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Umbilical Monism, Unfielded Physics

February 21, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments


I consider my view of consciousness to be neither dualist nor monist, but an “involuted monism”. The idea is that experience and matter are the private and public ranges of physics. The involution (like a Klein bottle or Mobius strip) refers to the orthogonal or perpendicular juxtaposition of the two ranges. Physics is the capacity to discern between public and private experiences and we know it as ‘matter and energy’ on the outside and ‘sensory perception and motor participation’ on the inside. The gap which makes this involution or twist possible is the absence or contraction of perception, aka entropy or spacetime.

If involuted is too abstract, maybe the word ‘umbilical’ gives a more tangible sense of what I mean. As a fetus, all of us have had as our first experience as a person as being a person within a person. Suspended in a bubble of nested humanity, our cosmos was both a closed vessel of nativity and a semi-permeable observation tank. An unknown within an unknown, with nothing but our capacity to feel and sense qualia. Even then we were putting things together on some level, forming expectations and desires about the world.

After birth, rather than being stoic imprinters and learners of the logic of our surroundings, we remain largely within the psychological womb, filled with pleasures and terrors beyond ordinary description. We scream and cry. We devour fiction and fantasy and revel in sensation. Even then, our inner world was just as important to us, if not more important, than the world we shared with others.

It’s strange to imagine that before we had ever tasted food, there was a fleshy hose extending from our belly into our placenta. The placenta is more like a lung to us, as our fetal hearts pumped oxygenated blood in through a single vein in the umbilical cord, which then splits to plug in to supply our liver and then our heart.

The involution here, as in the universe as a whole, is not only of the Russian Doll kind of nesting of bodies within bodies, but also of the Lion King kind of nesting (…♫ the Circle of Life ♫). Our life story recapitulates the history of our biological evolution, and presents a repeating narrative of familial roles. Our power waxes and wanes in counterpoint with the cycles of the lives of our parents, stereotypically anyhow, with the caregivers becoming care-receivers in old age…at least before our civilization evolved to deal in more… impersonal values.

The transition between Russian Doll matters and Lion King experiences can be understood better if we allow experiences to be defined in the terms in which they are presented to us. Feeling, thoughts, images, have no field-like parameters. They have no discrete positions or portable content. All of our experiences occur “here”.

In my view, all of our efforts in understanding the mind-body relation have been biased by the compulsion to explain matter as an illusion (idealism) or mind as an illusion (materialism), or the distinction between mind and matter as an illusion (functionalism). In turning these three birds inside out, we can find a common egg – only it isn’t an egg, it is sense itself. Without reaching for phlogistons or aethers, vacuum flux energies, or other cosmic fluids, our own awareness could be understood as an un-field. Just as the space between your eyeballs and these words does not seem to be filled with any particularly charged space, the range of our visual sense is a function of our own sensitivity and the nature of what we are seeing. There is no field which is causing our sense. We are simply present with other presences.


  1. Joseph McCard (really)
    March 12, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    “The idea is that experience and matter are the private and public ranges of physics.”

    I think you have mentioned before that you have had some experiences with consciousness that were somewhat unusual. What have been your private experiences of matter outside normal consciousness? What makes the “matter” we experience in our dreams different than real matter?

    In an isolated system, matter and energy are conserved, according to the laws of physics. What do you make of that?

    • March 12, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      I haven’t experienced anything unusual with matter, just with events, coincidences, people, precognitive dreams, etc.

      What makes matter different in our dreams is that it is not anchored in any public history. We can’t do any chemistry experiments on it and expect the results to be consistent with public matter, or even with themselves. What we encounter in our dreams is events in time, not objects with fixed positions. The events include object-like qualities, but often lack density or continuity of location.

      As far as the conservation of energy goes, the definition of ‘isolated’ is a relative description. In the fullness of eternity, nothing is isolated. For practical considerations, it is of course very helpful to be able to understand how resources are conserved. It would be very interesting to learn how the intensity of participation qualia relates to public measurement of energy, but I think we are a long way from being able to understand that still.

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