It is a common theme in Philosophy and Physics to note that hubris is a problem that gets in the way of understanding the nature of reality. The oft-told tale is that humans have historically considered themselves to be at the center of things only to discover later that not only is the earth not the center of the solar system, but that our entire planet is an insignificant speck in the vastness of the observable universe.
But let’s have another look at hubris and relate it to another problem in philosophy and physics. That other problem is to come up with an explanation for the nature of consciousness. We are still waiting for that.
Philosophers, starting at least with Socrates, invented the idea of ‘soul’ to account for consciousness. That idea was picked up by Augustine and incorporated into Christian dogma as the thing that needed redemption and which would survive death of the body. Among religious believers, that notion remains pretty much unchanged.
Among the philosophers themselves, the notion has degenerated to the point that most of them deny the existence of consciousness altogether, or if not, they have done a pitiful job of explaining the most ubiquitous, personal, and undeniable phenomenon we know of.
Physics has done even less well. Except for some embarrassing admission that it seems to play some role in the mysterious quantum state reduction (quantum jumps, or “collapse of the wave function”) the question of consciousness has been largely ignored and considered to be outside the scope of scientific investigation.
So in the context of consciousness, which every reader of these words experiences, in particular at this moment when you (yes, you) are reading this sentence, let’s have another look at hubris.
Yes, we understand that our bodies are not at the center of a flat disc making up the earth, and that our spherical planet is not at the center of the solar system, nor the Milky Way, etc. etc. But what about our conscious experience?
Unlike most physical phenomena, our conscious experience is greatly influenced by images of the moon, the sun, the stars, and even distant galaxies. Of course we can rig up instruments like telescopes and spectrometers that can be influenced by such distant objects and influence the physical arrangement of things like patterns on photographic film or patterns of bits in a computer. But none of that occurs without extensive involvement of consciousness in the people who built the apparatuses and who observed the images and data that was produced by them.
So to be fair, it is true that our conscious experience seems to be centered in a huge sphere containing all observable (by us) physical objects. And, it is also evidently true that this privileged position is not reciprocal. By that I mean that within at least a smaller, earth-centered sphere, say of a light year or two in radius, that observable sphere contains no counterpart observers who are looking back at us. We seem to be uniquely centered in a privileged point in space for quite a way out. And the “we” are the conscious beings among us.
Now, all hubris aside, it is possible that there are other constituents of reality that are “outside” of our observable universe that play the role of the extensions to our understanding as introduced by Copernicus and others. It is possible that our “universe” is a subset of a greater universe that demotes us away from the center of things. One possibility is that our “subset” is a manifold embedded in a higher-dimensional space-time continuum. That would allow for additional “consciousnesses” to exist which might be superior to ours and which could observe us without us being able to see them.
That would allow for cogent explanations of some of the “other worlds” that have been suggested by such disparate claimants as Eben Alexander, Hugh Everett, various aboriginal shamans, and official religious dogma of all the various religions, among many others.
Instead of pursuing any of the many tangents we could follow at this point, I will stick to the subject of the title and close this essay. Many of the other notions I have mentioned have been covered in other essays of mine. The only point I want to make here is that until we consider and investigate some neglected questions, which might result in a better understanding of our true position, it is reasonable to take a hubristic stance with respect to the role of conscious experience in the bigger picture of reality.
We seem to be important after all.Please send me an email with your comments.
©2016 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.