Most of us think linear when it comes to what happens in life: “My cheek hurts, because someone slapped me”; “And now I am angry, because I did not deserve it.”
Scientists, at least the overwhelming majority, are certain that consciousness is caused by the grey matter residing in our head. So in this view having a revelation, for instance, is just a matter of some neurons firing and sending chemicals to other neurons – they even have a word for the discipline studying divine, mystical or other spiritual states of consciousness; neurotheology.
I have just read a scientific article which again states this theory in connection to free will – in this view the free will is an illusion as conscious states which lead to ‘free decisions’ are all caused by the brain. In this view “free will” cannot exist because everything is determined; in this case by firing neurons interchanging chemical substances as well. (Not once in all this scientific literature there is a deeper consideration of what most of us actually mean by free will, but I’ll let that go this time).
So cause (neuronal activity) –> effect (conscious state).
It cannot be denied, without uttering nonsense, that to actually be angry and feel this anger one needs adrenalin, for instance. As it is quite impossible to make love to your beloved without the appropriate hormones moving in your blood. So there certainly is a deep connection between our state of mind and our neuronal-chemical state. And whoever had a friend or acquaintance who suffered a brain-stroke will know the shock that comes when the person has a very different character from before or doesn’t even remember one’s name or face.
So we do think: cause (stroke) –> effect (change of character).
But if we do actually believe this I do not see how we can truly believe that our conscious states – let’s say a satori or divine vision – are actually what they themselves ‘say’ they are: revealing our true nature or the divinity of being, for instance. We cannot have it both ways. The scientists saying that consciousness is an epiphenomenon are then just more honest than the rest of us still wanting to believe in free will, angels, spirits etc., and/or a consciousness that is uncaused.
Surely this is not my view. The setting or finding of causes and effects happens in accord with a great myth, the myth of cause & effect. Even though the cause&effect-myth is really helpful and practical in many ways, especially when it comes to actions and their consequences or our technically advanced society (click ‘publish’ and this post appears on my blog, for instance). But what we usually do not see is that we create the story, we often divine the causes working backwards from the effect that we have differentiated from the whole situation/context.
What I do not like about this myth of cause & effect is that it fosters determinism – and in the case of the brain and consciousness a very impoverished story that robs its believers of a depth and richness another story might provide. So I’m reinterpreting the ‘facts of life’ that my culture is continually shoving onto me, reinterpreting the stale story of determinism.
In the case of brain and consciousness it seems to me that the states of consciousness and the physical states of the brain are synchronically coincident. Actually only in the materialistic myth it makes sense to say that brain and consciousness are separate phenomena and one is caused by the other. Everything is unfolding in concert, it is ‘resounding’ with everything else. The kinds of differentiations that we have used so far fosters the kind of culture we have in this day and age: an ecological, economic and political disaster-prone time. When we look with the eyes of the deterministic myth at the mystery called reality, for instance, trees are ‘things’ and not living beings with – yes! – a consciousness.
So beings move in concert – sometimes cacaphonically, sometimes polyphonically and sometimes symphonically, to differentiate a few of the many ways of relating between entities, beings and the whole. And when one looks in the cause&effect-way one takes a slice out of this resounding story to, maybe, know what to do. But looking at it as if the kosmos (signifying ‘harmonious whole’) were a concert one rather asks, how to be, how to sound right now.
In the cause & effect world there are laws. In the world of kosmic concert there are repeating melodies, rhythms and rhymes… which is why I’ve come to prefer that myth over the deterministic one.