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 still shaken by the ghost he had encountered. Who could blame him? It's not everyday that we run into a ghost! And yet, we live with something not so different. Our intangible, mysterious, ghost-like mind... the ghost that lives in the machine. This is the story of your mind. What it is, where it comes from, and how it relates to the rest of reality.

To understand the nature of mind, let's first consider the kind of stuff we find out there in the universe. To begin with, a great deal of it is material. You know, like rocks and water, snails, and planes. A second common sort of thing is force. By pushing and pulling on material matter, force brings motion and change to what would otherwise be a static and boring universe. A magnetic field with its associated force gives us a handy example of force. Material matter and force seem to be the two major components of our universe. But even Hamlet knew there is much more. There are, for instance, a great many nonmaterial things. A song, for example, has a nonmaterial essence that can show up in many different 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. Note worthy, yes? But more important for our discussion, the nonmaterial realm is also the realm of experience, or mind. Since mind is essentially a collection of experiences, I will use "experience" as a general term for "mental" phenomena.

How can we be so sure that mind, or experience, is nonmaterial, you ask? Well, if it were material, 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. Moreover, material substances tend to have some degree of permanence. Our mental existence has been called a stream of consciousness for good reason: conscious experience is famously flighty, hardly permanent. And one more: how many distinct experiences will you have in a lifetime? Can you imagine that your brain could create that many distinctly different material substances, a unique one for each different experience? For these, and a host of other reasons, it stretches credulity to imagine that experience, or mind, is material. What about a force? Could experience be a force? That's a much better guess, and as we shall soon see, almost spot on. Experience is a field-like phenomenon, just like electromagnetism and gravity. So, yes, experience seems to be a force, but it's not your run-of-the-mill variety. We have plentiful evidence that electromagnetism and gravity directly interact with matter. The same cannot be said for mind. As a result, we do not have any instruments that can directly measure or record it; being subjective, experience seems to be beyond objective observation. All this suggests that mind is no more a part of the material universe than the essence of a song is. "Wait, what?!" you insightfully protest. "If it is not material, and it does not interact with matter, how do mind and the body interact"? How does a thought end up as an action? How does a physical stimulus end up as an experience? Hah! Excellent point! You've just uncovered the mind-body problem.

To answer your question, here's how. As you may already know, an electromagnetic field has both electric and magnetic components. But the secret is, there's more. It also has a previously unacknowledged, and largely-hidden, experiential component. The electromagnetic force would more aptly be 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.

Imagine a three link chain. The first link represents the physical brain, the middle link represents the electromagnetic portion of the E2M field, and the last link represents the E2M's experiential component. Note the last two links are both parts of the E2M field. If items are directly linked in the chain, they interact; if they are not linked, they do not interact. I have labeled the experiential link as an "exotic" force because, unlike your typical force, it does not interact with matter. Thus depicted, the electromagnetic link interacts with both the brain and the experiential links, while the brain and experiential link do not directly interact. In this model, the material brain does not create mind. The mind is created by the experiential component of the E2M field. In effect, the electromagnetic portion (second link) of the E2M field transduces forces between the material brain (first link) and the nonmaterial mind (third link). Thus, the electromagnetic field has a foot in two worlds, functioning as a Janus Gate as it shuttles forces between the ghost-like mind and the physical body. 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. As a fundamental part of nature, 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" type 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 many emergent layers below 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 certainly is not everywhere.

We have seen how experience is a fundamental feature of the universe. The brain uses that experiential stuff, in the form of 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.