Richard V Sansbury, PhD ·
psychologist (ret)
psychologist (ret)

Mind and the Nature of Reality


The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." When Shakespeare's Hamlet uttered those words, he was referring to a ghost he had encountered. He is not alone. Each of us has a daily ghostly encounter as we experience our intangible, surreal, and ghost-like mind... the ghost that lives in the machine. But exactly what kind of stuff is our ghost-like mind? And how does it fit in with the rest of reality?

To understand the nature of mind, let's first consider what kinds of stuff are out there in the universe. To begin with, a great deal of it seems to be physical matter. You know, like rocks and water, snails, and planes. A second very common sort of thing is force. By pushing and pulling on matter, force brings motion and change to what would otherwise be a static and boring universe. A magnetic field with its associated force is a good example of force. Matter and force seem to be the two major components of our physical universe. But even Hamlet knew there is more to the universe than just physical stuff. There are, in fact, a great many nonphysical things. A song, for instance, has a nonphysical essence that can show up in many different physical modes. In other words, the abstract "ghost" of a song can present to us in many physical guises. You can play the same song on hundreds of different instruments, thousands of singers can perform it, it can be written as sheet music, or digitally captured. And all of it... is the same song. Impressive. More important for our discussion, the nonphysical realm is also the realm of experience and mind.

How can we be certain that experience is nonphysical, you ask? Well, if it were physical matter, one might think we could find it somewhere in the biological goop we call the brain. But if we poke around in there, all we find is more biological goop. It would seem, then, that experience isn't matter. What about a force? Could experience be a force? That's a much better guess, and as we shall see, nearly right. Experience is a field-like phenomenon, like electromagnetism and gravity. The latter two fields are part of the physical universe, why isn't the experiential field a part of the physical universe as well? The short answer? We have plentiful evidence that electromagnetism and gravity directly interact with matter. The same cannot be said for mind. We do not, for example, have any instruments that can directly measure or record it; being subjective, it's beyond objective observation. All this makes it seem very likely that the experiential field is no more part of the physical universe than the essence of a song. "Wait, what?!" you ponder aloud. "If it is not physical, and it does not interact with matter, how do mind (the experiential field) and body interact"? Good point. Welcome to the mind-body problem.

An electromagnetic field has both electric and magnetic components. But here's the delightful and unexpected part: it also has a previously unacknowledged, largely-hidden, experiential component. In fact, the electromagnetic force would be more aptly named the electromagneticexperiential force. That's quite a handle, so let's just call it the E2M force and its associated field, the E2M field. The E2M field is like a three legged stool in that if you shake one leg, the other two will also move about. Mind and brain interact because the E2M field includes aspects that apply forces to the brain (physical) as well as aspects that create our mind (nonphysical). In effect, the E2M field transduces forces between the physical brain and the nonphysical mind. It has a foot in both realms; a Janus Gate. While our instruments cannot directly measure the experiential component of the E2M field, they can and do crudely detect the electromagnetic portion. It's called an EEG (electroencephalogram).

We're almost through, just a bit more. E2M fields are present even at the subatomic level. Since atoms are pretty much everywhere, does that mean that experience is everywhere? That depends on what you mean by "experience". Experience at the atomic level is a mind-like or proto sort of experience. It is the stuff that dreams and conscious mind are ultimately made of, but it is very different than conscious mind, itself. The situation is analogous to thinking about a single bacterium or human cell as a proto human; same kind of living stuff, to be sure, but very different than a fully realized person. So, the building blocks of experience are everywhere, but conscious experience, or mind, only exists at a much higher organizational level than an atom, and it is not everywhere.

To summarize, the brain uses proto experiential bits already existing in association with its matter to create higher level, more organized experience, mind, and consciousness. While the brain does assemble mind, it doesn't make it from scratch, it organizes it from a pre-packaged, proto-experience stockpile. Your mind is a song your brain sings; the notes in that song are essentially proto-experience Legos.