I was reading the beginning of a book on various philosophical topics that a friend just gave to me, and an idea quickly came to me. I was only about two lines into the introduction when the author was stating that Aristotle thought that it was intrinsic in humans to desire to acquire knowledge and this is why we value our sensory perceptions so much.
I had to stop and think about what a great observation he had made. I thought that our knowledge seems to be objective. We know of something, and that of is something external and outside of our being. Knowledge of the self would be emotion and feeling. Being sad would be the act of knowing how one is feeling. These objects of our knowledge that exist in the external world are acquired through the senses, these things that allow us to seemingly perceive the world as it is around us. So, if this is what gives us our knowledge of the world, then we clearly would have an attachment to our sensory perceptions. This is why the idea of losing sight, hearing, smell, touch, is frightening as it disconnects us from what we seek, knowledge.
I asked the question to myself – ‘what would happen if you removed each of your senses?’. What if you lost your sense of sight, your sense of hearing, your sense of smell, your sense of touch and your sense of taste? What would you experience? What would your existence consist of?
I can think of two important instances to ask that question, that of a newborn who suffers this affliction in the very moment of birth, or even earlier, and that of an adult, after having spent a fair amount of life with fully functional sense organs.
For the newborn, I am not sure, so I will not think about answering it yet.
As for the adult, I can’t help but believe that that person, who in his adult years, after accumulating many memories, having experienced thought, imagination, colour, smells, feelings, and everything that one has experienced throughout their life, would still be a thinking thing. I can’t help but think that even after losing the ability to sense the outside world, that one would still retain a mind. I do not believe a thinking mind is dependent on a completely different system, such as those of the senses. If our senses aren’t deceiving us and we are experiencing extended physical bodies as we perceive them, then the mis-formation and improper function of a select few molecules in our bodies, out of all of the remaining fully functional constituents of our body, shouldn’t have any physical affect on my mind or on my ability to think. Is one less able to think if they lose the sense of vision? Of hearing? Of touch? Of smell? of taste?. Then why would someone lose the ability to think when they lost all of their senses?
I don’t think that such a person would lose their ability to think. So, all that would remain would be a thinking thing, a thinking being – pure consciousness.
This experience that would remain would simply be thought; consciousness. Not 5% thought, not 50% thought, but 100% thought. Nothing other than thought/consciousness is what amounts to this existence as all of the senses have been removed. There is no other form of input into the mind outside thought itself, as the senses no longer communicate to the mind. This you that is pure consciousness, a purely thinking being, could still surely imagine previous memories, or use the imagination to create new people, new settings, new experiences. Much like a dream, daydream, fantasy, or, well, to be quite honest, any thought you have ever had in your mind.
In a dream, I am not sure if your senses are functioning. The dream itself is just as real as anything I experience in the waking life. In the moment, while I am “dreaming”, what I am experiencing is 100% real. I submit to the dream and it occupies my consciousness in the same way that waking life does. It comes to me without a choice, just as when I look out the window to see what is going on in my backyard, I have no choice but to see my picnic table and garden. I can’t filter it out of my mind, it comes to me and I am forced to perceive and experience it through my senses. Just as I am forced to experience and perceive my dream. The two, in their specific moments, are each just as real as the other. While dreaming, though, my physical extended body and the sense organs contained within are not experiencing the doings and happenings of my dream. When I dream of a friend, a family member or my girlfriend and wake up, I would not believe that my body which I believed to be fast asleep and in bed with eyes closed, was in the setting in which my dream took place, or that my eyes, the eyes of my waking life, were exposed to the people and places that were visually experienced by me while asleep. In short, my conscious experience of the dream was not produced by my sensory perceptions, it exists outside of my sensory experience, yet I am fully conscious of it and nothing else, in that moment.
I can hear things, feel things, taste things in dreams – none of which I believe to happen through the sensory organs of my extended physical body that exists in my waking life.
Is this not proof that my being, my existence, my soul, my mind, my whatever, does not require physical sensory organs and sensory perceptions in order to experience? Those dreams are experiences, and they were independent of any sensory organs and sensory perceptions. They may or may not have been created by the mind, but surely without a doubt they were experienced by the mind, and that experience, in the moment, was just as real as anything else I have ever experienced, if it wasn’t, would I not have realized that it wasn’t real, that it was in fact a dream in the moment?
We are able to experience similar things while in waking life through thought. I can close my eyes, or keep them open (which is personally more difficult) and visualize the face of a loved one. I can experience “hearing” someones voice, and if I wish for my mind to recall a taste, I can do that as well. But physically, in extended space, my sense organs and sensory perceptions are not producing these things. It is simply a product of my consciousness, of my mind, of my being. Now, despite being able to do this, to think of my girlfriends face, and visualize it, it can be difficult to maintain or even to bring about that experience, that visualization. It requires mental effort and concentration. It doesn’t happen easily. I believe the reason for this is that this process of creating an experience through the mind, through pure consciousness (as that is what it is, a creation of an experience) is made difficult as it has to compete with the sensory perceptions, which, without warning, constantly bombard and fill your experience, your mind, your consciousness, with all of the information that they gather. Right now, your consciousness is being bombarded with information gathered, collected and put together by so many cells in your body. This cell says there is this stimulation, but not that stimulation. Not only are your eyes telling you that there is a webpage with crazy thoughts right in front of you, but your eyes are also telling your mind what there isn’t in front of you. My arm is telling me that there is something putting pressure on it from underneath (resting on the arm rest of the couch), but it is also telling me that it is soft and not hard, that it is dry and not wet, the top of my arm is telling me nothing is on top of it, and my right thigh is telling me that nothing is really touching it. Just as those few areas of my extended body are telling me things that are and are not happening, so is every other part of my body, and all of that information is experienced by the mind, by consciousness.
That information is constant as well, it never stops coming in. It comes to our minds without warning and without notice. It just is. But thought, purposeful, deliberate thought, is much more difficult. To willingly decide to call up a visualization, or to recall a taste such as that of a strawberry, isn’t as simple as simply receiving perceptions. It is more difficult. BUT, it is still possible, and is still experienced. That is an important thing to note.
Now, when you are experiencing absolutely no senses, there are no sensory inputs to distract oneself from thinking. Thus, the intensity of thought, the magnitude of thought, the prevalence of thought, the strength of thought just is, and are unchanging – none of these things would ever change. The only distractions to mind, distractions to consciousness is the product of mind and consciousness itself. All that would exist would be thought, in perfect clarity, as there would be no sensory perceptions to distract these thoughts from being experienced. You would not and could not have a long thought, a short thought, or a thought of any length, as there would be no pause in thought, so each would simply flow from one into the other, just as our waking life seemingly does, flowing from one moment into another without pause.
So, what I am beginning to think is that if our sensory perceptions were taken away, or, if my sensory perceptions were all taken away right now, such that you could flash bright lights at me, play loud music into my ears, put food into my mouth, put something smelly in front of my nose, and pick me up and throw me around – I would not be aware or perceive any of those things. But I would be a thinking thing, and my thoughts would be just as real and just as vivid and simply just as everything in my waking life ever was. There would be no difference. I believe that it this transition, from experiencing a “real waking life” produced by your senses to experiencing a “real waking life” produced by your consciousness would happen instantaneously – this transition from living with the senses which act to create the reality I live in to the complete void of senses thereby living in a reality created by mind/thought/consciousness – without any sense of confusion. There is no confusion when one enters a dream, or when a dream changes. The instant the sensory perceptions became non-existent, the mind would be there seamlessly in continuation of the last thought, no matter what it was, and without any perceptions to interfere with the mind, the mind would experience whatever the object/subject of thought was, since the mind must always be fixed on and experiencing something.
Consciousness is all that is, there is nothing but consciousness. There is only consciousness, and so whatever is the content of the consciousness/thought (I can’t tell if it would be an object of thought or subject of thought. To me they both seem the same) is all that is experienced. To put it more succinctly, whatever you are conscious of is all that is. Currently, we subscribe to the belief and thought that we have extended physical bodies, those bodies have the ability to perceive through the senses, and so our mind, our being, our consciousness thinks thoughts, and thinks (or is witness to) our senses.
So why does this matter? It isn’t everyday that people lose their ability to perceive through their senses! Though it should be noted that there are sensory deprivation tanks that exist, one in Montreal which I wish to make use of. These tanks contain extremely high concentrations of salt water. The person goes inside and floats. The water is heated to the same temperature as the human body so that the ability to perceive a difference in temperature in your external surroundings becomes eliminated or greatly reduced. The tank is soundproof and completely dark, so there are no experiences of sound or sight. The calm floating position helps to remove as much as possible the perception of touch. Taste, well, don’t eat anything. People experience intense thoughts, some claim that this gets them “high”, some perceive various things which some would call “hallucinations”, some are able to reach their place of meditation almost instantly. Clearly, the ability to perceive still exists, and does still happen, but a drastic reduction in the amount of perceptions occurs. With this comes the increase in prevalence and fluidity of thought, as thought takes center stage and in greater ways becomes the context of experience and consciousness. Evidently, with the removal of the ability to perceive through the senses, what one is conscious of, the state of consciousness one is subjected to is completely different. How interesting.
So again, I ask, why does this matter? So what? I don’t expect to lose all of my sensory perceptions tomorrow and I don’t live my life in a sensory deprivation tank, how applicable is this?
I have no reason to believe that consciousness ever ends. If something exists, I can’t help but believe that it must always have existed and always will. Nothingness cannot possible make a transformation into something, as nothingness by its very nature is void of any and all qualities, thus how does a lack of qualities change? “What” could possibly be undergoing the transition into something, if that original “what” was nothingness? Nothingness is not a what, but a complete lack of existence. Oppositely, how can something that exists transform into nothingness? A transformation involving nothingness is absurd. I also have never not experienced consciousness, whether in waking life, in deep sleep, while dreaming, or even being knocked out. The subject/object of consciousness and experience changes, but even when experiencing pure nothingness such as a deep sleep is still an experience that your consciousness has. It never stops. I have no recollection of what my consciousness experienced before my current waking life, however I also have no recollection of my early years, and most of my life to date. I have only packets of recollection, discrete moments, but most of these things that I recall are the memories, not the actual moments themselves. To not have the ability to recall something that ones consciousness has once experienced does not mean that it was never experienced, as surely I am confident that I was “alive” the first few years (in fact all of my years) in this waking life, yet I cannot recall the vast majority of it. My inability to recall what my consciousness may or may not have experienced before this waking life does not imply that there was no consciousness experienced before this waking life. This is what I hold to be true. So, if consciousness, mind, my being, my essence, my existence, my soul my whatever, if it never ends and simply just is, then what should happen when this waking life, with this body that I claim ownership of (though I do not claim it to be who or what I am), should end? The physical body that I experience will one day decompose. All the constituents, the atoms, the subatomic particles, all will disperse and over time, will make up the constituents of other bodies, animal bodies, bodies of water, bodies of plant, bacteria, of atmosphere, of earth. But my true being, my soul, my consciousness, my existence, will continue. It might “think” and thus experience something similar, such as myself continuing the “life” that just “ended”, the consciousness might experience (“think” about) a whale, or past memories, or whatever. Just like a dream, or an active imagination.
There is also something to be said that everything is a product of mind, of consciousness. My mind, my consciousness is what creates this current experience. If we are to assume that we have a physical body and that matter does exist, it is perceived and created by my mind/consciousness via my body and sense organs. In this system, at the end of the day, it is my mind, my consciousness that gets the final say on creating what I experience. This is why some people can taste colours, can see physical objects when doing math, can see sound (see synesthesia). This is why some people “hear” or “see” things that others would say “don’t exist” (schizophrenia). The mind, our consciousness has the final say, and it creates our existence. So, with that said, our bodies and our concepts of this extended physical world that is extended in space and time is also a creation of our mind and consciousness.
I think that there might be something to be said about the infinite regress that could happen here that would imply the experience of infinite, of anything and everything. That your imagination, your consciousness is truly limitless. That you are only limited by your consciousness/mind. That this consciousness experiences an infinite number of experiences, thus plays out the entire universe (as each of these infinite number of experiences are contained within the universe), thus is the universe, thus creates the universe. Very similar to Brahman. Very similar to god being a playful being, one that likes to play hide and seek and lose himself in the roles that he plays, imagining himself to be a this, and a that, over and over forever, until one day he imagines himself to be a you, exactly as you are today, and thus creating you (that is to say, creating himself, god, the soul, Brahman).
I don’t know if it is an infinite regress, or at least maybe it is but in a different way. I think of this being, this you as the thing that creates everything that is experienced. If I lost all of my senses in this instant, surely my consciousness would ceaselessly and instantly continue existing without fail. Remember, I am not a vegetable, I am not dead, my body is fully functional, just a few proteins aren’t doing their jobs, and my brain, which is fully functional, just isn’t registering any of the senses. So, with the loss of all sensory perception experiences, the mind would continue taking full control and be the sole subject/object of your experience. This could be of a new existence, perhaps a “you” but somewhat similar, maybe making different decisions. Maybe of previous things you’ve done, repeating previous thoughts or experiences (essentially recalling memory), or perhaps you thinking about a completely different person, experience, whatever. Similar to a dream, how it might be a variation of your own life, or you dreaming yourself to be someone else, in a different time, in a different world, with different rules and different everythings.
Would this feel just as my waking life feels? Would this feel just as my dreams feel? My dreams feel exactly as my waking life does, only after waking up does it then feel like a dream. It is only after waking up does it then become perceived as a dream, and thus regarded and experienced as a dream. It was just as real as anything else I have ever experienced. This could help in explaining how I could be so scared within a dream that I wake up panicked. This could explain how my mind could somehow create something so unexpected that my mind could scare myself, that is to say, scare my own mind, the same mind that created the scary dream. It is absurd!
I think that this pure mind, pure consciousness, would think of something, people, things, objects, places, and those would be experienced, and could only be experienced, how anything is experienced – as a true experience. And so this mind would create for itself a brand new existence, a brand new reality, a brand new life. That new life may or may not have a body as well, with sensory perceptions, that would one day be taken away (whether in life or in the illusion of death of our physical bodies), and so the process is infinitely carried on, experiencing all possible things to be experienced, via thought, and thus is all coming from the same source, you – whatever that is (soul, consciousness, god, Brahman, pure being, mind ,whatever). So there would be only one thing, you. As you is also me, it is all the same source. There isn’t even a source as that implies something coming from something, but there is only one thing, no other somethings.
This is very similar to this idea that we are all one. That I am actually every single person on this planet, and I live out this life, and in the next life I will live out as my friend, then as my girlfriend, then as one of my ex-girlfriends, then as a teacher, then as some guy across the globe, etc. I don’t know if that is what I am describing here, but the potential is there. The only difference is that in what I am describing “life” is an illusion, and is just what your consciousness is experiencing in that moment, but it is temporary and constantly changing.
This also reminds me of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This book was quite an interesting read. It blew my mind! I read it a few months ago and briefly, it is an instruction manual for Buddhists who wish to be freed from reincarnation, or to help with the transition to their next life. They wish to get off the cyclical treadmill and stop this whole birth-death-rebirth cycle. The key part in doing this is exactly like one technique to initiate lucid dreaming called Wake Induced Lucid Dreaming (WILD). In WILD, while one is lying down ready for sleep, one should project in their mind what they wish to dream about, and try to think about it/experience it. The person should be aware that they are trying to fall asleep, and hopefully as they fall asleep, their waking consciousness will continue seamlessly into their dreams, and they will remain “awake” while fully asleep. Perhaps it would be better to say remain “self-aware” while fully asleep. The result is the ability to recognize that you are asleep, as your body sleeps but your mind and consciousness flowed perfectly from waking state to sleep, so that your consciousness remained unchanged.
In the Tibetan book of the dead, followers of this technique practice many different things and constantly work towards this goal, all throughout their life and especially towards the end of ones life. Note: the book also lists an immensely large number of signs to tell when ones current life is coming to an end, it is quite fascinating. The idea is that it is of the highest importance to have a specific desire and mindset, a specific state of consciousness the moment that death comes, as whatever your mind/soul/being is conscious of in that moment, it will continue on afterwards. Just as one who is trying to lucid dream through WILD will become successful if at the moment of falling asleep if they are successful in maintaining the thought and focus on what it is they wish to dream of, thereby continuing the mere thought to a dream, one that can be controlled, the same is true for Tibetan Buddhists at the moment of death. Whatever the thought or subject/object of consciousness is of at the moment of death, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, that is what will follow in death in the next life.
I have been working on this thought for a few days now, and I can’t believe I haven’t thought of this earlier! I am so glad to have been exposed to the Tibetan Book of the Dead!
When I think of what consciousness is, and of our experience of consciousness, what I see consciousness as is one of those slide show cameras.
And all of what we “experience” are just the different slides presented to us, presented to our consciousness, as we are nothing but consciousness. So, in one slide you have your entire life, as it is playing out right now, in the next slide is the experience of a dream, in another slide is the experience of deep sleep, that is to say, of nothingness – but it is still an experience, the experience of nothingness, and then another slide for the following day of this waking life existence. To be, to exist, is to be conscious of whatever is presented to your consciousness. It comes to you, as if one of these slide show cameras is fixed to your eyes, and you are subjected to whatever the contents of the slide show is. Today I am forced to “see” myself write this blog post, tonight I will be forced to “see” whatever comes to me in sleep – perhaps a dream, perhaps nothingness, and if I were to lose all of my sensory perceptions, I would still be subjected to “see”, to experience and be conscious of whatever comes next on that slide show. In “death”, the slide show continues, as death would simply be the finality of the slide show that my consciousness identifies as “my life”. This is difficult, of course. Like a great book or movie that we don’t want to end because we find so much pleasure in, and have grown attached to, we don’t want our life to end. Like the book, we have identified with it. The ego knows itself through this life, and is attached to it. It is uncomfortable to think what the next slide holds for our consciousness, as we have been reading this book, watching this slide, conscious of this slide, of this life, for what we perceive as being so long. But our consciousness isn’t limited to this slide, to this book, to this one experience that we call “our life”. It continues, and in fact never ends. Consciousness will always be, and always has been.
This is something that I think to be true. I have questions though that still need answering. Using the slide show camera analogy, our experience would be the contents of the slides, and our consciousness would be the aperture through which we experience the existence (see the slides). My questions would be what moves the slides, is there control or reason to it? What is the nature of the slides? What is the nature of the camera? What is the nature of that interaction? Why is there a camera and slide show rather than nothing? Can there ever not be a camera? Is the slide show infinite? Is it cyclical?
This sort of metaphysics doesn’t mesh well with metaphysics of Abrahamic religions, at least not how they are popularly interpreted. This sort of metaphysics doesn’t mesh at all with a purely materialistic view that science holds. This sort of metaphysics is definitely congruent with Hinduism and other Eastern philosophies, but I am not quick to adopt those systems of metaphysics without careful examination. As Schopenhauer thought, one needs conviction based on reason not faith based on revelation. For now, I will continue to think and read. But this thought that came to me, from the first time lines of a book, I must say, has changed my perception of what it is to be.