God - Beginning of the Universe - Consciousness

An integrative discussion


1. The methodological approach

I try to figure out if there is a God or not. My arguments involve the beginning of the Universe, and the nature of consciousness.

Well, as far as I'm concerned, it's all a big don't know. In a way, I'm with those such as John and Lyn St Clair Thomas, who in Eyes of the Beholder said: "For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible." My position is nearer that of the non-believers. I want proof!

Now, classically, it is accepted that proof, in the sense of an incontrovertible argument, or actual scientifically verifiable evidence, is simply not possible. Nevertheless, that is really what I want. In other words, I would like to believe, mainly because I want to be immortal, but in all honesty I cannot bring myself to countenance such nonsense without something to back it up.

The philosopher Kierkegaard said that since one cannot know for sure, one must simply guess. Take the Kierkegaardian leap and choose: God, or no God? Well, I tried that: I thought "Well, I'd better believe, since if there is a God and I'm wrong, I'm in trouble!" Not the best of reasons to believe, perhaps, but I suspect that an awful lot of people professing to be believers come from that direction.

So: what's it like to believe? Well, it's OK, I suppose. I used to read the bible, and various fundamentalist works about the prophesied fate of the world, and so on. I'm pretty sure that God, or some God-archetype within my psyche 'spoke' to me, or took on the role of God in my life. But . . . in the end, I thought as follows: God gave me a logical mind.

Our mind is not logical, it is associative:
Perhaps I should have said, "Since God gave me a mind that can appreciate logic,"
from different backgrounds we intuitively project plausible clusters of probabilities, and the ones that share the different clusters are the most plausible. Of course, by associations we can mimick simple reasonings as "All men are mortal, Paul is a man, so Paul is mortal"; and with paper and pencil we can even perform some exact calculations, provided they are not too long neither too complicated - moreover, we'll have to control our written proceedings several times. But we have no logical mind. Truth only becomes important to us, when we are directly confronted with (un)pleasant consequences. Otherwise, truth simply doesn't affect us.
I'm not sure that I would go so far as to say that truth only affects us when we are directly confronted with unpleasant consequences, but that is a major factor, for sure. But even when such consequences may not be the immediate reason for taking facts seriously, interest in truth may be a learned response to past experiences.
I am being asked to believe some pretty illogical things here in the bible. It requires some tortuous logic to accept that everything in the bible is true, as the fundamentalists would have it. Since God gave me a logical mind, it would be an insult for me not to use it. Therefore, I stopped believing. In a sense, God and my God-given conscience told me not to believe. That's where I am.

Let's face it: there is nothing to prove that there is a God. Nothing.

The problem "Does He exist or not?" is of course out of scientific scope. But I think that you can't limit "scientific certitude" to directly observable phenomena. Otherwise, you reduce plausible reality to its simplest fraction. Between "yes" of "no" there is an enormous field of less or more plausible hypotheses, and indeed the most important facts of life, from love to psychology and happiness, from religion to politics and economics, from emotions to art, belong to this "unscientific" field. Certitudes in these field are relative, but can be as plausible as laws of physics. A simple question to illustrate this: was Newton right of wrong with his laws of mechanics and physics?
I agree. The problem with God is the severe lack of clearly identifiable objective evidence, though. For many fields, at least some objective evidence is available. For God, objective evidence seems to be limited to the existence of existence itself. For this particular question, this sort of evidence doesn't seem to lead to a definite answer.
In fact, there are up to now two ways for obtaining a high probability in concepts: 1. exact observations and calculations; this allows you to obtain relatively high probability (but no certitude: see Newton) out of a relatively limited number of observations 2. less exact observations and inductions, on condition that you start with a relatively complete set of observations and intuitions (=subconscious inductions based on numerous associations).

Questions like the existence of God, even if they fall far from the scope of exact science, are probably solvable with the intuitive, integrative method. But there is one extremely important condition: you are supposed to take in account every useful data that can point to it. And here we are: most scientists are limited to knowing much about only a few things. Even philosophers usually are poor in physical sciences. Therefore, traditional scientists and philosophers usually are the least able to resolve questions like this. Only "global" thinkers as Teilhard de Chardin and some other few ones (and, generally speaking, many of the pre-renaissance scientists who were "homo universalis") are polyvalent enough to meet this plausability criterion, and able to feel the right intuitive conclusions -although errors are not excluded, especially in fields where experience is poor. So, unless one is prepared to start with a thorough study of Teilhard de Chardin and other "universal" thinkers as Lovelock, Wilber, Capra, Julian Huxley -just to name a few from western wisdom- an argument about a question like the existence of God becomes rather a social game, where subjective projection will be the most decisive.

I think many people would feel that subjective projection is all we have. But, as you say, there are the polymaths too. It is an interesting idea, anyway.
2. An argument for the existence of God: the high quality of His creation

Isn't the world wonderfully complex and intricately made? Doesn't that imply a designer? Well, no. The natural selection argument is perfectly adequate, thank you. Boring, perhaps, but adequate, it would seem, to explain the observed facts. Furthermore, I don't think the design is so great anyway. The vast majority of creatures die in pain and fear through being eaten alive. What sort of God would make such a despicable system? Why couldn't the Universe be symbiotic instead of viciously competitive?

Competition -and generally selecting one option and discarding the other- is phase 1 of conflict handling. Then comes the compromise phase, when conflicting parties or opponents are comparably strong (directly or indirectly). And ultimately phase 3, the integration phase, what you call symbiosis. The first method is the simplest to acheive, but the worst in the outcome. The third is the best on the long term, but generally very difficult to achieve because some preliminary changes have to occur. Sometimes you get a coincidental complementarity, what makes symbiosis easy e.g. love in its first stage. But most of time the complementarity has still to be achieved (the arduous integration process) e.g. love after 7.5 years.
So evolution may be working towards a symbiotic future. It is still a questionable feature of the design of the Universe from my point of view though.
I'm not sure I fancy the idea of such a God, after all.

3. The nature of God

Some hypotheses for a "God"

Discarding the naive hypotheses of Gods with wraths and chastenings, but trying to keep in harmony with the fundamental laws of existence and evolution, described by Teilhard e.a., I see three possible hypotheses for a divine Being.
(1) God is the complex system that started our Big Bang (or whatever came before). He/She/It doesn't interfere with the cosmic evolution, not only out of respect for the evolutionary principles of existence, but also because He hadn't to correct afterwards His creation. (Problems of pain, death and suffering are dealt with elsewhere.) When our evolution will have come to an end (the Omega Point), we will be able to respond His creative Act, completing cosmic Love.

Personally, I suspect some interference by something, but it is subtle.
(2) When our cosmos will reach the Omega Point, so when everything "on earth" is "done" and totally perfect, and we will have unlimited knowledge and cosmic power to our disposal, the best thing to do (and to obey to the fundamental law of existence, i.e. "To be is to induce existence") is to start another cosmos. So, the "God" who started our cosmos could simply be another cosmos, that reached its Omega Point.

(3) When we create a new cosmos at our Omega Point, we could use our own matter and energy to work with, and entirely "fuse" into a new Alpha Point or Big Bang. That means that everything would disappear (and reappear) that very moment. That also means that every memory of time, yet Time itself, would disppear (or be "reset"). That means that the "next" evolving Alpha-Omega cycle is the same as the actual one. This means that we would be our own creators, or that "God" -unlimited intelligence and power- is our own cosmos, arrived at its Omega Point. The ancient ouroboros myth. These three hypotheses are perhaps three approaches to the same reality...

I don't like the idea of a completely fresh start; I would prefer it if something was learned from each trip round Time.
There are one or two areas that science hasn't been able to penetrate, however: the beginning of the Universe, and consciousness. Maybe, just maybe, there's room for God there somewhere, after the concept has been squeezed out of everywhere else.

The Beginning of the Universe

Trying to explain/understand it

The Big Bang theory suggests that the Universe, or at least, our observable bubble within it, began a finite time ago, for no particular reason. Before that, there was no space, and most importantly, no time. This is difficult to understand, but the God explanation is no better: God made everything, and God made God too. Sigh. Plus, God has always existed. Groan.

Even though I have a physics degree, I find it hard to see how the Universe could have just sprung into existence - a random quantum fluctuation in no-space and no-time. Surely time is required for fluctuations to occur? Well, maybe the quantum fluctuation of nothing created a small amount of time too.

Quantum fluctuations as such - within space and time - are well-established and scientifically verifiable - i.e., they can be observed in the lab. Get a piece of what should be vacuum, and you find that it isn't actually completely empty. Instead, what we think of as empty space is a seething cauldron of particles being created and destroyed, constantly. On balance, they usually almost completely cancel themselves out, and the net effect is just a small amount of observable energy. But the point is, that energy is there. So: particles are created out of nothing as a matter of course. So, the theory as I follow it at present is that in the beginning, a random particle was created in this way; it had properties of space, time, other dimensions too, and energy, mainly in the form of these other dimensions. Lots of energy. Furthermore, it expanded and cooled (as the heat got spread out), and it developed a brief period of anti-gravity which caused the expansion to be explosively fast - its expansion accelerated, and because of the way anti-gravity works under those conditions, energy was created out of nothing too. So the Universe expanded rapidly and filled up with loads of energy which became stable particles and eventually the Universe became the place we know and grumble about today.

But: how come this quantum fluctuation was possible? Why are the rules so? It's not much of an answer to say that if they weren't so, we wouldn't be here to think about it.

Physical laws only seem illogical or arbitrary when we don't understand the underlying system. The bunch of atomic elements looked as one chaos with unlimited possibilities, until Mendeleev got the system. He then could even predict the characteristics of elements yet to discover, a kind of guess no paragnostic would ever have tried. Also the enigmatic personality development stages of Freud (oral - anal - phallic - genital) seemed mysterious and arbitrary until one saw the simple system behind it: progressively going from short term to long term awareness, and from phantasmatic views to realistic insight. This progression seems to be universal, e.g. mourning process and group development processes occur exactly the same way.
It may be that we don't understand the underlying system, or it may be that there isn't any underlying system.
Aren't there an infinite number of possible sets of rules? Or just one? Perhaps this is the only inhabited Universe out of billions that have created and destroyed themselves using alternative sets of rules. I don't know. Theorists reading this please feel free to e-mail me an answer! It seems to me that the best argument for the existence of God is that the Universe is here at all. I haven't thought of any good reasons why anything should exist at all, or even meta-things like the laws of nature, logic and so on. The best argument against that seems to be: why should we puny humans be able to figure everything out anyway?


1. Do we have an explanation?

The other space for God is in the area of paranormal phenomena - most of which is apparently bunk and self-deception at best, except for one which we all experience. Experiences themselves! I have read attempts to explain consciousness, and they leave me unsatisfied.

For me, consciousness is an internal image of external reality.
Yes. For me, that doesn't work very well. A camera pointed at a mirror contains an internal image of external reality, yet I don't consider it conscious as a result.
No matter what you say, (although I'm listening . . .) it seems to me that consciousness is entirely unexplained and unexplainable by current science. No matter how complex a set of molecules you have in your brain - and I accept for the sake of argument that the brain is essential for consciousness - and no matter how complex the electrical circuitry of the brain or robot or whatever, how does that lead to consciousness?
The development of consciousness, of the Central Organization System, evolves in different stages. In the "dead" layers of matter (Teilhard's layers 1 to 5, from strings to molecules, the lithosphere, also called geosphere or physiosphere), "consciousness" is a hardware phenomenon: the very structure of matter reflects its "interaction program" with environment. From layers 6 to 8 (the biosphere, from eobionts like viruses to metazoa like primitive hominids) the (inter)actions are centrally coded: DNA, the primitive central nervous system. It is a kind of firmware: not easily changeable but versatile programs. In the actual layer, socialization, the noosphere, consciousness is extended by three paramount abilities: its learning ability (making its central organizing program extendable by experience), its abstracting ability (to develop models and creations), and its communication facilities, enhancing the learning and abstracting abilities. It is a kind of software, easily changeable without adapting the hardware. Consciousness no longer is limited to a complex reacting program, as primitive organisms (and machines) function, but develops progressively an internal image of external reality, enabling mental learning processes and creativity, so freeing man from the obligation of experience and learning coincidence. As Freud and many developmental psychologists describe, the internal image of external reality roughly consists of two layers: a symbolized and verbalized conscious, and the far more important subconscious (un-), where billions of associations and intuitions reside, activated by experiences and thought processes.
As neuroscience develops, it is becoming clearer and clearer that our consciousness is directly dependent on the existence and structure of the underlying hardware.

What I am saying is this: how can a bunch of molecules moving about and bumping into one another result in something else called awareness? Molecules and awareness are two entirely different types of thing. Effectively, as far as current science is concerned, consciousness is a paranormal phenomenon, entirely without adequate explanation.

Consciousness is just the software of our brain, our biological computer.
This is unproven.
A paranormal hypothesis is no longer required, since we all understand now that a "simple" bunch of electrical wiring and transistor-like components (and very soon nanotechnology) can very well handle a very complex heap of logical and "intellectual" processes.
The hardware+software hypothesis does explain the features you mentioned above, namely learning ability, abstraction ability and communication abilities, and much else besides. However, it completely fails to explain consciousness as such: awareness: the experience of feeling what it is to be something, and indeed, experiences in general. No hardware+software model that I have seen could generate any experiences within itself. The best it could produce would be a zombie: a machine that mimics conscious behaviour without actually being conscious itself.
But then we have to ask, if it looks like a person, walks like a person, and talks like a person, is it a person? Or is it a zombie? How can we distinguish, objectively, between the two? The hardware+software model provides no answers here, other than the banal and clearly wrong answer that they are the same.
The Turing test takes the same line: if it acts well enough, we must assume it is a person. Well, for practical purposes, I agree, but for philosophical purposes, I think it is probably incorrect, as no plausible mechanism for consciousness itself is proposed by the hardware+software model, even though it explains many behavioural features of such a being.
Either there are phenomena yet to be discovered and brought within the orbit of the known, or there is room for God here. If consciousness can be shown to be non-material by nature, then God, who is supposed to be non-material at least in part, could well be real.

2. The dualistic hypothesis

This is the so-called mind-body problem of philosophy. Dualists say that consciousness cannot be made from matter and energy as we know them, and materialists say that it must be!

Even Socrates would have commented on the idea of television and mobile phones as "highly improbable" and "impossible to achieve with brute matter", "the undeniable proof of supranatural phenomena". I think that -so far- materialists are right, on the condition that one doesn't reduce matter to "ordinary" sticks and stones.
What do you mean by matter, then?
Philosophers talk about entities called qualia - the elements of experience, much as atoms are the elements of matter, and try to figure out how qualia could come about, or even if they are necessary. For instance, could a zombie exist that is just like a human being, but without qualia - without having experiences? Would such an unconscious creature be able to get along much as we do, or would it be outclassed by we conscious beings? This boils down to asking "What use is consciousness anyway?"

I don't personally rate the zombie argument very highly. To my mind it suffers from a contradiction. If it is just like a human being, and if consciousness is supposed to arise out of ordinary matter in a perfectly materialistic and ordinary way (albeit not understood at present), then the zombie would necessarily be conscious too - otherwise it wouldn't be just like a human being. Or, if the qualia could be selectively turned off, then that really presupposes that they are not related to the way the zombie is made - i.e., qualia are dualistic in nature. In other words, the zombie argument doesn't solve the problem.

Having said that, the question of what use is consciousness anyway is worth asking, as problems are often solved simply by asking the right question. Perhaps we can weaken the zombie argument enough for it to survive: suppose that there is a zombie sufficiently similar to a human being for it to be taken for one in everyday life, but that does not have qualia. How would it get by without consciousness?

3. Mental models

Well, maybe that will help you to think about it, but I prefer another formulation of the question. What can a conscious being do that an unconscious one cannot? Answer: it can be aware. OK, but so what? Well, in particular, it can be aware of its own mental states. This, I suggest, confers some advantages to the creature. Firstly, it is now able to model its own behaviour and make predictions about how it might behave and feel under various postulated future conditions. Secondly, and very importantly, it can model the behaviour of other creatures by presuming that they feel much as it does itself.

In my view, that's what consciousness is for - from a Darwinistic perspective, anyway: it is for getting along with one's fellow creatures, and indeed it ought to be useful even for modelling the behaviour of unconscious entities such as machines, as one can observe one's own mental models in a semi-objective manner: a definite advantage over not being able to do so at all.

But: can an unconscious being have mental models? I don't think so: how could it be aware of them to extract useful results from analysing them? On the other hand, any old computer can contain a mathematical model of something - unfortunately, it requires a conscious being such as a computer operator to make use of the results of the computer's analysis. Or perhaps it just requires a very very complex computer program.

It depends from your definitions of "unconscious" and "model". For Teilhard, even an atom is conscious on a very low level, because its structure coordinates some kind of organized interaction based on former "experiences" and leading to higher "complexification". But if you restrict the notion of consciousness to the presence of abstractions, then an unconscious being like an animal has no mental models. A model is an abstraction of an association. But you can make associations without having a model: when an animal behaves adequately towards a man it never met before, it does so by associating the novel person with the one(s) it knows already. Strictly speaking the animal has a "model". In fact, it just makes associations. Only intelligent beings have explicit, i.e. abstract but verbalizable models.
I don't regard the universal consciousness theory as very helpful, even though it may be correct. It provides no means for us to measure the consciousness, or to detect it.
I don't regard associative learning or abstraction as fundamental features of consciousness, but only as mechanisms used by brains and a few machines. Consciousness I restrict only to the hard problem of awareness, as such. Note that I don't regard a record in some register (or an image in a camera) as any proof of awareness.
It may be possible to argue that an unconscious creature could make use of mental models, and I would be interested in hearing such an argument, if it's a good one, but then the question would become: is consciousness a more efficient method? I suspect the answer would be yes.

4. Some implications

Nevertheless, this still leaves the problem of finding a mechanism for consciousness: this is all-important to approaching the God question. If consciousness is non-material in its formation, then the Universe is fundamentally compatible with the possibility that there is a God, and, God forbid, other magical beings. Because that's what it would mean, ultimately. Our nice rules of nature may well turn out to be just a little subset of a monstrous magical disorder, if consciousness is dualistic by nature. In a way, I almost hope there isn't a God, except that that means that death is probably final. Or perhaps you disagree.

(There is, however, another side to all this: intuition and synchronicity)

Posted 9/01