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The Totality Axiom

Michael Tye has argued that the explanatory gap is a cognitive illusion[15]. The consciousness we experience is what it means for certain physical structures in us to exist. There can be no explanatory gap because there is nothing subject to explanation. The Totality Axiom implies Tye's position but goes beyond it to say that immediate experience in some form is what it means for any physical structure to exist. Reported conscious experience is of necessity connected to language and memory. Parts of the brain like those involved in blind sight, have only a fragmentary connection to memory and language. Does this mean they lack consciousness? We do not know any more than we know if another person is conscious. We assume they are because it is the simplest and most plausible assumption. What is the simplest assumption about the consciousness of matter in general? That is the question the Totality Axiom addresses.

The Totality Axiom asserts that the essence and totality of the existence physical structure is immediate experience in some form and that physical structure is the only aspect of immediate experience that can be communicated. This section begins the argument for the Totality Axiom with a discussion of panpsychism. This is the belief that all that exists is conscious. Panpsychism is an implication of the Totality Axiom but not vice versa. Next the Totality Axiom is justified as the simplest assumption consistent with what we know of the world. Then the assertion that all communication is structural is discussed. This section ends with some implications of the Totality Axiom some of which are developed in the remainder of the paper.

Panpsychism. in earlier forms, attributed human like motivations to all of nature including inanimate effects like the weather and volcanoes. We can only explain things in terms that we are familiar with and primitive man was most familiar with his own psyche and the psyche of those he was close to. The idea that the universe is animated through conscious intention has fallen into disfavor in the light of scientific understanding. The laws of physics are nothing like the laws of the psyche.

Yet the idea remains alive in a more abstract form as suggested by Ray Kurzweil.

So we could say that the universe --``all that is''-- is indeed personal, is conscious in some way that we cannot fully comprehend. This is no more unreasonable an assumption or belief than believing that another person is conscious. Personally, I do feel this is the case. But this does not require me to go beyond the ``mere'' ``material'' world and its transcendent patterns. The world that is, is profound enough[11, p. 215].

Kurzweil sees a spiritual dimension to the evolution of consciousness without assuming anything beyond the material world.

Joseph Campbell has a similar sense of the universality of consciousness.

It is part of the Cartesian mode to think of consciousness as being something peculiar to the head, that the head is the organ originating consciousness. It isn't. The head is an organ that inflects consciousness in a certain direction or to a certain set of purposes. But there is consciousness here in the body. The whole living world is informed by consciousness.

I have a feeling that consciousness and energy are the same thing somehow. Where you really see life energy there is consciousness. Certainly the vegetable world is conscious. And when you live in the woods as I did as a kid, you can see all these different consciousnesses relating to themselves. There is a plant consciousness and there is an animal consciousness, and we share both these things. You eat certain foods, and the bile knows whether there's something to go to work on. The whole process is consciousness. Trying to interpret it in simply mechanistic terms won't work[5, p. 18].

Campbell is not saying that energy produces consciousness. He is saying that energy is consciousness and consciousness is energy. We know from relativity that all that exists physically is energy. Thus Campbell's view and the Totality Axiom lead in the same direction.

David Chalmers has proposed a tentative theory of consciousness based on information. In context Chalmer's information is almost a synonym for structure. Every structure contains information and and any structure can be fully described using information. After outlining his ideas he observes that information is ubiquitous. He does not shrink from the conclusion that experience must also be ubiquitous.

If this [experience is ubiquitous] is correct then experience is associated with even very simple systems. This idea is often regarded as outrageous, or even crazy. But I think it deserves a close examination. It is not so obvious to me that the idea is misguided, and in some ways it has a certain appeal[7, p. 293].

The Totality Axiom goes beyond panpsychism in denying any aspect of existence except immediate conscious experience. A conscious universe that reflects the structure of the physical world is all that is needed to explain what we know of internal and external reality. It is unclear what it would mean for a physical object devoid of immediate experience to exist. We can imagine such an object because we can imagine our immediate experience of it. But what does it mean for an object to exist if there is no experience of it? What is the reality, substance or essence of it?

The answers to ultimate questions like the nature of existence must be approached as we do the fundamental laws of physics. These laws cannot be derived from other assumptions. The best that can be done is to look for the simplest assumptions consistent with what is known. In physics this means developing simple mathematical models that agree with as wide a range of experimental observations as possible. In asking about the nature of existence the corresponding approach is to look for the simplest assumptions that can deal with both our scientific understanding of the physical universe and our internal conscious experience. The Totality Axiom meets this condition and it is hard to imagine how anything simpler could.

Physical structure and conscious experience are not different existential categories. They are how an individual perceives the world relative to their brain and body. They are important practical distinctions created by evolution. As one broadens ones sense of self these distinctions do not disappear, but their arbitrary relative nature becomes apparent.

Seeing the world in this way is more than a philosophical theory. It has practical testable implications. It implies that we can expand human consciousness by changing biological structures and by tightly integrating manufactured components to the human neural network. It implies that sufficiently advanced robots that claim to be conscious will be telling the truth. It implies that the Internet, as the nervous system of the planet, could evolve into a worldwide conscious sentient being that all humanity participates in.

The remainder of this paper focuses on the implications of the Totality Axiom for the evolution of consciousness. Many spiritual practitioners see this is a personal and internal journey mediated by discipline and spiritual practice. While such personal transformations are essential they are also limited. The processes that played the dominant rule in the evolution of consciousness is biological evolution. It has created beings capable of spiritual transformation.

Personal transformations of consciousness are limited by the biological structure of the brain. Personal spiritual practice must be supplemented by a spiritual approach to the evolution of physical structure and thus consciousness. This requires science and technology. The future evolution of consciousness on this planet will come less through the random mutations of biologic evolution and more through the conscious intentions of sentient beings using the tools of technology. There is no reason to think that the evolution of conscious is near or even has an end. The realization of that unlimited potential requires the development of science, technology and an objective spirituality with the depth to guide us in this greatest of human challenges.

This is a time of great opportunity and enormous risk. Consciously controlling evolution requires an understanding of the boundary conditions that permit unlimited creativity. Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem is essential for understanding these boundary conditions, as explained in the next section. This application of Gödel's result is an illustration of the power of an objective spirituality. The Totality Axiom allows mathematics to be applied to the most challenging of spiritual questions.


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