By Deepak Chopra, MD
For some inexplicable reason the most common element in every possible experience–consciousness–has kept itself a secret. How the human brain produces consciousness–if it does–is an age-old question, currently traveling under the name of “the hard problem.” Philosopher David Chalmers, who coined the term, says, “There is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing that is harder to explain.” This is especially frustrating because we all depend upon consciousness for everything. If we were unconscious, the world would literally disappear in a puff of smoke. This obvious fact implies something that isn’t so obvious: Maybe consciousness and the world appeared at the same time.
A cosmos devoid of consciousness isn’t conceivable, and yet the reason for this exists completely out of sight. Think of sunlight. Obviously the sun can’t shine unless stars exist. There are few secrets left to discover about how stars form, what they are made of, and how light is produced in the incredibly hot cauldron at the core of a star. The secret lies elsewhere. As sunlight travels 93 million miles to Earth, it penetrates the atmosphere and lands somewhere on the planet. In this case, the only somewhere we’re interested in is our eye. Photons, the packets of energy that carry light, stimulate the retina at the back of the eye, starting a chain of events that leads to the part of the brain known as the visual cortex.
The difference between being blind and being able to see lies in the mechanics of how the brain processes sunlight—that much is clear. Yet the step in the process that matters the most, converting sunlight into vision, is totally mysterious. No matter what you see in the world—an apple, cloud, mountain, or tree—sunlight bouncing off the object makes it visible, but how? No one knows. The secret of sight is totally immersed in consciousness itself. Without being conscious of light, photons are invisible. Yet it is mistaken to say that light becomes bright in the brain through some physical process, because the brain has no brightness, either. It is as dark as outer space. Because there is no light in the brain, there are no pictures or images, either. When you imagine the face of a loved one, nowhere in the brain does that face exist like a photograph. Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD
No one doubts that it’s hard to figure out where consciousness comes from, and when a problem persists for thousands of years—which is literally true in this case—it’s worthwhile sorting out the clues that might lead to an answer. Some are better than others, and a few may be completely false. At the very least, if we can agree on the hottest leads, a final answer may come nearer.
Clue #1: The brain lights up when we think.
Neuroscience depends exclusively upon this clue, which offers material traces (so-called neural correlates) to mental activity.
Advantage: Watching the brain in action provides the most reliable map to date of how the activity of consciousness is physically processed.
Disadvantage: There is no proof that neural correlates are anything except correlates. They could be symptoms or signs of consciousness rather than the cause. Any attempt to make consciousness physical, in fact, is suspect.
By Deepak Chopra, MD
In college, a time-honored theme for assigning term papers is to discuss appearance versus reality, which can be applied to questions as diverse as “Is the ghost of Hamlet’s father real?” and “What was actually at stake in the Cold War?” But this intriguing topic doesn’t usually stick, and when students graduate into a world of hard realities, they accept appearances without questioning them. In this way the mystery of appearance versus reality doesn’t get past the classroom.
It’s intriguing that hard, solid objects (the appearance) are constructed from packets of energy and invisible wave-like potentials (the reality), or that the clock on the mantel ticking away seconds, minutes, and hours (the appearance) is founded on a cosmic source where the flow of time is non-existent (the reality). But neither fact is relevant to how we lead our lives, is it?
To believe that is to lose the mystery of personal reality, because the ultimate illusion is to accept physical reality “out there” as a given, a kind of stage machinery that we walk through like actors. Personal reality has very few givens, in fact. It is constructed from dynamic, malleable materials. We exist to create, alter, and combine these materials, because above all, personal reality is participatory. On the other hand, if you renounce your role as creator and participant, you will be a lifelong victim of appearances versus reality.
For clarity’s sake, let’s arrange the elements of personal reality from the most superficial to the deepest and most fundamental. In its simplest form, your personal reality is like a ten-layer club sandwich. Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD
A funny thing happened on the way to cosmic mind. There was a vision of it that captivated some of the greatest thinkers in the last century, but then the vision faded. In the current atmosphere of science, the notion of a conscious universe has been marginalized–you won’t see it mentioned in Nova programs. Mindless materialism reigns among the stars and subatomic particles. We are back to a tightly enforced prejudice that is depressing considering that the most hallowed names among quantum pioneers, including Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, and Schrödinger, took the possibility of cosmic mind seriously, and all but Einstein ultimately embraced it.
Why did we slip backward, and where do we go from here? A sizable cadre of younger physicists are asking these questions, but as science circles back to questions that were already answered a century ago, the whole focus may be wrong-headed. Facing a wall of resistance from mainstream science, perhaps we need to look elsewhere. If consciousness is going to reach a tipping point, it seems obvious that science isn’t going to generate it.
Only people will, out in the world living everyday lives. Populism makes intellectuals quite nervous–often with good reason–but it wasn’t intellectuals who gave us democracy, spirituality, art, and music. The human condition is influenced far more by a rising tide of collective change. Democracy needed to reach a turning point in order to become a given notion accepted by the majority of the human race. How can this happen with consciousness?
One thing is certain–at the present moment, a conscious universe represents a bridge too far. What needs to be accepted is consciousness itself, after which we can travel where the concept takes us. So, to ask the most basic question, what is consciousness? The simplest definition is awareness, although in many wisdom traditions to be conscious requires self-awareness. But let’s stick with the simplest definition. If consciousness is awareness, our everyday actions fall into one of three categories: Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD
One of the easiest bets to win is to offer a million dollars to anyone who can accurately predict their next thought. It would be foolhardy to accept such a bet. As we all experience every day–and yet rarely notice–our thoughts are unpredictable and spontaneous. They come and go at will, and yet strangely enough, we have no model for where a thought comes from.
This lack of understanding has serious medical significance in mental disorders, for example. A common symptom of various psychoses, particularly paranoid schizophrenia, is the belief that an outside force is controlling the patient’s mind, usually through an alien voice heard in the head. Being sane, a normal person has the opposite experience, that his thoughts are his own. But if that was true, we’d call up any thought we wanted to have, the way you can call up a Google search. But this is far from true.
If you are asked to add 2+2, you can call up the necessary mental process, and there are millions of similar tasks, such as knowing your own name, how to do your job, what it takes to drive a car home from work–these give us the illusion that we control our own minds. But someone suffering from anxiety or depression is the victim of uncontrolled mental activity, and even in everyday circumstances we have flashes of emotion that come of their own accord, along with stray thoughts of every kind. Artists speak of inspiration that strikes out of the blue. Love at first sight is a very welcome example of uncontrolled mental activity.
So at the very least, the human mind can’t be explained without understanding the dual control feature that gives us total control over some thoughts and zero control over others. That challenge is hard enough, but several others are just as thorny. If I listen to rap music and love it while you listen to the same music and loathe it, what creates this difference, given the same input? This is a vexing question for any theory that attempts to put the brain in charge of the mind. The brain is supposedly a machine for thinking. But what kind of machine churns out a different response to the same input? It’s like the world’s most dysfunctional candy machine. You put in a nickel, but instead of getting a gum ball every time, the machine spits out a poem or a delusion, a new idea, or a trite cliché, a great insight or a totally wrong conspiracy theory. Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD
Most people have never heard the phrase “the human universe,” so it got a major boost from British physicist Brian Cox. A popular science presenter in the UK and physics professor at the University of Manchester, Cox called his latest BBC series by that name. (The amplified text is available in a lavishly illustrated book, Human Universe, written with producer Andrew Cohen, just out in paperback.) Cox covers the biggest unanswered questions, not just in physics but in science: Where are we? Are we alone? Who are we? Why are we here? What is our future? Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD, Menas Kafatos, PhD, Bernardo Kastrup, PhD, Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD
Science often makes strides by contradicting what we take for granted, and the biggest thing everyone takes for granted is the physical world. Our senses wrap themselves around tangible objects so naturally that it’s difficult to believe that they may be misleading us completely. This is true of working physicists as well, so when any prominent theorist states the evidence of a different view of reality, one in which the mind creates the properties of what we call “the physical world,” it’s more than intriguing.
The possibility of a mental universe has a strong lineage going in the quantum era, but present-day physicalists (physicists who accept the physical nature of reality as a given) feel free to dismiss or ignore figures as towering as Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, and John von Neumann. We discussed them in our last posting. Physicalism holds sway with the vast majority of cosmologists, and yet Andre Linde of Stanford University made some important points in an article on the most current theories of the inflationary universe: “…carefully avoiding the concept of consciousness in quantum cosmology” may artificially narrow one’s outlook.” ( http://scienceandnonduality.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/UNIVERSE-LIFE-CONSCIOUSNESS-Andrei-Linde.pdf)
As a result, Linde points out, a number of physicists have replaced “observer” with “participant” when describing how humans interact with the universe. Others use the phrase “self-observing universe.” It’s startling when an important authority on the inflationary cosmos opens the door for human participation as a key element. Linde asks the same question posed by many quantum pioneers a century ago: “Is it really possible to fully understand what the universe is without first understanding what life is?” Continue reading
I believe that spiritual growth under the right conditions is as natural as breathing…and the conditions of our world are the perfect conditions for spiritual growth. The person you are right now, with all of your challenges and strengths, pain and joys, failures and victories, is exactly the perfect person for the journey ahead. And your life, exactly as it is, is offering you the exact conditions to stimulate growth.
My intention for this essay is to share with you why I believe that existence is an unending emergence of pure love, a perfect and continuous homecoming, in spite of and in a sense because of, all the tragedy, pain and the unnecessary suffering that is endured by so many of us. I would start by asserting that the degree to which we recognize that suffering is unnecessary is evidence that somewhere we already know that love is the ground of existence.
This universe was born out of love and our desire for spiritual fulfillment is an expression of that love, an extension of that love, and the fulfillment of that love. Human life is challenging. We find ourselves caught in the middle between the Reality of Love and the actuality of suffering. I feel certain that suffering is actual, but not real. Only Love is Real.
What is Love? Love is what we feel when we recognize something that is worth devoting our life to. The things we love are the things that make life worth living. They allow us to feel at home in the world and relax deeply and completely into the experience of being. Continue reading
Read my intent on intent.com here!
24 Hours in Washington D.C. with my father, Deepak Chopra
In my book, Living With Intent, Take Action is an important step in my path to INTENT. The insight for this step came to me when my friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and I realized that the now is the time to live the purposeful and connected life I seek. (And for the many who have asked, the good news is that my friend is in remission.)
Loss has also reminded me to have gratitude and be present with those we love if we have the opportunity to do so. In my 40’s, many people I love have transitioned, and I have seen family and friends lose their parents, spouses, even children, to disease or senseless tragedy. My intent to spend time with loved ones is a priority for me. Continue reading