Late one afternoon, a friend came to visit at the retirement center. He’s a brainy fellow so our conversations often wander into curious places. At one point, I recall saying I thought human consciousness might be one way the universe keeps track of itself. I’d meant it as a humorous remark, but my friend added his observation to the mix. And so, we glided off into mystical realms as easily as if we were punting on The River Cam.
Parting with him, later, I returned to my computer to review an article I’d saved about human consciousness. Scientific American It discussed dissociative identity disorder (DID) and its near cousin, multiple personality disorder.
With DID, a person may have many personalities but be unaware of the others. Each identity is distinct, with different capabilities and/or handicaps. In one instance, a woman with perfect vision had an extension of herself who was blind. Multiple personalities, on the other hand, permit the various inhabitants of the same body to be aware of some or all of its alters.
Strangely, these two afflictions have provided scientists with a paradigm for how the universe might work. Simply put, they posit a conscious dimension, similar to time and space, that might link the physical universe. Levels of that consciousness may vary among the parts, but all matter might be communal in the same way a single wave is an extension of the ocean.
If the paradigm is true, the next question is, how does human thought connect us to the world outside ourselves? How does looking down upon the Grand Canyon lead to a sense of pleasure? Scientists see questions like these as part of the “combination problem.” They ask, “If a universal consciousness exists, how does it become cohesive if it is composed of an almost infinite number of parts?”
At the moment, there is no answer to this question. But DID suggests it is possible for us to see ourselves as distinct creatures and yet be held together by a universal awareness. In fact, an ordered universe may require universal awareness. Is that awareness God? Probably not in a biblical sense.
Even so, I wonder that we mortals plod along each day, clinging to the surface of a spinning planet, with so much self-assurance. Being conscious of only a part of ourselves and even less of this universe, wouldn’t it be prudent to listen, rather than argue, with those who think differently from ourselves? Wouldn’t an awareness of multiple points of view make us more complete?
(Originally published 8/21/18)