The cosmic tide may at one time have seemed to be immobilized, lost in the vast reservoir of living forms; but through the ages the level of consciousness was steadily rising behind the barrier, until finally, by means of the human brain (the most “centro-complex” organism yet achieved to our knowledge in the universe) there has occurred, at a first ending of time, the breaking of the dykes, followed by what is now in progress, the flooding of Thought over the entire surface of the biosphere.

Consciousness

Consciousness is the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings. It involves having subjective experiences like thoughts, feelings, perceptions, self-awareness, memories, and an understanding of the world. Consciousness emerges from complex interactions between different areas of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex, which is linked to higher order thinking, and the thalamus, which regulates arousal and wakefulness. While we do not fully understand the neural correlates of consciousness, advances in neuroscience and imaging techniques have given us glimpses into brain activity during conscious experiences.

There are lively debates around questions pertaining to the nature of consciousness. Some argue that consciousness is produced by computation in brain networks while others propose that quantum effects may play a role. There are also philosophical perspectives on whether consciousness can be replicated in artificial systems. Overall, consciousness remains a fascinating scientific and philosophical puzzle. Understanding how consciousness arises from matter is considered by some to be the ultimate challenge of our age. Further interdisciplinary research integrating neuroscience, psychology, artificial intelligence, and philosophy will shed more light on this profound mystery of subjective experience.

Documents

Jonas Salk   (1975)

Determining our Future

Jonas Salk opened the 1975 Lindisfarne Association Conference with a talk proposing that humanity’s becoming conscious of the evolutionary process implies the ability to develop strategies to avoid catastrophe and determine the future.

Alan Watts

Do You Do It Or Does It Do You?

Alan explores the meaning of personal free will in the context of core tenets in Eastern mythology: how is it possible to control anything when preexisting conditions outside of our influence determine our present situation? It is a realization of the hidden unity behind our apparent diversity and a relinquishing of obsessive control that enables us to unlock a pathway leading out of the conundrum and towards a celebration and reverence of life.

Swami Sarvapriyananda   (2019)

Does Matter Create Consciousness?

Many Eastern views of reality posit that it is consciousness that lies at the foundation of existence, not the material world.

Alan Watts   (1971)

Conversation with Myself

Essential Lectures, Program 12

While walking in a field above Muir Woods, Alan Watts points to humankind's attempts to straighten out a wiggly world as the root of our ecological crisis.

Douglas Hofstadter   (1979)

Gödel, Escher, Bach

An Eternal Golden Braid

By exploring common themes in the lives and works of logician Kurt Gödel, artist M. C. Escher and composer Johann Sebastian Bach, this book expounds concepts fundamental to mathematics, symmetry, and intelligence. Through illustration and analysis, the book discusses how self-reference and formal rules allow systems to acquire meaning despite being made of 'meaningless' elements. It also discusses what it means to communicate, how knowledge can be represented and stored, the methods and limitations of symbolic representation, and even the fundamental notion of 'meaning' itself.

David Chalmers   (2016)

Hard Problem of Consciousness

Philosopher David Chalmers on the combination problem, dualism, and panpsychism.

Ernst Mach   (1914)

Inner Perspective

Ernst Mach's illustration of the subjective visual experience.

Gregory Bateson   (1975)

Learning to Think in a New Way

Delivered at the second Lindisfarne Association conference, Bateson challenged the relationship between “consciousness” and “evolution” and suggested what it might mean to “learn to think in a new way.”

Bryce Huebner   (2013)

Macrocognition

A Theory of Distributed Minds and Collective Intentionality

Bryce Huebner develops a novel approach to distributed cognition and collective intentionality, arguing that genuine cognition requires the capacity for flexible, goal-directed behavior enabled by integrated representational systems. It posits that collective mentality should be ascribed where specialized subroutines are integrated to yield group-relevant, goal-directed behavior. The approach reveals that there are many kinds of collective minds, some more akin to those of honeybees or cats than humans. It challenges traditional notions of collective intentionality, suggesting that groups are unlikely to be "believers" in the fullest sense, shedding new light on questions of collective intentionality and responsibility.

Erwin Schrödinger   (1956)

Mind and Matter

Based on the Tarner Lectures delivered at Trinity College in Cambridge, Mind and Matter is Erwin Schrödinger's investigation into a relationship which has eluded and puzzled philosophers since the earliest times.

Alfred North Whitehead   (1938)

Modes of Thought

Whitehead believed that reality consisted of organic processes within processes, all interrelated and overlapping. These processes are the basis on which human experience, conscious and otherwise, becomes an ongoing center of integrated and novel freedom. In this collection of lectures he urges us to consider “Importance” as an ultimate notion underlying our impulse to create the various modes and sub-generalities of thought which guide our planning and acting.

Carl Sagan   (1969)

Mr. X

Written under the pseudonym Mr. X to avoid the heavy social stigma associated with marijuana consumption at the time, Carl Sagan documented his personal experiences with cannabis in this essay in order to dispel common misconceptions about the drug. It was later published in the 1971 book Marihuana Reconsidered by Lester Grinspoon. Sagan enjoyed cannabis on a regular basis for the rest of his life, but never spoke of it publicly.

Erwin Schrödinger   (1951)

My View of the World

A Nobel prize winner, a great man and a great scientist, Erwin Schrödinger has made his mark in physics, but his eye scans a far wider horizon: here are two stimulating and discursive essays which summarize his philosophical views on the nature of the world. Schrödinger's world view, derived from the Indian writings of the Vedanta, is that there is only a single consciousness of which we are all different aspects. He admits that this view is mystical and metaphysical and incapable of logical deduction. But he also insists that this is true of the belief in an external world capable of influencing the mind and of being influenced by it. Schrödinger's world view leads naturally to a philosophy of reverence for life.

Shima Beigi and Francis Heylighen   (2021)

Noospheric Consciousness

Integrating Neural Models of Consciousness and of the Web

The world-wide web has been conceptualized as a global brain for humanity due to its neural network-like organization. To determine whether this global brain could exhibit features associated with consciousness, we review three neuroscientific theories of consciousness: information integration, adaptive resonance and global workspace. These theories propose that conscious states are characterized by a globally circulating, resonant pattern of activity that is sufficiently coherent to be examined and reflected upon. We then propose a correspondence between this notion and Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the noosphere as a forum for collective thinking, and explore some implications of this self-organizing dynamics for the evolution of shared, global understanding.

Alan Watts

Of Itself So

Watts takes us on an odyssey to peer through the prism of East and West. Brace for a metamorphosis as familiar philosophical tenets are unraveled and recast in vibrant hues. From the celestial monarchies of old to the grand cosmic theater, diverse models of existence intertwine, beckoning us to shed our self-imposed blinders. An electrifying exploration of consciousness itself, this lecture tantalizes with the promise of inner awakening and long-sought liberation.

Alan Watts   (1968)

Parallel Thinking

Philosophy: East and West, Program 19

What a tickling trickster the universe is! As Watts wanders down philosophical byways, tales emerge of those healed by harmonizing body and world. Yet we teach children to twist themselves to fit odd ideals. Tension tunnels through society, our “civilizing” ways quite uncouth! Might we reconsider, relax our willful ways? Observantly ambling amidst being's little blooms, we rediscover unity in the unruly diversity—finding wisdom whispering within, inviting us to dance delightfully with life’s flowing forms.

Donald Hoffman   (2019)

Reality Isn't

What if the way our senses perceive reality is not at all representative of its true nature, but rather a highly abstracted interface? Donald Hoffman is working on a mathematical theory to find out.

Alan Watts

Relevance of Oriental Philosophy

Alan Watts discusses the limitations of Western theology, contrasting it with Eastern philosophies. He argues that the Western concept of God as a separate, authoritarian figure is problematic and that true faith involves letting go of fixed ideas about God. Watts suggests that Eastern ideas, such as the unity of opposites and the illusory nature of the ego, can provide a more meaningful understanding of spirituality and existence.

Terence McKenna

Spirituality and Technology

Terence McKenna discusses psychedelic philosophy and the interconnectedness of all things, referencing Moby Dick as an allegory for the quest for transcendental truth.

Gregory Bateson   (1972)

Steps to an Ecology of Mind

Here is the book which develops a new way of thinking about the nature of order and organization in living systems, a unified body of theory so encompassing that it illuminates all particular areas of study of biology and behavior. It is interdisciplinary, not in the usual and simple sense of exchanging information across lines of discipline, but in discovering patterns common to many disciplines.

Aldous Huxley   (1954)

The Doors of Perception

The Doors of Perception is a philosophical essay detailing Aldous Huxley’s experiences of a mescaline trip that took place over the course of an afternoon in May 1953. The book takes its title from a phrase in William Blake’s 1793 poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Huxley recalls the insights he experienced, which range from the purely aesthetic to sacramental vision. He also incorporates later reflections on the experience and its meaning for art and religion.

Terence McKenna, Rupert Sheldrake and Ralph Abraham   (1998)

The Evolutionary Mind

What could have been the cause for the breakthrough in the evolution of human consciousness around 50,000 years ago? Part of the Trialogues at the Edge of the Unthinkable held at the University of California.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin   (1947)

The Human Rebound of Evolution and its Consequences

This essay follows Teilhard's train of thought on the aftermath of a potential fusing-together of humanity.

Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett   (1981)

The Mind's I

Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul

Brilliant, shattering, mind-jolting, The Mind's I is a searching, probing cosmic journey of the mind that goes deeply into the problem of self and self-consciousness as anything written in our time. From verbalizing chimpanzees to scientific speculations involving machines with souls, from the mesmerizing, maze-like fiction of Borges to the tantalizing, dreamlike fiction of Lem and Princess Ineffable, her circuits glowing read and gold, The Mind's I opens the mind to the Black Box of fantasy, to the windfalls of reflection, to new dimensions of exciting possibilities.

Lancelot Law Whyte   (1944)

The Next Development in Man

This searching examination of human development provides new perspectives on the moral, political, scientific, emotional, and intellectual divisions of our time. A physicist by profession, Whyte looked beyond the boundaries of specialization for creative ways to approach the basic problem facing modern Western civilization: Why are we so competent technically and yet unable to order our own affairs, socially and personally? He takes the reader with him on a journey that is nothing less than a new interpretation of the general development of human consciousness.

Alan Watts

Images of God

The Tao of Philosophy 2

Alan Watts talks on the impact of various models of the ultimate reality, and the contrasts between male and female symbolism.

Timo Järvilehto   (1998)

The Theory of the Organism-Environment System

In any functional sense, organism and environment are inseparable and form only one unitary system. The organism cannot exist without the environment, and the environment has descriptive properties only if it is connected to the organism. Separation of organism and environment cannot be the basis of any scientific explanation of human behavior. The theory leads to a reinterpretation of basic problems in many fields of inquiry and makes possible the definition of mental phenomena without their reduction either to neural or biological activity or to separate mental functions. According to the theory, mental activity is activity of the whole organism-environment system, and the traditional psychological concepts describe only different aspects of organization of this system.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin   (1951)

The Transformation and Continuation in Man of the Mechanism of Evolution

How does humanity fit into evolution's arc? Teilhard de Chardin argues that we represent not an endpoint, but an intensification of evolution's complexity and consciousness. As technology and social bonds grow, he sees not disaster but hope—perhaps mankind is evolving toward an “ultra-hominization,” a perfected global mind.

Lancelot Law Whyte   (1974)

The Universe of Experience

A Worldview Beyond Science and Religion

Modern experience forces philosophy and social thought to confront the basic problems of value. Is this life worth caring about? How can we find a way between the deceit of fanatical belief and despair? In the view of Lancelot Law Whyte, the essential challenge to mankind today is an underlying nihilism promoting violence and frustrating sane policies on major social issues. Avoiding the seductive trap of utopianism, Whyte approaches this challenge by defining the terms of a potentially worldwide consensus of heart, mind, and will.

Alan Watts   (1965)

The Veil of Thoughts

Alan describes the ways in which we have concealed truth behind a veil of thoughts. He talks about how and why we mistake symbols for reality, argues that civilization may be a misguided experiment, offers observations about the way in which abstractions have become more powerful than the realities they are referencing, and explains how we can become “unbamboozled” from these ways of thinking.

Aldous Huxley   (1961)

Visionary Experience

Presented at the 14th Annual Congress of Applied Psychology. Aldous Huxley had been invited to the symposium by Timonthy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass). The two had met some months earlier, when Tim invited the author of the first two major works of modern psychedelic literature (The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell) to participate in the Harvard research program. Huxley agreed and was “Subject no.11” in a group psilocybin session run by Leary in November 1960.

Christian List   (2016)

What is it Like to be a Group Agent?

The existence of group agents is relatively widely accepted. Examples are corporations, courts, NGOs, and even entire states. But should we also accept that there is such a thing as group consciousness? I give an overview of some of the key issues in this debate and sketch a tentative argument for the view that group agents lack phenomenal consciousness. In developing my argument, I draw on integrated information theory, a much-discussed theory of consciousness. I conclude by pointing out an implication of my argument for the normative status of group agents.

David Chalmers

What is it Like to be a Thermostat?

Commentary on Dan Lloyd, “What is it Like to Be a Net?”

Could a simple thermostat possess consciousness? Philosopher David Chalmers believes it's possible. He compares connectionist networks to mundane thermostats, finding uncanny similarities in how they process information. This suggests thermostats could model basic conscious experience, if we accept certain criteria. Chalmers argues complexity alone cannot explain awareness. Though advanced artificial networks mimic consciousness, some essence eludes. He concludes we must look beyond connectionist models, seeking deeper laws not yet conceived, as we continue our quest to unveil the very essence of consciousness.

Aldous Huxley   (1955)

Who Are We?

A lecture held at the Vedanta Society of Southern California’s Hollywood temple, in which Huxley goes into some depth about core issues about human existence, asking the primal question: what is our true nature?

Alan Watts

Who Is It That Knows There Is No Ego?

Alan explores the idea of separateness, and whether our language has tricked us into falsely believing that things are individual, independent, and comprehensible all on their own.