The Substance of Reality – Consciousness filtered through space-time

Photo by Dustin Humes on Unsplash

In the modern world, naturalism exerts a potent influence on our way of thinking. The exuberance produced by the success of science caused an overconfidence in its ability to explain the world.

As scientific discoveries accumulated, people assumed this trend would continue indefinitely. Eventually, science would discover the Theory of Everything, a complete description of the world.

This unrealistic enthusiasm should have aroused more skepticism. But inspirational stories about the godlike powers of humans are perennially popular, not for their factual content, but for their ability to motivate us to live our best life.

The modern mythology

In the past, mythology was the format we used to present these inspirational visions for humanity. But the modern narrative distinguishes itself from our ancestors based on discovering the scientific method.

According to the modern story, humanity no longer has myths, we have scientific facts. This mindset is so pervasive that in the modern world, mythology is synonymous with fiction and fairy stories.

This naturalist story relegated spiritual views of the world to proto-scientific theories. It assumed the mythologies of human civilizations were primitive attempts to explain the mechanisms of nature, without realizing the very idea that nature reduces to a mechanism was an assumption our ancestors didn’t share.

Intoxicated by our own mythological vision of humanity, people assumed not only that science was a useful tool to discover truths about nature, but that nature itself consisted only of the scientific description and nothing more. There were no souls, no gods, no forces or dimensions to reality other than the objective features included in the scientific descriptions.

People came to believe the scientific description of the world was a complete description of reality.

Naturalism’s nemesis

This enthusiastic overconfidence in science has now come full circle and forced naturalism to confront its nemesis. The confidence in science to explain everything about the world led many to assume it could also explain consciousness. In that search for a scientific explanation, naturalism met the hard problem of consciousness.

Hard problem is a euphemism suitable for modern sensibilities. It really means impossible problem. It’s a conceptual problem about the limits of the scientific method, not a problem advances in neuroscience can solve.

Some people still deny the hard problem exists, but for most people, the realization of what it means for the naturalist worldview is slowly dawning and forcing a change in mindset.

Where once many people assumed naturalism was unquestionably true, now even the most hardened naturalist must defend their views against the hard problem. It’s becoming increasingly clear science can’t explain consciousness and naturalism needs a major overhaul.

Expanding our view of nature

If the methods of science are incapable of explaining consciousness, the scientific description of the world is incomplete. The existence of consciousness is the only thing we know for certain, an undeniable fact.

If we can’t eliminate consciousness from our worldview, and we can’t explain it with scientific methods, the only option is to enlarge our conception of nature beyond the scientific description so it can accommodate consciousness.

The obvious solution is instead of thinking of nature as limited to the external and objective features of reality which science describes, nature also has inner dimensions.

In the naturalist worldview, space and time are the fundamental properties of the world, the foundation of all matter. Everything else, including consciousness, emerges from that foundation. Matter comes first, consciousness is secondary.

If we expand our understanding of nature to include inner conscious dimensions, these inner dimensions become the deeper foundation and fabric of reality. Consciousness is first, matter is secondary.


One theory which acknowledges the inner dimensions of nature is panpsychism. Under this view, all matter has inner conscious states. Even atoms have a simple form of consciousness. When matter arranges itself in certain patterns, like a human brain, these simple conscious states combine to form more complex conscious states.

The biggest problem facing this view is the combination problem. Panpsychism needs to explain how combining atoms with simple consciousness adds up to human consciousness. This combination problem is as intractable as the hard problem.

The scientific reductionist way of thinking still infects this panpsychist view. It thinks of matter as primary and then envisions consciousness in relation to matter. It imposes our conception of matter onto consciousness.

We know matter comprises micro-level phenomena which combine to form macro-level phenomena, panpsychism assumes the same applies to consciousness.

This is the same way of thinking that plagues naturalist views that consciousness emerges from brains. It assumes that given enough bits of simple consciousness, or sufficiently complex arrangements of matter like brains, it will somehow create more complex consciousness.

It assumes an increase in quantity will produce a qualitative change.

Both ideas are faulty because they impose the reductionist scientific view of the world onto consciousness. The problem consciousness poses for naturalism isn’t a procedural problem, it’s a conceptual problem.

Consciousness doesn’t fit into the scientific way of seeing the world. Consciousness requires a whole new way of thinking.

The unity of consciousness

Science takes a reductionist approach. It works on the assumption an explanation of the parts will give us an explanation of the whole. But for consciousness, this approach fails.

Consciousness is a qualitative phenomenon and one of its characteristics is its unitary nature. Consciousness doesn’t have parts.

We don’t experience a visual perception distinct from an auditory and tactile perception and then add them all together. We experience the world as a seamless, unified whole.

The unified nature of consciousness naturally leads to thinking of consciousness as a field. The panpsychist view of discrete bits of matter, each having bits of consciousness attached which combine to make more consciousness, is a reductionist view.

We need to think holistically. Instead of seeing the world as composed of parts which combine to form a whole, we need to envision the entire fabric of space-time as one unified conscious field. This idealist view places consciousness as the ultimate foundation underlying all reality.

Turning naturalism inside out

This idealist view turns naturalism inside out. Physics knowledge is intact, but it’s the secondary part of the story, the superficial or extrinsic view of nature.

Science is the view of reality we create by restricting our description of nature to the external dimensions and excluding the inner substance.

This is easy to understand for our own physical body. A complete scientific description of the body’s structure and functions would only explain the external features and would say nothing about the conscious self.

It’s an accurate description of the extrinsic properties, but it leaves out the entire substance of our inner self, the essential properties which make us who we are.

This idealist view avoids the hard problem created by limiting nature to scientific descriptions. With the naturalist view, the external dimensions of space time are the fabric of reality, the causal foundation.

Which means the only option to explain the existence of consciousness is as a property which emerges from the physical foundation. The brain creates or produces consciousness, just as boiling water creates steam.

But with the idealist view, the causation proceeds in the opposite direction. Instead of seeing consciousness as something which emerges from the physical, we reverse the order and see the physical as the properties that solidify from consciousness.

This view of the world is foreign to our naturalist way of thinking. When we try to conceive of the world in this way, it seems abstract in contrast to the solidity of matter. But we can have some general idea of it from the discoveries of modern physics.

Think of the quantum field, an intangible field consisting only of probabilities. From a collapse in this incorporeal field, possibilities solidify into the actuality of a tangible particle. A particle is a part of the field which becomes limited within space and time.

We can think of the individual living beings in the same way. Each conscious living being is like a particle of the idealist conscious field. Where the field is a unified unlimited consciousness, the consciousness of each living being is the portion of the field which is limited to that physical body.

The physical body forms the external dimensions which restrict the conscious field within a spatial boundary.

Filtering out the world

In this idealist view, we can think of the body as a filter on the world. Imagine you’re looking through a keyhole into the world beyond. The keyhole limits your view of the world, it restricts your awareness of the world. The limits it imposes are the spatial dimensions of the keyhole.

The keyhole is a filter on the world, placing limits on the aspects of the world you can see or be aware of. The only part of reality you have access to is the part which can pass through the keyhole.

A keyhole is a simplified example of a filter which limits our vision of the world. For the idealist view, the physical body is analogous to the keyhole. The body and brain form a filter that imposes limits on all our sensory perceptions. They restrict our consciousness within certain physical limits.

All living beings have particular senses which provide inputs from the world. The sensory apparatus limits those inputs. As well as the senses, the cognitive apparatus of the brain and nervous system places limits on how we perceive that sensory input.

A bat sees in sonar. Humans have can only see a narrow portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Dogs hear a much wider range of sounds than the auditory range humans available to humans.

By limiting the inputs, our senses and brain act as a filter, they only allow a particular view of the world. Each physical body is a kind of filter, our keyhole to the world. It limits our perception of the world and our awareness of reality. We are only conscious of those aspects of reality that the senses and the mind allow us to access.

This idealist view of the world finds a harmonious synthesis between science and spirituality. It respectfully encompasses both and places them in context.

Just as Einstein’s relativity didn’t invalidate Newtonian physics, but recognized its accuracy within a limited context. Taking a wider view, we understand it’s correct as far as it goes, but it’s not the complete story.

The same applies to this idealist view. It accepts that scientific knowledge is a valid way of viewing the world, the mistake is in thinking it’s the complete story. It only describes the external or superficial aspects of reality, not all of reality.

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