What is our familiar existence? Seemingly a silly question. As I look out of the window I see the sun shining, trains passing by and people living their lives. This is what feels as our familiar existence. The world we expect to still be there when we wake up from a nights sleep. The world that was here before we were born and the world that will continue after we are long gone. The physical world.
But what is it really?
We are very good at understanding the physical world because it is so important to our survival. We have to know that if we fall of a cliff or don’t get food in time, we die. Our brains developed not only to understand these concepts, but to live them. That’s what makes them so familiar.
But even though we literally live and breathe the physical, it might just be part of the truth about our existence.
For what ultimately is our existence, is not the parts that construct us, but our mind itself. Out of all the things we know or think to know about reality, this is the one thing we actually know -or rather feel- to exist. Our local existence: consciousness.
Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefor I am)René Descartes
While the physical world is the world we interact with, consciousness is the world we experience. The physical is often described as real, tangible. But is consciousness not just as real, if not more so?
Even though consciousness is at the core of our being, the discussion of existence is often polluted by the things that come most natural to us: the physical world.
In our daily lives cities are made of buildings and buildings are made of bricks. So it is understandable that the question of what existence is, is often answered by looking for the underlying building blocks.
We understand a great deal about what we call physical. Yet, this instinctive way of looking at the world does not seem to match the way it actually is. We do not expect consciousness to arise when we construct a building. Nor can we explain our own.
So where does consciousness find its origin?
Think back about your conclusions when you imagined yourself to be in that white room. What did you think? And what do those answers say about your beliefs? Could others make sense as well?
Is consciousness merely a side effect of the physical world we experience as true, or is it possible that the truth lies somewhere else?
During the next series we will explore our local existence: Consciousness. What is existence? What are you?
2 thoughts on “Familiar Existence”
All good but for “We understand a great deal about what we call physical. Yet, this instinctive way of looking at the world does not seem to match the way it actually is. We do not expect consciousness to arise when we construct a building. Nor can we explain our own”
The instinctive way of looking at the world seems to match pretty well In my opinion. We do not expect consciousness to arise when we construct a building because it is not biological and has no nervous system. To make the comparison is like an anti-evolutionists argument about a jumbo jet doesn’t put itself together, obviously not it is made of metal which cannot reproduce unlike cells.
The basic hypothesis that consciousness is the result of different parts of the brain communicating with other parts seems more or less sufficient to me. The experience of this might be described as somehow greater than the sum of its parts, to think and feel is extra-ordinary at times.
What makes our brains a bit more special than many is the seeming ability for it to mirror external states. When we watch somebody do something our brain is mirroring their actions (a tool to learn and to empathize with others) and simply looking at some squiggles on a piece of paper which represent a place name produces an mental image of the place. This ability to abstract out paves the way for us to have the tools of language and writing and continually push our inquiries forwards.
I look forwards to seeing how you explore the topic.
In the paragraph you are quoting, constructing the building is meant as a metaphor for the familiar way we perceive our existence. We understand a lot about the physical world, yet cannot explain the one property we are most certain about: consciousness.
Labeling something biological, calling something nervous system or saying that it is a more complex collection of “stuff” still does not take away the fact that consciousness is not an intuitive side effect of reality. (At least not the one we get taught in school nowadays).
But I don’t want to get too much ahead of myself. The coming few months I will explore the topic from different angles and different perspectives. I’m happy to have you as a reader and I’m looking forward to read about your perspective on the subjects to come!