This is a “Theory of Everything” called Multisense Realism. More precisely it is a conjecture about the ultimate nature of physical reality and subjective experience. The name is intended to convey the idea there is a single unifying principle which reconciles the public and private, objective and subjective, and that this principle is understandable as the multiplicity of sense. When we use the word sense, sometimes we mean a sensation, other times we mean a clarity of mental understanding, an intuition, or even “in a sense” of belonging to a category or context of meaning.
Everyone knows what it is to be awake rather than asleep, or to pay attention rather than lose focus. These phenomena don’t need further definition, and there is no reason to assume that it is possible to define them further. What is hard is letting go of the expectation that awareness can be reduced to something more object-like. Only if we start from the fact of perceptual participation can we explain a universe in which consciousness can possibly exist. Only a theory of everything which meets us half way, which locates us where we actually live, can ultimately satisfy our understanding,
If we look at matter objectively, what can we really say about it? Matter is that which feels like matter, which is seen to act like matter, and which seems to imply certain sensibilities. All phenomena are similarly known to us through clouds of nested experiences which all ultimately begin and end in expectations which seem self-evident to us. Blue simply looks blue, and pain simply feels painful, regardless of any mechanical processes associated with them. It is not necessary to learn how to feel pain, nor could any such learning help us discover pain if we could not feel it to begin with. This presence of self-evident significance is the key to understanding why well intentioned solutions from both philosophy and science have failed to decipher the true nature of awareness and sense. Sense is literally im-mediate. Even though we can measure neurological changes on microscopic scales which imply chains of action and reaction underlying our personal awareness, the experience that we have is irreducible, if not instantaneous. As soon as we feel pain it is painful. With mechanistic solutions that assume representation, the moment of detection is lost and replaced by the unacknowledged moments of detection among billions of neurons.
Instead of sweeping the question of consciousness under the neurological carpet, we can consider that the brain’s activity may be not be due entirely to the brain’s structure, but rather what we see as the unconscious activity of the brain may a symptom of cellular awareness, and cellular awareness is a symptom of biochemical awareness, which is a symptom of low level physical awareness. It could easily be experiential all the way down. If it weren’t, then it would have to be non-experiential all the way up. Otherwise we would have to explain why a system which can routinely construct a human nervous system, immune system, digestive tract etc (projects which dwarf any measly achievement of human civilization) suddenly needs ‘consciousness’ to help hominids locate food and shelter…something which any single celled eukaryote does. Raymond Tallis book Aping Mankind does a good job of addressing the shortcomings of the scientific approach, I agree with his criticism of the abandonment of humanity into an overconfidence in neuroscience and evolutionary biology, which he dubs Neuromania and Darwinitis. Later on in this material, the notion of sub-personal and super-personal ranges of awareness is discussed, which fits nicely with Tallis’ argument. Simply put, because of the success of the approach that science has taken, to consider phenomena ‘objectively’ and impersonally, we are naturally compelled to explain all personal phenomena in terms which are either beneath us (neuroscience), or beyond us (physical anthropology and evolutionary biology). This ‘outsiders’ approach, while enormously useful and practical, may be exactly the wrong approach to take in understanding consciousness as it is rather than as our model would like it to be. Consciousness is, if nothing else, about the physics of privacy and interiority.
The assumption that all consciousness is the product of the brain relies on the deeper assumption that human consciousness can faithfully model itself, and that reflection is the only true reflection possible. Given what we already know about how flawed our perception is in every way that can be measured, why would it be absolutely accurate in this one way? Why is this product of the brain able to do nothing but bathe in locally manufactured illusions, except when it comes to assessing its own shortcomings and insignificance. In that respect, it seems, the scientific expectation of fallibility of subjectivity is turned on its head, and the scientific mind does not hesitate to claim certainty in its own particular kind of reasoning. From that vantage point, all of human thought and feeling are reduced to mere inevitable chemical reactions, except for the enlightening thoughts and feelings which are associated with science. These products of the brain are somehow exempt from the limitations of simple conditioning and rise to the level of clear intent to document universal truth.
No equation can be solved in a way that feels like something.
It is asserted here that sense includes both the capacity to discern ‘difference’ from ‘indifference’ as well as to discern ‘unity’ across ‘multiplicity’, but always in an experiential way. Sense, as defined here, is not an abstract condition in which conditions simply exist, it is a concretely experiential phenomenon. Arithmetic functions, while making a certain kind of sense, do not sense anything themselves. They are figurative expressions, symbols. To turn them into computation they must be embodied by some kind of material system which knows how to interact mathematically. Symbols are not what they symbolize. A stop sign does not mean STOP, it is only an optical pattern which we can read and interpret. No formula will turn blue or feel itchy when it is solved.
The term multisense refers to the nesting of sense experience within multiple levels of itself. Although we generally think in terms of matter and objects being ‘real’, and intuitively feel that mathematical functions are real in a different way, the hypothesis here is that both material bodies and symbolic functions are completely inaccessible without the vital intermediary of sense. Sense is needed to ground the symbols and parse the world into form and function of an appropriate scale and perspective. By discernment, what is meant is a participatory experience in which the fact of difference or unity is not only detected, but appreciated as an aesthetic quality.
We must ask ourselves, what is the universe like without the appearance of Homo sapiens, or even blue green algae on planet Earth? Would there be only intangible darkness? An unconscious void for billions of years until suddenly the first sensation is invented in some obscure lava vent under the sea? Or would the universe still contain aesthetic conditions of some kind no matter what? It’s not necessary to speculate on non-human awareness, but suffice it to say that the alphabet from which our own consciousness is composed, could not realistically have evolved after the fact of human life. While our particular sense of a physical event is a human version of that event, we need not doubt that the sense we make of a star overlaps in some important ways with the sense that the star makes without us looking at it. The universe must, it seems, make sense before we can make sense of it.