Are we all ultimately the same consciousness?

Philip asked:

Is it possible that our innate sense of self, our egocentric outlook on the world, could be wrong? After all, our brains are never REALLY connected; so we cannot know for sure that our consciousness is REALLY separated by anything else than space and time. What I mean is; Is it possible that there could be only a single universal consciousness of which we are all a part? Could this REALLY be how it is? Or are there any philosophical arguments against this view? I haven’t been myself since I first had this thought and I’m dying for an answer. On the one hand it feels exhilarating, on the other hand it kinda kills one’s self image. What do you people think?

Timothy asked:

“Are we in a simulation?”

Though it is not strictly a logical approach to ask a philosophical question by reflecting on a feeling, I do feel it helps to add meaning and perspective for the question. I wanted to ask what the chances are we are living in a simulation? One reason I ask this is because of the infinitely unlikely possibility when looked at scientifically that I would ever be alive and less yet to be a human and in the era I could write this. Either this is like winning the lottery 1 Million times in a row or something else is at work that I am alive, as a human (my opinion the best thing to be), in this era with all this technology. Thoughts?

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

It may not be obvious that these two questions are connected, but I immediately thought of the philosopher Arnold Zuboff. I first met Arnold back around 1974-5, when he gave a paper at Birkbeck College Philosophy Society. As President for that year, it was my duty to entertain invited guests at a local restaurant. Over dinner, he hit me with this question: How unlikely is it that I ever came into existence?

The question seems to smash science into a pile of rubble. There is something science cannot explain, why I am in the world. However, that’s not Zuboff’s view at all. A few months ago, I came across Arnold’s YouTube video, Finding Myself — And Undoing the Fear of Death as Annihilation. (The video is over two hours long so you might want to make some sandwiches.)

In his presentation, Zuboff argues from science — or, rather, from a materialist view of the brain and its relation to consciousness — to the remarkable conclusion that there is only ONE subject, who is you, me, and every other conscious being in the universe.

As Philip says, ‘a single universal consciousness of which we are all part’. This is actually a view put forward, more or less tentatively, by Thomas Nagel in The View From Nowhere. It’s really just a way of looking at the ‘I’ question. The statement ‘I am TN’ when uttered by TN, or the statement ‘I am GK’ when uttered by GK, are both true and non-tautological, because the ‘I’ in each case refers to a singular entity Nagel calls the ‘Objective Self’.

The million-dollar question is what exactly this means. If it’s just a way of looking at the self and consciousness, then nothing is implied about the actual world that we don’t already know. Human beings are separate individuals, just as before. In other words, we’re just talking about a way of assimilating the consequences of materialism, getting comfortable with the idea. However, as an argument against the fear of death — which is what Arnold wants this to be — I don’t feel the least bit comforted by the thought that human life will go on after my material body perishes. I just don’t see the thing that Arnold ‘sees’.

On the other hand, if all this is just a simulation, if the entities of physics are not the ultimate reality but merely, say, patterns on an alien mega-computer chip or hard drive, then that puts a whole different complexion on things. I could be the one singular consciousness playing the ‘video game’ of human life, pretending to be, first, one particular person, then another particular person, then another. In the words of Alan Watts (whom I’ve quoted far too many times) ‘We are all It’. The singular entity, according to Hindu philosophy as articulated in the Upanishads, plays the game of forgetting who It is, and pretending to be you, me and everyone else.

I get it. We’ve all experienced what it’s like to remember something you had forgotten. Imagine if all these lost memories came flooding back at once. You would know that you were not who you thought you were, an ‘ego in a bag of skin’ (Watts The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are) but rather everyone. But I don’t believe that either. What problem would it solve? And wouldn’t the inevitable consequence be that I was, after all, alone in the universe? Just pretending to be a person in relation to other persons? How sad would that be!

For now, I prefer to think that, yes, it is a remarkable fact that I exist, but this isn’t necessarily the same ‘remarkable fact’ as the fact that GK exists. I don’t know what are the conditions for the existence or non-existence of the thing I am now calling ‘I’. Maybe, if GK hadn’t existed, I would be someone else, or maybe not. That’s all one can say until we have more to go on.

6 thoughts on “Are we all ultimately the same consciousness?

    1. I should have written “-while being the same consciousness-“, given that consciousness cannot be divided into kinds. It would be more accurate to say that _we_ are of the same kind because we are conscious. Basically I mean that while we all have differing experiences the prerequisite for experience itself is consciousness, and this is what we all share.

      1. “Basically I mean that while we all have differing experiences the prerequisite for experience itself is consciousness, and this is what we all share.”

        The prerequisite for walking are legs. Because we all walk so we share the same legs. All our legs are one.

        1. You are making a false analogue between specific physical entities (people’s legs) and the ‘thing’ within which all such physical entities occur to us (consciousness). We HAVE legs, while we ARE conscious. Legs can be identified as something in your field of perception. Individual instances of legs can be pointed out (e.g. these are my legs and those are yours). Consciousness cannot be identified in any specific sense, it is that which identifies. It is the fact that you have experiences, and this cannot be compared to some specific experience (the experience of having legs).

    1. If we are both conscious, then something about our experiences is the same to begin with. The fact the we are conscious of different stimuli while being the same kind of consciousness could be explained as such: we are the same consciousness becoming (or being) aware of itself from many different angles and at the same time. The ‘angles’ are the points at which sense organs occur in relation to the stimuli, the points at which consciousness fills out the field of vision, smell, touch etc. of the specific instance, thus creating the illusion of individuality.

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