Materialism is such a dominant perspective in today’s culture that we’ve almost forgotten that it is a perspective. The near-universal assumption is that consensual reality is a mindless collection of atoms and molecules, and of temperature and energy, and that the brain generates consciousness. This essay is a reminder that this perspective is just a perspective, and not necessarily the truth.
Thinking logically, it soon becomes apparent that there’s nothing especially rational about adopting the perspective of materialism, although doing so may be temporarily useful for anyone trying to run a scientific experiment.
From an existential perspective, the only thing you know for sure is that you’re conscious. That’s it. Existence precedes essence – this is another way of saying that consciousness precedes the contents of consciousness.
At this point, most people will protest that they are also aware of the material world. This conclusion follows naturally from the assumption that the brain generates consciousness, because once a person has made this assumption it seems natural to think that the brain has developed to become aware of the material world.
But no-one knows for sure that what they are aware of is a material world. A person might be conscious of a perspective that relates to some mental attempt to make sense of the stimuli that they have received from what appears to be a material world, but this is in no way evidence that such a material world exists – the map is not the territory.
Some might argue here that the sensory impressions that impact upon our consciousness are, nonetheless, impressions from the material world, and that we know that our sensory organs have made accurate impressions of this material world because of our successful adaptation to it.
But the worlds that we encounter in our dreams, which can be as real and as detailed as this material world, are evidently not creating impressions on our eyes, because those are closed and we are asleep. From this we can deduce that eyes are not necessary to create an illusion of a material world realistic enough for a consciousness to want to survive in it.
And from this it follows that a material world is itself entirely unnecessary, because consciousness could simply dream one up in its absence and would be unable to tell the difference.
At this point a materialist might continue to object, claiming that although the dreamworld that the dreamer experiences is evidently non-material (despite being equally as real from an existential perspective), the appearance of it is nonetheless created by the brain, wherein it resides.
But at this point the materialist has allowed themselves to become a magical thinker. The belief that consciousness resides in the brain does not follow from any logical process.
Usually the materialist will continue to profess that science will one day prove what the “origin” of consciousness is, and that when it does so this origin will doubtlessly be material, but this line of reasoning is just the mirror opposite of what materialists deride as “the god of the gaps”.
In other words, it’s magical thinking, not rational thinking.
Talking to a materialist about the idea that consciousness itself has generated the contents of consciousness (i.e. it has dreamed up the material world as a particularly convincing delusion) is like talking to a medieval theologian about the idea that man has generated the idea of the Christian god – their basic existential assumptions about reality make a conversation about it essentially impossible.
If one refuses to make the assumption that the brain generates consciousness, then there is no reason to believe that the death of the physical body and brain should affect the experience of being conscious. Therefore, it follows that, if the existence of consciousness is not predicated on temporal phenomena, consciousness must be eternal.
And if consciousness is eternal, then all the contents of consciousness are just forms – things that come and go. And your body, being nothing more than some of the contents of your consciousness, is one of those things that comes and goes – but it isn’t you.
Therefore, there is no significant difference between the death of the physical body and any other major change in the contents of consciousness. The death of the physical body might portend a great change in the contents of consciousness, but there is no logical reason to think that this necessitates a change in consciousness itself.