Science deals with the reality "out there", the stuff we can see, touch or smell, or that which we can deduce from what we can see, touch or smell.
Everything - source: Wikimedia Commons
As such, scientists don't deal with spirits, ghosts, God or any other deities, past life experiences or anything else that can't be verified by observation or (mathematical) proof. A hypothesis that cannot be be tested to be either true or false is just useless to science. This is a good thing as far as I'm concerned, as this method has proven to be the best method we have to learn about the reality we all share. And as "truth" is defined as "that which conforms to reality", science is the best method to learn the truth.
This way of looking at reality is called methodological naturalism:
Methodological naturalism is a strategy for studying the world, by which scientists choose not to consider supernatural causes - even as a remote possibility. There are two main reasons for pursuing this strategy. First, some scientists believe that there is no supernatural: they begin with the assumption that God does not exist (see atheism) and that there is no life after death (see also Atheism and life after death). Second, some scientists believe it is possible that supernatural causes (such as God and angels) may exist, but they assume that any supernatural action would be arbitrary or haphazard and therefore impossible to study systematically.
This is basic, isn't it? Of course science won't deal with the supernatural. However, this has also ingrained in scientists the tendency to shun away from questions about consciousness. Now every scientist is him- or herself conscious, so they know that consciousness exists; it's their consciousness that allows them to practice logic and science in the first place. But they don't know what it is exactly. This is the Wikipedia short:
Consciousness is the state or quality of awareness, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself.
Bacteria: conscious or not?
Image by PublicDomainPictures - source: Pixabay
To be conscious is to be aware, in some way, of the reality out there, however small or big that reality may be. And when you're more aware of that reality, you're better equipped to make decisions about navigating and surviving in that reality; consciousness thus seems to have something to do with "smartness". WE say that a jellyfish is less conscious than a rat, which is less conscious than a dog, which is less conscious than a human. But since we don't know what consciousness is, we don't know for sure where consciousness starts. Even a single celled creature shows behavior like hunting for food, reproducing and avoiding harm, so even that has some way of being aware of it's microscopic universe. And the same goes for plants.
So do we draw the line at the point of being alive and say that all living things are conscious? Well, that poses a problem too because we don't exactly know what "being alive" means either. That is to say that we seem to be pretty sure that a rock isn't alive, but opinions differ when it comes to a virus; many scientists believe a virus doesn't belong in the "living" column of the universal consciousness-divide, even if it carries genetic information in the form of RNA and some of them can literally revitalize dead cells.
What has this scientific method of methodological naturalism shown us to be true about the reality out there? Well, it has come up with two equally valid, but irreconcilable theories about the nature of reality: one for the universe on large scales and one for the very small scales, Einstein's theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics respectively.
Virtually everything we know about the laws of physics falls into one of two piles. In one, there's quantum mechanics, from which we've developed the "Standard Model," including all of the fundamental particles we've yet detected, and three of the four interactions: electromagnetism, and the weak and strong nuclear forces.
In the other pile, there's Einstein's theory of General Relativity, which describes the fourth force, gravity, and gives us black holes, the expansion of the universe, and the potential for time travel.
Is everything consciousness is everything?
Scientists have been working hard to unify the two theories into one "Grand Unified Theory" or "Theory of Everything", which is considered to be the "Holy Grail of Science." This has led to the scientific field of quantum cosmology:
Quantum cosmology is the attempt in theoretical physics to develop a quantum theory of the Universe. This approach attempts to answer open questions of classical physical cosmology, particularly those related to the first phases of the universe.
The first phases of the universe refers to the very first moment of the Big Bang, where large gravitational forces were active in the quantum-sized singularity. The reconciliation between the theories is needed to understand what happened at the start of everything, that's why this unification is the holy grail of science.
Quantum physics says that every elemental particle is governed by a wave-function and states that the exact location and speed of such particles cannot be known; the wave-function only gives a certain probability that a particle will be seen at a certain position after it has been observed. Quantum field theory says that for every elemental particle there exists a quantum field represented by a wave-function that contains every possible position and speed of every instance of that particle in the entire universe, a system with an infinite number of degrees of freedom. What we see or observe is just the "collapsed" state of that field of infinite possible positions.
This is where science and scientists are forced to again consider consciousness as part of their equation. If observation is a prerequisite for the universe to become real, consciousness seems to be the best candidate. But... couldn't God be that observer? Well, he or she could be, but as long as there's consciousness which we know to be real, there's still no need for that hypothesis.
On larger scales we've learned another marvelous fact about our expanding universe. And that is that the sum total of all the energy in the known universe is equal to nothing. Zero. Nada. General relativity gave us E=MC2; energy is mass and mass is energy. When we add all the positive energy contained in matter and all the negative energy generated by the accompanying gravity, the total energy in the universe is zero. Everything we know to be real and true is literally nothing. Let that sink in.
Albert Einstein - Caricature
Image by DonkeyHotey - source: Flickr
In their attempts at unification of the two major theories in physics scientists said: why not write a Schrödinger equation for the wave function for the entire universe, for everything? A wave function in quantum mechanics is an object which, if you take the square of it, gives you the probability to find something in a given state. The time derivative of the wave function, which describes how the wave function will evolve over time, is proportional to the energy that's associated with the wave function.
But... We've just established that the total energy of the universe is zero! So on one side of the Schrödinger equation we have zero when applied to the whole universe, which implies that there's no change and, even worse, no time! That would mean that nothing would have changed since you started wasting your time reading this ;-) This doesn't make any sense at all... Or does it? The time wasting is almost over because here comes the kicker.
The collapse of the wave function does not depend on time; it depends on the observer. So whenever I observe "what's out there" it is me that does the observing, and I observe the rest of the universe. So, all the energy represented by the matter that makes me, is approximately 70 kilogram times light-speed squared (E=MC2). And since everything is equal to zero, that means the universe has energy equal to a mass of -70 kilogram times light-speed squared. And that's why I see a moving, living, expanding, evolving and living universe. And if I remove myself from the equation, the universe stops.
However New Agey this may sound, it is methodological naturalism that's brought us here. Now there's some scientists that say that a camera, or a measuring device of some sort, can do the observing and that there's no need for a conscious observer or any kind of consciousness at all, but others like Andrei Linde, theoretical physicist and the Harald Trap Friis Professor of Physics at Stanford University, are more inclined to keep an open mind about this. Now don't think anyone believes they're so important that all existence ends when they die, but the existence of some sort of collective or even universal consciousness cannot be dismissed a priory.
I'll leave you with the short interview of Andrei Linde linked below, where he talks about the real possibility that consciousness can exist without matter. I'm not a scientist, and the content of this post is based on my rudimentary knowledge about general relativity, quantum mechanics, and the amazing information contained in the below linked interview. I've said it many times before, we live in mighty interesting times and the more we learn about reality, the more we learn that our very existence is a miracle: take your time and be amazed by it! ;-)
Andrei Linde - Why Explore Cosmos and Consciousness?
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