The division between the imagination mode of Experience and sensory mode is not absolute, for instance all of us can imagine the crude outlines of faces, birds etc. in random visual patterns such as are formed by clouds. This weak overlap of imagination and sensation adds meaning.
Can you see the white faces or a challice above?
Most people reserve the word “mind” for experience that is generated almost entirely internally by their brains. Whatever the underlying source of our Experience, whether it is loaded by processing sensory information or by processing internal information, there is only one Experience.
(Those who think this is straying into Idealism should read "A note on Idealism Versus Physicalism" in the Appendix).Why Experience?
Our Experience seems to contain a tiny fraction of the work being performed by our brains. Much of the work of our brains such as constructing phonemes and the parts of images, controlling our heart rate, monitoring our gut etc. never enters our Experience and might be called “non-conscious”. Outrageous examples of the brain doing the most complex of tasks outside of Experience sometimes happen to all of us, as an example people occasionally report driving miles through busy city streets with their minds in planning mode and are shocked to find that they have no recollection of the journey.
The non-conscious brain seems to construct almost all of the content of Experience as well as being able to perform complex tasks. So why does our brain model the world and ourselves as our Experience when it has clearly already processed the data in our Experience? Why have Experience as a model based on the world and not just have the brain process the data from the world and respond?If our Experience appears pointless for the function of our body then the obvious would seem true: Experience does not exist to control our body but the body exists to create our Experience (from the data provided by our senses and brain). Experience could be adding something that cannot be achieved by simple processing or it could be the whole point of the body. If Experience is the point of the body then we would need to know the point of Experience to understand why it exists.
Why does Experience Exist?The key to the apparent purposelessness of our Experience is that ordinary events only “appear” as if they could happen without the existence of our Experience. The great physicist Herman Weyl summarised what makes change in the world: “Only the consciousness that passes on in one portion of this world experiences the detached piece which comes to meet it and passes behind it as history, that is, as a process that is going forward in time and takes place in space.” (Weyl in “Space Time Matter”). For Weyl it was the movement of the observer through time that creates the impression of change.
The idea that our Experience is moving through time would partly answer the problem of the purpose of Experience: nothing would happen without it. Without our Experience our lives, cars, computers and so on are just fixed patterns, it needs our Experience to “read them out” by moving through time. However, this is just a restatement of the idea that Experience is not required for us to function, everything would be there without our Experience but, of course, there would be nothing to “read it out”, to experience it. If we put the observer first – ourselves – then it would be we who make the universe happen. The universe outside of our Experience would be a dark zone of potentialities that is illuminated by the passage of our Experience.
Movement in time must be more than simply reading out changes from a preset future because this is a pointless exercise if, when change is observed, it changes nothing. Our movement in time seems to have two components: the movement in time itself and the possibility of changing the sequence of events.What is change?
But what is change? Change is often viewed as a dynamical process in which the transfer of energy from place to place causes new events. This view isolates the change from its context. When we look around us the flower grows on a bush and the rock falls from a mountain so change is always contextual. Change is the next step in the evolution of a system. The pre-existing state of a system determines the next change and this leads to an idea of change as events accreting onto an historical structure that is fixed.
Consider the idea that two balls collide in space and it is this that causes a change. This is only a truly meaningful idea if we add that these two balls come from over there and had a collision here. The meaningful analysis is that a particular ball moves from its previous position and strikes another ball so that a structure is formed in spacetime. This is not quite correct however because the past ball does not move anywhere, it is replaced by balls that were in the future.
Change is the growth of a structure in time and the events in the immediate future are accreted onto the pattern of the immediate past.
There is an alternative interpretation in which our bodies and the balls discussed above are moving in time without leaving any trace behind in the past. This idea is known as "presentism". If we think our body was here ten seconds ago and is now gone entirely from its position in time ten seconds ago we are saying that time is not a real direction for arranging events. According to presentism the object that was there 10 seconds ago has gone completely whereas, if time exists, the object would have merely become undetectable using our current technology, it would not have ceased to exist.
Relativity strongly supports the idea that time exists and presentism is wrong (see Appendix). If we were presentists we would also need to deny that we hear whole words and truly see birds fly as well as dismiss the way that Einstein and later, Feynman, assumed the existence of time to obtain their results. QED, time exists.
The answer to the question "Why does Experience exist" would seem to be that it provides a deep template for the future evolution of the state of our minds. The reason that the template is "deep" is that every quale in Experience is connected to the past state of our Experience. The template is not just the structure formed by the latest electrical impulses but the qualia that stretch into the immediate future and connect to the past.
The deep template is the reason that we feel like a stable object receiving splashes of events. New events drill down into this mass of previous Experience as they accrete and connect inside our current Experience.We are indeed the observer looking at splashes of events but our observation is itself those events and their deep connections into our past. The observer is in the observation and the observation point hosts the connection from one place and time of the observation to another by bringing them together as qualia.
Why are we now and why do we move in time?
Given that time exists we could be at any time so why are we impelled to observe what seems to be the latest version of ourselves?We hear the "caw" of a crow and while this is happening the leaves on the trees rustle. The short extended present of the leaf movement penetrates the much longer extended present of the "caw". This happens all around our observation point as the wind moves the leaves and the birds sing. The auditory time extension hosts the "caw" and then resets to the beginning of the next "caw", the short time extension of the moving leaves resets many times during each "caw".
Within each type of quality the most recent shell of Experience accretes onto the previous shell. At each moment there are multiple possible futures and the future that forms our Experience is the one that fits into the current state of our Experience.
The fact that we are "now" and the now is always changing is a result of the continual replacement of the qualia at the observation point. How this might happen was discussed earlier.
Our feeling of moving in time suggests that we have a general sense of time that extends further in time than any other qualities.Free Will
If simple mechanical or electrical processes implement decisions there can be no free will. Choices are always deterministic in systems of simple electrical or mechanical switches and there is no free will in such systems.
Free will can only occur in systems where it is impossible to know the state of the system immediately before an event. There are then no historical switches that determine the decision.
Free will could occur if a decision now is influenced by future events. If the impetus to flip a switch in our brains came from the future then the flip would not be pre-determined because the prior state of our brains would not be needed to activate the switch. This would seem to violate the conservation of energy unless the proposed effect from the future affected something with a currently unknowable energy or it affected the whole history of the activation of the switch. Free will is possible if there are multiple "pasts" as well as multiple futures or if there are systems that affect the brain that have currently unknowable energy.
The second or so between our subjective present moment and the objective present might seem to allow future events to affect the present but the delays and timings are such that a sensory event that corresponds to the end of a splash has passed in the objective world before the start of the splash in our Experience. Fixed sensory events cannot involve multiple paths into the future but purely mental events are perhaps not so constrained.
Some mental events are also constrained to a single path into the future, for instance inner speech is constrained to a single path because the phonemes etc. that compose it are elaborated outside Experience. Only interactions between qualia could be the source of free will during the extended present because such interactions would be unknowable to an outside observer located at the objective present. This sounds like a proposal that there are non-physical mental events but it is actually recognising that mental events are four dimensional and extend in time. Having a time extended object such as a sound in Experience shows that Experience contains a slice of the future. The future would indeed be able to affect the past if qualia can interact and if these interactions affect a switch that has an unknowable state. There are a lot of "ifs" in this proposal but it leaves open the possibility of free will.
We can find evidence for qualia from different times interacting now. As an example, hearing a whole word now is evidence that qualia from one time can interact with another time (the end and start of the word). The extension through time means that the state of the "now" cannot be ascertained until the future has occurred so is unknowable immediately beforehand. The last piece in the jigsaw is that it should be possible for the subjective now to affect the brain.
In the case of a whole word the word is created and then splashed into
experience, the splashing results from the creation of the connections
that comprise a quale. The start of the word could then be
affected by the end of the word for the duration of the word. This
is consistent with how our Experience increases in definition and
content during a splash.
However, as was noted above, most events loaded into Experience are fixed. They were created in the past of the subjective present moment. We cannot in principle change the content of our sensations but might be able to change their subjective appearance as a result of an influence from the future part of a quale.
Such a mechanism, in which the future part of a quale affects its parts that are in the subjective present, would only act over periods of half a second and would be entirely in the past compared with the objective present. Free will, for most events, would only immediately affect how the events appear subjectively. If the foregoing is correct we would be limited to adjusting general features such as the brightness or complexity of content (depth of connection) etc but not much else.
It is possible that the world is rigid with no possibility of change and we are just reading out what is already there. It does not feel like this. The world feels like it can be switched to fresh outcomes by our actions or like we can truly switch between paths into the future. Our free will feels like it is deliberate but not pre-determined. This could occur if a decision now is influenced by rational future events. If the impetus to flip a switch in our brains came from the future then the flip would not be pre-determined because nothing in the prior state of our brains would suggest that the switch was about to be flipped. However, as outlined above, such an effect from the future could only occur if the switch were dependent on some event with a currently unknowable state.
Freeing us from determinism depends on currently unknowable states.
If a switch were to be flipped to the closed position by the blow from a hammer but mysteriously ended up in the open position everything we know about science would be violated but if a switch were flipped one way by the emission of a single radioactive particle and to the other by a lack of emission over a short time we would not be surprised if it flipped to either closed or open. Although whether a particle is to be emitted in the next second might be unknowable now, a second afterwards it is known with near certainty so paths into the future contain definite knowledge of what happens now.
Free will would occur if somehow the result of an event that cannot in principle be predicted on the basis of current data is used to change the past. In effect the future path would create itself. If the future contains rational thoughts then the flip of an unpredictable switch could be rational and yet not predetermined.
If the future is a single, fixed sequence of events then the analysis given here would introduce "post-determination" where events are not solely controlled by the past configuration of the world but also affected by its future layout and both the past and future are fixed. This means that if we are in a particular four dimensional universe free will depends on the existence of multiple universes so that multiple future layouts of events over time are permitted and the future is not fixed.
Even if we were able to use the future to affect the present in a universe that had multiple futures this cannot involve any precognition that reveals specific events because gamblers are living proof that precognition is rare or non-existent.
Is Free Will really important?
The reason for this discussion of free will is that our lives, and the whole universe seem pointless without it.Suppose we can indeed change our world and are not just replaying what has already been laid down as the future. Whatever creates a new future or switches our path to some parallel reality cannot be part of the fixed structures that are navigated by our Experience because fixed structures do not change. In other words, the patterns in our Experience are already arranged in space and time and anything that causes free will must be outside the bulk of our Experience that models the world. Changes of path can only be accomplished by a geometric point, which is outside the fixed structure of a given space and time. The obvious candidate for such a point is the individual quale at the observation point.
The individual quale that mediates a change of path would need to relate to mental events rather than sensory events because the subjective present moment is behind the objective present moment in time. Most objective events in the world beyond our brains are fixed so only events such as the formation of qualia that deal with the internal state of Experience might be changed. In other words a change introduced through a quale could only affect simple qualia, for instance by switching an unstable connection. Remember that qualia are connections, not end points.
Change as a result of free will would entail something fairly uniform, like a change to a brighter view or a general feeling of energy or love. It would bias Experience rather than operating on a specific time and place of an event in Experience.
This idea supports the older sense of the words "will" and "will power". What we call our will power is the ability of a generalised influence to change a mode of Experience. As an example, a general feeling of brightness might bias our Experience to sensation mode or sensuality mode.
If we have free will it would be due to the operation of something akin to an emotion and would not be involved in specific decisions except by introducing a generalised bias.
For centuries people have declared that "religious experience" changed their lives. This experience is not about going to church, temple or mosque but a deep emotional change in the person. We can only speculate about whether this is due to a better, or eventually worse, future leaking into the present.
If free will were specific and not generalised we probably would not use it. In most social circumstances it makes sense to wear trousers that co-ordinate with your shirt and having the "free-will" to wear orange trousers with turquoise polka dots might not be useful. Most mechanical decisions benefit from the analysis of what went beforehand and are happily predetermined.Meaning
When we touch one hand with the other the action makes immediate sense. The question “where is the hand going?” is immediately combined through the time extension of Experience with the answer “to touch the other hand”. This knowing the meaning of events is the basic nature of consciousness. “Knowing” is having time extended Experience.
At each instant events are a frozen pattern in three dimensions. Events only gain meaning from their succession over time and, for movements, their consequent direction in space. Consider the process that loads events into our Experience: at each instant it is just a set of frozen signals, it is only when the events are loaded into our Experience that time extension imbues them with meaning.
Experience needs time. We have no “blue” in our Experience unless the blue is extended in time. We have no whole words in Experience without time extension. Each patch and object in our Experience is a model with immediate connections to previous Experience containing the object. When we see a bird on a tight packed bush we expect it to fly away from the bush, not into it, when we see a runner we expect them to take another step. The immediate future of the runner is already in our Experience. Qualia are time extended, they already contain the computed and immediate outcomes for objects in Experience. The objects in our Experience are meaningful because they contain the connection between the object and the immediate outcome and history of the object.
It is because we tend to believe that Experience is things in the world beyond our bodies that we miss the fact that our thoughts and ideas are in Experience. There is no subject and object where events flow from our Experience into our minds to be analysed, instead our Experience contains all of the current objects and all of the current analysis.
But what of those other thoughts, our inner speech? As inner speech enters our Experience it is dealt with like other people’s speech, the words appear along with their relations. We know our inner speech in the same way as we know other verbal content in Experience, as words linked to relations out there in Experience. Our thoughts are out there in Experience and do not cycle back through our observation point to a separate mind.
If we want to see what becomes of a flower our Experience already contains the expectation of its next swaying motion and the likely departure of the hoverfly lapping at its nectar. Our Experience is our ideas about reality, not just the actual events that it models.
Our memory and analysis of events adds deep relations to the objects in Experience. When a rock falls down a mountainside it is only the conscious observer who construes the eventual erosion of the mountain or the blockage of the mountain path as meaningful. The conscious observer can imagine the horse approaching the blockage on the path but unable to pass and so contains the “meaning” of the blockage. And this conscious observer is simply our time extended Experience.
We are the social apes that speak. We can tell each other about other people and paint an imaginary picture of their "inner life". Most people learn that if they create and disseminate a picture of themselves that is desirable they will be popular, with all that this means for a social person. The "Narrative" begins.
Narratives need, to some degree, to be consistent with our actions so the development of a Narrative also leads to life choices. As a social ape we develop a Narrative that integrates us into the lives of others around us. We also take on the major themes of the prevailing Narrative such as, in one century that we should never be idle, in the next century we should join the army to kill particular sorts of people and in the next that goodness is about attitudes to skin colour.
Most people have Narratives that are largely about how they appear to other people. Of course everyone inevitably gets this wrong because we cannot know how we appear to others. It is only because people are fairly flexible in what they will accept that society works. As an example, someone may present themselves as a suited, efficient looking individual but be seen as a prig, however the prig may still be acceptable and the person who believes they are liked for efficiency may never know they were tolerated as a prig.
When their Narrative is unsuccessful most people develop inner speech narratives that regret this lack of success. Inner speech can switch to anxiety mode and create distress. For most people the Narrative can be tweaked and social approval acquired once more.
It is important to realise that almost no-one really understands why they are doing what they are doing or what they should be doing. What people who develop Narratives to be acceptable to others achieve is a power structure called "society". The personal Narrative is heavily controlled by the dominant narrative of this society. In Britain the dominant narrative was that of the Church of England but is now a synthesis of empty mass media tropes.
The connection of humanity to information processing machines such as computers and smartphones is a disaster. Information processing is almost entirely about the Narrative. After years of connection to machines it is very difficult for people to reclaim their real being. The whole of their Experience is in danger of being dimmed by inner speech.
The meaning of life
Why do anything? Why be anything? We know we exist, this is a basic fact for all of us. We do not need society and education to know we exist. If we are peaceful and mindful there is Experience and if we allow the full connections within Experience by quieting inner speech and slipping into Observation Mode it is pleasant to exist. There is no option but to exist because time exists.
We are born with our Experience full of sensation and action. Does the very young child know the "meaning of life"? Does this child even have a need for such a question?
As we learn to interact with others and learn to read and write our inner speech and imaginings take us out of sensation mode. We learn to live in a world view that is like a dream shared by our society, especially our immediate society such as family and friends. All of the land and all of the resources are owned by others and the price of obtaining a share of the world is to learn the shared dream and become proficient at performing within it. The question then arises: what is the meaning of all this?
Suppose that there was not an all pervasive social structure but there was sufficient medical knowledge and resources and suppose there was no desire for power and wealth. What then? What would be the meaning of life, what would be left to achieve? The residual meaning might be to be kind to your neighbours but suppose kindness were ubiquitous, what then? Suppose no-one asked you to be a certain sort of person and there was no prospect of fame and praise, then what would be the meaning of life? We are not born with the question of "what is the meaning of life?". Life just occurs. To act so that you are kind, or gain wealth or power etc. is to solve what could be, or should be, transient problems, problems that are frequently set by your social context. The actions are meaningful in their context but are not a "meaning of life". A social narrative might have been developed by your society that allegedly guarantees you a place in heaven for right actions but different societies have different narratives.
If you are lucky enough to have a religious experience then remember that the oneness is within you.
What is your life? Those who run human societies, or wish to run human societies, frequently regard your life as that of a useful robot that can be employed to enhance their power and prestige. However, as this book shows, our actions might be controlled by circumstance and society but our life is special to each of us. We can, and should, indulge in meaningful acts but should be aware that these acts are not the "meaning of life".
In the same way as "green" is "your green" this life is your life. It is not the possession of society or the media. It is not foolish narratives or literary and artistic works on smartphones. This is your life, look, smell, walk, breathe, be clear. Respect other minds whether they are crows, dogs or neighbours.
By convention we regard our minds as being that part of Experience that is not caused by sensations. The convention is useful because it highlights the way that events in the mind can replace sensation in Experience. The moment we start thinking or imagining our sensations are blunted. Our imaginings such as inner speech or pictures and dreams can deaden or even replace sensation. The mind co-opts the space and time of sensory Experience for its own purposes. This means that there could be a down side to some modes of thought, especially inner speech.
Suppose we opted to live in a dreamworld or a similar mental world of endless internal narrative. Would this be an optimal state of mind? The price that would be paid is the shutting down of sensory Experience. If we give ourselves over to narratives we will suppress the beautiful green of the Spring leaves and the cheerful songs of birds from our life. Each of us can demonstrate the truth of this by sitting quietly, entering observation mode and waiting for inner speech and internal imaginings to take control. Beginners at meditation often last less than a minutebefore the social narrative takes control.
Inner speech and imaginings might pass the time but how many of us can remember their internal narrative from yesterday? Our brains are designed to forget worries, dreams and ramblings.
There is another price of the Narrative. We will depart from truth. When our Experience matches the form and behaviour of the objects in the world it is true. If our minds are disconnected from sensation and reality for too long they cease to contain the truth. This is particularly the case with the narratives of inner speech which are frequently elaborated for social purposes and lose connection with truth.
In the optimal state of mind we should know what matches reality and what is false and also know when we are uncertain of what is true or false. Departing from the truth is acceptable as a game or for artistic creation but is unsuitable as a way of life.
Having questioned the narrative we might ask about our sensory Experience as the source of the optimal state of mind. When I look at a view the real tree over there is reflecting what we call “green” wavelengths of light but the green in my Experience is My Green, a quale, not a frequency of light. The birds flashing past are like the sand martins I saw a year ago. My sensory Experience is full of the relations of its objects and these relations are my thoughts about these objects, my connections. This is my Experience, it is based on sensation but it contains my reactions and connections. I own it. I can make it bright and happy or dull and depressing. When I see green I can invoke Cezanne’s Zola’s House at Medan or pass it by with “uh, tree”.
However, being immersed in sensation and the practicalities of the world can lead to our functioning as a processing engine in someone else's employment.
The narrative can be useful because it gives shorthand descriptions of complex states of mind. As an example, the optimal state of mind is to be "fearless so that worries are rejected and the world enjoyed" and to be "mindful so that the truth is present". These would be useful narratives if enacted.The optimal state of mind is for each of us to discover. It cannot be purely sensation nor purely mental activity such as Narratives or imaginings. The sensory and mental modes of experience can be balanced by Observation Mode and this should be regularly used.
The truth for each of us is a faithful observation. Given that we extend in time and are eternal we should create an Experience worthy of an eternal being. We should have faith and hope in the idea that it is all alright, that the future will be glowing.
Our willpower is a background influence that keeps us on track. It can influence decisions but it is not the decision-taking itself. As mentioned earlier, any influence that could change our path into the future would have to come from outside the fixed framework of space and time, probably through qualia at the observation point. We might have a sudden feeling of brightness, affection or negativity. This would then affect any decisions that are susceptible to such an influence so be happy and you will be happy.If free will exists it would give rise to altered events in the mind part of Experience and these can then alter the world beyond the body. The world has a multitude of possible futures that all exist in the weak sense of being possibilities but these only become firm reality for us when modelled in our Experience.
What are the general states? The most obvious general state is “its all connected”. This inspiration of oneness is also known as “religious experience”. It is the glory of the view from a mountaintop and the empathy of the saint. The interconnectedness of this oneness is spread at the observation point and is made intense by reducing the separation between the observation point and qualia. Other general states are platonic love, depression, contentedness, pessimism, optimism etc.
That we extend through time means that this life is eternal. Certainly we will die but only the Experience around the moments of death will contain that death, all the rest of Experience persists and may still be active. If time exists we do not have life after death, we have life before death, if free will exists we have changing lives before death.If Heaven is eternal life then it is here. What would you do if you found yourself in Heaven?
There are four reasons for meditation. The first is to clarify what we are and what we are doing, the second is to enhance our control over ourselves, the third is to have faith in reality and the fourth is the possibility of exploration. Meditation is clarification, control, faith and exploration.
Clarification: From birth to leaving formal education our parents and teachers instill in us their reasons for our lives. Our parents want us to be healthy, comfortable and secure so tell us that the most important thing in the world is to get qualifications and stable, remunerative employment. The message we take from this is not gratitude for our parent's love but anxiety about our path in life. Our teachers agree with our parents but add the impulsion to do what they think are "good works". The mass media wish us to be willing servants of large corporations and our governments desire us to be productive members of the society that they have created. Much of this is a good idea, and it would be foolish to reject all of it, but if we are to live in the truth we must understand it.
If we are to avoid being machines driven by past influences we must question our indoctrination and become free, independent people. Meditation clarifies our lives by putting the "narrative" to one side and putting us in touch with our world as it is. After even a short period of meditation it will be obvious that the narratives that keep bubbling up inside us are due to mechanical desires such as ambition, vanity and sex. It becomes clear that we need to adjust our beliefs and behaviour to put our thoughts in order so that we can lead a life that is true to ourselves. We all know where to find moral teachings to order our desires but should be careful to single out those that help reduce thoughts that hinder our development.
The meaning of life is to understand what we are so we can be that person. The first step on this path is to dwell in our Observation Mode.
Control: Controlling ourselves is the appropriate desire of any adults. Control does not mean abolishing spontaneity, it means enjoying it while it happens. Control is also important to avoid dependency on food, drugs etc. The first act of will to gain control is to be in Observation Mode.
Faith: Having faith is to believe so deeply in something that it is no longer questioned. Faith is a relief. As we observe the truth that is here our faith in the truth will grow. Calmness and composure, what is known as equanimity, will grow as the outward sign of this faith.
Having achieved equanimity so that we are what we are without the desire to be our actions, or what other people think we should be, we will know the meaning of our life. Those who wish to use us will stress that "to be is to do" but being is obviously, first and foremost, to be. To be the complex and extended entities that we are is a dynamic objective, any doing is less arduous and can be done as and when we see fit.
Meditation is not the path to nihilism. Nihilism is equivalent to the belief that time does not exist, that we make no meaningful patterns that persist and so should treat all things as meaningless. Nihilism is the essence of modern postmodern secularism although, fortunately, most postmodernists are not fully committed to their beliefs. When equanimity has grown we will have empathy and be compassionate.
Exploration: The first stage of meditation is to gain access to Observation Mode, most of us can do this for a brief period of time. See the next section.