Who or what is it, this diaphanous relationship we call consciousness? The problem of consciousness is the most pressing scientific, philosophical and social challenge confronting our post-postmodern, post-quantum 21st century intellectual, psycho-spiritual paradigmatic noetic (subject-object, body-mind-spirit unity) knowledge revolution. This problem has vexed the great dialecticians in the West for 2400 years. It represents a profound challenge to the pre-vailing scientific paradigm that is the dogmatic orthodoxy of Modernist realist, materialist, reductionist, objectivist, functionalist physics, philosophy of mind, neuroscience and cognitive science. “Consciousness” represents the primary epistemic cloud on the horizon of physics’ Standard Model of particles and forces (Boaz 2013, Ch. II, B). Here Descartes’ “mind–body problem” is visited with vengeance upon contemporary micro- and astro-physics, neuroscience and philosophy of mind. “Who is it,” this awareness that arises and appears as quarks, stars and human beings?
Let us tentatively consider this hypothesis: Consciousness is the ineluctable basis in which all arising and appearing physical and mental reality is embraced and subsumed. We are immersed in consciousness, like a fish is immersed in water. Can a fish experience the water it lives in? Human consciousness and all its phenomenal and mental objects participates in and is not essentially separate from this vast consciousness ground or base that is ultimate nondual reality itself.
Recent functionalist, materialist/realist physics (often embodied by conventionally real, but not ultimately real physicists) has failed to explain, or explain away, the obvious and immediate reality of subjective human experience—“what it is like” to experience a breath of Spring breeze, or lovely scent of the red rose, or of a Bach violin concerto? This is the inherently vexed (to Physicalism) “hard problem of consciousness”—the presumed “problem” of objectifying, or even physically explaining our inner subjective lifeworld, the “qualia” states that are our present inner subjective experience, including emotional and spiritual experience. Instead, consciousness is denied and explained away by science’s adventitious Physicalism, the obsessive objective functionalist epistemic and ontic reductionism (reducing the subjective qualia of experience to objective physical brain function). And all of this, in the ironic shadow of the profound, if relative-conventional subjectivity of the most successful scientific theory in history, namely the Relativistic Quantum Field Theory of Heisenberg, Bohr, Schrödinger and Feynman (Boaz 2013, Being the Whole: Toward the Emerging Noetic Revolution, Ch. II A, B).
So how does the subtlety of this ubiquitous mental dimension “emerge” from the gross physical dimension? How does the beauty and the terror of our subjective inner life arise from the objective dance of geometry—the diaphanous play of the primordial atoms of Democritus, and of Abidharma, or of the fantastic micro-vibrations of post-quantum supersymmetric superstrings and micro-tubules in human brains?
Scientific functionalism holds that all states of human consciousness are, or are reducible to, physical/functional brain states. All mental consciousness is reducible to functional activity and states of brain. Functionalists are reductive materialists/physicalists. Both reductive and non-reductive physicalists engage the often confusing notion of “scientific” reduction in their philosophies. Here, broadly construed, consciousness is reflexively reduced to mere physical brain structure and function. Critics of such reductionism argue that such a scientific functionalist materialist monism fails the “hard problem” and leaves our subjective inner life experience quite outside. How do we get back in?
There is a continuum of cosmic consciousness…and no account of the universe can be final, which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.
The antirealist, anti-functionalist, anti-physicalist panpsychic neodualists—Chalmers (1995, 1996, 2002), Clark (1999), Strawson (1994, 2006), Nagel (1979), Jackson (1982)—argue that consciousness, human or divine, cannot, in principle, be grasped by realist, functionalist, emergentist attempts to reduce it to physical structures and functions of the merely physical human organism. Here, the “explanatory gap” between subjective mental/emotional/spiritual experience, and any purely physical substrate cannot, in principle, be closed. This amounts to a refutation of the prevailing scientific orthodoxy of the monistic ontology of Physicalism/Materialism. Indeed, risky metaphysics in a world whose high cultural persuasion is the scientific manifesto of mechanistic Scientific Materialism (Scientism). (Funding caveat: don’t try if it’s non-materialist, non-Standard Model research.)
Hence, neodualist, proto-idealist, panpsychic theories are anti-physicalist, and therefore may be construed as non-reductionist, even anti-theory arguments for the non-physical, immaterial, idealist nature of consciousness/mind. Such ontological Idealism—West or East—is anathema in contemporary science and philosophy of mind. This anti-realist, anti-physicalist real work represents a brave new cognitive world in consciousness studies (davidpaulboaz.org, “The Problem and the Opportunity of Consciousness”).