Our experience of the world is as for every different animal species, unique, not just due to our brain complexity, but also due to the nature of our sensory detection equipment. How we experience the world is down to the presentation given to us by our mental processing ability of all the sensory data from our senses and their range of detection.
The data starts as physical interaction between the atomic nature of our surroundings and the biological construct of our sensory equipment. Scientific understanding has an extremely good grasp of our bodily interactions with the atoms, photons and electromagnetic waves that make up our environment. Our sensors take in a bombardment from the physical world that is in essence (at a quantum level) an interaction of electrical forces.
The data feeds to our brain from our sensory organs as electrical impulses producing a picture for us to monitor and interact with.
Our world is the way it is to us because of (a) it’s construct, (b) our own biological construct to sense it, and (c) our brain’s processing ability to create a mental sensory picture of it.
Our body is part of the physical world it inhabits and follows the same rules of construct, producing the mental sensory picture. This picture is reasonably conjectured to be different for different species of animal based on varying sensory equipment and processing ability.
So what of consciousness?
Perhaps our consciousness can be described as the entity that is looking, hearing, and feeling this picture. Our personality and sense of who we are is built on the development of this consciousness through experience and memory. We are our own history. The accumulation of experience and memory makes us, even if the essential consciousness itself can arguably be separated from these.
Out of body experiences
When considering an out of body experience, or in other words a consciousness without the physical sensory equipment, how and why would a physical world still be pictured? Furthermore, if then the consciousness is free from the physical brain, why does the picture still build as a physical construct? How is the physical world still seemingly interacting with consciousness, even if only in an observation / perception manner?
The Aware study led by Dr Sam Parnia and others is putting out of body experience anecdotes to the test, using controlled monitoring and observation environments. A truly verified experience of this nature is yet to be discovered, but it would be wrong to assume that this is the sole objective of the study. There appears to be a direction in questioning the assumptions from measurements of when a brain is capable of conscious activity, and in what state.
Apparent evidence of consciousness in a ‘dead’ brain does not automatically infer the separation of consciousness. Exploration of possible activity in hitherto considered ‘impossible’ states would have to be exhausted. Only more convincing evidence, such as the verified veridical visual experience would suggest a separation.
How would separation fit in our understanding of the universe?
How is our understanding of our place in the universe now, without separation? We are biological matter with complex brains that process inputs to then direct function of our bodies within environments. As alluded to at the beginning of this article, physically this can be reduced to the interaction and exchange of electricity, as can all physicality. In quantum field theory all matter is the ‘excitation’ or movement of energy within fields of fundamental forces.
Perception of the universe is a picture, assembled with electricity. It is a picture because our consciousness makes it so, we ‘see’ it and interact with it, but the picture itself is produced by our brain through its electrochemistry.
If consciousness is removed from normal physical inputs, would it still be possible to ‘see’ a picture? In the debate of what consciousness actually is, most conjectures still put it in the realm of physical existence, albeit in a yet to be understood manner.
The brain based point of view would say that a picture can still be created, with compensations made for the lack of sensory data. The picture may not be veridically accurate, but will still be based on whatever input is available, including memory.
A separation conjecture could argue that a picture can still be created independent of the brain or any bodily sensors, by using inputs on a level deeper than atomic contact. That is, perhaps, the electrical interaction that goes on within the brain and between the body and the environment, could still happen at a smaller quantum level, without the bigger manifestations of body matter. The picture could then still be built in a similar way as though the bodily senses were still there.
Modern science at a microcosmic level puts all existence, or all matter at least, down to a consequence of electromagnetic forces and energy. It is not that far fetched then to suggest that the phenomenon of consciousness, however linked to brain matter itself, is likely to be of the same. What it is the consequence of, is the big question.
The exploration of possible consciousness separation from the brain could lead to three major paradigm shifts:
Is our understanding of brain functionality in ‘dead’ states shortcoming?
Does our existence, through our consciousness, go beyond manifest biology?’
Is our understanding of the fundamental forces of the universe in need of revision?