlife: our minds are relationships between indestructible units of information, or entelechies. “Mirror of an indestructible universe” is in the original—not my addition!
78. These principles have given me a way of explaining naturally the union or rather the mutual agreement of the soul and the organic body. The soul follows its own laws, and the body likewise follows its own laws; and they agree with each other in virtue of the pre-established harmony between all substances, since they are all representations of one and the same universe.
The mind-body problem was the bugbear of the philosophers of the time: How can the soul interface with the body if they are of two different natures? Here Leibniz takes nothing less than a radical approach: the holographic universe and the interrelatedness of all things.
83. Among other differences which exist between ordinary souls and minds, some of which differences I have already noted, there is also this: that souls in general are living mirrors or images of the universe of created things, but that minds are also images of the Deity or Author of nature Himself, capable of knowing the system of the universe, and to some extent of imitating it through architectonic ensamples, each mind being like a small divinity in its own sphere.
I think this statement reflects the concept of dimensionality of thought: that is, the greater the dimension of our thought, the closer it is to God/Source. Thus, there is consciousness in all things, but minds can be of varying levels.
So that’s my gloss on the text itself, and now I’d like to do a bit of more freestyle commentary.
First, while I don’t agree with everything Leibniz says in The Monadology, I do think he anticipated many future developments in thought, some of which jibe very well with today’s advanced physics and recent trends in spirituality (New Age, if you will).
The thing that is quite stunning to me is that Leibniz was taking an approach to atomic theory that completely ignored the concept of extension, or the void of space, which Descartes had emphasized in his Meditations as fundamental to the understanding of physical reality. At the same time, Leibniz doesn’t just hint at a concept of a holographic universe—he states it outright.
But Leibniz goes beyond merely anticipating ideas that others, perhaps in ignorance of The Monadology and his other works, have fleshed out to a greater extent in the 20th and 21st centuries. That is, he does more than simply allow us to say, “Wow, it was cool he was thinking of this stuff in 1714!”
Rather, he sets forth ideas in The Monadology that can take us further toward the truth than we’ve already gone. To wit:
• He suggests, as I put it, the reverse Copernican Revolution of seeing the mind proceed toward mental content and inhering in it, as opposed to containing it. Entelechies are each their own “perception” or content, the relationships between which (“compounds”) form the whole.
• In his argument of the enlarged mill, he gives us a clue as to the nature of qualia. Instead of looking for qualia in the relationships between the parts (neurons, etc.), we may see that they are “simple substances” or entelechies with which our minds can form a relationship. That’s not a full explanation but is a big hint, I believe.
• Reality is not based upon geometry (i.e., the Universe does not equal the void of space and its contents) but on relationships (“compounds”) between units of mental content (“monads/entelechies”). This insight has direct relevance to psi, spiritual matters, and the Afterlife, in which we consistently see that physical distance is irrelevant.
• Further, the base units of matter are only superficially atoms broken further down into electrons, quarks, and so on. Although Leibniz in The Monadology is describing the workings of what we would call the “physical universe,” he does away with extension entirely in his explanation. Monads have no size or geometric qualities whatsoever. I took a 400 level course in college specifically about Leibniz, and this absence of geometry was something everyone had a hard time wrapping their heads around. I think the implications for understanding quantum mechanics and other aspects of reality are immense, since our minds have a natural and understandable tendency to form geometric models that lead us to extrapolate incorrectly.
• The transmission hypothesis becomes unnecessary. Since the base unit of reality, the monad/entelechy is mental, there is nothing to transmit from one “place” to another. Rather, minds/souls/spirits (these all being the same thing) inhere in reality by dint of relationships. As Leibniz observes, the relationships can be stronger or weaker in quality, even though everything is ultimately interrelated.
• Consequently, the Afterlife becomes easier to understand. When a person dies, some relationships become weaker while others become stronger. There is no need for a soul to “pop out of” the body, since the human soul inheres relationally in the entire universe (Source, Cit, etc.).
• Leibniz’s concept of “pre-ordained harmony” was also well ahead of its time. Today, we could analogize that this harmony is a computer program by which information is controlled. Since this could be another “bloodless” concept, we can further describe it as the mode of “perception” of Source and entelechies it comprises.
Those are some observations, but I have hardly squeezed the orange of The Monadology of all its juice. I encourage the reader to go through the rather brief text and draw further conclusions, for I think increased attention to this remarkable document can help us understand better both physical and spiritual reality and resolve the artificial dichotomy between the two.
I've now watched five of the six episodes of season 1 of Catastrophe, an Amazon TV series available via streaming (free to Prime members). It's an intelligent single-camera sitcom about two strangers who hook up for a six-day fling, which results in an unplanned pregnancy - the catastrophe of the title.
I like the show well enough, but even though it can be funny and smart, something about it is depressing, and I don't mean the part about an unplanned pregnancy. No, what's depressing is the world the characters inhabit, the very nature of their lives.
Most of their friends and relatives are just awful. Even the few nice ones aren't really all that nice. Parents are minimally supportive at best. Supposed friends turn out to harbor not-so-secret resentments and hostilities. Doctors are so tone-deaf to basic emotional interaction that they deliver distressing news without warning or context. Business colleagues pretend to be friendly but actually hate each other on the rawest, most visceral level. Even a grade school teacher refuses to smile in front of her students, explaining that if she shows any weakness, it will be like throwing chum into a shark tank.
Though the characters are educated and semi-affluent, they live in a world of remarkable intellectual aridity. All conversations, including seduction, pillow talk, and marriage proposals, are dominated by the f-word and its equivalents. Nobody talks about ideas, except for content-free sound bites about global warming or nuclear war. Nobody has the slightest interest in spirituality or in finding any meaning in life. One character does practice homeopathy, but she's depicted as a hopeless neurotic who deserves ridicule; when she says a friend cured himself of prostate cancer with a walnut diet, the main character delivers the laugh line, "What'd he do, shove the walnuts up his ass?"
(Not that I'm endorsing homeopathy or walnut diets, but couldn't these people be even slightly open to new ideas - or at least treat differences of opinion with a modicum of civility?)
Needless to say, no one practices religion, though we are treated to a diatribe on the idiocy of believing in the devil. No one is interested in art or music. No one reads books, except for a book on pregnancy. Even the main female character, supposedly a frustrated writer, shows no sign of ever having read a book for pleasure. We know she's a wannabe writer mainly because she detests a popular female writer of children's fantasies - not for aesthetic reasons but because of a personal grudge. In fact, much of what we know about these people is defined by their hatreds, which are always petty and vindictive.
What's largely missing from this world are things that used to be taken for granted as part of any well lived life. A set of principles. A commitment to something higher than the mundane. Loyalty, honesty, kindness. Meaningful family relationships. A sense of community, of shared values.
And you say: So what? The show's creators set out to realize a humorous but bleak vision, and they succeeded.
But that's the thing. I don't think they set out to do that at all. I think they did it this way because this really is life for them and for the people they know. In the circles in which they travel, conversations really are conducted on this level, and people really are constantly stabbing each other in the back (when they're not spitting invective directly into each other's face), and seriousness really is gauged by how freely they disparage religion or genuflect before climate change.
All the things missing from this world are things that the "elites" of today, the educated, cosmopolitan class, have consciously rejected. A sense of community requires shared values, but ... values ? Come on, nobody believes in that crap anymore. Nobody believes in anything anymore, except sexual freedom, the one absolute. Nobody reads, studies, ponders, communes with nature or God, or asks what it's all about. Even love and friendship are not to be taken seriously, since we know it's all fake and we secretly hate each other and root for our friends to fail.
I'm not saying the show is bad. Not at all. In fact, I think it's devastatingly accurate, in ways that it probably didn't quite intend to be. In its quest to depict two smart, sophisticated people dealing with a real-world problem in a modern way, Catastrophe shows us the hollowness of a society mostly stripped of the old-fashioned qualities that once made life tolerable. The two main characters are in it together - and they are in it alone. They do try to help each other (the man in the relationship seems particularly concerned about trying to do the right thing, one of the few grace notes in the series), but no one else is trying very hard.
What a difference it would make if just one of their friends had said, "Wow, that's a lot to deal with. Whatever you need me for, I'm there for you. I want to help you in any way I can, because, honestly, I love you." But no one in their world could utter those words. The sentiment itself has become literally unspeakable.
To me, that's the real catastrophe.
Quite often on this blog we've talked about the transmission hypothesis, which can be expressed in various forms, but which always boils down to the idea that the brain is a medium by which consciousness interacts with the physical world. When the brain dies, consciousness continues, though it is no longer physically embodied. This is one basic answer to the question of how personality can survive the death of the body.
One of the most common objections to this idea is that the mind can suffer severe impairment as a result of neurological damage or other physical problems, so that, even if the mind does survive death, it will survive only in a grossly impaired form. On the other hand, it is argued, if the postmortem mind is free of all physical impairments, then it bears little or no resemblance to the embodied mind and therefore amounts to a whole new mind. In this case, there is no continuity of consciousness between the premortem and postmortem mind, and so there is no individual survival.
There are two ways to counter this argument. The first is to forego philosophizing and simply look at the empirical evidence that convinced us (or some of us) of life after death in the first place. To me, the best evidence is found in the trance mediumship of women like Leonora Piper, Gladys Osborne Leonard, and Eileen Garrett, all of whom were studied intensively for decades by serious investigators, who left behind reams of stenographic records of hundreds of sittings. Some of the material that came through these mediums was incorrect, and a great deal of it was nonsense ("bosh," William James called it), but all serious researchers were eventually led to conclude that a significant minority of the communications contained information that the mediums could not have obtained by any normal means. These researchers were divided between the hypothesis of postmortem survival and the hypothesis of super-ESP.
Personally, I think the super-ESP idea has little merit; for a detailed discussion, see Chris Carter's Science and the Afterlife Experience. This leaves us with postmortem survival. And the hypothesis of personal survival is further supported by near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, apparitions, deathbed visions, terminal lucidity, past-life recall, and other cases.
What all of these instances have in common is an insistence on continuity of consciousness. The deceased, speaking through mediums, tell us quite plainly that they are still the same individuals that they were when physically alive. This point is repeated over and over, almost ad nauseam. We are told that the transition between life and the afterlife can be so seamless that the person is unaware of having died. In other cases, the transition is more difficult, but even then the discarnate communicator invariably tells us that he has the same sense of self that he had when living on earth.
People who have had near-death experiences also report no disruption in the continuity of their consciousness. However much their consciousness may have been expanded or otherwise affected, they retain the sense that the entire episode happened to the old familiar I of personal experience.
Since this is what all the evidence tells us, there is really no reason to doubt it merely on philosophical grounds. It would make more sense to rethink our philosophical arguments than to discard empirical evidence.
But there's another way of tackling the problem — namely, to sketch out a philosophical position consistent with the empirical evidence. For what follows, I'm indebted to the contributions of several commenters on this blog, particularly Matt Rouge, who first brought up the concept of the I-thought and its entanglement with an informational matrix.
To get into this, we first need to think a little about what consciousness is.
Consciousness implies both a subject and an object. This much is obvious, but most people have a mistaken idea of what the subject is. I think it is this mistake that makes it hard to appreciate the force of the transmission hypothesis.
To describe what the subject is, let's first detail what it is not. The objects of consciousness include sensory input, mental imagery, logical reasoning processes, memories, imagination, feelings, and thoughts. Yes, even thoughts are objects, not subjects, of consciousness. What, then, is the subject? It is pure awareness – nothing more and nothing less.
Pure awareness, when linked to a specific set of objects, is known in some traditions as the I-thought. It is described this way in The Advaita Worldview: God, World, and Humanity, by Anantanand Rambachan:
The I-thought is centered on an awareness that is permanently present, being timeless and self-revealing. Its content and nature are nothing but awareness, without which it has no existence or reality. ... When the I-thought, whose nature is limitless awareness [ ] is subject to ignorance, it identifies itself with the characteristics of the body, senses, and mind in notions such as, "I am short," "I am blind," or "I am unhappy." Liberation from ignorance occurs when the I-thought [ ] comes to understand its nature as limitless awareness. … A requisite of such knowledge is a calm and translucent mind in which the I-thought is able to understand itself as nonobjectifiable, illuminating awareness, distinguishable from the body, senses, and mind, relating to all of these as subject to object, and as identical with brahman, the non-dual ground of all reality. ...
All thoughts originate from and can be reduced or resolved back to the I-thought. The I-thought, on the other hand, can be traced back to its source in awareness, without which it ceases to be. Awareness, however, cannot be resolved or reduced it to anything else. It simply is.
The I-thought persists throughout life, as well as during and after the transition to the afterlife. It thus accounts for the continuity of consciousness and for the often-reported insistence that the deceased "I" is the same as the physically embodied "I."
When we talk about an embodied consciousness – that is, the consciousness of a person living on earth – we're talking about an evolving dynamic process that involves all the objects of consciousness I listed above, and the I-thought, and the neurological and biological structures of the living organism. When we talk about a disembodied consciousness – the consciousness of a discarnate person – we're talking about an evolving dynamic process that involves all the objects of consciousness and the I-thought, but not the physical structures of the living organism. The absence of those physical structures is the key difference.
No one disputes that neurological damage and other physical problems can impair consciousness while it is embodied. The impairment occurs not because of any change in the pure awareness at the root of the I-thought but because the range of objects of consciousness is reduced. It may not be possible to recall memories, focus on logical reasoning, or formulate coherent thoughts. Again, all of these are objects, not the subject, of consciousness. Pure awareness remains uncorrupted and unimpaired, but the set of objects it can illuminate is narrowed, and the I-thought mistakenly accepts this narrowing as permanent. Upon passing over to the next life, the physical impairments are removed, and the full variety of objects is again available.
Now, for this to make sense, two things must be true. First, the objects of consciousness, even if temporarily lost while consciousness is embodied, cannot be permanently lost. If memories, thoughts, logical reasoning, and so forth are irretrievably lost, then even the transition to a discarnate state would not allow the I-thought to recover them. So there must be some way in which the objects of consciousness are preserved – whether we call it the Akashic records or whether we simply maintain that information, once brought into existence, cannot be destroyed.
Second, we must assume that there is a close relationship between one's awareness and the particular set of objects on which it has focused. Otherwise awareness, once liberated from its physical trappings, might focus on any and all objects of any consciousness that has ever been. In this case there would be no survival of the individual personality, but only a kind of universal mind that is aware of everything at once. While this idea might be philosophically appealing and it is found in some spiritual traditions, it's contradicted by the apparently reliable testimony of deceased persons speaking through mediums, as well as the testimony of people who've had near-death experiences, etc. And in any case, the very concept of the I-thought expressly serves to cover this relationship. The I-thought is pure awareness connected to a particular set of thoughts and memories — individuated and egoic, not universal and identityless. It is an I-thought, not a We-thought.
Given an "entanglement" between the I-thought and the constellation of objects on which it has focused, the I-thought, once free of physical limits, will naturally focus on the one particular set of objects – memories, thoughts, feelings, etc. – that, added together, constitute a "personality." After all, what we call personality is only the intersection of the I-thought with a characteristic set of objects – distinctive memories, personal thoughts and feelings, recognizable habits of mind. This is how we can say that the personality survives death, even if the personality has been grossly attenuated or deformed by dementia, mental illness, and other impairments. It is also how we can say that in cases of terminal lucidity, the dying person abruptly recovers his or her personality ("she was herself again").
An analogy might make this whole thing a little clearer. Imagine a person who is able to see only through a narrow horizontal slit in a blindfold. His vision is restricted to a hazy line, and he thinks of himself as nearly sightless. At a certain point, the blindfold is removed, and after a short period of disorientation and adjustment, he is able to see a much wider range of objects. In this case the person's eyesight corresponds to pure awareness, his self-identification as "nearly sightless" corresponds to the I-thought, and the slitted blindfold corresponds to physical limitations and impairments. The person's capacity for vision actually remains unchanged throughout, but the objects of his vision are restricted at first and relatively unrestricted later, and the I-thought (in its ignorance) mistakes this temporary limitation for a permanent condition.
The bottom line is that the skeptical objection to the transmission hypothesis is flawed in two respects. First, it's inconsistent with the empirical evidence. (Naturally, skeptics will dispute or dismiss this very evidence, but that's a separate issue.) Second, it depends on an understanding of consciousness that confuses subject and object. It assumes that thoughts and memories and reasoning processes are the same thing as awareness, when in fact all of these are objects of awareness in the particular form of the I-thought.
If we look at consciousness as an I-thought entangled with an information matrix in an evolving system that is subject to temporary limitations and impairments, but in which no data are ever permanently lost, the skeptical objection simply becomes irrelevant.
Quick link to an experiment that purportedly suggests that time is an emergent property of quantum entanglement:
Vitor Moura has called my attention to an article by Donald R. Forsdyke of the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Biological Theory (available online behind a paywall). Its title is "Wittgenstein’s Certainty is Uncertain: Brain Scans of Cured Hydrocephalics Challenge Cherished Assumptions￼￼￼￼."
Forsdyke, revisiting the work of British pediatrician John Lorber in the 1970s, finds a few more recent cases supportive of Lorber's controversial (to put it mildly) contention that very little gray matter is necessary in order to support normal mental function. Taking brain scans of hydrocephalics, Lorber found that in the most extreme cases, cerebrospinal fluid occupied "at least 95% of cranial capacity," leaving little room for brain tissue. Forsdyke writes:
Shocking enough. But now for what really rocked the neuroscientists. Half of Lorber’s 60 cases were of above-normal intelligence (as determined by standard IQ tests). The central scans in the figure [reproduced below]—virtually indistinguishable from the severely impaired case on the right—are representative of this group. And doubtless a candid camera would have caught Lorber’s jaw dropping when, among them, he found a student who was ‘‘socially completely normal’’ and had a first class honors degree in mathematics.
The math student's brain was estimated to weigh between 50 and 150 grams, while a normal brain would weigh 1.5 kilograms (1,500 grams).
Photo reproduced from the Discover blog post. The brain on the left is normal; the brain in the middle is that of a hydrocephalic patient who showed no sign of mental dysfunction; the brain on the right is that of a hydrocephalic who was severely impaired.
For decades Lorber's conclusions were largely ignored. But in 2007, The Lancet reported that a married civil servant with two children displayed a "massive ventricular enlargement" in his scans — essentially the same condition Lorber had observed decades earlier. Shortly afterward, another case along the same lines was reported by Brazilian neurosurgeons.
These cases remain exceedingly rare. Most hydrocephalics do not lead normal lives; their mental function is often severely compromised. But the existence of even a few such cases would seem to pose a challenge to the conventional wisdom in neurology.
Before we go on, though, we need to take note of an opposing view — namely, that these cases are less dramatic than they appear. In Discover magazine's blog, a contributor with the screen name Neuroskeptic argues that what is mainly missing in these scans is not gray matter, but white matter:
There’s no question that some of these brains are very striking. But I don’t think we need to throw out the textbooks yet.
While the enormous “holes” in these brains seem dramatic, the bulk of the grey matter of the cerebral cortex, around the outside of the brain, appears to be intact and in the correct place – this is visible as the dark grey ‘shell’ beneath the skull. What appears to be missing is the white matter, the nerve tracts that connect the various parts of the cerebral cortex with each other, and with the other areas of the brain.
However, some white matter is still visible as the pale grey layer that borders the holes. The big question is whether this layer of white matter is sufficient to connect up the grey matter and allow it to function normally. There doesn’t seem to be much of it, but on the other hand, we really don’t know how much white matter is strictly necessary.
I wonder also if the white matter might be denser than normal i.e. if the fibers were packed together due to being gradually compressed by the expanding fluid spaces?
After pointing out the need for more research, Neuroskeptic concludes:
In my view, these cases probably won’t require us to rethink neuroscience, although they do raise the issue of how much white matter is necessary. It may be that much of our white matter is redundant, which would be interesting, but not on a metaphysical level.
Getting back to Forsdyke, he devotes the rest of his article to arguing that the Lorber-type cases call into question the information-storage models of the brain. He rejects the idea that the brain can demonstrate unlimited plasticity:
... there must be rules for redundancy and plasticity. There must be limits. It is a matter of elementary logic that, at some stage of brain shrinkage, these explanations must fail. The drastic reduction in brain mass in the hydrocephalic cases seems to demand unimaginable levels of redundancy and/or plasticity—superplasticity. How much brain must be absent before we abandon these explanations and admit that the standard model, however incarnated, will not work?
The plasticity explanation is essentially what Neuroskeptic relies on. The skeptical argument is that the brain has so much "redundancy and/or plasticity" as to achieve "superplasticity" (Forsdyke's words). Thus even a loss of 95% of brain tissue is not necessarily catastrophic, as long as a "shell" of gray and white matter (the latter possibly compacted) remains intact. For Forsdyke, this explanation pushes plasticity/redundancy past the breaking point.
Instead, he's partial to a different, though admittedly speculative, idea:
Information relating to long-term memory is held outside the brain. Since most nonneural tissues and organs appear unsuited for this task, this extrapolates to long-term memory being outside the body—extracorporeal! Amazingly, this startling alternative has been on the table for at least two decades. A Georgetown University professor of computing science has sketched out how it might work (Berkovich 1993, 2014). A 10th century Arabic philosopher-physician even had a version (Avicenna 1631) ...
With respect to long-term memory, a stand-alone computer can be regarded merely as a terminal for manipulating data, and one retrieves from, and store files at, some remote location by way of the Internet. There are imaginative attempts to relate this to the workings of individual brains (Al Shargi and Berkovich 2009). The brain is seen as a receptor/transmitter of some form of electromagnetic wave/particle for which no obvious external structure (e.g., an eye) would be needed. Considering the universe as a holographic information storage device, and invoking the ‘‘spooky’’ physical principle of ‘‘non-locality’’ (Rudolph 2008), a ‘‘possible ‘hardware’ implementation’’ has been described (Berkovich 1993).
While various versions are considered in more detail elsewhere (Clark 2008; Noe ̈ 2009; Forsdyke 2011), they all fall far short on evidence. However, the rare hydrocephalic cases described here suggest that we should be cautious when tempted to cast aside the astonishing idea of personal information—long-term memory—being stored elsewhere ...
And, of course, when speaking of extracorporeal memory we enter the domain of ‘‘mind’’ or ‘‘spirit,’’ with corresponding metaphysical implications. ... Perhaps we should return to 1867 and harken to an exchange between two of Charles Darwin’s contemporaries, Robert Chambers and Alfred Russel Wallace: ‘‘My idea is that the term ‘supernatural’ is a gross mistake. We have only to enlarge our conceptions of the natural, and all will be alright’’ (Wallace 1905, pp. 285–286). We chuckle on learning how spiritualists duped such characters. Yet the possibility now emerges of at least some grains of truth amidst the dross that we poor creatures, imprisoned within the second decade of the 21st century, can understand no better than those imprisoned in the latter decades of the 19th could fathom ‘‘the missing five ounces’’ (Romanes 1887; Forsdyke 2014, 2015).
Though I don't think spiritualists necessarily "duped" the early researchers (my opinion is that some spiritualists were genuine and others were fraudulent, and many of the early researchers were quite adept at discerning between them), I welcome Forsdyke's willingness to look beyond the existing paradigm. As he himself says, it is somewhat astonishing that these cases have excited so little interest or curiosity. And even Neuroskeptic writes, "I’m surprised that more research hasn’t been done into this issue."
Forsdyke quotes philosopher Marek Majorek as being startled by the cognitive dissonance of experts reporting on the hydrocephalic cases without registering much of a reaction. Majorek wrote,
Yet it seems that the report should have been supplied with a large red title stating something to the effect ‘‘A major medical miracle: normal life with half a brain!’’, published not only in an academic journal but on the first pages of every major newspaper in the world, and extensively discussed in professional journals.
More than thirty years after Lorber's work, these anomalous cases still have not been explained. Perhaps even more astonishing, there seems to be very little interest in explaining them. They are unwanted, inconvenient scraps of data, duly reported and quickly filed away.
Hmm. Maybe he didn't need a brain, after all!
I've been thinking more about what C.S. Lewis called The Problem of Pain – the fact that life on earth is so often painful and unpleasant. As Lewis himself pointed out, pain is a philosophical problem only if we approach the issue from a non-materialist standpoint. Materialism sees no intellectual conundrum in the existence – and even the prevalence – of pain and suffering. The world is an accident, life itself is an accident, and pain is just part of the package. There is no reason to expect things to be any other way.
Philosophically, pain becomes a problem only if we believe there is some higher purpose to existence, some grand design or ultimate end, and that the universe is meant to be a fundamentally good place. The materialist position is self-consistent and alluringly simple, but it's contradicted by a wealth of evidence indicating that consciousness is not ultimately dependent on the nervous system and that other planes of reality exist. The spiritualist position, however we define it in detail, seems better suited to encompass the kinds of paranormal and (for want of a better word) supernatural phenomena that we've often looked at in this blog.
How, then, can we explain the persistence, even the universality, of suffering? Here's an idea that occurred to me.
A great deal of the suffering in the world is related to the fact that organisms so often survive by exploiting other organisms. Carnivores kill and devour herbivores. Parasites infect their hosts. Microbes cause disease and spread plague. Insects and germs kill off crops, causing famine. Even the gentle herbivores survive by eating plants, which are, of course, living things in their own right. Nature is "red in tooth and claw," and Darwinists are right to stress the dog-eat-dog, brutal and ruthless competitiveness of the natural world. All generations of human beings, with the partial exception of our own, have been well aware that nature is out to get us. Only the affluence and comfort provided by modern technology in the developed countries can allow some people to believe nature is benign. Spend a month in the woods without any special equipment, and we'll quickly come to realize that our present-day isolation from the hazards of nature is a historical anomaly.
Nobody is singing "Hakuna Matata" in this movie
Now, why is it that organisms are engaged in all these destructive behaviors? The simplest explanation is that life seems to be programmed to find a niche anywhere it can. It will explore any avenue, exploit any opportunity, go anywhere and do anything – or die trying. Life will find ways to survive on the ocean floor or on the slopes of a volcano or even in the vacuum of space, clinging to the side of the International Space Station, which currently harbors an encrustation of algae. As Jurassic Park told us, life will find a way. The fact that many of these ways entail the destruction of other living things, or their extreme suffering, seems to be quite immaterial. Life is ruthless; it is always on the hunt for the main chance and always willing to take advantage of any loophole or weakness, consequences be damned.
What we have, then, seems to be a world that prizes the diversity of life above all else. The purpose – if there is a purpose – is the constant, unrestricted exploration of every possible form of life, every conceivable method of survival and reproduction, in every kind of environment – a wild, undisciplined, improvisational efflorescence of life ramifying into every nook and cranny of the physical world, from Arctic tundras to the intestinal tract.
To reframe this idea, we might say that the universe is set up to maximize the variety of activities and experiences that can be made real. It's sort of like a cosmic brainstorming session in which no idea, no matter how crazy, is off-limits. Everything is on the table; everything is worth a try.
Of course, a brainstorming session makes no sense if the solution to the problem is already known. Brainstorming is something we do when we don't know the answer. Which leads us to the conclusion that the universe, or whatever lies behind it, doesn't know all the answers. The universe is a work in progress, and the various experiments – whether successful or failed – are its way of working out its own unanswered questions.
Actually, it's probably wrong to say that any experiments have failed, since even the evolutionary dead ends have provided information in their own right. Thomas Edison famously disputed the idea that his dozens of experiments in making a lightbulb had served no purpose. He replied that he now knew dozens of ways not to make a lightbulb. In the same way, the universe is learning what works and what doesn't, and like Edison's creative process, which was "one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration," it's messy and inefficient and sometimes frustrating and painful.
Notice that this viewpoint leaves no room for an omniscient God. An omniscient God knows all the answers and doesn't need to experiment. On the other hand, it does leave room for a God or Universal Mind that is not omniscient but still vastly more aware than any human mind. And of course, human minds themselves are exploratory tendrils extending from this cosmic Source, and are part of the same experiment.
In short, we might address the problem of pain by saying that neither pleasure nor pain is the real point of the cosmic drama unfolding around us. The point is to actualize every potentiality, instantiate every abstract possibility, and widen the field of experience ever further. It may be that this complicated and ever-growing meshwork of experiences simply is the point of it all – experience and growth for its own sake – or it may be that the ultimate point is to grope our way to an ideal existence in the physical state that currently eludes us. In either case, pain is built into the cosmic plan, not because the Mind behind it is that of a sadist, but because if pain were foreclosed, too many avenues of exploration would be foreclosed with it.
I have no idea if this notion has any weight, but right now it seems more satisfactory to me than other explanations I've considered. So there it is.
Lately I've started reading the novels of Agatha Christie. Before this year, I'd read only a couple of them and wasn't really a fan. But after reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a masterpiece of its type, I was hooked. Since then, I've been working my way through her books, concentrating on her earlier efforts.
I know almost nothing about Agatha Christie's personal life, but from her writings I suspect she had a genuine interest in spiritualism. I say this because the subject often crops up in her books, and because she seems familiar with spiritualist language and concepts, and even with some famous cases in the field. I'm not saying she was a convinced spiritualist, only that she seems to have more than a passing interest in the subject. And unlike Arthur Conan Doyle, who – despite his passionate commitment to spiritualism – never allowed his most famous fictional creation to opine on séances and skeptics, Christie did allow her famed Hercule Poirot to sound off on the topic. Here's an excerpt from the 1937 novel Poirot Loses a Client, also published as Dumb Witness.
Poirot and his sidekick, Hastings, have just concluded an interview with the eccentric Tripp sisters, who hold regular séances. The discussion centered on the deceased Emily Arundell, who sometimes attended the sittings. Hastings, a stolid but unimaginative fellow along the lines of Holmes’ Watson, remarks to Poirot:
“And it certainly looks as though Emily Arundell was much too sensible to believe in any tomfoolery like spiritualism.”
“What makes you say that spiritualism is tomfoolery, Hastings?”
I stared at him in astonishment.
“My dear Poirot – those appalling women –”
“I quite agree with your estimate of the Misses Tripp. But the mere fact that the Misses Tripp have adopted with enthusiasm Christian Science, vegetarianism, theosophy and spiritualism does not really constitute a damning indictment of those subjects! Because a foolish woman will tell you a lot of nonsense about a fake scarab which she has bought from a rascally dealer, that does not necessarily bring discredit on the general subject of Egyptology!”
“Do you mean you believe in spiritualism, Poirot?”
“I have an open mind on the subject. I have never studied any of its manifestations myself, but it must be accepted that many men of science and learning have pronounced themselves satisfied that there are phenomena which cannot be accounted for by – shall we say the credulity of a Miss Tripp.”
“Then you believe in this rigmarole of an aureole of light surrounding Miss Arundell’s head?”
Poirot waved a hand.
“I was speaking generally – rebuking your attitude of quite unreasoning skepticism. I may say that, having formed a certain opinion of Miss Tripp and her sister, I should examine very carefully any fact they presented for my notice. Foolish women, mon ami, are foolish women, whether they are talking about spiritualism or politics or the relation of the sexes or the tenets of the Buddhist faith."
In his rejection of “quite unreasoning skepticism,” his “open mind,” and his acknowledgment of the opinions of “many men of science and learning" who’d investigated the phenomena at first hand, Poirot appears to be on our side! This only makes me like Dame Agatha that much more.
In the comments thread of the last post, Bruce Siegel made an interesting point. Saying he trusts direct experience over intellectual theorizing, he wrote, "I've yet to hear someone emerge from a deep mystical experience and say: 'Wow. Now I understand! It's all about information!'"
This got me wondering if anyone actually has emerged from a mystical experience talking about information as the essence of reality. Google searches for "pure information" (bracketed by quotes) in conjunction with terms like "mystical insight" and "near-death experience" supplied a few possible examples, though none of them is a slam-dunk case.
First, an account found on NDERF, a database of NDEs:
White light is what I remember and the simplest way I can explain the moment is to say, "I saw God." This is what I ultimately came to understand as a mystical experience but at the time, I had never heard of such a thing. This is what Siddhartha Gautama, Jesus Christ, Meher Baba and many others were talking about. This is what Meister Eckhart wrote about only I didn’t know about Eckhart at the time. It is what I have referred to as a non-experiential experience and there is nothing to be remembered. The moment is eternally now and memory serves no function. I am, however, left with impressions. I sense that in some way I was exposed to pure information at a rate that far overloads the capacity of any physical entity. It was all that is all at once and it is Love.
Here the reference to "pure information" is a bit ambiguous. Does he mean that he felt immersed in a sea of information, or does he simply mean that a lot of ideas were conveyed to him very rapidly or even instantaneously?
In an interview, Eben Alexander, author of Proof of Heaven, discusses the ideas that he was led to by his NDE:
At the core, it’s all One and at the deepest Core it’s all divine — all One with God. Even the materialists — the scientists, cosmologists, those who do string theory and quantum gravity; they’re all basically converging to say that pure information is the core of all that exists. Everything we see as space, time, mass, energy … can be essentialized into vibrating strings of energy and higher dimensional space-time. And at the very deepest level, everything is entangled into one. Sir James Jeans said long ago, “The Universe begins to look much more like a great thought than a great machine.” That’s a crucial understanding of what this all really is. And if you’re able to go far enough, it all is around that Consciousness — that One is divine, that this whole material world is a very cleverly wrought illusion, that time and space are all illusion. You have to know that Consciousness is not this epiphenomenon of the brain, but is, in fact, a far richer thing that completely precedes and is outside of (and supporting) all of the material realm and this apparent reality.
This is a more explicit statement about pure information as "the core of all that exists." Of course, it could be objected that Alexander came to this viewpoint as a result of intellectual study after having his NDE, rather than from the NDE directly.
Next, we have a passage from an unlikely source - a book by Mark Singer called Grant Morrison: Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics. It's about a comic book artist with a unique vision. Singer writes,
His comics dramatize his beliefs in magic and occultism, share his stories of divine revelations and near-death experiences, and articulate a quasi-Gnostic cosmology that maintains the physical universe is a construct suspended in a higher-dimensional space of living information ...
The incident that reshaped his world-view and inspired many of his comics transpired in 1994 on a hotel roof garden in Kathmandu, Nepal. As he tells it, he was visited by silvery blobs who took him outside of spacetime and into a medium of pure information, where they explained the structure of the universe to him ... He not only insists that the encounter happened, he rejects the possibility that it was a hallucination caused by the hashish pellets he had eaten ... Morrison argues that the contact had much more in common with shamanic initiations and alien abduction experiences than with any drug trip, a subject in which he claims some expertise.
Whatever we may think of Morrison's silvery blobs, we do have here an intense subjective experience that apparently left the experiencer convinced that pure information is the matrix out of which the space-time universe arises. The idea was so powerful to him that it became the basis of much of his creative work.
Finally, we have a discussion of experiences reported by people who've used the powerful psychoactive drug ketamine. One person, who took 100 mg of ketamine via intramuscular injection, said he encountered something like ...
a cosmic assembly line that was constantly churning out the alternate universes that some physicists theorise about in which every conceivable possibility becomes an actual reality. I even had brief flashes in which I experienced some of these alternate realities as they sprouted forth out of this cosmic womb ... quick glimpses into what felt like other incarnations, other lives I could have led, darting journeys through seas of pure information.
Naturally, it's always possible to question whether a ketamine-induced experience is anything more than a vivid hallucination. (The same is true of NDEs, but at least in that case, there are sometimes veridical observations to lend weight to the testimony.) But if we take this story seriously, it sounds as if the experiencer was exposed to a realm of "pure information," in which all potentialities were explored simultaneously, much as a quantum entity (photon, electron, etc.) exists as a cloud of potentia plotting all possible trajectories and positions, until interaction with other quantum entities or with an observer causes the wave function to collapse to a single discrete point.
I would bet that more extensive searches, using a wider variety of search terms, would turn up more stories of this kind. But I'd also say that we ought to be careful about taking such accounts at face value. By their nature, these experiences are ineffable; any translation into language is automatically going to limit, redefine, and reshape them. Presumably the expectations and beliefs of the experiencer have a considerable effect on the words chosen to express the inexpressible.
There's also the problem of knowing which revelations to believe. If two experiencers have dramatically different stories to tell, whom do we trust? There's no objective standard by which to discriminate, so we're left to our own judgment, which often means preferring the story that just happens to match our own preconceived assumptions.
Still, I think there is at least some basis for saying that the information-matrix idea receives support from people who've "been there" - people who have had powerful NDEs or vision quests.
The Immortal Mind, by Ervin Laszlo and Anthony Peake, is a briskly paced, logically structured exploration of the issue of postmortem survival that presents some of the best empirical evidence and then ties it in with information theory. Since I'm interested in the idea of an information field as the fundamental substrate of physical reality, I found the latter section of the book particularly interesting.
It's by no means a difficult read. The style is conversational, and even the more complex case studies (such as the cross correspondences) are boiled down to their essentials. For readers of this blog, many — perhaps most — of the specific cases will be familiar, though there were a few that were new to me. One is a case investigated by Erlendur Haraldsson involving the Icelandic medium Indridi Indridason. In a 1905 sitting, the entranced medium began speaking in Danish, though Indridason knew only a few words of that language. The communicator, a "Mr. Jersen," reported that a major fire was underway in a factory in Copenhagen. An hour later he returned to say that the fire was now under control. He described himself as having been a "fabricant" or manufacturer. In a subsequent sitting Jensen
informed the group that his Christian name was Emil, that he was a bachelor with no children, and that he was "not so young" when he died. He added that he had siblings but they were "not here in heaven."
Because communication between Iceland and Denmark was so slow, it took more than a month after the first séance for news from Copenhagen to reach Iceland. The Danish paper Politiken carried a report on a fire at a lamp factory that took place on November 24 and was contained by midnight. This was the same date as the first sitting, and Jensen's update on the fire's status had come in at midnight, Copenhagen time. Haraldsson looked through copies of the same newspaper for the period two weeks before and two weeks after the fire and found none that matched the timing or details of the one reported by Jensen. He then went through the records in the Royal Library in Copenhagen and found an entry for a manufacturer named Emil Jensen, who had lived only two doors down from the factory that caught fire. Jensen had died in 1898 at the age of 50, was indeed a childless bachelor, and his six siblings were in fact alive ("not … in heaven") in 1905.
Other cases of interest are presented also. In general, I found the authors' choices to be quite good, though I would not have included the ITC investigations of Jules and Maggie Harsh-Fischbach, whose work has always seemed dubious to me.
The last third of the book offers a theoretical basis for these empirical anomalies. The authors talk about an underlying plane of pure information that gives rise to the space-time universe. They call this plane the Akasha — a matrix that is "more fundamental than any of the particles that appear in it; the latter are critical points, crystallizations or condensations within it." The Akasha
harbors all the fields and forces, constants, and entities that appear in spacetime. It is not part of physical spacetime; the cosmic matrix is beyond spacetime and prior to it.
Recent discoveries and innovations in physics are cited to provide support for the Akasha:
In the fall of 2012 a discovery was made of a new state of matter, known as the FHQ (fractional quantum Hall) state. This discovery suggests that the particles that compose "matter" in spacetime are excitations of an underlying non-material matrix. According to the concept ..., the entire universe is made up of these excitations [which] appear as waves as well as particles ...
The matrix itself is a string-net liquid in which particles are entangled excitations: "whirlpools." Empty space corresponds to the ground state of this liquid, and excitations above the ground state constitute particles ...
[A] new discovery – the geometrical object called amplituhedron – suggests that spatiotemporal phenomena (the world we observe) are consequences of geometrical relationships in a deeper dimension of the cosmos. Encoded in its volume are the basic measurable features of the universe: the probabilities of the outcome of particle interactions.
The discovery of the amplituhedron permits a great simplification in the calculation of the "scattering amplitudes" in particle interactions. Previously, the number and variety of the particles that result from the collision of two or more particles – the scattering amplitude of that interaction – were calculated by so-called Feynman diagrams … But the number of diagrams required for these calculations is so large that even simple interactions could not be fully calculated …
In the mid-2000's patterns emerged in particle interactions that indicated a coherent geometrical structure. This structure was initially described by what came to be known as the "BCFW recursion relations" … The BCFW diagrams abandon variables such as position and time and substitute for them strange variables – called "twistors" – that are beyond space and time. They suggest that in the non-spacetime domain two fundamental tenets of quantum field physics do not hold: locality and unitarity. This means that particle interactions are not limited to local positions in space and time, and the probabilities of their outcome do not add up to one. The amplituhedron is an elaboration of the geometry of the BCFW twistor diagrams. Thanks to these diagrams, physicists can now calculate the scattering amplitude of particle interactions in reference to an underlying non-spacetime geometrical object.
A multidimensional amplituhedron in the Akasha could enable the computation of the interaction of all quanta, and of all systems constituted of quanta, throughout spacetime. The locality and unitarity that appears in space-time appear as consequences of these interactions.
According to Nima Arkani-Hamed of the Institute for Advanced Study and his former student Jaroslav Trnka, the discovery of the amplituhedron suggests that spacetime, if not entirely illusory, is not fundamental: it is the result of geometrical relationships at a deeper level.
All of this is tied in with the perhaps more familiar idea of the holographic universe – the idea that the physical world is projected out of a nonphysical substrate that has many of the properties of a holographic plate.
But the information field called the Akasha is not simply a geometrical structure, cosmic hologram, or giant database; it is a cosmic consciousness — ultimately the only consciousness there is.
As the authors put it:
The beyond-the-brain consciousness – the consciousness we encountered in our review of near-death experiences, after-death communication, medium-conveyed and instrumental transcommunication, past-life recollections, and experiences suggestive of reincarnation – is not a material entity in the manifest world. It is an intrinsic element in the Akasha, the deep dimension of the cosmos ...
Just as particles and systems of particles in spacetime are projections of codes and relations in the Akashic deep dimension, so the consciousness associated with living organisms is a manifestation – a holographic projection – of the unitary consciousness that does not merely exist in, but actually is, that dimension ...
The deep dimension of the cosmos ... receives information from the manifest dimension, and it "in-forms" the manifest dimension. In the perspective of the manifest world the deep dimension is an information field or medium; it "in-forms" things in the world. But "in itself," this dimension is more than a network of in-forming signals. It is a consciousness in its own right.
This tenet is supported by the experience of our own consciousness. We ... do not observe our consciousness – we experience it. We also do not observe the Akasha (it is a "hidden" dimension), but we experience it: more precisely, we experience its effect on things we can experience: things in the manifest dimension … If we were the cosmos, we could introspect on its deep dimension. Our introspection would very likely reveal what introspection reveals in regard to our own experience: not sets and flows of signals, but the qualitative flow we know as our consciousness. Our cosmic-level introspection would reveal a cosmic consciousness.
This elaboration of the information-field idea in terms of a creative, self-aware consciousness is something I've been thinking about myself. The most common objection to the idea of a plane of pure information is that, as far as we know, information always has to be stored in some medium. So how can it exist independent of any medium, as "pure" data?
But if we say that the storage medium is consciousness – if the information is a vast array of ideas "contained' in a cosmic Mind – then that particular objection seems to go away. Instead of consciousness being an emergent property of the information field (which is how I've tended to think of it), it may be more correct to say that the information field and consciousness are the same thing viewed from two different perspectives, as Laszlo and Peake suggest.
The Immortal Mind is a worthwhile contribution to the growing literature on both the empirical evidence and the theoretical underpinnings of an afterlife. I enjoyed it, and I think you will too.