Consciousness is a mathematical pattern


I don’t consider my opinions to be facts. But I am aware that all the facts do support opinions like mine (and a range of similar opinions). And I did cite two very good sources which go a long way to showing why I believe what I believe. The trouble with views which deny the naturalistic approach is that they are very narrow in their approach to sources of knowledge. Most actual science is ruled out because it undermines religious ideologies.

Moreover you present your opinions as facts also. You state for example that “Past life memories are very well documented” but this is simply not true. They are very poorly documented. And the people who document them offer nothing by way of explanation, though clearly they all lean towards etermalistic views. Hume’s criteria for miracles still apply.

Past-life memories are a supernatural phenomenon and one that absolutely entails a mind-body dualism since something immaterial survives the death of the body. There is no possible naturalistic explanation for this. Indeed naturalistic explanations rule out such phenomena and point towards other more plausible explanations.

What I notice about “style” is that Buddhists are very delicate when it comes to any argument which appears to contradict their articles of faith. Buddhists do not like to consider that they might be wrong about their worldview. So any kind of disagreement about articles of faith automatically seems “unnecessarily confrontational”. Any assumption that a different worldview might be better is seen as a threat and treated as such. And if I insist then the guns are trained on me personally. As here.

But of course where there are articles of faith confrontation is absolutely necessary.

Someone once said that,“The Enlightenment… was above all a movement which sought to emancipate [humans], regardless of political frontiers, from the triple tyranny of despotism, bigotry and superstition.”

To which I say, “bring it on”. I love being proved wrong. My worldview has radically shifted a few times in recent years and I find it exhilarating. But you aren’t going to prove 400 years of science wrong on the basis of some bad data and metaphysical speculation, you know?


Yes it has. A long time ago. This is why no one who works in quantum field theory is a materialist - they all understand that their equations do not represent an underlying reality, but are simply useful for predicting the behaviour of matter and energy on very small scales. No one understands the reality underling quantum field theory. They just know it works spectacularly well.

For example, QFT is responsible for most of the technology that makes the internet work from large-scale integrated circuits to lasers. It is currently far more accurate than our ability to measure.

I’m sure you don’t mean to say that the science that allows you to post your thoughts for the world to read has been refuted when in fact it has only ever been confirmed. Whether superposition is explained by the Copenhagen interpretation or the many worlds theory is not such a big issue, since even without knowing the answer to that the Schrodinger equation is precise and accurate up to the limit of our present ability to measure.

The real problem with materialism, as John Searle puts it, is that it is still a form of Cartesian dualism. It divides the world into mind and matter and argues that one is real and the other is unreal. Idealists, including many Buddhists, argue the opposite (a variant is that mind is the condition for matter).

While we can make an epistemic distinction between physical (kāyika) and mental (cetāsika) experiences, it is a mistake to turn this into a dualistic ontology. As the Kaccānagotta Sutta (SN 12:15) says, existence (atthitā) and nonexistence (n’atthitā) don’t apply in the world of experience (loka). The Buddha was talking about experience, not reality. He didn’t even have a word for reality.

The most successful approach to knowledge seeking - naturalism - proposes to treat matter and mind as indistinguishable in reality, despite the epistemic distinctions. It does this because theories based on this idea are better than all the alternatives. Better at explaining things and better at predicting them. And by better I mean more precise and more accurate.

The belief that consciousness does not disappear after death is based on dualism. Dualism has also been refuted a long time ago.

If we stick with epistemology there is no problem at all. Much of our epistemology is still highly relevant. The focus of the suttas is almost entirely on experience. The problem is always that we believe we are right about things that we have no knowledge of.

Belief is just an emotion about an idea.

(h/t Michael Taft)


Has he changed his mind about this? Because the last time I read him, Chalmers did not believe that hard problem had a solution. To say that he avoids dualism is a surprise to me, because Chalmers has always openly been a mind-body dualist.

One source I usually find pretty good on this stuff describes him thus

“Chalmers describes his position as a naturalistic dualism, also known as physicalism. He doubts that consciousness can be explained by physical theories, because consciousness is itself not physical.”

Also from the Wikipedia page

Chalmers argues for an “explanatory gap” from the objective to the subjective, and criticizes physical explanations of mental experience, making him a dualist. Chalmers characterizes his view as “naturalistic dualism”: naturalistic because he believes mental states are caused by physical systems (such as brains); dualist because he believes mental states are ontologically distinct from and not reducible to physical systems.

Equally, I cannot understand why Buddhists would want to avoid reductionism. Buddhism is one of the most reductive worldviews it is possible to have, especially in its Theravāda manifestations (less so in some schools of Mahāyāna and more so in others). Reductionism is at the heart of our beliefs and out methods.

So I do find this a very surprising comment.


The idea that consciousness is not an epiphenomenon of the brain is not really inconsistent with modern science. On the contrary, one of the most convincing solutions to the problem of measurement in quantum physics is that consciousness, which has a different ontological status, causes the collapse of the wavefunction

There’s an excellent book on past lives by Jim Tucker which devotes a whole chapter to quantum physics, including Von Neumann’s interpretation.
My own personal view is that the most remarkable thing about reductionist views that treat consciousness as an epiphenomenon of the brain, is that they can be taken seriously.


I appreciate the fact that a high caliber materialist is avaliable on this forum. Yet I have high doubts about this passage quoted above because, as you said, clinging to views is one of the strongest clingings out there.

Therefore, before discussing arguments for or against these views about matter and consciousness, I propose you the following experiment. It is an experiment that will test your intellectual honesty.

Here it is: Lay on the coach and think for 10 minutes about how could such a thing as consciousness arise from matter. Please take your time, take at least a full 10 minutes. Think about it as hard as you can and try to find at least some kind of an answer. Whatever you do, just don’t leave the answer to this question blank. Try to find a way to explain how a computer that can beat a human at chess does not have consciousness, while an organism as primitive as an ant with 5 neurons does.

If you do take your time to think about how exactly could such a thing as consciousness arise from matter and end up with having no answer at all, then you will have to concede that your opinion is based on intuition, not on reasoning. It looks intuitive to you that this might be the case, but you have no logical explanation for it. Intuition is not a proper way to make sense of the world. If you look at the horizont, the world appears to be flat, it’s intuitive that it should be flat.


There is no evolutionary advantage that results from a belief in God. If a society or culture prohibits atheism that has nothing to do with evolution. Its a consequence of history, the historical development of that society and its culture.

Historical developments and social change can be explained without recourse to evolutionary theories.


Itis a little bit more nuanced rthanthis. He believed or believed matter and consciousness to be two sides of the same substance, mind being on the ‘inside’ and matter on the ‘outside’.


And you discount any view that is not supported by your opinions because obviously it can’t be a fact because it is not your opinion. I too can engage in word play.

Anyone that rigidly holds to unsupported beliefs will certainly reject any thing that threatens their belief system. Though I have no idea why you are bringing this up within the context of our discussion.

You have taken my statement out of context. The following sentence “That is, I don’t see this work being challenged or disproved by other researchers” - sets the context. If you have seen any studies done of Jim Tuckers work (for example) that finds fault in his methodologies such that we can throw out a couple thousand cases I would love to hear about it.

In your opinion! Which is supported by all known facts! Dude, lighten up. So because your model doesn’t account for these observed phenomena you discard them? Isn’t that the reaction of a religious zealot? Maybe it’s time to consider a bigger box?

When evidence for the higgs boson was presented we spent in excess of 10 billion dollars and 50 years of research to look for proof. But when evidence of past lives is presented - well, we should just deny it and carry on with our preconceived ideas that are supported by all facts.

Well, I am glad you are not into making sweeping statements. In general, anyone that holds tightly to a given belief system - religious or otherwise - isn’t going to be comfortable going outside that box. Simply because someone identifies with a belief system does not mean that this prevents them from exploring other views and ideas. Some types of people need to hold very tightly to their beliefs while others don’t. You can usually tell pretty quickly when you have encountered someone like that as they flat out reject anything that doesn’t fit with their beliefs.

Well my friend, I have trained no guns on you and I don’t see you as a threat - a bit rigid yes. All I suggested was that theories about the nature of consciousness should try to account for observed phenomena. It may be that your view that you need to confront those that hold different views has something to do with your feeling attacked. But no attack from me. I am all for science taking on dogma of any sort. Why not?


Do you know if there’s a difference between naturalism and scientism? Is naturalism another belief system that perpetuates the delusion that science is the only valid method for understanding our inner life and the worlds we inhabit?


That’s a good question laurence. I wasn’t really familiar with this idea of naturalism. From wikipedia:

naturalism is the "idea or belief that only natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world."Adherents of naturalism (i.e., naturalists) assert that natural laws are the rules that govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe, that the changing universe at every stage is a product of these laws.


the “slavish imitation of the method and language of Science”, points to the cosmetic application of science in unwarranted situations not amenable to application of the scientific method

As I see it, naturalism forms a subset of science. Restricting what types of phenomena may be investigated. I don’t see science in the general sense as being unable to investigate our inner life. It is something like how classical mechanics at some point became unable to deal with what advances in science were revealing and we had to make room for phenomena that previously were not observable - and in comes quantum mechanics to fill in.

In a similar way, if science wants to investigate the origins of consciousness then it will need to create a bigger box to accommodate new phenomena that have to be accounted for.

Naturalism, by defining and ruling out supernatural or spiritual laws is simply passing judgement on and rejecting anything that it cannot account for. It is as close minded as a classical physicist rejecting quantum phenomena simply because current theory can’t account for it or a religious person insisting the world is 4,000 years old.

I don’t see anything wrong with naturalism per se. But once it cuts off what can and can’t be a natural law it limits the investigation of phenomena that could actually make way for a deeper understanding of natural laws.
That is how I see it.


I asked:

Impersonal insight - facilitated by Samadhi - uncovers truths that are inaccessible through empirical inquiry.

I would not refer to Samadhi or the insight it facilitates as supernatural i.e. above, beyond and, entirely separate from nature. What is natural to some can appear unnatural to others.

There is a difference between normal and exceptional forms of learning. Samadhi is an exceptional discovery in a normal human life. It has nothing to do with natural/supernatural as defined by the believers in naturalism or scientism.

We don’t have to be gifted to make the exceptional discoveries that the Buddha shared. The Dhamma is open and accessible not mysterious and obscure.

The Buddha did everything he could to setup a research institute so others could investigate his findings. He did everything he could to define and tighten the research parameters to eliminate confounding variables when the research was undertaken.

The Buddha’s research methods are freely available to everyone. Anyone - who feels inclined - can undertake the research, gather their own data and, analyse the findings.

Over 2600 years of research nobody who has undertaken the method outlined by the Buddha has managed to falsify his findings.

To form a dogmatic opinion with regard to the Buddha’s findings without undertaking the required research - step by step - would be foolish and unwarranted.

In order to make progress in the method of inquiry taught by the Buddha we require an open-mind and a kind and compassionate disposition.

If we feel we have ‘all the answers’ to all the important questions we face in life then, we need to unlearn this pernicious habit. Hubris is a confounding-variable when it comes to an open-ended state of inquiry.

Thanks for your thoughtful and wise reflections.


@laurence i agree. It seems at times evolutionary non-biology theories strongly ressemble recasting of religious or political or other sorts of views, to seem more science-y or truth-y than opinions. But… they almost always seem to involve circular arguements and clinging to views.



The use and abuse of science to serve an ideological end?

There is the practical need to understand the worlds in which we find ourselves. We are naturally curious beings.

The belief that science is the only valid method for understanding reality is not a scientific theory or finding. It’s an article of faith within a belief system.

We may have a well-founded faith in scientific inquiry without having fairy-tale convictions about the place of science in our understanding of every-thing.

I think we should avoid dogmatism and ideology - secular and religious - if we can help it?

Scientism and science are not the same thing and they should never be confused. Science is an invaluable tool and it reveals facts about our world that are important for our survival as a species. Like any tool, science has its appropriate use - ideology is not one of them.

Science can reveal patterns of activation in the brain in technicolour but it cannot facilitate insight into the four noble truths. We make these discoveries through living the teachings. We need a different approach to inquiry to realise the Dhamma.

The situation becomes ridiculous when secular ideology masquerading as science is combined with so-called Buddhist teachings that ignore and/or disparage much of what the Buddha taught. We end up with an amalgum of scientism, naturalism, unproven scientific theories about the nature of consciousness and the mind and pseudo-Buddhism.

The devotees of scientism label religious ‘others’ as believers and ‘believe’ they are the upholders of enlightenment-values. They may oppose the sharing of myths and fairy-tales while they subscribe to their own fabricated identity - as nonbelievers.

We have the potential for a new dark-age blinded by scientism and technological-somnambulism*. Sleep walking our way to the edge of ecocide. Mesmerised by our shiny-screens and gadgetry.


I thought belief was a confirmation about what is apparently a fact, without any evidence for it.


Believing some proposition P is assenting to P, taking P to be true. Evidence is not important either way. If you know that P, it follows you also believe that P. It’s only a fancy bit of rhetoric to say one doesn’t believe because they know.

There is usually an affective component to assent/belief, admitting of a large variation in intensity.


I’m not a native speaker of English. So if I say ‘I believe it to be true’ does that imply it might be with or without facts proving it to be true? Is ‘faith’ different from ‘beliefs’?


I think belief is a spectrum, ranging from loose opinion to “blind faith”. It implies limited knowledge.


If not logic (based on evidence) what drives opinion or beliefs.


Beliefs are mostly the result of wishful thinking, from what I’ve seen.


The discussion about consciousness reminded me of the 6 properties of a person in MN140 - earth, water, wind, fire, space and consciousness. It seems that consciousness is an inherent property of biological life, and in that sense not much different to the “physical” elements.