The Ultimate Mystery? –“Consciousness May Exist in the Absence of Matter”

ESO Observatories Chile


“The universe and the observer exist as a pair. I cannot imagine a consistent theory of the universe that ignores consciousness,” says Stanford University’s Russian-American theoretical physicist, Andrei Linde in his paper, Life Universe Consciousness, about the central mystery of our time, concluding that consciousness may exist by itself, even in the absence of matter, just like gravitational waves, –excitations of spacetime– that may exist in the absence of protons and electrons.

(Each day, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, we’ll post one of The Daily Galaxy’s 2019 most viewed posts as ranked by Google Analytics. With our best wishes for The Holidays.)

“Will it not turn out,” Linde adds, “that with the further development of science, the study of the universe and the study of consciousness will be inseparably linked, and that ultimate progress in the one will be impossible without progress in the other?”

“I have a much easier time imagining how we understand the Big Bang than I have imagining how we can understand consciousness,” observes Edward Witten, theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey who has been compared to Isaac Newton and Einstein.

Are humans just one among a billion species that evolved over billions of years on one rocky planet among trillions of planets circling hundreds of billions of stars in a galaxy that is just one among hundreds of billions of galaxies that, for all we know contain billions of unimaginable life forms, all located in an expanding cosmic bubble that is only one among an enormous number of bubble universes. Is it possible that this entire multiverse is the result of one species of conscious creatures we intimately know as Homo sapiens?

In a recent Daily Galaxy post –“Trilobites & Radios” –Is Human Evolution Unique in the Cosmos? –it was observed that are we the only species of the billions of species that have existed on Earth that has shown an aptitude for radios and even we failed to build one during the first 99% of our 7 million year history, according to Planetary Science Institute fellow,  Charley Lineweaver.

“For what purpose did the human brain evolve?” It is a question that has puzzled scientists for decades, and was answered in 2010 by Colin Blakemore, an Oxford University neurobiologist who argued that a mutation in the brain of a single human being 200,000 years ago turned intellectually able primates into a super-intelligent species that would conquer the world. Homo sapiens appears to be genetic accident. Or are we?


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Without consciousness, the universe would vanish in a puff of smoke, according to MD Deepak Chopra and Chapman University physicist Menas Kafatos in You Are the Universe –“like a dream, leaving nothing behind and no one to know that it ever existed. Even to say that the universe is conscious doesn’t go far enough. The universe is consciousness itself.”

You Are the Universe, a collaboration between Chopra and Kafatos, offers a scientific argument for what they call the “participatory universe,” the proposition that the universe and human consciousness are inextricably linked.

Life would be robotic, Chopra and Kafatos continued, “if we didn’t have flashes of emotion that come of their own accord, along with bright ideas of every kind. What if this everyday fact of life turns out to be the key to the cosmos? Human beings might be a bright idea the universe had, and once the idea occurred to it, cosmic mind decided to run with it. Why? What’s so enticing about human beings, troublesome and pained as we are? Only one thing. We allowed the universe to be aware of itself in the dimension of time and space.

“The cosmos is thinking through you. Whatever you happen to be doing is a cosmic activity. Take away any stage in the evolution of the universe, and this very moment vanishes into thin air. As astounding as such a claim may be, this book has been building up to it all along. Quantum physics makes it undeniable that we live in a participatory universe. Therefore, it’s only a small step to say that the participation is total.”

This is the question that intrigued the great American quantum physicist, John Archibald Wheeler in the last decades of his life was: “Are life and mind irrelevant to the structure of the universe, or are they central to it?” Wheeler originated the notion of a “participatory,” conscious universe, a cosmos in which all of us are embedded as co-creators, replacing the accepted universe “out there,” which is separate from us. He suggested that the nature of reality was revealed by the bizarre laws of quantum mechanics. According to the quantum theory, before the observation is made, a subatomic particle exists in several states, called a superposition (or, as Wheeler called it, a ‘Smoky Dragon’). Once the particle is observed, it instantaneously collapses into a single position.

Wheeler was a major influence on Chopra and Kafatos to explore some of the most important and baffling questions about human existence. What happens when modern science reaches a crucial turning point that challenges everything we know about reality? In the coming era, they suggest, the universe will be completely redefined as a “human universe” radically unlike the cold, empty void where human life and our planet is a mere mote of dust in the cosmos

“Consciousness cannot be fabricated,” they continue, “which makes it possible to reinvent the universe, not as a place where consciousness somehow got cobbled together on lucky planet Earth two-thirds of the way out from the center of a galaxy called the Milky Way, but as a place where consciousness is everywhere. There are many fence-sitters in physics who will concede that nature acts in mind-like ways, but they cannot swallow the proposition that the universe behaves exactly like a mind.”

Chopra and Kafatos conclude that to allow the human mind to fuse with cosmic mind, they must address the mystery of how the brain is related to the mind: “The first person who called the human brain “the three and a half pound universe” created an indelible image. If the brain is a unique physical object that functions like a supercomputer, then the physicalists have won. But there is no reason to elevate the atoms and molecules inside our brains to special status. If every particle in the cosmos is governed, created, and controlled by the mind, the brain also functions as the mind dictates. That’s the key to solving this, our last mystery.”

The Daily Galaxy, Eric Cooper,  –Read more in the links above and “You Are the Universe”. Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. Kindle Edition and Andrei Linde, Life Universe Consciousness

Image credit top of page: NASA/ESA/A. Schaller (for STScI)

Originally published September 15, 2019 (189,079 views)