The world we live in is driven by narratives. In earlier times they were called myths. The original meaning of “myth” was a story that, while not entirely factual, contained truth.
One of the narratives central to western civilization is scientific materialism, which takes matter to be primary, i.e., to come first. Materialism begins its narrative with infinite nothingness into which matter suddenly explodes, a.k.a. the Big Bang. The physicist Stephen Hawking was once asked how the Big Bang came to be. He replied, “Spontaneous creation from nothing.”
There is an alternative narrative in western thought that is not as well known, though perhaps it should be. I’ll call it the Great Illusion. The Great Illusion is based on the philosophy of idealism and takes consciousness to be primary, i.e., to come first. One advantage of the Great Illusion over the Big Bang is that it offers a purpose for the universe that can provide an ultimate meaning for life. To answer the question, “How did the Great Illusion come to be and what are its implications?” will now be addressed and is based in part on the book Rationalist Spirituality by philosopher Bernardo Kastrup a proponent of analytic idealism.
In the beginning, there was only timeless and unbound Consciousness imbued with intelligence, curiosity, potential and creativity. For those with a scientific frame of mind and also familiar with the work of the quantum physicist David Bohm — think of the Super Implicate Order. I will hence forth simply refer to this Primordial Consciousness as Source. Some might call it “God” who is believed to be perfect and complete. However, if God is perfect and complete, the universe God allegedly created would be static and unchanging. It is not possible to add to perfection and completeness. However, the universe is dynamic and in flux.
Source was inherently curious about its nature and its potential. However, being a unity of all that is, self-exploration was no more possible for Source than for an eye to examine itself. The best way for an eye to examine itself is with a mirror. Thus, Source set about creating a mirror capable of reflecting its potential. Using its inherent creativity, Source imagined a myriad of possibilities for this mirror and settled upon a self-evolving image (virtual reality). Through intention, Source initiated a self-evolving universe where its potential could unfold and reveal itself. And, the Great Illusion came to be. For those familiar with David Bohm’s work, setting into motion the self-evolving image can be thought of as the Implicate Order and the physical universe as what David Bohm called the Explicate Order or the unfolding of the Implicate Order.
One requirement inherent in Source’s intention was for vehicles capable of sustaining a degree of consciousness and with enough diversity to make experience possible. The vehicle that evolved were life forms. The contrast was duality, which the physicist Neils Bohr called complementarity. For example, no hot and cold then no gradient of temperature or experience of temperature. Another requirement was for a causal framework to make possible the interaction between life forms and between life forms and the physical universe. We call this framework space and time, which the physicist Albert Einstein called spacetime. Source itself is nonlocal, which means it does not exist within spacetime but rather spacetime exist within the mirror or virtual reality initiated by Source.
As the evolution of the universe progressed it began to resemble what we see today. At some point in this evolution, the conditions became ripe for the emergence of life. As life began its evolution, nervous systems were able to embody and carry a portion of Source. As life became more and more complex its capacity as a carrier for Source expanded accordingly.
Thus, individuated life forms capable of receiving and sustaining a transmission of consciousness from Source became part of the Great Illusion. The transmission received was filtered down to an appropriate degree by the relative sophistication of a life form’s nervous system. The more sophisticated the nervous system the greater the degree of consciousness received.
At some point in this evolution, the degree of consciousness received was sufficient for self-awareness to emerge. Self-awareness greatly expanded the range of experiences possible. The last known expansion was the capacity for self-reflection or meta-cognition. This latter ability allows for reflection upon abstract representations; e.g., thinking about how a past experience is relevant to a current situation or thinking about your thinking processes. The increasing variety and complexity of experience was enfolded into Source to stimulate its evolution toward completeness.
A carrier of consciousness has a degree of autonomy in its collection of experience. The more complex the nervous system the greater the autonomy. With autonomy comes choices and the more choices the greater the amount of information created for the life form and for Source. The relationship between choice and information is found in the Information Theory of Claude Shannon.
One implication of the Great Illusion is that, as a self-evolving system with autonomous actors that can make choices, the necessary richness of experience required for the evolution of Source is likely. Given that autonomy and choice exist within the Great Illusion, it is unlikely that Source would intervene in the affairs of the world. To do so would reduce the range of choice and information produced by living forms, which would diminish the experiences available to Source. Another implication is that what we call good and evil should be seen as the outcome of choices made by relatively autonomous individuals and groups. Good and evil are a complementary pair, which makes possible a range of experience between the polarities.
It also appears that there is an ongoing natural tendency for each individual consciousness to be exposed to experiences that include what it needs to acquire insight. The choices that you make influence subsequent experiences that the evolving universe will, in time, bring to you. This happens because the enfolding of information from choices, experiences and insights into Source influences the Implicate Order. This feedback affects the unfolding of possibilities into physicality or the Explicate Order. Possibilities that unfold don’t have to be useful or even positive. They simply have to provide the opportunity for insight, which in turn contributes to the evolution of the individual’s consciousness and of Source.
Choices that we make can facilitate or interfere with insight. Acts that interfere with the progress of others are likely to impede your own progress. Feedback from such choices may be experienced as pain and suffering. Feedback that is facilitative will often result in greater clarity and understanding, including at times insight. All beings, whether they know it or not, are contributing to the same universal goal, that is, to both the evolution of personal consciousness and of Source. This implies that we need to always be mindful of the choices we make in life.
The experiences of many people across time suggest that access to Source can occur. Such access occurs to varying degrees for different individuals and is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon. Sometimes this appears to happen without any obvious antecedents and sometimes it seems to be the product of following practices set out by various spiritual traditions as helpful.
What are the implications of the Great Illusion for death?
1. Nothing essential is lost with the death of the body/mind.
2. You are just a collection of experiences that are preserved in Source.
3. With the death of the vehicle your consciousness will be enfolded back into Source just as it was unfolded into physicality with your birth.
4. The illusion of individuality and physicality will dissolve.
5. But, no one truly dies or is lost to others Kastrup leaves us with two questions:
1. Is it possible that practices developed by various spiritual traditions can help facilitate access to Source Consciousness?
2. Can you break away from your preconceptions and allow yourself more latitude to investigate spiritual ideas?