Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Peter Russell: The Primacy of Consciousness

In the attached video lecture from physicist turned author, Peter Russell ("From Science to God: The Mystery of Consciousness"), Russell makes a lucid argument, grounded in modern physics and philosophy, that it is consciousness itself that is the fundamental basis of "reality."

"The one thing we cannot deny," he observes, à la Descartes, "is the fact that we are consciousness. Probably the only absolute certainty we have is that we are experiencing beings." Cognito ergo sum, or, 'I think, therefore I am,' as the pioneering French philosopher, scientist and mathematician put it.

Russell begins by observing that there is a groundswell of interest in the notion of consciousness due, in large part, to (a) the integral component that consciousness and the observer play in quantum physics, (b) recent work in neurology, neurospsychology and neuroanatomy exploring the correlates of consciousness, and (c) the current spiritual interest in the mind and, particularly, consciousness as the Ground of Being. Yet, as many others have pointed out, Russell notes there is no scientific definition of just what consciousness is.

"Various perceptions, feelings (and) thoughts are the forms which arise in consciousness," Russell points out, utilizing the well-known metaphor of mind as a film projector. "What determines the forms is what goes on in the brain," he notes, "but that doesn't mean to say that the brain produces consciousness. It may determine the shapes, the forms the experiences that arise in consciousness, but to say that the brain produces consciousness is like saying. . .  that the film produces the light that is in the (film) projector."

The "hard problem" of science today, Russell observes is why we have consciousness at all, rather than how consciousness operates. It may, he observes, be an impossible question for science per se to solve.
What may be needed to solve this "hard problem," Russell points out, is an entirely new scientific paradigm, in fact, a new "meta-paradigm" that recognizes consciousness itself, rather than matter per se, as the primary aspect of our "reality."

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