Okay, I've reworked my views a bit based on the discussion thus far.
It seems to me that the primary meaning of "to exist" is "to be conscious".
But what causes conscious experience? Well, I'm beginning to think
that nothing causes it. Our conscious experience is fundamental,
uncaused, and irreducible.
Why do we think that our conscious experience must be caused? Maybe
this isn't a valid assumption. Maybe we are being led astray by the
apparent nature of the macroscopic material world that we perceive?
So on the surface this view of consciousness as fundamental may sound
a bit off-putting, but I think it's not so radical compared to
>From a materialist perspective, what caused the universe (or
multiverse) to exist?
>From a religious perspective, what caused God to exist?
>From a platonic perspective, what caused the Numbers to exist?
And, of course, if anyone offers an answer to the above, the obvious
next question would be "what caused THAT to exist?".
This drive to reduce our consciousness into smaller parts, I think is
I think that there may be a problem with the idea that we must explain
conscious experience in terms of the things that we perceive, or
things that we infer from what we perceive. Consciousness is the
conduit through which we experience the world, BUT I think it's a
mistake to conclude that consciousness is a product of what is
Maybe consciousness is fundamental, uncaused, and irreducible.
However, what we are conscious OF is reducible and representable. A
Take the brain. I haven't verified it myself, but I'm willing to
believe that the structure and function of the brain is closely
correlated with the mind. My brain represents the contents of my
conscious experience. The activity of the brain over time maps to the
the contents of my conscious experience over time. Fine. But the brain
is not the cause of my conscious experience. A brain is something that
one is conscious OF, and thus has a secondary, derivative type of
I can think about my brain, so it is something that I am conscious of,
and so it exists in that sense. To the extent that I can examine and
experiment on someone else's brain, that is also a perceived
experience. But again, all of these things could happen in a dream, or
hallucination, or to a brain-in-a-vat, or to someone in a computer
That something is perceived is no guarantee that it has an existence
on par with, or superior to, that which does the perceiving.
Similarly, science. I'm willing to believe that quantum mechanics and
relativity both describe my observations very well. But this is just
the fitting of various mathematical formulas and narratives to what we
are conscious of. There's no deeper meaning to science than that. It
doesn't tell us about what fundamentally exists. It provides us with
stories that fit what our experiences: "IF you were made from
subatomic particles in a physical universe, THIS system of particles
and forces is consistent with your current observations."
Science is basically us trying to make sense of a dream.
So in this view, consciousness is very simple. What's complicated is
fitting "explanatory" scientific theories to what is observed, and
identifying and understanding causal structures (e.g., a brain, a
machine, whatever) whose evolving state can be interpreted as
representing a series of "connected" or "related" instances of
consciousness. But the observed physical system is NOT conscious, it
just represents the contents of someone's conscious experience.
So initially this view seems somewhat...solipsistic (?), but
ultimately I think it really isn't much more radical than any other
theory on the table. For instance, any deterministic scientific theory
entails that we have the experience of making choices without making
actual choices (in the free will sense). And so does any
indeterminstic theory that is based on bottom-up causation.
Beyond that, all theories eventually boil down to having to having to
take some set of fundamental entities and laws as unexplained,
unsupported brute facts. So whether it's one level down or twelve
levels down, at some point they end up saying "and these things just
exist, created from nothing, supported by nothing".
So, no matter which way we go, reality doesn't match our common-sense
expectations. I think this view makes the fewest assumptions, and
ultimately seems no more fantastical than any other theory on offer.
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