Local Thoughts About Non-Local Consciousness By Daniel E. Blackston
Existing models of consciousness generally draw a distinction between psychological and physical phenomena. All forms of dualism propose such a distinction and a distinction is also implied in materialist conceptions of consciousness by way of the fact that a full understanding of the neurological basis of consciousness has not yet been achieved. One interesting factor that seems to have been left out of the primary scientific models of consciousness is the idea that consciousness, like physical reality itself, may be non-local in origin. Such a concept makes a fascinating addition to the discourse of both perceptual psychology and phenomenology. The assertion is based, scientifically, on multiple accepted models of quantum mechanics; however, for the purposes of the following discussion, only a single theory – Bell’s Theorem – will be referenced. The argument will simply show that adding Bell’s Interconnectedness model to theories of consciousness radically alters – and in fact eliminates – the schism between consciousness and materialism that underlies many theoretical models.
Before proceeding to an examination of how Bell’s Interconnectedness Theorem may impact existing models, it is necessary to first give a very brief summary of what the theorem involves. While the technical specifications of Bell’s experiment to verify the theorem is complicated, the theorem’s relevant connotations for consciousness are fairly straightforward. There is no real reason to try to break down the experimental model that Bell used at length, so it will be sufficient to simply mention that Bell conducted particle experiments that provide both a mathematical and material basis for rejecting local reality. As mentioned by Nick Herbert in Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics: “Bell assumes that a local reality exists. With a bit of arithmetic he shows that this locality assumption leads directly to a certain inequality (Bell's inequality) which the experimental results must satisfy. Whenever these experiments are done, they violate Bell's inequality.”1 This is the basis for what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance” or what modern physicists refer to as “quantum entanglement.” When two particles interact, they continue to influence one another even at distances which, according to Relativity, prohibit such an interaction.
Herbert further elaborates that non-local influences, if they could be demonstrated, would fundamentally alter the way that we perceive reality. He notes that ““Non-local influences, if they existed, would not be mediated by fields or by anything else. When A connects to B non-locally, nothing crosses the intervening space.” 2 This may sound like “voodoo” and this connotation is a quite natural one to make. However, in the case of quantum entanglement and Bell’s Interconnectedness Theorem, the scientific basis is not only sound, but soundly established and engineerable. Herbert concludes that “Bell goes beyond the facts to describe the contours of reality itself...Bell proves conclusively that the world behind phenomena must be non-local.” 3 As mentioned, it is very difficult to permeate that math and physics that underlie these radical statements, but the proof is there in the established scientific literature, as well as in real-world scientific practice. The scope of the present paper prohibits taking even a cursory look at quantum computers, quantum tunneling, or entanglement, all of which are important aspects of the overall picture.
One last thing needs to mentioned in regard to Bell’s Theorem. While it is called a “theorem” it should probably, at this point, be called a “law,” because not a shred of evidence has been provided in the intervening decades since Bell’s discovery to refute his fairly straightforward claim that “deep” reality is non-local in nature. As Herbert states: “Bell's theorem proves the existence of an invisible non-local reality. Those who prefer their realities to be local have so far not been able to refute Bell's argument.” 4 What Bell’s discovery means for the purpose of the current discussion is that the non-local nature of deep reality must be factored into any model of consciousness that is brought forward, whether based on materialism, dualism, or even mysticism. The fact is that physical reality behaves in a non-local fashion – that is demonstrated by not only quantum theory, but also quantum engineering. Bell’s Theorem provides irrefutable proof that particles at the quantum level are not constrained by the common notions of cause and effect or spacetime that underlie classical physics.
This latter fact is probably the reason that psychologists and philosophers have been slow to include, not just Bell’s Theorem, but virtually any of the non-classical effects of quantum mechanics into their models of consciousness. The non-local basis of reality is not readily apparent at the everyday level of experience, unless one begins to refer to mystical or non-scientifically verified concepts such as telepathy, synchronicity, and precognition. It is not the position of the current paper that any of these things exist, although they certainly may exist. It is not relevant to the current conversation whether these phenomena can be scientifically verified. If, however, non-local reality were to manifest itself in the macro-world of everyday life, these things, along with many others, could be viewed as effects of non-local reality. The only really important point in all this is that general science has, for the most part, remained centered on the classical world of cause and effect, even though physics has long ago moved past this model.
To recap: the important takeaway about Bell’s Theorem is that there is a scientifically verified non-local basis for physical reality that is an accepted fact by physicists. Nature is, itself, non-local in some way that is not entirely clear to us from a scientific standpoint and is widely regarded as being non-apparent at the macro-level. The question becomes: how does this non-local basis of physical reality impact consciousness? Or, more specifically, how would the introduction of such non-local material models influence existing models of consciousness? Science has demonstrated that non-local reality is a fact in the quantum realm. This quantum realm is not accessible to human senses, nor is it, for the most part, discoverable or observable through common scientific instruments. Instead, mathematics provides the best means for creating a theoretical model for deep quantum reality. For the purpose of the next section of the essay let us now simply accept that there is a non-local substratum of physical reality that underlies all physical phenomena.
Materialist conceptions of consciousness seek to find correlations between human cognition and consciousness and the physical structure and function of the human brain. However, these materialistic perspectives seldom, if ever, factor in the non-local nature of physical reality. This means, that by simple virtue of referencing only those physical qualities that can be observed through traditional means, the search for a physical basis of consciousness is so limited that it will never fully account for all of the effects of consciousness itself. However, if the non-local material basis of the brain (which is made of particles like anything else in the universe) is factored in, the scope of investigation widens to quantum impacts: non-local impacts. More will be mentioned on this account at the conclusion of this paper, but for now it is obvious that the inclusion of the non-local substratum (or quantum stratum) of the brain in the materialistic position would radically alter the game.
The same can be said in regard to strictly materialist conceptions of perception. According to Hoffman, the basis of human perception is that which has been generated over the course of billions of years of evolution. Human senses interact with the physical world in the way that is most advantageous for the survival of the human race. Hoffman writes: “Perception is a product of evolution…. Our perceptions of space-time and objects have been shaped by natural selection to hide the truth and guide adaptive behaviors. Perception is an adaptive interface."5 This perspective provides a good framework for understanding why the non-local basis of reality, that which takes place at the quantum level, is not a factor in normal perception or scientific inquiry.
The cause and effect world is much more directly linked to the physical senses; the non-local nature of consciousness is not a crucial factor in survival. In other words, the “classical” world is all we “need” to see while we are up and awake and moving around in the world trying to feed ourselves and survive as biological entities. The non-local nature of reality (apparently) plays little role in this regard – in our everyday lives. Of course, as previously mentioned, there are many “non-scientific” but quite commonly reported experiences to the contrary, but these are beyond the current discussion.
Basically, when we are up and moving about in the world, we only need to be conscious of the local nature of realty, the classical Newtonian world. As Dretske mentions in: “Perception without Awareness” there are modes of unconscious perception. According to Dretske, “If the only output (response, reaction) a given piece of information controls is direction of a person’s gaze … that information is not globally accessible--hence, not conscious.” 6 If there is a larger body movement response, the sensory stimulation is considered to be conscious.
Dretske states that “if the information is also available to control a variety of bodily movements--e.g.where S points, where S looks, what S says--then this information is globally accessible and, therefore, conscious.” 7 These distinctions show how non-local reality could be perceived on the routine level of day to day life. That is to say: in day to day life, the non-local nature of reality is more or less unconscious. Such a viewpoint aligns with Lau’s assertion that ““the term ‘‘attention’’ may be best applied to the selection and maintenance of conscious contents and distinguished from consciousness itself.” 8 In other words consciousness extends far beyond what any of us are routinely aware of in our day to day attention.
The question is: what happens when we try to shift our attention to non-local reality? The answer is surprisingly simple: we find it. When we look through math, or through our deepest reaching instruments into the quantum world, we find that nature is, at its root level, non-local in nature. We have already ruled out the possibility of observing the non-local nature or reality in day to day consciousness because, for evolution’s sake, our focus is generally on the Newtonian world of cause and effect. In fact, what might be better to say is that the day-to-day consciousness that perceives cause and effect is not representative of consciousness, in total, at all. It is simply an expression of where we are focusing our attention. In the day to day world, we need day to day consciousness. We need a cause and effect basis to navigate the macro-world.
A final piece of evidence to influence the argument is the reality of dreaming and more specifically lucid dreaming. The fact of dreaming itself demonstrates many of the effects of non-local consciousness. For example, nearly everyone dreams of people and places that have seen, but are not, obviously, in direct contact with when they are dreaming. One could posit that the dream of a place is not the place in any way but merely symbolizes it. There is no reason why the two ideas should necessarily be mutually exclusive, but even if this is granted, there is still the fact that when a person is dreaming they are experiencing perception of something.
Normal dreaming almost always involves being in places and situations over which the dreamer has little or no control. This is very much like in waking life: there is an “objective” reality unfolding that dreamer participates in but does not have control over in any “supernatural” way. This would seem to indicate that, symbolically or otherwise, there is a source of the perceptual experiences that create the dream. However, there can be no classical material source of the dream because when a person dreams of elephants, a herd of elephants does not cross through their room. This shows that consciousness is not local in reality. The revelation appears to each of us each night when we turn off the “survival of the fittest” mode of day-to-day Newtonian cause and effect. We still experience sensory perception even when we are removed from the necessary components to support classical models of sensory stimulation.
Finally, there is the fact of lucid dreaming. During a lucid dream, an individual is not only having a sensory experience, they are also conscious of the fact that they are dreaming and in many cases can even control the reality of the dream. Yang indicates that many lucid dreamers are not only capable of controlling dreams, but using their capacity to control their dreams to improve their daily psychological and emotional lives. Yang notes that despite the fact that “Lucid dreaming is an old and worldwide practice” scientists have overlooked the phenomena. According to Yang, “since only a minority of the population experiences lucidity while dreaming, lucid dreaming has been overlooked as a phenomenon.” 9 Nevertheless, lucid dreaming is a fact.
A key difference between normal dreaming and lucid dreaming is that, when lucid dreaming, “the dreamer retains much of his 'conscious' and 'executive' functions, whereas an ordinary dream is marked by a loss of such capabilities.” 10 This demonstrates that full consciousness is achievable in a demonstrably non-local reality. Therefore, it would seem that direct experience of non-local reality is in fact not only achievable, but quite common. The barrier is the “survival of the fittest” mode of consciousness that needs to understand cause and effect to achieve quite limited material and biological needs. This means that the part of consciousness that we tend to think of as being ‘all” of consciousness or simply the most “important” part, is merely a tool that helps us to cope in one level of physical reality.
In conclusion, it is obvious that the introduction of Bell’s Interconnectedness Theorem to models of consciousness exerts a profound change in the paradigm. While it must be admitted that “no one has come up with a way to directly display this purported non-locality, such as a faster-than-light communication scheme based on these deep quantum connections” 11, it is also obvious that the substratum of reality that can be demonstrated to have non-local effects is also quite apparent in the experience of human consciousness itself. Further inquiry into these connections may provide a new area of research and ideas. The inclusion of the previously referenced “non-scientific” phenomena such as synchronicity, telepathy, and other “paranormal” experiences recounted by millions of people throughout human history might also be productively examined in regard to establishing non-local effects of consciousness.