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The essence of experience

Most of us intuitively recognize that the essence of our immediate experience can never be captured by a structural or functional explanation. This disconnect between structure and essence applies to more than conscious experience. It is universal in mathematics and the hard sciences. This divorce did not exist in older metaphysics such as that based on earth, air, fire and water. These fundamental elements had an essence or intrinsic nature and that determined the nature of things constructed from them. Contemporary physics has become completely mathematical and abstract. For example salt is made of the highly reactive metal sodium and the highly reactive gas chlorine. Salt is unlike the elements it is made of. The explanation of salt's properties involves complex probability densities in quantum mechanics. These have an abstract and convoluted connection to the properties of salt. Newtonian physics retained an essential nature in the billard ball model of atoms. Quantum mechanics does not.

Mathematicians want to avoid making implicit assumptions like the parallel postulate in Euclidean Geometry. They accomplish this by removing all intrinsic properties from fundamental entities. The only fundamental entity in set theory is the empty set or nothing at all. All other objects are built up from the empty set. For example the number one is the set containing the empty set. Mathematics and mathematical physics are completely structural. Mass, energy, space and time are abstract mathematical concepts in contemporary physics. They connect with essence and experience only through experimental technique.

What is structured in the physical world? The one thing that we know is structured is immediate conscious experience. It is difficult to talk about immediate experience in a general way because we are so intimately connected to our own experience. But immediate conscious experience could be as simple as a single point in the visual field. The continuum of human life from embryo to adult suggests a similar continuum of consciousness. The unremarkable nature of the matter that the human brain is constructed of suggests that immediate experience is universal in all matter.

The simplest possible assumption consistent with what we know to be true is that the essence and totality of the existence of physical structure is immediate conscious experience. The range of complexity of immediate experience is coextensive with the range of complexity in arbitrary mathematical structures that can be physically realized. Space and time do not exist in space and time they exist in conscious experience. We can hypothesize about a universe of zombies because we have a conscious awareness of what that would be like but in what sense could a totally unobserved universe exist?

In addition to being the simplest possible assumption it is hard to see how one could come up with evidence against this assumption. That an assumption is the simplest possible consistent with what we know and is not possible to disprove does not make it true but what more can we do to solve the problem of immediate experience?


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