If not just physical beings, what are we?
If, as overwhelming evidence seems to indicate, we are not just material beings, then what are we? Researchers at the Division of Perceptual Studies [DOPS] at the University of Virginia, using the protocols of careful empirical investigation and validation, described their findings and conclusions in their 2015 book Beyond Physicalism:
- Humans are embodied consciousnesses, not just physical bodies. In Henri Bergson’s phrase, a human is “a consciousness overflowing the organism.”
- We have free will.
- The brain is not a generator of consciousness, but an organ of adaptation to the everyday environment. The brain normally constrains consciousness to focus on what is necessary to day to day survival. The brain protects us from being overwhelmed.
- Each person has two levels of self. One is our everyday personality which is both itself and part of a more comprehensive consciousness, the “subliminal self”.
- The subliminal self:
- survives bodily death;
- is immaterial, pure consciousness specific to each of us individually;
- sees the world as it really is, namely, we arise from and exist within the mother sea as supreme consiousness [God], the Creator of all, transcendent yet connected to the world.
- The physical world is an epiphenomenon (by-product) of consciousness, not the other way around, as materialists believe.
What the researchers found led them to certain conjectures about the nature of the world we live in:
- The universe exists as the contents of consciousness;
- It is:
- a seamless, spatio-temporal whole, whose parts are deeply interconnected;
- vibrant with animation;
- knowable in mystical states.
The American philosopher and psychologist, William James (1842-1910) summed up our condition well: “There is a continuum of cosmic consciousness against which our minds build accidental fences and into which our several minds plunge as into a mother sea or reservoir.”
What I take from all this is that the great religions, especially Christianity, may have it right and we are just beginning to understand our true natures. I certainly hope so.
I have been baffled as to why the research results reported by DOPS haven’t received orders of magnitude more attention. Perhaps their findings are so far outside the mainstream that the keepers of the orthodoxy of materialism just can’t fit the findings into their world view, so all they can do is dismiss them out of hand without examining the evidence.
Here is a video where the authors present the central ideas and describe the evidence for their conclusions. I especially recommend the presentation by Dr. Edward F. Kelly, which begins at the 1:48 mark.