Splinter in the Mind, Part 3: The Consciousness Enigma


“Quantum Mechanics is weird, and so is consciousness. And the weirdness of each is in some ways similar: both, for example, seem to defy space and time, and both exist in a different dimension from material systems ordered by classical physical laws. This is enough, for some, to convince them that consciousness will eventually be explained in terms of quantum theory.” – R. Carter

Consciousness remains an enigma. Quantum mechanics also remains an enigma. The way we perceive these two enigmas is caught in the middle. There’s the way consciousness actually is, and then there is the way consciousness seems to be. There is the way we can explain consciousness using psychological terminology and then there is the way consciousness ‘feels’ to us.

Similarly, there is the way reality actually is, and there is the way reality seems to be, the way we perceive it. Quantum mechanics is the theoretical tool we have devised to help us in understanding the way reality actually is. But, as we have seen, consciousness seems to be inherent in physics, and vice versa. The question we must ask ourselves is: What creates the difference between perceptual and actual reality? And is there even a difference?


“Consciousness is a proactive agency in the establishment of reality,” said Princeton physicist Robert Jahn and parapsychologist Brenda Dunne, who drew on their empirical data to conclude: “Consciousness has the capacity not only to absorb and process objective information, but to create it in rigorously measurable quantities.” Taking this statement into consideration, along with the concepts derived from Schrodinger’s equation, one can see how this thesis could be viable. Jahn and Dunne write further, “Consciousness enjoys a ‘wave/particle duality’ which allows it to circumvent and penetrate barriers and to resonate with other consciousness and with appropriate aspects of its environment.”

Similarly, Henry Stapp, in his book A Quantum Theory of Consciousness, uses Heisenberg’s principle as well as Shrodinger’s equation in his model to describe the brain itself as a type of Heisenberg measuring device where quantum processes are involved to ‘actualize’ and ‘eradicate’ potential observable states. Stapp wrote, “Heisenberg’s picture allows quantum theory to be viewed as a coherent description of the evolution of the entire physical reality itself, rather than a set of stark statistical rules about connections between human observations.

What is the data showing us? If we take every single conscious organism off the planet, from single-celled amoeba to fully erect Homo sapiens, what do we have? Is that which is left over what should be considered ‘real’? Is matter the same if a conscious organism is not there to perceive it? Are mountains the same? Are clouds the same? Is light and gravity the same? These questions can easily spill over into philosophy, but the point is that ‘reality’ may not be the way our perceptions tell us it is when we are not there to perceive it. In fact experiments in modern physics are showing us that ‘reality’ isn’t there (in the objective sense) until a conscious observer perceives it as being there.

Zen Consciousness
Zen Consciousness

“Why should we not see the occurrence of this necessity for a conscious observer in quantum theory as something that tells us about the nature of reality?” writes Walker in The Physics of Consciousness. “So far, nowhere else in all of science have we seen anything that gives us any hint about what consciousness really is. Maybe this Gordian knot is simply something we have created in our own minds because we cannot see the simple solution.” What could be the simple solution? Could it be that it is our perception of reality, not reality itself, that’s the paradox? Could it be that reality and we are the same thing, and we’re simply not aware of it because our perceptions are bias to finite conceptualization?

Here’s the thing: if reality is actually infinite, but perceptually finite, wouldn’t that create a paradox? Of course it would. And it does. The paradox isn’t out there somewhere. It’s in here, right behind our eyes. It’s our beautiful brain’s bias to finite perception attempting, and failing, to perceive an infinite reality. The paradox inherent within the quantum enigma is exactly consciousness itself.

But what a beautiful paradox it is. I mean, it gives us meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe. It gives us beauty in an otherwise ubiquitously banal cosmos. It gives us such concepts as Truth, Justice, and Love in an otherwise unbiased, unloving, flat reality. Conscious observation is the fly in the ointment of understanding both consciousness and quantum theory. But what a beautiful, meaningful, loving fly it is, lapping up the ointment like it was mother’s milk.


At the end of the day, our brains are the Gordian Knot of reality. Whether our brains evolved by chance, or as a compulsory process in the fundamental makeup of reality so that reality could eventually bring meaning to itself, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that there is meaning. There is beauty. There is love. And we are the ones who perceive it. Without our finite-bias perspectives none of these concepts would exist.

We are the befuddled sentinels of the cosmos, confused and perplexed by a plethora of paradoxes; unaware that the paradox is us. But what a ride! And around and around we go, which brings us all the way back around to the colossal importance of practicing the discipline of mindful meditation.

Indeed, mindful meditation is the disentangling of the “impossible” knot, the cutting of the Gordian Knot. We can calculate the mathematical probabilities all we want. We can wrestle with paradox after paradox all we want. We can discover correlations between consciousness and physics all we want. But at the end of the day, the only way we can ever make sense of it is to get to a place of peaceful, mindful awareness of ourselves, and our paradoxical place within an otherwise non-paradoxical reality.

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Alex Grey
Zen Consciousness

Please share, it really helps! :) <3

Gary Z McGee
Gary Z McGee
Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.


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