The Primacy of Consciousness

Matter is derived from mind, not mind from matter.”  –Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation

More and more, scientists are catching up with ancient mystics regarding the primacy of consciousness, the fact that consciousness is an a priori facet of reality, and not some emergent property of materiality.  One of the fathers of modern brain research, Wilder Penfield wrote The Mystery of Mind in which he argues his opinion as a neurosurgeon that consciousness does not have its source in the brain.  The prestigious VISION 97 award-winning psychiatrist Dr. Stanislav Grof M.D., Ph.D. also agrees that consciousness is a primary, non-local phenomenon that precedes and transcends time and space:

Over three decades of systematic studies of the human consciousness have led me to conclusions that many traditional psychiatrists and psychologists might find implausible if not downright incredible.  I now firmly believe that consciousness is more than an accidental by-product of the neurophysiological and biochemical processes taking place in the human brain.  I see consciousness and the human psyche as expressions and reflections of a cosmic intelligence that permeates the entire universe and all of existence.  We are not just highly evolved animals with biological computers embedded inside our skulls; we are also fields of consciousness without limits, transcending time, space, matter, and linear causality.”  -Stanislav Grof, “The Holotropic Mind” (17-18)

The idea that consciousness mysteriously arises from the nervous system or brain functioning is proven erroneous by the plethora of organisms which exhibit clear signs of consciousness without having a brain or nervous system.  Plants, bacteria, single-cell and many multi-cellular organisms all seem quite conscious without these.  Are we to believe these life-forms are insentient just because they don’t have a brain or nerves?

While new technologies are enabling scientists to understand more and more of the mechanics of how mind is expressed through the brain, after many years of research this still sheds no light on their central quest – one that we believe is fruitless because the premise on which it is based is wrong.  We agree with transpersonal psychologist Stanislav Grof, who, for more than 50 years, has studied human consciousness.  Grof has compared the effort of trying to discover how mind arises from the brain to an engineer trying to understand the content of a television program solely by watching what components light up in the interior of the TV set.  If someone sought to do such a thing, we’d laugh, yet this is the approach that mainstream science has taken and insisted is correct, despite no evidence to support it and a great deal that contradicts it.”  -Ervin Laszlo and Jude Currivan, “Cosmos” (76-77)

New scientific findings are beginning to support beliefs of cultures thousands of years old, showing that our individual psyches are, in the last analysis, a manifestation of cosmic consciousness and intelligence that flows through all of existence. We never completely lose contact with this cosmic consciousness because we are never fully separated from it.”  -Stanislav Grof, “The Holotropic Mind” (195-6)

There are documented cases of hydrocephalus, otherwise known as “water in the brain,” where people have lived perfectly normal lives with almost no cerebral cortex or neocortex whatsoever.  This is quite significant considering that classical science has always assumed the neocortex to be the supposed “center of consciousness.”  British neurologist John Lorber recorded one case in which a young man’s hydrocephalus was so extreme that his brain was virtually nonexistent.  Inside his skull was just a thin layer of brain cells surrounding a mass of cerebrospinal fluid.  Amazingly, everything else about the young man was normal; he was even an honor student.  If consciousness arises from brain functioning, how is this possible?

The underlying assumption of the current meta-paradigm is that matter is insentient. The alternative is that the faculty of consciousness is a fundamental quality of nature. Consciousness does not arise from some particular arrangement of nerve cells or processes going on between them, or from any other physical features; it is always present. If the faculty of consciousness is always present, then the relationship between consciousness and nervous systems needs to be rethought. Rather than creating consciousness, nervous systems may be amplifiers of consciousness, increasing the richness and quality of experience.”  -Peter Russell, “From Science to God

Peter Russell asks us to consider a couple simple thought experiments to prove to ourselves the non-locality of consciousness beyond space and time.  When asked to locate their consciousness most people sense it to be somewhere in their heads.  Since our brains are in our heads, and the brain is often associated with consciousness, many people assume their consciousness is located in the middle of their heads, but actually the apparent location of ones consciousness has nothing to do with the placement of ones brain, and rather depends on the placement of sense organs.  Since your primary senses (eyes and ears) are in your head, the central point of your perception, the place from which you seem to be experiencing the world is somewhere behind your eyes and between your ears (in your head).  However, the fact that your brain is also in your head is merely coincidence as shown by the following thought experiment:  Imagine that your eyes and ears were somehow transplanted to your knees so you now observed the world from this new vantage point.  Now if asked to locate your consciousness where would you point?  If your eyes and ears were on your knees, would you still experience your “self” to be in your head?

I don’t think consciousness is in the brain.  The brain receives consciousness.  Consciousness is probably a non-local function of the space-time continuum and every individual brain is an individual receiver.  Just like the world is full of television signals and each television set is a receiver.  The delusion that you are in your body is a primitive, savage kind of logic, taking the data of perception at face value, similar to the delusion that Johnny Carson is inside your television set.  Johnny Carson is not in your television set.  Johnny Carson is in Hollywood.  Your television set just receives Johnny Carson’s signals. And consciousness is not in the brain, the brain just receives signals from the vast undifferentiated ocean of consciousness that makes up the space-time continuum.”  -Robert Anton Wilson

The faculty of consciousness can be likened to the light from a video projector. The projector shines light on to a screen, modifying the light so as to produce any one of an infinity of images. These images are like the perceptions, sensations, dreams, memories, thoughts, and feelings that we experience – what I call the ‘contents of consciousness.’ The light itself, without which no images would be possible, corresponds to the faculty of consciousness.  We know all the images on the screen are composed of this light, but we are not usually aware of the light itself; our attention is caught up in the images that appear and the stories they tell. In much the same way, we know we are conscious, but we are usually aware only of the many different perceptions, thoughts and feelings that appear in the mind. We are seldom aware of consciousness itself.”  -Peter Russell, “From Science to God

In deep meditation, during spontaneous OBE, or under the effects of entheogens many people temporarily transcend their contents of consciousness completely and achieve a lucid state of awareness that is purely the faculty of consciousness.  In this state there is no space and time, just the infinite here and now, no “me” and “not me” division, just one universal awareness.  Such experiences are referred to as “mystical” and deemed “unscientific” because they are subjective and unrepeatable under laboratory conditions, but for those who experience such transcendental states, this first-hand gnosis provides them with an intuitive knowingness of the primacy of consciousness beyond all space, time, and matter.

The Eastern mystics link the notions of both space and time to particular states of consciousness. Being able to go beyond the ordinary state through meditation, they have realized that the conventional notions of space and time are not the ultimate truth. The refined notions of space and time resulting from their mystical experiences appear to be in many ways similar to the notions of modern physics, as exemplified by the theory of relativity.”  -Fritjof Capra, “The Tao of Physics” (164)

In short, the impression that your consciousness is located in space is an illusion. Everything you experience is a construct within consciousness. Your sense of being a unique self is merely another construct of the mind. Quite naturally, you place this image of your self at the center of your picture of the world, giving you the sense of being in the world. But the truth is just the opposite. It is all within you. You have no location in space. Space is in you.”  -Peter Russell, “From Science to God


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