There is a life-changing conversation going on at the heart of science, yet most of us are unaware of it. On center stage, the story about how matter forms our world shapes the minds of students from grade school through graduate studies and beyond. But behind the scenes, experts are telling a new story--and in fact have been doing so for at least a century.
In the July 2005 edition of Nature magazine, Richard Conn Henry, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, wrote:
...The 1925 discovery of quantum mechanics solved the problem of the Universe’s nature. Bright physicists were again led to believe the unbelievable — this time, that the Universe is mental. According to Sir James Jeans: “the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter... we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter...”
...As Sir Arthur Eddington explained: “It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character...”
...Physicists shy from the truth because the truth is so alien to everyday physics....
Since we were children, our teachers have taught us that the world is made of little things called particles or atoms. They were only partially right. In fact, particles and atoms are mental concepts and images--experiences of the mind.
Sadly, this partial information is still taught in schools today, simply because many scientists and other so-called thought leaders have not diligently explored the possibility that "matter" is simply an experience we are having in consciousness, not unlike the objects in the dream you had last night were made of your own mind, not atoms. This can be a radical notion since we have been feeding on an incomplete story for decades.
But this story is not just incomplete; it is also irresponsible. As Henry mentioned, the problem of the nature of the universe was pretty much solved by science in 1925. Over the last 100 years, many experiments have further supported the notion that the universe is mental in nature. But you don't have to know the science to appreciate the plausibility of this statement. Simply consider the following.
Nobody has ever known anything independent of consciousness. In other words, the entire history of human knowledge occurs in consciousness, without exception.
What we call "history" is experiences in consciousness.
What we call "science" is experiences in consciousness.
What we call "technology" is experiences in consciousness.
What we call "religion" and "spirituality" are experiences in consciousness.
What we call “philosophy,” including the debate on whether matter or mind is primary, are experiences in consciousness.
What we call “brain” is a series of perceptual experiences in consciousness.
What we call "space" and "time" are experiences in consciousness.
What we call our identity as a name, personality, and body are experiences in consciousness.
It is only once we had these experiences and began to explore and name them (again, in consciousness), that human beings created the concepts and labels of history, science, religion, philosophy, etc. An intelligent, educated culture cannot ignore this bare fact.
It is irresponsible to only teach that matter is fundamental.
The logic supporting the primacy of consciousness has always been there. Now there is science that supports this notion as well, as well as the direct experience that is available through introspection. Therefore, the apparent stalemate between matter and mind is something that should be presented and explored in schools. Students should learn that the evidence can be interpreted in several ways, rather than assuming the materialist and realist positions are correct and venturing forth from that position. Such a topic cannot be reduced to mere philosophy because it is reflective of one’s direct experience of living, not just a mode of thought. It influences how one contextualizes all other learning. This is science and reason, not religion or spirituality.
Why does this matter so much?
As an educated society, we are interested in what is true. The reason we support science and conduct experiments is to find out what is true, and through that, to live better lives. If we want truth, we must go where the evidence leads us. And, now that science has joined the party, all roads lead to something beyond matter as we conceptualized it.
Incidentally, there are many people who deny science when it comes to issues like climate change. They are locked into one view and will not change regardless of what evidence comes along. When it comes to putting science in the context of consciousness, the same reflexive denial is happening.
Our technology is only as good as our science. We are dazzled by the technology revolution happening before our eyes, but my patients in the ER remind me everyday that we are not as advanced as we think we are. Where is the everyday technological solution for cancer, heart disease, auto-immune disease, depression, and rage? Our standard for being dazzled is actually low. We should expect much more. And we will get it once we accept the science that contextualizes matter accurately.
If in fact consciousness is primary, then our very nature must be consciousness, beyond the conceptual labels of name, personality, and bodily anatomy. Consider for a second what it would feel like if your real nature were infinite, and yet you were forced to believe and live as though you were stuffed into a box less than two meters tall. That's right--it would feel like pain, worry, sadness, depression, anger, resentment, and confusion. And those feelings would naturally spill over into the world around us. Simply look at the events unfolding in the world. It's time to get rid of the box.
Teachers, so-called thought leaders, scientists, and those who have a platform are abdicating their responsibility if they do not diligently explore the possibility of the primacy of consciousness, and instead perpetuate a one-sided story about the primacy of matter, or about the evidence being on its side. Out students and children deserve better.
Richard Conn Henry is not alone in his deductions. He is supported not only by other scientists, but by wisdom traditions around the world that have thundered this truth for millennia. But the best evidence comes not from them; it comes from yourself. Set aside belief of any kind and simply investigate your own experience.
The question is not whether we like what the evidence suggests, or even whether changing course is easy. There is no doubt that it will challenge minds, careers, and institutions. So be it. The upcoming generations deserve to be told the most complete story, for their wellbeing and ours.
Anoop Kumar, MD, MM is board certified in Emergency Medicine and holds a Master’s degree in Management with a focus in Health Leadership from McGill University. He practices in the Washington, DC metro area, where he also leads meditation gatherings for clinicians. He is the author of the book Michelangelo’s Medicine: How redefining the human body will transform health and healthcare. Follow him @DrAnoopKumar.