Kuhn coined the term "paradigm" to refer to the
and assumptions that underlie a particular science. But beneath all our
scientific paradigms lies an even deeper and more pervasive assumption.
It is the belief in the primacy of the material
world. When we fully understand the world of space, time and
we will, it is held, be able to account for everything in the cosmos.
the paradigm behind all our scientific paradigms, this worldview has
status of a "superparadigm". Eminently
as this model has been at explaining the world around us, it has very
to say about the non-material world of mind.
Nothing in the physical
predicts the phenomenon of consciousness. Yet its reality is apparent
each and every one of us. As far as the current superparadigm is
consciousness is a great anomaly.
When paradigm anomalies
they are usually overlooked or rejected. Or, if they cannot be so
discarded, they are incorporated in some way, often clumsily, into the
existing model. Witness the attempts of mediaeval astronomers, wedded
Plato's belief in the perfection of circular motion, trying to explain
irregularities in planetary motion with theories of epicycles (circles
rolling along circles).
Western science has
a similar pattern in its approach to consciousness. For the most part
ignored consciousness completely. More recently, as developments
a range of disciplines have shown that consciousness cannot be so
sidelined, science has made various attempts to account for it. Some
looked to quantum physics, some to information theory, others to
But the failure of these approaches to make any appreciable headway
the problem of consciousness suggests that they may be on the wrong
All these approaches assume
consciousness somehow arises from, or is dependent upon, the world of
In one way or another they are trying to accommodate the anomaly of
within the materialist superparadigm. The underlying beliefs are
if ever, questioned.
When Newton proposed his
motion, he turned the problem of what made things move into the
stone of his new paradigm; objects continued to move unless acted upon
by some external force. When Einstein
his Special Theory of Relativity, he took the problem of the
of the speed of light and made it an axiom of the new model. I believe
we need to do the same with the problem of consciousness. Instead of
trying to explain consciousness within the current superparadigm, we
to accept that consciousness is as fundamental as matter—in some
more fundamental. When we do we find that the key ingredients for a
new superparadigm are already in place; all we need to do is put them
The key to this new model
is an understanding of how we perceive
in physics, psychology, and philosophy have shown that reality is not
it seems. Take vision, for example. When I look at a tree,
reflected from its leaves is focused onto cells in the retina of my
where it triggers a cascading chemical reaction releasing a flow of
Neurons connected to the cells convey these electrical impulses to the
brain’s visual cortex, where the raw data is processed and integrated.
Then—in ways that are still a complete mystery—an image of the tree
in my consciousness. It may seem that I am directly perceiving the tree
in the physical world, but what I am actually experiencing is an image
generated in my mind.
The same is true of every
experience. All that I see, hear, taste, touch, smell and feel has
created from the data received by my sensory organs. All I ever
of the world around are the mental images constructed from that data.
real and external they may seem, they are all phenomena within my mind.
This simple fact is very
grasp; it goes against all our experience. If there is anything about
we feel sure, it is that the world we experience is real. We can see,
and hear it. We can lift heavy and solid objects; hurt ourselves, if
not careful, against their unyielding immobility. It seems undeniable
out there, around us, independent and apart from us, stands a physical
world, utterly real, solid and tangible.
But the world of our
is no more "out there" than are our dreams. When we dream we create a
in which events happen around us, and in which we perceive other people
as individuals separate from us. In the dream it all seems very real.
when we awaken we realize that everything in the dream was actually a
of our own mind.
same process of reality generation occurs in waking consciousness.
The difference is that now the reality that is created is based on
data and bears a closer relationship to what is taking place in the
world. Nevertheless, however real it may seem, it is not actually "the
real world". It is still an image of that world created in the mind.
It is important to
between two ways in which we use the word "reality". There is the
we experience, our image of reality; and there is the underlying
that has given rise to this experience. The underlying reality is the
for all observers. It is an absolute reality. The reality I
the reality generated in my mind, is a relative reality. It is
to my point of view, my past experience, my human senses and my human
The fact that we create our
of reality does not mean, as some people misconstrue, that we are
the underlying reality. Whatever that reality is, it exists apart
from our perception of it. When I see a tree there is something that
given rise to my perception. But I can never directly perceive this
All I can ever know of it is the image appearing in my mind.
When, two centuries ago,
Berkeley proposed that we know only what we perceive, his
debated whether or not a tree falling in a forest made a sound if no
was there to hear it. From what we now know of the psychophysiology of
perception, we can say the answer is "No". Sound is not a quality of
underlying reality. There may be movements in the air, but the
of those movements as sound is something that happens in the
it be the mind of a human being, a dog or a woodpecker.
Similarly with light.
the tree is in physical reality, it is not green. Light of various
is reflected from the tree to the retina of the eye, where cells
to the amount of light in three frequency ranges (the three primary
But all that is passed back to the brain are electro-chemical impulses;
there is no color here. The green I see is a quality created in
It exists only in the mind.
The same is true of our
of distance. The pattern of light that falls on the retina creates a
image of the world. The brain estimates distance by detecting slight
between data from the left and right eyes, the focus of the eyes,
movement, and past experience as to the likely size of a tree. From
data it calculates that the tree is fifty feet away. A
image of the world is then created with the tree placed "out there" in
that world, fifty feet away. Yet, however real it may seem, the quality
of space and distance that we experience is created in the mind.
The Kantian Revolution
Long before modern science
anything about the processes of perception or the structure of matter,
the eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant had
a clear distinction between our perception of reality and the actual
of perception. He argued that all we ever know is how reality appears
us—what he referred to as the phenomenon of our experience,
which appears to be". The underlying reality he called the noumenon,
meaning "that which is apprehended", the thing perceived.
At the time, Kant's
a watershed in Western thinking. They were, as Kant himself saw, the
of a Copernican Revolution in philosophy. Whereas Copernicus had
turned the physical universe inside out, showing that the movements of
the stars are determined by the movement of the earth, Kant had turned
the epistemological world inside out, putting the self firmly back at
center of things. We are not passive experiencers of the world; we are
the creators of the world we experience.
Because all we ever know is
product of the mind operating on the raw sensory data, Kant reasoned
our experience is as much a reflection of the nature of the mind as it
is of the physical world. This led him to one of his boldest and, at
time, most astonishing, conclusions of all. Time
and space, he argued, are not inherent qualities of the physical world;
they are a reflection of the way the mind operates. They are part of
perceptual framework within which our experience of the world is
It seems absolutely obvious
us that time and space are real and fundamental qualities of the
world, entirely independent of my or your consciousness—as obvious as
seemed to people five hundred years ago that the sun moves round the
This, said Kant, is only because we cannot see the world any other way.
human mind is so constituted that it is forced to impose the framework
of space and time on the raw sensory data in order to make any sense of
Strange as Kant’s proposal
have seemed then, and strange as it may still seem to many of us today,
science is proving him right.
The first significant
challenge to the assumption that space and time are absolutes came
in 1905 with Einstein's Special Theory of
He showed that what we observe as space and what we observe as time are
but two aspects of a more fundamental reality, which he called "the
spacetime continuum". How much of this continuum manifests as
and how much manifests as time varies from one observer to another,
on their motion. Space and time may appear to us to be fixed qualities,
but that is because we are not traveling at speeds close to that of
If we did, things would look very different.
Just what the spacetime
itself is like we never know. Einstein agreed with Kant; all
we ever know of the underlying reality are the ways in which it appears
as the two very different qualities of space and time.
Although observers moving
speeds may disagree on the amounts of time and space separating two
they do agree, no matter how fast they may be moving, on the amount of
spacetime separating them—what Einstein called the "interval". It is a
little like cutting a string in two; cutting it in different places
give pieces of differing lengths, but the total length of string will
be the same. Similarly, any observation divides the spacetime interval
into a certain amount of time and a corresponding amount of space, the
exact proportions depending on the motion of the observer. (With the
that the mathematical formula for the combination of space and time is
not simple addition; it is more like "space squared minus time
The "Speed" of Light
In proposing his theory
postulated that the speed of light was a universal constant. However
you may be traveling, you will always measure the speed of light
to you to be the same—186,000 miles per second. You can never catch up
with light. Even if you were traveling at 185,990 miles per second,
would still pass you by at 186,000 miles per second.
Why should this be so? It
totally counter-intuitive that the speed of light never varies. But
perplexing behavior takes on a rather different character when we
our image of reality from the underlying reality. Space and time, and
speed, are aspects of the phenomenal world; they have no meaning, it
out, for light itself.
According to the equations
Relativity, as an observer's speed increases, time slows down, and
(in the direction of motion) contracts. At the speed of light, time has
slowed to a standstill and length contracted to zero. Although no
with mass can ever attain the speed of light (the equations predict
it would then have an infinite mass), light itself does (by definition)
travel at the speed of light. From light's point of view—and this after
all must be the most appropriate perspective from which to consider the
nature of light, not our matter-bound mode of experience—it travels no
distance and takes no time to do so.
This reflects a unique
of light. In the spacetime continuum, the interval between the two ends
of a light ray is always zero. How can we interpret this? We probably
not even try to interpret it. Any attempt to do so would make the
of applying concepts derived from our image of reality to the
reality. All we need to recognize is that, from light's perspective,
zero interval manifests as zero space and a corresponding amount of
However, when we in the
sub-light speeds perceive light, we see a different manifestation of
zero interval. We observe a finite amount of space along with an
amount of time. In our world, the light does travel through space and
Since the total interval must be zero, the distance covered must
balance the time taken—that is, we must always observe 186,000 miles of
space for every second of time. This we interpret as the speed of
But this "speed" is not an intrinsic property of light itself;
no distance in no time, light has no need of speed. What
we interpret as the speed of light is actually the ratio in which
and time manifest in our perception of reality. It is this ratio that
constant. And this is why all our measurements of the apparent speed of
light are constant.
The fact that light itself
no space or time resolves another difficult conundrum. In our image of
reality we observe light traveling across space and time and so observe
energy traveling from the point of emission of the light ray to its
of absorption. Naturally,
we ask how the energy travels. Is it a wave,
or is it a particle?
The answer, it seems, is
In some situations light behaves as a continuous wave spreading out in
space—but, curiously, a wave without a medium. In other situations it
as a particle traveling through space—but, equally curiously, a
without mass. Physicists have accommodated these two strange and
paradoxical conclusions by deciding that light is a "wave-particle." In
certain circumstances it appears as a wave; in others as a particle.
But if we look at things
point of view, the reality is very different. Since it did not travel
space and time, it needed no vehicle or mechanism of travel. Light
has no need to be either a wave or a particle. From its own frame of
is probably the most appropriate frame of reference from which to
light—there is no duality, and no paradox.
The physicist’s conundrum
only when we mistake our image of reality with the "thing in itself",
try to visualize light in concepts and terms appropriate to our image
reality—that is, waves and particles.
A photon is a single
action. We are all familiar with quantities such as mass, velocity,
momentum and energy. Action is just another member of this family, but
not one that we come across much in ordinary life. It is defined as the
product of momentum and distance traveled, or, equivalently, energy and
time. Thus the amount of action of speeding bullet is higher than the
bullet traveling more slowly across the same distance. Double the
mass, and you get twice the action—which accords with our intuitive
To speak of light as pure
is both appropriate and strange, depending upon one’s point of view. In
the world we experience, the world in which space and time exist, and
travels great distances at unmatchable speed, light seems to be nothing
but action. It never rests; it never slows. From this frame of
action seems a most appropriate quality.
From its own frame of
however, light never goes anywhere. A photon covers no distance, and
no time. Nor does it have any mass. Strange then, that something
mass, space or time should be the fundamental unit of action. Strange
may be; nevertheless, that is the nature of the underlying reality.
again, nothing like what we expected. Nothing like the phenomenon
in the mind.
Kant argued that space and
are characteristics not of the noumenon, the underlying reality, but of
the mind. Quantum theory reveals that the same is true of matter. Matter
is not to be found in the underlying reality; atoms turn out to be
empty space, and sub-atomic "particles" dissolve into fuzzy waves.
and substance seem, like space and time, to be characteristics of the
of experience. They are the way in which the mind makes sense of
no-thing-ness of the noumenon.
When we speak of "the
world", we think we are referring to the underlying reality, the object
of our perception. In fact we are only describing our image of reality.
The materiality we observe, the solidness we feel, the whole of the
world" that we know, are, like color, sound, smell, and all the other
we experience, qualities manifesting in the mind. This is the startling
conclusion we are forced to acknowledge; the "stuff" of our world—the
we know and appear to live within—is not matter, but mind.
The current superparadigm
that space, time and matter constitute the basic framework of reality,
and consciousness somehow arises from this reality. The truth, it now
is the very opposite. As far as the reality we experience is
— and this remember is the only reality we ever know — consciousness
is primary. Time, space and matter are secondary; they are aspects of
image of reality manifesting in the mind. They exist within
not the other way around.
Similar claims have often
made in spiritual teachings, particularly Indian philosophy.
Yoga Sutra’s, for example, speak of the entire world as chitta
"the modifications of mind-stuff". When physicists hear statements such
as this, and take them to be referring to the physical world, they or
understandably perplexed and perhaps dismissive. But when we understand
this to be a statement about the manifestation of our experienced
it begins to make more sense.
If we consider the reality
then we have to accept that in the final analysis they are correct: Consciousness
is the essence of everything—everything in the known universe. It
is the medium from which every aspect of our experience manifests.
form and quality we ever experience in the world is an appearance
The Hard Question
As mentioned at the outset,
very existence of consciousness is an insurmountable anomaly for the
superparadigm. How can something as seemingly unconscious as matter
lead to something as immaterial as consciousness. The two could not be
more radically different. The philosopher David Chalmers has dubbed
the "hard question" facing any science of consciousness. Even if we
to fully understand the workings of the brain, down to the tiniest
it would still leave unanswered the question as to why any of it should
result in a conscious experience? Why doesn't it all go on in the dark,
without any subjective aspect?
The question that is apparently
being asked is: How does the underlying reality ever gives rise to
But never being able to know the underlying reality directly, we are
really in any position to even ask this question, let alone answer it.
Indeed, for all we know, consciousness may be an intrinsic quality of
underlying reality In which case there is no hard question to answer.
The question that is actually
being asked is: How does the material world—the world of space,
and matter—give rise to consciousness? But this is trying
account for consciousness in terms that are themselves manifestations
consciousness. Space, time, matter, and all the forms and structures we
observe in the world, are aspects of the phenomenon arising in the
they are aspects of the image of reality appearing in consciousness.
The question we should
asking is the exact opposite. How is that consciousness, which
so non-material, can take on the material forms that we experience? How
do space, time, color, sound, texture, substance, and the many other
that we associate with the material world, emerge in consciousness?
is the process of manifestation within the mind?
But this is not a
science may ever be able to answer. It is more in the domain of the
and others in the more contemplative traditions, who have chosen to
the nature of consciousness first hand.
Earlier I said that it was
impossible not to see the world of our experience as "out there" around
us. But it may be that some of those who have devoted themselves to
and observation of the arising of experience in the mind have developed
sufficient inner clarity to see past appearances. Judging from various
spiritual texts, they may have recognized, as a personal experience
than an intellectual insight, that the entire phenomenal world is
in the mind, and that consciousness is the primary stuff of their
usually call them—are those who have experienced the new
For them "I am That, Thou art That, and all this is That", as it is put
in the Upanishads, or more simply "All is Brahman" (the
word which might be translated as the One, or Essence).
In Western traditions, the
sentiments occur in the statement "I am God". But the word
"God" has so many different meanings and associations that such
are prone to considerable misunderstanding and confusion. To the lay
the words "I am God" smack of extreme arrogance—particularly if there
the implication that "I", this particular individual human being, is
To the more religious person, it sounds heretical, if not blasphemous,
and some have burned at the stake for it. While to many scientists,
statements are meaningless, the symptoms of some delusion or pathology.
Science has looked out into
space, back in "deep time" to the beginning of creation, and down into
the "deep structure" of the cosmos, the very essence of matter, and is
proud to tell us that it finds no need nor place for God—the Universe
to work perfectly well without his assistance. But whoever said God is
to be found "out there", in the realm of space, time and matter? This
a very naive and old-fashioned interpretation of God. When spiritual
refer to God they are, more often than not, pointing towards the realm
of inner experience, not some thing in the physical realm. If we want
find God, we have to look within, into the realm of "deep mind"—a realm
that science has yet to explore.
If we look more closely at
statements of those who have explored deep mind, they seem to be saying
that the "I", that innermost essence of ourselves is a
essence. Whatever we may be conscious of, the faculty of
is something we all share. This consciousness is the one truth
cannot deny. It is the absolute certainty of our existence. It is eternal
in that it is always there whatever the contents of our experience. It
is the essence of everything we know. And, since every aspect
our experience is a manifestation in the mind, it is the creator
of the world we know.
eternal, essence, creator—are amongst those traditionally associated
God. From this perspective, the statement "I am God" is not so puzzling
or deluded after all. Although it might be more accurate to say that "I
am" is God, or possibly, "God is consciousness".
The foundation stone of the
Revolution was the realization that the Earth was not still, as had
been supposed, and as daily experience seemed to confirm, but was
about its own axis. From this shift in perception was born a radically
new model of the cosmos. The foundation stone of this discussion has
the distinction between the reality generated in the mind, and the
reality. Most of the time we are not aware of this distinction. We
assume that things are as they appear, and that we are experiencing the
world as it is. We think that the tree we see is the tree in itself.
When we realize that they
the same thing at all, but are very different indeed, a
new model of reality emerges. Space, time and matter fall from their
status, to be replaced by light in the physical realm, and by
(the inner light) in the world of experience. Instead of matter
primary, and the source of everything we know, including mind;
consciousness becomes primary, and the source of everything, including
matter, as we know it. For a second time, the universe has
turned inside out.
This shift in superparadigm
not happened yet. The existing model runs even deeper than did the
view of the cosmos, and will probably meet even more obstacles than did
the Copernican Revolution, (although now, somewhat ironically, it is
not the church that is the establishment, and will be the source of the
greatest resistance). Nevertheless, I believe all
the pieces are in place, they have only to be put together into a
New paradigms stand or fall
to their ability to account for persistent anomalies, and incorporate
findings. The emerging new superparadigm accounts for
intractable anomaly for the old model, remember. It offers
new perspectives on some of the most perplexing problems in
physics. And, most significantly, points towards a resolution of one
of the oldest challenges of all—the reconciliation of the scientific
with the spiritual.