by David M. Petersen
I believe strongly that, within our universe, a conscious individual's positive and negative internal mental experiences during the course of his or her lifespan add up to zero over the total of his or her lifespan. In other words, an individual has any combination of degree or number of experiences on either side of positive or negative within the span of their life, but the end "sum" will balance to zero. Zero of course, represents true nothing (not a void with a clock ticking, but actual nothing).
I'm not talking about the external facts and circumstances that impact on an individual's life which could be judged somehow to be positive or negative, I'm talking about zero from the individual's own internal evaluation; if this could possibly be done, and of course whether or not it is done. In other words, not that your dog died, but how you felt when your dog died (maybe you were relieved). I will try to make a watertight case to this effect, although unfortunately I believe that this assertion would be impossible to actually prove at this point. This argument is based on the belief that since we are contained within a universe made up of myriad weavings of what ultimately is just positive or negative energy, or in other words, energies on either side of nothing, positive and negative conscious experiences can and should be seen as (admittedly elaborate) forms of positive and negative energy. At the very least they should be seen as two sides of the same coin (call them what you will) around nothing.
I am not a physicist, but it seems to me that our universe gives every indication of being a physical energy system that is extremely balanced no matter which way you "slice it", so to speak. There are exactly as many positive particles as negative particles, the universe displays no 'angular momentum' which I understand would indicate a overall positive charge, the energy between the mass and gravitational pull of all stellar bodies equals zero, the overall charge of the atom equals zero, the same for the molecule, etc.
It seems to me that biological organisms must also fluctuate around zero to survive and reproduce. For example, an organism must take in and eliminate organic matter in the process of constantly replacing every cell in it's body. If an organism doesn't get enough of the nutrients and proteins it needs to survive, it's potential lifespan is shortened. If it takes in to much of these, it's potential lifespan is also shortened (obesity). I would argue that it's potential lifespan is shortened in exact proportion to the amount of over-intake, although this would of course be nearly impossible to prove. Additionally, an organism's chief responsibility besides survival is to reproduce, and the female must consume enough organic energy to maintain herself and also to provide for the growing fetus. If enough organic material is not available, one or the other may die. I believe these examples only begin to illustrate that there is an overall mathematical relationship here between intake and potential survival time that shows how biology is fundamentally balanced around zero. In light of this seeming progression of organization around nothing, it seems silly to think that the obvious next phenomenon in line from biology, consciousness, does not also fluctuate around zero.
The next question here would be "how does consciousness work at all"? (And possibly, "how do you presume to know how consciousness works"?!) I believe that consciousness does not reside within the various elements involved in its biological 'interface', such as neurons, electrical impulses, chemical transmitters etc., but rather resonates from these into it's very own entity of energy, so to speak. Or in other words, vibrates into existence in sympathy from these organic mechanisms. This entity remains directly connected to and influenced by (as well as being able to influence) these biological building blocks that allow it to exist. It quite simply creates it's own physical space, being just another "design" of energy more finely designed than the previous one it is still deeply connected to, the brain, and existing along with the brain in the same manifold of energy we call the universe.
A similar phenomenon might be the way that quantum systems are thought to resonate into existence from far smaller one dimensional entities known as strings, as put forth within a scientific hypothesis in physics known as string theory. So where is this space in which your awareness resides? It merely resides 'within' or 'as' your own internal mental landscape that you visit every day, which in turn resides within the total energy system that is our universe. And so, consciousness, a phenomenon whose internal mental experiences are being directly influenced by these biological mechanisms as well as (much less so) by external events, is being somehow regulated to exist around zero by these same biological mechanisms and external events, and is influencing these things in turn. So how does the brain 'mechanically' generate consciousness to exist around nothing? I'm not foolish enough to claim to know exactly how this mechanism works, only that I believe strongly that this process, or something very much like it, must be happening.
Now, it seems to me that the combination of genetics and external events that result in a lifetime of conscious experiences on average tend to follow a fairly typical shape day to day. This shape is characterized by a fluctuation that sticks fairly close to zero during a period of probably one to three days to a week for most people. You know, the ups and downs of life as we all know it. This balance would seem to be maintained by dreams. It has been shown in current dream research by Dr. Rosalind Cartwright, Ph.D. that an individual's dreams are a mechanism that balance his or her overall state of mind. In other words, people who experience an unpleasant day typically will wake up after a night of dreaming in a much better mood than when they went to sleep. This 'conscious life shape' probably should be considered the norm. Just for the record I believe that people with say, schizophrenia, have experiences (however wild) that balance around zero as well, and that this may or may not shed some light on this condition.
Another, more atypical, conscious life shape or group of shapes is characterized by wild fluctuations around zero and these would correspond to the so called affective disorders; most importantly, bipolar disorder or manic depression, and unipolar disorder, or just plain depression. It is easy to see how bipolar disorder, characterized by large positive and negative mood swings, is a fluctuation around zero, but in the case of unipolar disorder, I would argue that an individual with this condition is actually 'paying' for either past or future positive experiences by experiencing a prolonged series of mostly negative experiences.
The idea here is that any individual life could have any number of an almost infinite combination of the above described typical and atypical conscious life shapes. For example, a man has a severe bout with depression lasting two full years in his 20's and then enjoys a just slightly positive subsequent life well into his sixties. Or a woman lives into her 30's normally but slowly develops the pendulum mood swings of manic depression in her 40's. In both of these examples, the overall balance of these individuals' conscious experience of life equal zero, but the overall shape of each individuals' conscious life is radically different.
There is a song by Simon and Garfunkel entitled "Richard Cory," that is very revealing on the subject of consciousness around zero in a way that I think we can all instinctively recognize. The character conveying the story in the lyric hates his life of poverty and fervently wishes he could be Richard Cory, The rich good-looking man who owns the factory the narrator works in, and who has it all, wine, women, and song, so to speak. What a shock (but somehow we understand) at the end when we find out that Richard Cory has blown his brains out with a gun! Of course I believe that (the hypothetical?) Richard Cory's mental experiences totaled to zero at that moment, but the concept that I believe this song illustrates (and that many people have noticed in real life) is that no one is going through life with more total positive mental experiences than you are. In other words, no one is ever truly "happy;" meaning no one is constantly experiencing a stream of nothing but positive experiences, regardless of his or her circumstances.
Conversely, no one is necessarily experiencing a constant stream of purely negative experiences either. I point the reader to the book, Mans Search For Meaning, by Victor E. Frankl. This is an autobiographical account of living through and surviving a Nazi death camp, with emphasis placed not so much on a factual account of events, although it is of course factual, but more on the actual day to day inner mental experiences of Dr. Frankl himself. The most striking thing about this account of quite literally living through hell is the disparity between what one might picture this nightmare to be like, and the actual account of what it was like. The truth is Dr. Frankl continued to have a fairly balanced string of positive and negative experiences in spite of the unbelievably cruel conditions surrounding him! I quote from the book:
"As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before. Under their influence he sometimes even forgot his own frightful circumstances."
"Another time we were at work in a trench. The dawn was grey around us; grey was the sky above; grey the snow in the pale light of dawn; grey the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad, and grey their faces. I was again conversing silently with my wife, or perhaps I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying. In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard A victorious "Yes" in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate Purpose."
Dr Frankl's book is full of these kinds of examples.
This overall 'balancing' approach to understanding consciousness has some interesting repercussions when one starts to ask questions such as: What about people who die in fatal accidents or are murdered at the spur of the moment, etc.? The answer to this question would of course be that these people's conscious balance must have been zero at precisely the moment they died. This seems to me why plane crashes are so rare, because a whole plane full of people would have to be close enough to balance to zero at that moment, and whether they need a positive or negative experience would dictate their actual experience in their final moment. Most people on the plane might understandably feel terror, while one woman might feel unexplained exhilaration. This would illustrate a deep connection between things like the mechanics of the plane or the nature of the weather, and the conscious states of all of the people on board. This connection only seems beyond the bounds of belief when we view the universe as a bunch of separate disconnected systems and not as the completely physically interconnected entity that it is.
An overall idea that makes the above example much easier to understand is the four dimensional simultaneous universe paradigm. Also called block time, this view of the universe is based on hard science, specifically, the proven absolute relativity of time (General Relativity) and on things like Hermann Minkowsky's mathematics of four dimensional space. I believe that we only experience in three dimensions and what we call 'time', and actually, the past present and future of reality are simultaneous. Most people think that this means they are robots carrying out a perfectly choreographed dance into the future, but this is really an incorrect visualization of a simultaneous universe. In other words, chance is still a big part of the future, even if it is simultaneous with the past. Another possible argument against our awareness' balancing around zero in four dimensions is the idea that we are all completely unconscious every night. However, it has been shown that people dream throughout the night, even in slow wave sleep, which is the lowest level of brain wave activity possible during sleep.
I feel that the above work, while obviously not ultimately conclusive, should strongly suggest that a conscious individual's positive and negative internal mental experiences over the span of his or her lifetime really do add up to zero within our universe, and that the individual has any combination of degree or number of experiences on either side of positive or negative but the end sum will balance to zero. Additionally, this phenomenon is a direct result of our awareness' and the external events surrounding them both being parts of a vastly interwoven whole. I think that at the very least, this approach should be looked at thoroughly; having as it does powerful philosophical repercussions, which of course, deserve their own essays!
.RTF file of above essay
1.A Mood Apart, Depression, Mania, and Other Afflictions of the Self, Peter C. Whybrow, M.D., Basic Books, 1997.
2."Dreams", Jill Neimark, Psychology Today, July/August, 1998.
3.Relativity, The Special and the General Theory, Albert Einstein, Crown Publishing group, 1961.
4."Richard Cory", Paul Simon, Simon and Garfunkel Collected Works, CBS Records Inc, 1981.
5.Man's Search For Meaning, Victor E Frankl, Simon and Shuster, 1970.
More on Consciousness:
Statement on Consciousness (Version 2)
Statement on Consciousness (Version 1)
The likely evolutionary path of the human race:
The future of Man
The 21st century needs its own philosophy; here it is:
My entire body of work is archived Here forever, (http://wayback.archive.org/web/*/
http://philosophy.dmpetersen.net) except for some documents in my storage space.