Development of a Belief


By Paul R. Martin


At this point in my life I happen to believe that there is only one consciousness or soul in the entire universe. I realize that is not a typical belief. Someone recently asked me how highly invested I am in the idea of a universal soul.

Of course that got me to thinking, and I realized that I am indeed heavily invested. Prior to thinking about it, I would have answered that I am not highly invested in any of my beliefs at all. I consider beliefs to be simply "best guesses" or "hunches" we have about questions for which there are no certain answers. And since I know of no question that has a certain answer, I consider all "knowledge" to be a conglomeration of beliefs, each belief being accompanied with a level of confidence of its being true that ranges from zero to one. I would probably assign a confidence level of between 85 to 95 to my belief in a single universal consciousness.

But the question used the word 'invested" which prompted me to question whether or not there was any risk involved in my holding of that belief. And, it struck me that I had recently discovered that there was considerable risk indeed.

I don't feel at risk from an Inquisitor, because unless the Taliban takes over here, I think those days are behind us, and we are free to believe what we want. But just a few weeks ago, a long-time friend of mine first learned about my belief in a universal consciousness and it had such a shocking effect on him that he quit speaking to me. He remarked something like "I guess I really never knew you. From now on I'll consider you to be dead." I sent him a couple apologetic and explanatory letters, but I have yet to hear back. I'm afraid a valuable friendship has been lost.

So, yes, I am now acutely aware of the risk of holding unorthodox beliefs. But, as I wrote to my erstwhile friend, like Martin Luther, Here I stand; I can do no other.

So why do I hold this belief? And, how did I come to believe it?

I came to this belief gradually over several decades. It may have begun at the suggestion of New Age thinking. I wasn't aware of this until my questioner mentioned it, but thinking back I remember two particular incidents that may have been influenced by New Age ideas.

At one point, my daughter, about 20 at the time, with utmost confidence, looked me in the eye and told me matter-of-factly something like, "You have the power to change the world just by thinking. You make your own world. All you have to do is to decide what you want and then just imagine it happening and saying to yourself that it is happening. Do this over and over every day, and eventually it will happen." She has had a good life and has beaten cancer down once, so it seems to be working for her.

The second incident was in a casual conversation with a female colleague at work who told me that she meditates regularly and she believes that we each make our own world.

I remember leaving that conversation thinking about the logical implications of such an idea. How is it that you and I live in the same world? Who's exactly is it? Is it mine because I made it, or is it yours because you made it? Am I living in yours, or are you living in mine? And what about the other six billion people?

One answer might be Everett's Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. In that scheme, the entire universe splits into two or more complete universes each time a random quantum event is specifically determined by a quantum state reduction. These are precipitated, at least, by measurements of the outcome by some observer. So it could be that when I make my own world, I am choosing outcomes that split off my world from all others and I continue with the world I made and everyone else has their own world that they made. Of course that would mean that everyone but me who populates my world is an unconscious zombie, acting as if they were conscious. Hard to believe.

Another answer might be that in the making of our respective worlds, we somehow collaborate sort of like the individual coral animals collectively add their piece to the growing structure of a coral reef so that each animal has built its own local environment, but that is a part of a larger structure containing myriad other individuals, each with the local environment it has made.

This is a little easier to believe. But what about when there is a conflict of interest: I want to grow a big shade tree and you want to cut it down. Everett's explanation would handle this nicely—two worlds; one with a tree and one without—but the coral reef idea would leave one of us frustrated.

So then I thought, maybe we collaborate somehow. Maybe we somehow come to an agreement or a compromise on whether or not to let the tree grow so that we end up each wanting the same thing and we jointly make it happen. It might be a little hard to explain the many wars that nobody seems to want, but Tolstoy tried to explain that in War and Peace. He claimed that the millions of individual choices made by all the people involved, each decision made for very local and personal reasons, netted out to millions of people marching off to war intent on killing the enemy.

The next idea I remember entering the picture was the puzzle of the nature of consciousness. Julian Jaynes had pointed out that contrary to casual opinion, conscious is not continuous. Not only do we have momentary lapses of consciousness from time to time, but we have the very regular and relatively huge (30% of the time) gaps when we sleep each night. Why? This question remains unanswered by Science, or anyone else for that matter, and to me it represents one of the greatest mysteries of all.

So I got to thinking that if there were only one consciousness, it could multiplex among all the conscious organisms, entering and leaving an organism on those boundaries of waking and sleeping respectively. Of course that presents the huge problem of simultaneous wakefulness. At any one time there are upwards of 4 billion people awake. Who gets the consciousness at a particular moment? And what about all the rest?

My thinking led me to conclude that there must be an additional temporal dimension in which the consciousness moves about among the bodies, animating them in a serial order in this new dimension of time, yet giving the appearance of billions of simultaneously conscious people in the ordinary earthly dimension of time.

This entire development, of course, is preposterous. And it seemed that way to me too after reaching this point as a result of inferring the consequences of my friend's claim that we each make our own world. But preposterous or not, the idea lodged in my brain and sat there waiting.

One positive consequence of this idea would be a perfectly logical and complete solution to the problem of evil. Since that one consciousness made all decisions for all people, then the responsibility for the choices made by all villains and all benefactors lie with the same consciousness. Conversely, the benefits and suffering of all beneficiaries and all victims would be experienced by exactly the same consciousness that provided or caused them. It would be perfect justice, just as the universe is supposed to provide.

Probably the next event shaping my belief was the discovery that in his youth, Freeman Dyson held a similar view which he called "Cosmic Unity". He wrote that his friends and colleagues taunted him and his "Cosmajunity". I mentioned this on an Internet forum at one point, and was rebuked with the admonition something like, "You would be better off if you spent your energies looking into why Dyson abandoned such a stupid idea."

Well, it turned out that I met Freeman Dyson at a book-signing event and I said something like, "Too bad you abandoned Cosmic Unity". He looked up at me and said, "Who said I abandoned it"? That, I think, was the first time I began taking the idea of a single consciousness seriously. My belief level rose from something like 20% to something over the 50-50 boundary, to maybe 55 or even 60%.

From then on, I actively looked for evidence and arguments that would either push my belief index back down, or that would support it. To make the rest of the story shorter, since that time I have found no argument that makes sense that erodes my belief, and I have found support in unexpected places. I have not closed the book and at the time of this writing, I am open to and eagerly seek any argument or evidence that might change my opinion.

So that explains how I came to believe in a single universal consciousness, and now I'll explain why I believe it by citing some of the evidence and the arguments that seem to support it. [This essay was never finished. PRM 9/1/15]

Please send me an email with your comments.

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