There are two big ideas about consciousness, a word that has become as weighty in importance as the God word. Some say that consciousness is an illusion caused by our brains. Others hold that consciousness is the central reality of our existence. Quite a bit hangs on this disagreement.
It’s the difference between life viewed as sealed in matter and doomed to extinction and life as transcending matter, an adventure with no end in sight.
How to answer this question? What indeed is our true nature? We have our neuroscientists, psychiatrists, philosophers, etc., to get answers from.
But besides these, we have everyday folks everywhere and their life experiences. Why is that important? Anybody might have experiences that help us answer the question. We are all experts, at least with regard to our own experiences.
Our assumptions are not decisive; what is decisive are matters of fact and experience. A single experience of an individual can sometimes overthrow the opinions of whole clutches of alleged experts. For example, I don’t believe in ghosts; I know they exist because I was physically attacked by ghosts twice. I’ve written about these elsewhere; my point is that no expert is going to talk me out of believing what I know I experienced.
I’m not saying that one person’s observation or experience can overthrow a paradigm; what I am saying is that when many thousands of everyday people attest to certain claims, however unusual, the presumed guardians of truth need to pay attention.
My yet wider point is this. As far as the modern controversy about the central or peripheral role of our interior selves in the arc of our existence, I don’t see it being solved by the supposed experts. The reason for that is a no brainer; they tend not to look at the data, and if they do, it’s through their reductionistic spectacles.
The remedy for this unhappy arrangement is that people—and they are legion—should not be shy about reporting, sharing, or discussing their extraordinary experiences. Especially when they challenge basic assumptions. Nowadays, under the growing shadow of climate apocalypse , we’re hearing stories about dehumanizing indigenous, Black, Brown, sexually different people (to mention a few prominent groups.) And we are hearing stories of all kinds of extraordinary experience, stories that go against all expectatiions of what is possible.
Many have stories that make others feel uncomfortable, and so they shelve them, even from friends or loved ones, afraid of being being seen as odd or crazy. I think that fear should be laid aside; we have much to learn from each other about certain dimensions of experience.
For a while I taught a course on psychical research in a university setting, and part of the deal was that each student wrote a research report about one paranormal experience, the student’s or friends, family, anyone. Specific criteria were laid down for producing the designated report..
The majority of my students came back with intriguing papers; few were unable to come up with a report, using the criteria I provided. I discovered that if you fish around with people in general, you’ll find stories worthy of collecting and adding to the already enormous amount of written testimony proving the reality of extra-physical agency. The answer to the great question lies in the collective experience of people everywhere. We need to launch a conversation that migrates around the world,
There is much talk about the need for a new paradigm; there are all sorts of attempts to theorize everything. Good luck! In the end, however, the critical question is what your living paradigm is now. A paradigm is your workable window on the world--your values, beliefs, and dispositions. We all have some kind of worldview, however rough and haphazard.
In my view, what counts is not what experts and rule-books say, but what you have in your self—what shapes your response to a wily unpredictable world. So be your own paradigm and honor your extraordinary potential. Onward to a democracy of higher consciousness.