Authors on Consciousness
Written By: Wendell Krossa
I am presently reading David Lund’s little paperback called ‘Death and Consciousness’ (1), and I’m enjoying his approach. His reasoning skills are along the same line as Varghese’s; good, sound, clear thinking. He is not overly dogmatic about his conclusions, and accepts all sorts of skeptical positions and counter arguments; but what appeals to me is the soundness of his argumentation. How we think, is key to getting at the truth about anything. Different people will relate such reasoning or thinking to faith or belief in different ways, and my concern is to find the best possible ways to understand any given issue; whether it be reality itself, life, consciousness, suffering, death, beauty, meaning or whatever.
Lund notes all sorts of things related to death and consciousness. He notes, for instance, research on death-bed visions, where people become more lucid and pain free as they neared death (this does not happen to all). He shows how this affirms his point that the brain is a reducing mechanism and does not produce consciousness. As the brain dies, it should produce a more clouded consciousness and less lucidity, but he argues, as death approaches (in the death-bed vision research), consciousness is seen as loosening its relation to the body and brain, and this reducing mechanism can no longer block perception of greater, more beautiful reality; hence the lucidity experienced in death-bed visions.
An example: “It is as if in preparation for the transition, her consciousness was becoming disengaged from her brain, and consequently, ceasing to be affected by its malfunctioning”.
Another thought – “there is a more radical sense in which a person may be regarded as already out of his body. I suggest that instead of regarding the center of consciousness as ‘in’ the body and sometimes managing in a paranormal manner to get ‘out’, it is more in agreement with the truth to suppose that the body is ‘in’ the field of consciousness. According to the representative theory of perception, the body which we perceive is, as we have seen, a set of percepts or images caused to arise in our experience due to stimulations of the brain by the physical body. The body which I see, touch, feel, and regard as mine should, I suggest, be regarded as a set of persistent visual, tactile, and other percepts which constitute the center of my perceptual world”. The body like the brain serves to limit consciousness to a focal point necessary to living in this material world. “The brain is a reducing valve, restricting consciousness to what is likely to be practically useful”.
Lund provides lots of interesting personal examples from research. He also notes that every dream is like an out of body experience; it shows consciousness functioning aside from the body.
This book is worth reading for its interesting presentation of arguments. I am in favour of anything that helps clarify areas of interest and concern to us all.
Lund does some dreary sections on the dead communicating with the living. These are more like contemporary dismal Hollywood views of the afterlife; but he later returns to Christian and mystical views that are more in line with the perfection of divinity (God as love). Lund is sometimes overly rational and naturalist, but he still presents a good argument in most of his material. A second reading of ‘In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being’ is even better than the first. On second reading it becomes apparent how much thoughtful detail has been covered on such things as the noninterventionist understanding of divine action that has developed within the modern dialogue between science and theology.
I would like to present a final thought on animal life, and the claim environmentalists make about defending and saving poor defenseless animals and their habitat. They argue that we must preserve animal habitat as it is; and yes, there is some common sense to this position. However, some species of animals seem to prefer domesticated situations. It has been said that more species of birds are found in German cities than in surrounding nature. Pan’s ‘Labyrinth’ (2) also has a chapter on animals preferring zoos, where there is more food security, and protection from predation, weather and disease.
Nature, as Lyall Watson noted, is brutal, harsh, and dark. As soon as we humans gained some sense and ability, we moved out of wilderness and started to improve our environments. We developed a more secure food supply, fought disease, and established security from predators. We also developed other human features, such as overcoming band exclusion and other forms of inhumanity (animal behavior).
If animals could speak, I suggest that they would prefer the same development that we promote and enjoy. Is it possible that environmentalists don’t really speak for animals in arguing for preservation of the status quo of wilderness? Maybe new spokespersons are needed to argue for the same humane development we find in human civilization being applied to animal existence. If nothing else, these books offer some good mental stretching, and as with similar material, they point to the wonder of the mystery that surrounds our existence in this universe. They are more of the new emerging theology that is being informed from many quarters. There is a struggle to understand Mystery in light of all the discoveries of science that are transforming our basic worldviews.
One stimulating little read that is part autobiography as well as an exercise in reason, is Anthony Flew’s ‘There Is A God’ (3). Flew is the famous atheist who changed his mind in 2004 at about 80 years of age and gives the reasons why. Taking account of the fact that God is not proven rationally or by other methods, this is still a very stimulating read, as it deals with many of the common arguments over religion/science that have captivated public discussion over the past decades. He refers to quotes from people like Einstein, with lots of interesting biographical details. He wrestles with many issues such as origins of reality and life and consciousness. Someone said,.. “I must confess with some shock at first to my scientific sensibilities… this is with the assumption that mind, rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has existed always as the matrix; the source and condition of physical reality; that the stuff of which physical reality is constructed, is mind-stuff”. He covers some interesting material on the very teleological nature of biological life. “Living matter possesses an inherent goal or end-centered organization that is nowhere present in the matter that preceded it… teleology is essential to the life of living things”. There is also a good discussion on the discussion of something coming from nothing.
Another quote- “Do you think that given a trillion years or infinite time, this table could suddenly or gradually become conscious, aware of its surroundings, aware of its identity the way you are? It is simply inconceivable this could happen. And the same goes for any kind of matter. Once you understand the nature of matter, of mass-energy, you realize that by its very nature, it could never become aware, never think, never say I”. It is incoherent to suggest that consciousness and thought are simply and solely, physical transactions”.
Another interesting read in relation to this religion/science issue is ‘Science’s Blind Spot’, by Cornelius Hunter (5). He details the religious influences that have historically shaped science, and he makes some interesting comments on the course science has taken due to its religious influences. He appears to conclude by not arguing solely for an intelligent design position, but says “Intelligent design is not about proving religion; it is about analyzing the workings of nature without religious constraint”. He wants to make people aware of the religious influences that shape current naturalist science, and therefore prohibit such things as allowing an inference to design; the refusal to go where the evidence leads.
And last of all, Joseph Campbell’s best known book, ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’. I haven’t read it myself, but it also covers some very interesting subjects.
(2) Pan’s Labrynth