The Western Consensus
The subject of consciousness has always been shrouded in mystery, and while the development of science in the last five centuries has seemingly illuminated most everything else which was formerly attributed to God has found at least some beginning of an explanation. To what extent this illumination applies to consciousness has been the subject of much debate. Instead of finding a firm anchoring in the overall picture that physics presents, consciousness remains hard to justify. The best that most have come up with is to say that our experiences, what we see and feel, are illusory properties of the brain or of the information processing which happens to be occurring in it.
Francis Crick advocated this position as The Astonishing Hypothesis – “a person’s mental activities are entirely due to the behavior of nerve cells, glial cells, and the atoms, ions, and molecules that make them up and influence them.” In his book Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett argued that qualia cannot exist, while others such as Patricia S. Churchland, Richard Dawkins, Susan Blackmore, and Sam Harris take positions which agree with Stephen Pinker when he says “Whatever the solutions to the Easy and Hard problems turn out to be, few scientists doubt that they will locate consciousness in the activity of the brain.” Whatever quibbles neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, and evolutionary biologists might have, they can all agree that what we experience directly is, in some respect, a collection of trick or illusions which our brain uses to represent information – information being a quantifiable event in the functioning of the human body in its environment.
In the neuroscientific view, quantitative function replaces all other modalities of sense and sense itself is absorbed into automatism. Energy is semi-materialized as ‘particle-waves’ or ‘probability wave functions’, just as space and time become united through relativity. Rather than a universe of concrete participation, the illusion of realism ‘emerges’ from the evolving complexity of statistical interactions. At what level this emergence occurs, why it occurs, or how are left to future generations to explore.
Conspicuously absent from the Western view are all traces of privacy, participation, and significance. All changes are caused by the playing out of inevitable mechanical agendas which stem from a few ‘simple rules’. Privacy is redefined as a naive expectation, soon to be exposed technologically, and entropy, rather than significance is seen as the ultimate fate of all that exists. Entropy is presumed to increase continuously, although the initial supply of of low entropy has not been explained. Entropy is believed to be a physical constant which is unrelated to perception, while sensations are thought to be, at best, partial revelations of an objective truth, so that any deviation from that empirical fact is considered an error.
MSR sees the absence of sense as a gaping hole in this picture. While emergence is appropriate for understanding how many phenomena which appear to be novel are often found to be inevitable upon further inspection, it is an entirely inappropriate machina ex deus for phenomena which have no plausible origin from the known functions of the system. The consequences of overlooking the key principle which unites all phenomena (sense), are that we wind up with an impoverished worldview, a Straw Man of cosmology in which we ourselves have no possible place.
It is seductive to reach for the term “illusion” when trying to bridge the gap between felt experience and biochemical conditions, but Illusions are meaningless to physics. We can only call something an illusion, because our experience is complex and some expectations and experiences that we have can conflict with each other. A brain is as much an illusion of our perception as our perception is an illusion of our brain. Illusion is part of consciousness, not an explanation of the origin of consciousness.