Many now hold that consciousness is a trick, wrought upon an illusory “us” by physics, and you may therefore wish to contemplate whether you exist at all.
You have only to start reading articles on the philosophy of mind to witness the derision heaped upon those who hold any other view in this brave new world.
The impact is profound. If you believe the materialists, as they are called, you will cease to have free will and your life will become entirely meaningless.
Some can live with this and make with themselves a modern form of Pascal’s Wager. Psychologist Susan Blackmore is a good example: she believes in pure physicalism but recommends living life as though such beliefs were not true.
As in every other area of human life, the academic field of consciousness is home to extreme arrogance and intolerance. And this naturally spills over to the amateurs who air their views over the internet. Amateurs and “professionals” alike will have their immutable and trammeled views, founded upon inconclusive evidence, and will strike out at those who hold otherwise.
Anyone who profess anything other than a purely reductive and materialistic view of consciousness is now likely to be labelled as an ignorant fool, who has either not read the evidence or who refuses to believe an obvious truth which such evidence apparently reveals.
The more subtle truth is that there is no evidence.
It is undoubtedly true that there is now a long history of experiments which would suggest (conclusively I suspect) that consciousness can not be evidenced or experienced without a physical brain. But even then, who knows?
The very briefest example will suffice. The lobotomy for instance, that drastic surgical invasion so dear to neurosurgeons in the early 20th Century, altered consciousness in a brutal and inhuman manner. Where then was the eternal soul so beloved of religious devotees and followers of Rene Descartes? It seems that the surgeon’s knife can do away with it at the flick of the wrist.
And so on through endless less harmful experiments, it has been shown that medical intervention can alter or snuff out what we might otherwise believe to be the self.
And what of qualia? The hard problem of consciousness puzzled over by Chalmers and innumerable others? What is it like to be a bat? How can we account for the subjective experience of pain and pleasure arising from mere physical atoms? Our delight in music or a beautiful sunset? The subjective experience of mysticism?
Does the mind have any control over the body? Do we choose to take a physical action which our body then acts out accordingly?
Well it depends who you listen to and anybody with the temerity to claim that such questions have been settled by experiments and thus empirical evidence is simply misleading himself.
Some suspect that qualia are nothing more than what happens when information is processed by the brain. Many suspect that what we believe to be a self is no more than a misleading feeling brought about by memory. That there is no series of events which has happened to “us”, that there is no “us”.
If you feel you need to enter into the fray, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy will give you a good starting point but do not expect to emerge with any answers.
If you do emerge with answers, the likelihood is that eventually, over the course of many centuries or even millennia, you will be proven wrong.
I am not proposing any belief. I am not proposing any answers. I do not have the arrogance to say that one view is categorically right or wrong.
What I do say is that the universe is still to a large extent mysterious. And that “physical” is a slippery concept. As most of us are now well aware, the concept of the material is strange indeed. That chair you are sitting on is not solid as it happens: atoms are largely empty and even atoms may not be “material” but “mere” energy.
So the universe appears to be more some kind of force field than anything we would think of as material in any common sense way. Some claim that it is a hologram, a mere projection in three dimensions from two. Some claim that the basic building block may be a one dimensional string of vibrating energy.
In view of such extraordinary claims, it would be strange indeed to write off the possibility that “we” exist. That our phenomenal experiences are mere phantoms felt by a ghost.
At the bottom, at the very base of physics it seems that nothing is conventionally real in the sense we humans normally think of as reality.
Perhaps then it is only “mind” which is primary. Perhaps then mind is information and it is information which constitutes the multiverse.
Perhaps far from mind not existing, mind is all that does exist.