Welcome! This new section of RWE.org is offered as a testament to Ralph Waldo Emerson's genius and vision. His remarkable contribution to philosophy centers on his conviction that the ground state of the universe was consciousness rather than matter. He set forth this idea in Nature and in the important essay "The Transcendentalist."
In that essay he said, "As thinkers, mankind have ever divided into two sects, Materialists and Idealists; the first class founding on experience, the second on consciousness; the first class beginning to think from the data of the senses, the second class perceive that the senses are not final, and say, the senses give us representations of things, but what are the things themselves, they cannot tell. The materialist insists on facts, on history, on the force of circumstances, and the animal wants of man; the idealist on the power of Thought and of Will, on inspiration, on miracle, on individual culture. These two modes of thinking are both natural, but the idealist contends that his way of thinking is in higher nature."
Later on in his life, in a final series of lectures, he explained further, in "The Natural History of the Intellect," as follows:"
"In all sciences the student is discovering that nature, as he calls it, is always working, in wholes and in every detail, after the laws of the human mind. Every creation, in parts or in particles, is on the method and by the means which our mind approves as soon as it is thoroughly acquainted with the facts; hence the delight. No matter how far or how high science explores, it adopts the method of the universe as fast as it appears; and this discloses that the mind as it opens, the mind as it shall be, comprehends and works thus ; that is to say, the Intellect builds the universe and is the key to all it contains. It is not then cities or mountains, or animals, or globes that any longer command us, but only man ; not the fact but so much of man as is in the fact."
The Ralph Waldo Emerson Institute wishes to present this vision as it is being articulated in our own time. As such, we will occasionally list books and articles that express these ideas, and we invite suggestions from members, as well as contributions in the form of short essays. Gradually, we will accumulate a collection of stimulating materials which, we feel, represent Emerson's transcendental vision to a new audience. In general, we will stay with the disciplines of science and philosophy, these two having the most direct approach to the subject.
1. The Self-Aware Universe, Goswami (Tarcher Putnam, 1995)
From Publishers Weekly
Consciousness, not matter, is the ground of all existence, declares University of Oregon physicist Goswami, echoing the mystic sages of his native India. He holds that the universe is self-aware, and that consciousness creates the physical world. Calling this theory "monistic idealism," he claims it is not only "the basis of all religions worldwide" but also the correct philosophy for modern science. Once people give up the assumption that there is an objective reality independent of consciousness, the paradoxes of quantum physics are explainable, contends Goswami, writing with his wife and Reed ( Building the Future from Our Past ). He also applies his hypothesis to the so-called mind-body schism, which he attempts to heal. Sketching a model of the self, this demanding but rewarding treatise uses analogies from the "new physics" to throw light on choice, free will, creativity, the unconscious and paths to spiritual growth. Illustrated.
2. The Meaning of Consciousness, Andrew Lohrey (U. of Michigan, 1997)
Though the topic of consciousness has been with us for centuries, no one until now has been willing or able to develop a systematic and holistic theory of its organization and structure. The Meaning of Consciousness begins this task in a unique and entirely original manner, emphasizing the relevance of an interdisciplinary approach that focuses on science as well as the humanities. Working from a new nonrationalist, nonmaterialist framework, Lohrey breaks with the habits of reasoned materialism that sustains 'objective' approaches to consciousness to avoid the typical question of how consciousness arises from matter, and instead inquires about how matter arises from consciousness. He determines that consciousness, like quantum mechanics, cannot be analyzed and treated by reductive or mechanical means; it needs an approach which is compatible with its inclusive and circular character.
Readers may also be interested in a groundbreaking article by Andrew Lohrey entitled "The Meaning of Quantum Physics," which may be found at the following URL:
3. The Mind of God, Paul Davies (Touchstone, 1992)
Throughout history, humans have dreamed of knowing the reason for the existence of the universe. In The Mind of God, physicist Paul Davies explores whether modern science can provide the key that will unlock this last secret. In his quest for an ultimate explanation, Davies reexamines the great questions that have preoccupied humankind for millennia, and in the process explores, among other topics, the origin and evolution of the cosmos, the nature of life and consciousness, and the claim that our universe is a kind of gigantic computer. Charting the ways in which the theories of such scientists as Newton, Einstein, and more recently Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman have altered our conception of the physical universe. Davies puts these scientists' discoveries into context with the writings of philosophers such as Plato. Descartes, Hume, and Kant. His startling conclusion is that the universe is "no minor byproduct of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here." By the means of science, we can truly see into the mind of God.
The following excerpt from an article by the noted physicist Roger Penrose of Oxford University discusses the possible connection of current theories and the nature of consciousness.
Must a "theory of everything" include consciousness?
Marking the century anniversary of Einsteinâ€™s first major contributions, an article in Nature (433, 257 â€“ 259, January 2005) surveyed some of the worldâ€™s top physicists on the current status of a â€œTheory of everythingâ€. Roger Penrose remarked that such a theory must include consciousness. Here is his statement:
The terminology 'theory of everything' has always worried me. There is a certain physicist's arrogance about it that suggests that knowing all the physical laws would tell us everything about the world, at least in principle. Does a physical theory of 'everything' include a theory of consciousness? Does it include a theory of morality, or of human behaviour, or of aesthetics? Even if our idea of science could be expanded to incorporate these things, would we still think of it as 'physics', or would it even be reducible to physics?
As for myself, I perhaps have enough of the physicist's arrogance about me to believe that a physical 'theory of everything' should at least contain the seeds of an explanation of the phenomenon of consciousness. It seems to me that this phenomenon is such a fundamental one that it cannot be simply an accidental concomitant of the complexity of brain action. It must be of such sophistication that the brain is enabled to dig more deeply into the fundamental workings of the Universe than are more commonplace physical systems. And if this is so, then we are very much farther from a proper understanding of the laws of nature than most physicists seem to believe.
Indeed, irrespective of the consciousness issue, in my opinion, we are nowhere close to an accurate, purely physical theory of everything. I find it remarkable how many physicists will express the view that, despite some missing details and unifying concepts, we know virtually all we need to know to describe the fully detailed physical behaviour of systems â€” at least in principle. Yet, there is at least one glaring omission in present physical theory. This is how small-scale quantum processes can add up, for large and complicated systems, to the almost classical behaviour of macroscopic bodies. Indeed, it is not just an omission but an actual fundamental inconsistency, sometimes referred to as the measurement paradox (or Schrödinger's cat). In my view, until this paradox is resolved we must necessarily remain very far from a physical theory of everything â€” whether or not such a theory exists.
The following link will take you to an entry in the Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the relationship between quantum theory and the nature of consciousness.
Those having a link or an article for this space should send it to RWE Advisor