Here is an interesting page from the Wikipedia about simulated reality. The question is, are we living in a simulated reality? And if we are, is there any way to tell that we are? The hypothesis in the article is based on the assumption that simulated people can be fully conscious. I disagree with that assumption -- I do not think consciousness can be simulated by a computer. Consciousness is not a formal information process -- or rather, there is no formal information process that is equivalent to consciousness. Consciousness is capable of self-awareness -- this is not something that a machine can ever experience. I've given a lot of thought to this subject over a period of 20 years of formally studying it first from the perspective of computer science, then neuroscience, then philosophy and cognitive science, and finally from the perspective of religion and spirituality. In the following essay I will summarize my position on this question, which is basically that awareness is a fundamental property of the universe and cannot be simulated or synthesized. Beware, my argument goes substantially beyond the limits of acceptable materialist science, and pretty much refutes many of the key ideas of materialist science, but nevertheless it is totally based on objective valid observation and logic. I am not really interested in debating with people, so I'm presenting this simply for those who are seriously interested in the question of what consciousness is and are willing to look at this issue with a totally open yet rational mind...
No amount of fancy programming can magically create self-awareness. Because even if a machine is wired up so as to be able to sense and react to its own state, nothing about that results in it having any inner experience of itself. A simple thought experiment that make this point clear is to start with a simple feedback loop. Clearly that isn't self-aware. Now make it a little more complex -- for example, add a nested loop, or a branching if-then statement to it. That isn't aware either. Now keep doing that, adding a little more logic and complexity each time.
None of these additions make the system aware. So at what point does it finally become aware? Does awareness just magically appear? That is a totally unscientific statement! On what basis can one make such a claim? What is the cause of awareness appearing at some special level of complexity for example? What exactly is it about "complexity" that causes awareness? And furthermore, if awareness does magically appear, is it the same as the machine or software, or is it something different. If it is the same -- in other words, if it is some special type of machine or programmatic structure -- then what exactly is that structure? If it is different from the machine or program, then how can it be caused by the machine or program? Either awareness is the same as the machine or different from machine. There is no other logical possibility, yet neither of these yields awareness! We cannot find any special type of machine or software program that "is" aware, nor can we find any such thing that causes a totally separate phenomena that we could call "Awareness." Since awareness is not the machine/program, nor is it caused to arise as something separate from the machine/program -- no awareness can arise in such a system.
Machines and software programs are simply physical measurement processing systems. They measure some source of information called "input" to produce some resulting information called "output." Simply enabling a machine to measure its own output is not equivalent to making that machine self-aware. There is a difference between being able to simply measure something and react and the phenomenon of consciousness. After all, a refrigerator can sense it's own temperature and react appropriately -- but we would not say it is conscious! Clearly consciousness is something more than the mere act of self-measurement. For example, a computer program can be created that takes its own output as input -- this is a type of self-measurement. But such a program isn't necessarily self-aware merely because it can measure and react to its output. For example, a program that iteratively draws a fractal does this -- but we wouldn't say the program "experiences itself," or "knows the fractal" that it draws.
There is a very important distinction between measurements and consciousness. These are two completely different phenomena. Measurements -- whether supplied via artificial sensors, or via the human sense organs, are just information -- measurements are not capable of being aware of anything, they are static, lifeless data. But what is able to actually perceive measurements, what is able to "know" measurements, to "experience" them? That is what we might call consciousness -- or more accurately, "awareness."
Awareness does not depend on measurements. This can be illustrated in the following manner. Imagine subtracting out all of your sensory inputs until you have none left. At what point does your consciousness cease? Consciousness does not depend on the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, or touch. Even without some or all of these there is still self-awareness isn't there? After all, a blind person is self-aware, so is a deaf person, a person who has lost sensation in part of their body, a person who cannot smell, a person who cannot taste. Likewise a person who is blind and deaf is self-aware. So is a person who is blind, deaf and numb, for example. Even if a person has absolutely no sensations at all, they can still have thoughts, for example. They can still have dreams. They can even hallucinate. But let's not stop there -- let's even remove all thoughts, all imaginary perceptions, all dreams, etc. Now what is left? It's not nothingness, there is still a bare wakefulness, a self-knowing quality that remains. No thought is required for this bare wakefulness to be present. It doesn't have any content per se, yet it is not a mere nothingness either. It is cognizance. This basic cognizance does not require a subject or an object, nor any particular content.
Even if all sensation and cognition are removed there is still a basic, naked consciousness in the mind. So can that be subtracted away by any particular action? What if we start removing parts of the body? Clearly the removal of a hand or a foot makes no difference; consciousness does not end. What if we keep removing organs and body parts until the body dies, until the brain dies? Does consciousness end at that point? This is a question that we cannot answer fully from our present perspective. However, there are certainly many interesting reports of so-called "near death experiences" in hospitals for example that suggest that consciousness may continue even after clinical brain death. So at what point does consciousness actually end? If the brain is clinically dead but a person can later wake up and recall events that took place in the operating room after they were supposedly "dead" -- then where is the scientific termination of consciousness? We really cannot answer this yet because when people finally die, we have no way of asking them if they are conscious anymore. But that doesn't mean that their mindstreams have actually ended. We really have no way of knowing if that happens.
Most of the world's great religions believe that the mind does not end at the point of death, but rather that it continues into some sort of afterlife or next life. Where does this belief come from? Is it totally unfounded, totally imaginary? In fact, it is not at all unfounded -- the claims of the various world religions are based on careful observation of the nature of the reality. These claims can be verified by anyone who wants to do so and who is willing to follow-through by correctly studying and practicing the methodologies of such systems. In other words, these claims are based on scientific observations of independently verifiable, repeatable facts of nature. According to such observations as are found at the highest levels of all great religions, consciousness is not what we think it is; it is not like anything else -- in fact, it is fundamental, not something that is created, changeable, or destroyed. Even more than that, if one keeps digging, one can discover that consciousness is totally beyond conceptual categories, beyond the universe itself, beyond any limitations of space and time, beyond the self, beyond form, beyond energy, beyond infinity. This means that consciousness cannot be "subtracted" -- it cannot be eliminated or destroyed. Nor can it be created or changed. It is utterly transcendental, beyond duality.
This isn't merely a mystical or philosophical belief that we are meant to take on faith, it is something that was meant to be observed and verified in a repeatable fashion by anyone who followed any of the many time-honored systems of investigation that we now call "Religions." The methodologies of these systems -- for example Buddhism, Hinduism, Taosim, Christian mysticism, Jewish Mysticism, Islamic Mysticism, Native American Mysticism, Aboriginal Mysticism, etc. -- start with intensive study, leading to philosophical inquiry and debate. Next, after reaching a sound understanding of the logical, epistemological, ontological and phenomenological aspects of the subject, one then begins formal scientific observation in the form of careful meditation on forms and on one's own mind using various methods of focus, as well as formal experiments via particular replicable procedures. These rigorous practices are not merely based on faith -- they are time-tested formulas that when applied in the correct way by correctly qualified people under the guidance of correctly qualified teachers, in the correct situation, will yield predictable, repeatable results. This is not the "new age" moosh that we commonly associate with spirituality today, it is rigorous natural science of the highest order -- the disciplined and intensive scientific investigation of the ultimate nature of reality itself, starting with forms, then the mind, and finally penetrating everything there is.
The basic problem with western science to date is that it does not accept that self-observation is objective. This is hypocritical -- if self-observation is not considered to be validly objective science, then why should observation of non-self be held to be any more objective? Either the mind is objective or it isn't. If scientists cannot objectively observe their own minds, how can they claim to be able to objectively observe anything else with their minds -- such as external things like the physical world, measuring instruments, etc?
Either you must hold that the mind is capable of objectivity or not. There is no other alternative. If it is, then this objectivity must also apply to observation of the mind by the mind. If you don't believe that the mind can make objective observations of itself, the it can't make objective observations of anything and thus the entire basis of materialist science is invalidated. Materialist scientists attempt to get around this issue with a clever trick: they claim that what makes science more objective than say, philosophy, psychology or religion for example, is that science is supposedly based on independently repeatable observations -- for example measurements and experiments that allegedly do not depend on any one person's opinion or beliefs. But the fact is, at the end of the day, all scientific measurements, observations and experiments take place in the perceptions -- the minds -- of particular scientists. So ultimately, science is nothing but individual scientists' personal observations of their own observations and those of others. It's nothing but a net of inter-referential observations; Observations about observations that in turn appeal to other observations. There's really nothing in science that is not an observation belonging to a particular person. So ultimately, where is the so-called "objectivity"? Where is there anything in science that does not depend on a particular person's perception? Science is ultimately just as subjective as anything else. It's just more rigorously subjective. Scientists are really closet subjectivists. They pretend to be objective and criticize everyone else as subjective, yet at heart they are secretly as or even more subjective. They think their form of subjectivity is "better" than everyone else's!
Ultimately "science" aspires to be the rigorous observation of reality via independently repeatable valid methodologies. Great spiritual/philosophical/religious traditions are also like this -- they are equally rigorous systems for observing reality via independently repeatable valid methodologies. However, not all religious systems are equally "objective" in this manner. To the extent that such a system is based on independently repeatable valid methodologies, it can be said to be an objective science; if such a system instead requires a total suspension of critical thinking and/or claims that only some people are capable of finding or holding the ultimate knowledge -- then it is not scientific.
Interestingly this sort of corruption isn't unique to religious cults, but also can be found in many so-called scientific schools of thought and communities. In fact, it is this kind of corruption that has caused mainstream materialist science to become entrenched in particular limited viewpoints to the absolute exclusion of anything else, anything that might be deemed, "unscientific." This is the plague of modern science. It was not always that way: the original scientists -- Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Isaac Newton -- did not confine their thinking or investigation to the external physical world; they were equally interested in scientifically exploring the inner dimensions of experience and the ultimate questions of God, life, the soul, etc. Whether or not they found the big Answer is not the point; the point is that they considered these questions to be perfectly valid subjects for science. Today however, any scientist who openly studies these subjects would be immediately ridiculed and branded as a nut by mainstream scientists. This is an unfortunate limitation of our present society and ultimately may prevent important scientific progress in certain areas such as quantum physics, neuroscience, biology, and even technology. But these are subjects for another essay.
Returning to where we left off, if one is not willing to allow for the possibility that consciousness does not end with the physical death of the body or begin with physical birth, there are other less controversial approaches that yield similar conclusions. For example, consider the question of where self-awareness is located. It might appear to be located in the mind or the brain. But where in there does it reside? So far brain surgeons have been unable to find any part of the brain that if removed yields a lack of consciousness. Sure, they can turn off short-term memory, or long-term memory; they can even cause blindness, or aphasias, etc. But even in those states the patient is still conscious on some level. Even in a coma there still remains some thread of consciousness, as is evidenced by reports of patients who have come out of long comas, for example. Even in deep sleep and during the process of dreaming there is consciousness. Even when under anesthesia there is still basic consciousness -- even if there is no perception or thought during that time.
The key point here is that consciousness is not synonymous with having thoughts, or having identity, or having perceptions for that matter -- it is rather something altogether different -- it is simply having awareness. In other words, consciousness cannot really be described in terms of "having something else" -- it is self-referential, it can only be described in terms of "having itself." Consciousness is self-conscious, that is its nature -- that is the definition of consciousness. Self-consciousness doesn't mean consciousness of a self or of a personality, it means basic awareness that recognizes that it is aware.
By this definition, consciousness does not require anything else to exist. In fact, it doesn't require any sensory data, or even thoughts. This can be verified in your own experience. First consider the following thought experiment: if you truly subtract out all sensory data, such that you no longer have any physical feelings or sensations at all -- nor any physical reference frame -- then what "body," "mind" or "brain" would there be to pin consciousness to?
In such a state, you cannot see or feel any part of the body. So at that point, you no longer have any sensation of having a body, a head, or of having a brain. In that state, there is still consciousness, so why would one assume that consciousness was "in" anything, let alone in something that could not even be detected like "the body," "the brain" or the "the head?" Wouldn't that be an unscientific assumption -- wouldn't it be unscientific to hold onto a belief in something that could not at all be verified by oneself? What would be the point in making such an assumption, and on what evidence could it be supported (from one's own perspective at that time)?
From a perfectly objective standpoint, in that state there would be no evidence to support a claim that consciousness had any location or form whatsoever. nor that it depended on anything else. In other words, once all sensory data is subtracted away, there is only "pure" consciousness -- which is like a vast open expanse of mind, an open cognitive space. This basic consciousness does not require anything else, it's nature is its own, it is not derived from anything else, not made of anything else, not in relation or reference to anything else. Nor does this nature have any particular characteristics of its own that can be identified or grasped as "existing," yet at the same time one cannot deny it or claim that it is "nonexistent," because there is a definite, unique phenomenon of "being" that is quite simply self-evident, self-consistent, self-knowing, self-referential.
According to materialist science, things like this -- self-referential things -- cannot exist, but that is a bit of a double standard in fact. Materialist science is actually founded on an unspoken belief that things like this CAN exist -- namely the fundamental properties of the universe. In materialist science the fundamental properties are assumed just like axioms -- they cannot be explained, they are not based on anything else. This is perfectly fine with most most scientists, who never bother to question the underlying assumptions that science is based on. But in fact, at the basis of materialist science there are just a bunch of assumptions that are held up as "self-existing."
Basic natural awareness is just like that -- however there is at least one important difference -- unlike the assumptions on which scientific materialist theories rely, awareness is something that we human beings can actually directly observe by ourselves. You cannot say that about fundamental particles for example! So in fact, there is nothing unscientific about positing that awareness is fundamental, especially given that it is possible for anyone to experience its fundamentalness directly in their own experience. The nature of awareness is impossible to describe because it is fundamental, but by analogy it could be compared to a space or a field in which appearances and thoughts arise and are simultaneously known. What are they known by? By the field itself. The background or medium, is what is knowing that which arises in it.
So it's not that "the medium is the message" it's that "The message is the medium" and "The medium knows the message." This basic, natural field of basic, fundamental, primordial awareness is capable of knowing -- that is its basic nature, its unique function. Knowing what? Just knowing! There doesn't have to be a "what" for knowing to take place. Knowing can be both the subject and the object of knowing, or rather in pure knowing there is no subject or object duality anymore. This is the critical realization that one must come to on their own, in their own direct experience. It is not merely a logical exercise. It can actually be verified in your own experience!
It is also important to note that the basic field of awareness is not a blank emptiness -- rather it has the potential for anything to arise in it. In fact, after subtracting out all external sensory data, it turns out that one can still "see" images, "hear" sounds, "feel" sensations, "taste" flavors, "smell" odors -- one does not have to use the physical sense organs to have these experiences. For example, when dreaming, it seems as if we are seeing things, but we aren't using our physical eyes at all. It seems as if we are hearing things, feeling things, etc., but we aren't using our real physical sense organs to experience these events. They are completely mental, completely imaginary. So in fact, all sensory experiences can arise within consciousness itself, without necessarily having any sense organs at all.
If awareness were only a blank emptiness, or a nothingness, then nothing could ever arise in it. The fact that we do have experiences, that all kinds of appearances arise in the field of consciousness, proves that consciousness is not a mere blankness or vacuity. In fact, awareness is really beyond the distinction of being totally blank or totally full -- just like space is. Space is capable of being both empty and full at the same time. Awareness is exactly like that -- it can contain anything at all, yet still be totally untarnished, totally beyond whatever appears. An analogy for this is a movie -- no matter what is projected on the screen, the screen is still white in its true nature. The appearance of the movie and the whiteness of the screen are not mutually exclusive, they can both be true at the same time. In fact, if the screen was not white, the movie could not appear. So in a certain way, the fact that awareness has no particular form is essential to the appearance of forms within awareness. The appearance of forms is not exactly the same as awareness just as the appearance of a movie is not exactly the same as the movie screen -- but at the same time the appearances depend on the screen, they can't appear without it. The screen however doesn't depend on the appearances. Similarly everything depends on awareness, but ultimately awareness doesn't really depend on anything else. It's primordial, it has no origin, no cause.
Given the above, there is no logical reason to assume that awareness is taking place "inside" of our brain, mind, body or anything else for that matter. Awareness has no particular form, no size, no shape, no color, no substance, no energy, no dimensions -- so how can we say it has a location or can be contained by anything?
If awareness has no location, then how can we say that it is anywhere? Or that it isn't anywhere? And in that case, how do we know that awareness is "inside" the universe, rather than the opposite? Maybe the universe is actually "inside" of awareness? In our previous thought-experiment, we arrived at a level in which there are no external sensations yet awareness is still present. Furthermore, as we know from dreaming, even without using the external sense organs the mind can experience any sensation as if it were a real "external" and "physical" sensation. So the question is, given that the mind can do this, how can we tell whether or not what appear to be our present physical, external sensations are actually existing in the way that they appear? How can we be certain they are any different from mental-hallucinations or dreams? How can we be certain that what is appearing isn't simply a dream or hallucination taking place in the field of awareness?
In fact, to be perfectly honest and objective, we really can't be sure! Given that this is the case, is it really that logical to assume that consciousness is "inside" the brain? Wouldn't it actually be more scientific, more objective, to start with the assumption that everything is "inside" consciousness? After all, we have never actually experienced anything that did not take place within the field of our own consciousness, nor can we even imagine that. Nobody has, or ever will, experience anything in a truly "objective" manner -- at least not if "objective" means "without using their consciousness." Western materialist scientists have formed a belief that by generating a number of independent measurements, the biases of individual subjective perspectives can be eliminated -- but that doesn't prove that there really is anything external to or seperate from consciousness, it only proves that the consensus reality that various consciousnesses experience is similar in certain respects. So the whole assumption that there really is an objective external world is totally unsupported and unprovable; a mere belief that we project onto experience.
But we have to be careful at this point: it is easy to fall into the mistaken view of solipsism -- the view that because there is nothing separate from the mind, everything is necessarily internal or "in one's own mind." Solipsism is the philosophical view that all things are really just inside of oneself, or just a projection of oneself; that there is nothing other than one's own self; that "I am all there is," that all beings are just existing inside of "my" own mind; that it's all just my own dream or hallucination, etc. A variation on solipsism is monism -- the belief that there is only one ultimate Self -- one godlike ultimate being of which all apparent individual selves come from, are contained in, and/or will ultimately return to.
These views are all based on the conception of a self of some sort. This conception is actually a belief that springs from the assumption that because there is experience there must be some "self" experiencing it. To posit a self leads to either the belief in an ultimate being or homonculous, or an inifinite regress of selves. But in fact, this belief is not founded on anything, it's just an assumption so we don't have to worry about refuting those conclusions. Why does there have to be a self just because there is experience? On what is that requirement based? It's totally arbitrary!
Another approach -- the one taken by Buddhism for example -- is to try to define exactly what a "self" would have to be like if it really existed, and then try to find it. If it can't be found then it must not exist. If a truly-existing self existed, then it would have to be something findable, fundamental, immutable, etc. But no such thing can be found that meets those requirements. We only find the absence of a findable, fundamental, immutable, "self." Alternatively, one can simply focus attention directly on one's own "sense of self-hood" or "sense of me or I" and try to identify just what exactly it is, where it is located, where it comes from, what it looks like, etc. -- eventually one comes to the conclusion that in fact the self is just an idea -- that there is really nothing objectively in the field of inner or outer experience that can be found to be the final, uniquely identifiable, constant, actual self. The harder we look, the more it just dissolves into emtpy space. And if we can't find a unique self, then how can we say that some things are self and other things are not? We have a deep unquestioned habit of pinning the labels "self" or "not self" on various things -- mostly on vague collections of experiences and thoughts -- but there isn't actually something there, it's totally in our own imagination!
So the concepts of self or not-self, just like any form of sensory input or mental conception are nothing more than mental objects, mere beliefs with no basis in reality; there is no way to prove that they have any objective or independent existence. Because all experiences are mediated by the mind, we can extend this reasoning to everything that is experienced -- whether "internal" or "external." We can even apply this reasoning to what we may think is our own experience of consciousness or awareness. Anything that we are able to conceptualize or frame as "ultimately real" is nothing more than a mental object. So even our own concept of what consciousness is, is just another idea, not actual consciousness itself. So the question is then, is there really a phenomenon of consciousness at all, or is that just an illusion?
Is there an ultimate truth or not? Is there an end to illusion? Is there anything to rely on finally? The answer to this is that any concept we may have about consciousness is just another illusion, but the actual nature of consciousness is not an illusion. However, becase the mind is only capable of conceptualizing illusions (concepts are by nature illusory and temporary mental phenomena) it is not possible to conceptualize consciousness. That is to say that the actual nature of consciousness cannot be represented by any set of concepts. This is like saying that the taste of chocolate cannot be truly explained to someone who has never tasted chocolate for themselves. No amount of words is equivalent to the actual experience of tasting chocolate. The same is true for the actual experience of consciousness. We all know it, but nobody can really describe it, and no set of words really conveys what it is actually like. At best they simply point in the general direction; they help us see what we already know. But unless you actually know something already, no words will convey its nature.
Here we have to make a critical leap: we must be able to differentiate between the mind and the nature of mind. The mind is a mass of conceptual constructs, sensory impressions, cognitive processes, memories, etc. The nature of the mind is the basic awareness that is able to know the mind; it is the space or stream in which the mind flows -- the source or knower of it all. This basic "source" or "knower" is not of the same ontological category as that which is "projected" or "known." A good analogy is interstellar space. Interstellar space is the field in which the universe appears. But it itself is never seen or touched by anyone -- nor can it even be directly measured. Space is totally invisible, totally non-impeding, totally vast, totally formless. Yet it is real; nobody would deny the existence of space, even though it has never been seen or actually directly measured by anyone.
The nature of the mind -- whether you call it consciousness or awareness -- is just like space -- it is totally invisible, totally untouchable, totally formless. However there is one key difference between empty space and the nature of the mind. The nature of the mind is awake. It is self-aware. It is aware of whatever appearances arise within it, whether "inner" appearances like feelings, thoughts and memories, or so-called "external" or "outer" appearances such as visual and auditory sensations. The self-awareness quality of the mind and the other-aware quality of the mind are not really separate; they are the same thing -- any division that seems to be there, any duality, is just a conceptual imputation, not actually inherent in the mind's nature itself. Awareness is simply a boundless field of knowing -- it knows its own "knowingness" as well as whatever arises to it. Furthermore, whatever appearances or experiences arise, they are really not separate from awareness, just as the forms that appear in a dream are not really separate from the mind that is dreaming them. Yet we can say they are distinct -- even though they are not truly separate things at a deep level. An analogy for this is liquid water and ice. We can say they are distinct, even though they have the same nature.
When this is seen clearly, the apparition of selfhood becomes suddenly transparent. It doesn't mean that one no longer is able to function as if there is a self, or that one becomes a selfless idiot or zombie. Rather it means that the concept of self is relegated to its proper place -- instead of being viewed as the center or king of everything, it is suddenly viewed as just another illusory peripheral mental experience, no different or more important than any thought or dream. The self is certainly a useful concept -- it makes it possible to function as a person in society. But it's not the ultimate truth, nor is it even fundamental to what we really are. The concept of self, just like any form of sensory input or mental conception is nothing more than a mental object; there is no way to prove that it has any foundation in "reality" or any objective or independent existence.
Because all experiences are mediated by the mind, we can extend this reasoning to everything that is experienced -- whether "internal" or "external." We can even apply this reasoning to what we may think is our own experience of consciousness. Anything that we are able to conceptualize or frame is nothing more than a mental object. So even our own concept of what consciousness is, is just another idea, not consciousness itself. So the question is then, is there really a phenomenon of consciousness at all, or is that just an illusion? The answer to this is that any concept we may have about consciousness is just another illusion, but the actual nature of consciousness is not an illusion.
So to summarize where we are at this point: We have established that all appearances are indistinguishable from mind. Therefore there is no way to establish that any apparently external or internal phenomenon exists independently of the mind. We have also established that there is a relative distinction between the mind and the nature of the mind, such that whatever appears to the mind is conceptual, whereas the nature of mind is non-conceptual. We have further shown that ultimately mind and the nature of mind are unified: that whatever appears to the mind is not separate from the non-conceptual field of awareness that is mind's ultimate nature.
On the basis of these points we can refute any claims of solipsism or monism -- therefore the self is nothing special, nor is everything just "One mind" since there is nothing that can actually be found or grasped as "Mind" -- mind is completely empty, completely without any content, form, location, identity, substance, existence, etc. So there cannot be "one" of it, nor can anyone claim to own it, find it, know it, or possess it. Similarly, we can refute any claims of multiplicity -- there is no way to establish the existence of "other" minds, many minds, etc. Nor is there any way to establish that there is anything beyond mind, nor just a mere "nothingness" or absence or nonexistence of mind or awareness. Nor can any sort of an "Ultimate Mind" beyond any of the aforementioned possibilities be established -- there is no "truly existing" mind to be found anywhere at all -- mind is not some special "thing" -- it is not any type of thing. Nor is it nothing. None of these possibilities can be established. All of them can be refuted on logical grounds, as well as on the basis of our own experience.
Where does this leave us? It leaves us at a point beyond conceptual thought. There is nowhere else to go beyond this point -- this is it. This is the highest view, the view that completely transcends philosophy, the view that completely transcends all views. This is a point from which whatever is observed is observed with perfect objectivity because there is no concept of an observer, act of observation or object being observed -- there is no further imposition of conceptuality onto experience. From this position of having no position, the nature of the mind can be seen directly and nakedly as it is, as opposed to being seen through our usual filters: because there are no filters operating. What is the nature of mind like in this "pure" aspect apart from any conceptual taints? It could be described as clear, luminous naked awareness, a bare wisdom or knowing that is totally free from any conceptuality, perception, form, or limitations. It could be described as being perfectly open and pure. It could be described as spontaneous, free, lucid and spacious. When stripped of all conceptuality, awareness is totally vast -- like space -- only unlike space, it's awake.
It is critical at this point to make sure that one does not reify awareness into some sort of ultimately existing thing. If awareness is grasped as any type of "thing" at all, that is not really awareness but rather it is just a concept about awareness. Actual awareness is empty of "awareness." Actual awareness is empty of everything. But it is not nothingness either. The correct view of awareness is completely beyond any conceptual extremes, completely beyond all logical possibilities -- so beyond in fact that it is not exclusive of any particular possibility, yet never stuck in any possibility either. Only a view that is this free, this mature, can be said to have arrived at a correct understanding.
This is not some exotic, special state that is inaccessible to ordinary mortals; not something that must be cultivated through arduous training and esoteric practices, not something that is only for an elite: it's the basic nature of our own minds -- it's always been there, it's never changed, it never will change -- it's just our own self-awareness! As the Buddhists like to say, it's "so close you don't see it," it's closer than close. It's so familiar we don't think it's special. We simply never noticed how profound and unusual awareness was until now. When we realize that it's completely unexplainable, completely beyond conception, completely indescribably, completely unlimited, completely perfect, completely vast -- well, to put it simply, that's cosmic! It's totally simple -- not some big mind-blowing realization, not an out of body experience -- there are no choirs of angels singing, no massive energy rushes or huge breakthroughs. It's completely simple, gentle, basic. Nothing changes. Nothing stays the same either. Nothing is actually seen that wasn't already there. It's just suddenly recognized for what it is instead of completely taken for granted and ignored.
It's not difficult to recognize awareness, the nature of mind, rather it's difficult to recognize it purely, that is, without imposing any conceptuality on it. Real awareness is beyond beliefs. In order to actually experience the nature of the mind directly and purely -- without using indirect inferential logic or concepts -- one has to focus very precisely on one's own self-awareness. Eventually when the "self" aspect of self-awareness is finally seen to be the conceptual illusion that it is, all that remains is just "awareness." Next, by focusing on that bare concept of "awareness" -- of someone knowing, or something to be known, or just knowing -- even that eventually dissolves, leaving only the actual direct, naked realization of awareness just as it is. This is pre-conceptual naked presence, the basic "background" of the mind, the basic "space" of the universe. The meta-reality beyond space-time, beyond personality, beyond the mind. This is inconceivable awareness -- a basic reality that is ultimately fundamental and totally empty -- and therefore cannot be seen, found, lost, grasped, established, refuted, or known in terms of anything else.
This awareness is highly refined, yet totally ordinary too. It's not any more or less pure than it ever was, but suddenly it is seen as perfectly pure and amazing. That's everyone's real nature -- the real essence of the mind -- the actual nature of consciousness! It's also the nature of everything that arises to consciousness! Nothing is separate from that! But it's distinct from everything -- totally unique -- To understand this correctly requires intense training, precision, focus and stamina: one has to be able to really look carefully, and split philosophical and experiential hairs with great attention to detail. And one has to actually take the time to look at one's own mind and experience and analyze and question, until a satisfactory conclusion is finally and actually reached. This requires great dedication and drive; it's easy to give up along the way and cling to some limited conception of what mind and/or awareness are. Only really sincere people who are absolutely dedicated to finding the truth -- and who are totally committed to being as objective and scientific as possible, no matter what ideas must be given up -- can break through to the actual nature of mind, a direct, unmediated realization of naked awareness. When this state is realized directly there will no longer be any doubt about it. Furthermore it will not require any effort to realize it after that, nor will one be confused by apparent dualities anymore.
It should also be noted that reaching this state is nothing special, nothing to be proud of, and just because one may have realized it doesn't solve life's many problems or make one better than other people. In fact, this recognition is just the beginning of the spiritual path, not the end. Until one has had this realization they are not authentically spiritual. Once one has had this realization they have finally "seen the light," so to speak. But merely "seeing the light" doesn't make one some kind of Buddha, or guru, or teacher, or special person. To think so would be a grave error and could result in all kinds of problems. That's why humility is so important in all religions. Humility is an insurance policy on the spiritual path -- it protects you from yourself, from your own ego and delusions. Ultimately, humility is a gateway to authentic realization -- because true humility is selflessness and perfect selflessness is the pre-requisite for the highest levels of realization.
At the same time, one should not discount the importance of breaking through to an actual direct realization of the nature of mind: it is a great accomplishment, a great mental achievement, to finally cut through the mass of conceptual confusion in the world and arrive at an experience of the meta-reality underlying it all. This is a discovery that is greater than any other. It is simultaneously the peak of science, philosophy and religion. No worldly discovery or achievement is as profound.
Yet at the same time, when one reaches this point, one realizes that there is really nothing to realize! It's not that it's nothingness -- that is not correct -- it's that what is recognized is not something special, not a "thing" at all -- nor is the one who has realized it special by having realized it. After all, it's just the nature of everything -- we were foolish for not realizing it before. Now that it's realized we are not especially brilliant, we're just ordinary people. All sentient beings have the nature of mind -- awareness -- equally and they all have the capacity to recognize it. Intelligence is not required. Education is not required. Even language is not required. Age has nothing to do with it. Health doesn't make a difference either. Awareness is completely beyond the mind, completely beyond the world -- nothing affects it at all. All sentient beings have it -- not just humans. It's the very nature of what it means to be sentient. So it's always there, always accessible, all the time, equally, in every living being.
The only difference between a so called "realized" being and one who is "confused" is simply the extent to which they recognize their own awareness. In fact, when awareness is fully recognized, the concept of oneself as an individual begins to dissolve and weaken until eventually, if one is really dedicated, it vanishes completely. Likewise the concept of "other" also dissolves. At that point, one is completely beyond concepts of self and other, so there is nothing to pin a feeling of ego or specialness on anymore. There is also no attachment to a concept of "realization" or "non-realization" anymore, nor any idea of "one" or "many," "conceptual" or "non-conceptual," or any other duality. At that point there is no more "Realization" or "Awareness" to deify and grasp, no distinction between "holy" and "ordinary," no "Emptiness," no "Enlightenment," no "non-enlightenment." That is when we can say a person has "Gone Beyond."
Such a being who is completely beyond conceptuality has no ego and no mind anymore -- they are completely free -- completely at rest in the basic nature of reality -- no longer distracted, no longer confused, no longer of the world, not beyond the world either. In that state it turns out that people are naturally compassionate, naturally virtuous, naturally kind and good. Such behavior doesn't flow from any sort of conceptuality, it is totally spontaneous -- it just happens, that is how the basic nature is. In other words, the basic nature of reality is naturally loving and warm. In fact, it has many other good qualities -- all good qualities. And to the extent that a person is able to immerse themselves in their natural state, these qualities will naturally shine forth. When they are completely unveiled, that is what is called "Full Enlightenment" -- the total perfection of the human potential, the total completion of the individual evolutionary process. Such a being is incapable of selfishness, incapable of harming others, incapable of any form of evil. This is a totally positive worldview -- a view with profound hope and opportunity for complete freedom, happiness and perfection for every being. This is the real heart and purpose of all the great religions. It is also what is missing from materialist science and modern societies. So long as we continue to focus only on the physical world, to the exclusion of the other half of reality -- the so-called "inside" -- we will be lost, confused, and out of equilibrium as individuals and as a civilization.
All of this brings me back to my point about whether or not it is possible to synthesize consciousness in a machine. Ultimately, this is the Big Question -- if it is possible, then things like artificial intelligence are possible and the universe may well be a computer simulation; if it isn't possible then artificial intelligence will always be artificial and it is not possible to simulate our universe with a computer. From my discussion above I claim that consciousness -- or rather what I prefer to label as "awareness" -- is actually the fundamental nature of reality itself. It is the medium, not the message. Creating artificial intelligence that is truly aware, or perfectly simulating the universe in a computer, are impossible because awareness is not "in" the universe, rather the universe is "in" awareness. Awareness is not a phenomenon that emerges or is created by anything physical, rather whatever emerges or exists physically is actually taking place within the field of awareness. Everything is the opposite of how it is commonly understood. This is the real Matrix. But it's not a computer at all.
Computers and software programs are just primitive information processes. They are just dumb machines. They are totally incapable of generating real awareness. Awareness is not a physical thing, not a type of information, not the state of a machine. Awareness cannot be simulated, created or, for that matter, changed or destroyed by anything. It's fundamental, like space. So then how is it that we individual humans are aware? The answer is that awareness is not "in" us, rather we are appearing "in" awareness. This is just like a dream in which we mistakenly identify with a character in the dream rather than with the dreamer who is having the dream. Awareness projects bodies of various animals such as humans, that appear to be aware, but the awareness is not actually in those bodies -- rather those bodies are in awareness. The next logical question is why are things appearing this way? That is a subject for another essay.