The Soul, Consciousness, and the Nature of Reality
In last week’s podcast, we started talking about the soul. We saw that the soul is the spiritual part of a person, and that it exists independently of the physical body, so that when the body dies, the soul continues to exist. We saw that the soul is responsible for our individuality; it is what makes each one of us a unique individual. It’s what makes us conscious—gives us awareness that we exist and awareness of what is going on around us. The soul is basically the part of us that is alive.
But what is life? Life basically is our awareness, our awareness that we exist, our awareness of what is going on around us, and our ability, in one way or another, to react to our environment, what’s going on around us. And so really, when we talk about the soul, what we’re really talking about is our awareness, our consciousness.
That’s what I’d like for us to talk about today—our awareness, our consciousness. But we’ll begin by talking about something seemingly unrelated—modern science.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, science was in a hey-day. It seemed like science had all the answers and could explain everything.
Back when I was in grammar school, in the mid-1960’s, we were taught about atoms. We were told that an atom is made of three kinds of particles—protons, neutrons, and electrons. These protons, neutrons, and electrons were little tiny round things. No one knew what they were made of, but whatever it was, it was very hard, so hard that it couldn’t be broken apart. In fact, we were told that those tiny little particles were the smallest things that existed, and that everything was made up of them.
Now, it’s not that anyone had ever seen these atoms. They hadn’t. They were too small for anyone to see. Their existence was inferred by interpretations of things science had noticed and could measure, but we were assured that although no one had actually seen one, they’re there, and that’s what everything’s made of.
We were showed models of atoms made of little balls and sticks. Black and white balls were stuck together in the middle; those were the protons and neutrons. That formed what is called the nucleus. On the end of sticks coming out from the nucleus were little blue balls; those were electrons. We were told everything that exists is made of various combinations of these atoms, and that the tiny little particles in these atoms are real stuff, very hard, solid bits of real stuff. Exactly what that stuff is, no one knew, but we were told it’s real, hard, solid.
We were told these atoms obey various natural laws, laws such as gravity and electromagnetic attraction. If you could understand these atoms and the laws that govern them, you could understand everything, for there was nothing smaller. These were the bedrock of everything. That’s why it seemed back then like science had all the answers, had everything figured out. It had succeeded into breaking things down to the smallest possible parts, the building blocks of the entire universe, the building blocks of everything that exists.
But then, in the 1960’s, probably about the same time I was being told these things in school, scientists started making strange discoveries. They started noticing things that couldn’t be explained by these tiny little atoms made of hard stuff. At first, these things weren’t talked about much, but as time went on and more such things were noticed, it became less possible to ignore them.
Experiments showed that these things didn’t always follow the natural laws science said they did; they didn’t always behave the way science said they should. It also became apparent that atoms weren’t the only tiny little things out there. Science began finding other tiny little particles. They couldn’t say exactly what these other tiny little particles are, but they did some really strange things. Sometimes they could be in two places at once. Sometimes they could take two different forms at once. Sometimes they did one thing when you were looking at them but another thing when you weren’t looking at them. Sometimes two of these things separated by vast distances could instantaneously communicate with each other and affect each other. Sometimes you could even change what they had done in the past.
But there was something even more strange. Experiments began to show that the protons, neutrons, and electrons that science had thought were hard, solid little bits of real stuff were actually not hard, little bits of real stuff at all. They seemed to be concentrations of energy that just appeared to be hard little bits of real stuff. But what is this energy?
Scientists had no explanation. They were puzzled. They were finding things that didn’t fit with what they were so sure, only a few years before, that they “knew.” As a result, science could no longer give hard and fast explanations. The “facts” were not facts anymore. Based on all this new stuff, now all science could do was offer “theories,” different opinions about what might be going on.
Times had certainly changed. Back in the 50’s and early 60’s, it seemed like scientists had it all figured out, but now it was apparent they didn’t. All they had were theories, ideas that couldn’t be proven and that constantly changed as new, even more-puzzling discoveries were made.
If you really think about it, for all the things science can explain, there are many things science cannot explain. Science can tell us that a living thing is made up of tiny little atomic particles behaving in a certain way, but it can’t explain why the tiny atomic particles in a living thing behave the way they do. Science can tell us how atomic particles behave in a living thing; they can tell us about the chemical and biological processes that go on inside a living organism, but they can’t tell us why they occur. Science cannot tell us what life is; all it can do is describe the biological processes of life.
Science cannot explain how living beings are conscious; that is, how living beings are able to be aware of and react to their surroundings. Science can explain things like how your sense of sight works, or how your sense of smell works, but it cannot explain subjective things like the pleasure of watching a beautiful sunset, the pleasure of the smell of food cooking on the stove, or the enjoyment we feel in the company of friends. Science can identify some of the parts of the brain responsible for those feelings, but it cannot explain the subjectivity of those feelings.
Science cannot explain how life began. Science tells us life began by chance, that a long, long time ago, some tiny atomic particles, purely by chance, just happened to combine in such a way to produce life, but science can’t tell us the mechanism behind life, cannot explain the “energy” of life. Science cannot tell us the purpose of it all, the “why?” of it all.
But, those are things people really wonder about, questions people really want answers to. They are in fact the deepest questions of life, but science has no answers to them. Science talks about the Big Bang, but not about where it all originally came from and why it is all here. Actually, when you think about it, for all the seeming advancements science has made, it has brought us no closer to answers to the deepest questions of life than ancient people were thousands of years ago.
Many scientists skip over these questions as if they weren’t there, but occasionally, there are scientists who aren’t content to skip over them. A few have tried to develop overall explanations that attempt to answer the most basic questions. More often than not, these explanations end up having to reject some of the basic assumptions on which science builds its “facts.” Most people don’t realize this, but scientific “facts” are based on and depend on some primary assumptions. These assumptions science starts with are the foundation on which modern science is based. They are things that cannot be proven but which are accepted as a given, and most scientists are unwilling to challenge them. However, some are.
Two scientists who are willing to challenge the primary assumptions of modern science are Robert Lanza and Bob Berman. Robert Lanza is a medical doctor and biological researcher. He has been involved in stem cell research, growing artificial organs in laboratories, and a professor at Wake Forest. He was named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2014. Bob Berman is an astronomer who runs an astronomical observatory in New York.
Lanza and Berman got together to try to develop something that could explain things science has discovered like we talked about earlier, things that cannot be explained by the way science has viewed things in the past, something that would at least attempt to provide answers to the deepest questions of life.
What they came up with is, I think, interesting to us as we try to understand the soul. I offer it not because I’m convinced their idea is the way things are, but only as something to think about, something to consider.
They say that one of the primary assumptions of modern science is wrong. Modern science starts with the assumption that life developed from the physical. The way science sees it, first there was the universe, the sun, stars, planets, and the earth. There was air and water and rocks and soil here, but no life. At some point, purely by accident, atomic particles combined together in such a way that somehow produced life. That’s the accepted scientific view. The physical world was here, but nothing was alive, and then, somehow, life developed from the elements of the physical world.
That’s what science tells us. It can’t prove that, though. It’s an assumption; in fact, it is the primary assumption on which modern science is based.
Lanza and Berman propose the exact opposite. They say life was first, and the physical universe developed from life. I know that doesn’t’ make sense, because we’re so used to thinking of things the other way, like science tells us, but Lanza and Berman say life came first. But how could that be?
Science says life comes from the physical elements, but Lanza and Berman say that’s not right. They say life does not come from the physical elements but that life exists independently of the physical elements. In fact, they say your life doesn’t come from your body at all; your life doesn’t depend on your body at all. They say your body comes from your life.
What in the world does that mean? The idea is that what life really is is consciousness, our awareness, our awareness that we exist, and our ability to interact with our surroundings. They say our consciousness comes first, and then our consciousness creates the physical world—creates our body and the world around us. Remember last week we said our consciousness—our awareness—is really our soul, our life is really our soul, so they are saying, in our terms, that the soul comes first. Life, or the soul, comes first, and that is the source of the physical universe.
What they are saying, in a nutshell, is that everything we see when we look around us is a projection of our consciousness. When we look around us, we think that what we see is “real,” but it doesn’t really exist at all. It’s just a construct inside our consciousness.
I know this seems weird, but just think for a minute. Think about how our eyes work. It might seem like our eyes are the windows through which we look out into the world, portholes through which we look out and see the world. But actually, that’s not how an eye doctor will tell you your eyes work. An eye doctor will tell you that when you open your eyes, a certain type of energy we call light interacts with energy in the eye, causing electrical impulses—another form of energy—to be produced. Those electrical impulses then are transmitted to the brain and interact with chemical energy in the brain to produce yet another kind of energy. The brain then interprets that energy and uses it to form a picture somewhere in you mind, and that’s what you see. That’s what your eye doctor will tell you—light hits the retina in your eye, it makes electrical energy, which is transmitted to the brain through the optic nerve; that electrical energy gets to the brain and creates chemical changes in the brain (chemical energy), and then the brain draws a picture inside your head based on that. Technically, what our eyes “see” is a picture drawn inside our head, an interpretation inside our brain. Eye doctors have known that for years. It’s nothing new. That’s how your sense of sight works.
Lanza and Berman take that one step further. Since what we “see” is an interpretation in our mind, maybe what we see is not really there in the first place. Maybe the entire physical world is just a picture drawn in our mind. Maybe there is no real, hard, physical stuff out there at all, only energy fields. Maybe everything we perceive as really being there is only a picture our minds draw to interpret those energy fields.
Think of it this way: Think of dreams. Have you ever had a dream that seemed so real that when you woke up, you had to lay there for a minute to decide if it really was a dream? It seemed so real that when you woke up, it took you a while to realize it was a dream? I bet we’ve all had dreams like that. Did you ever have nightmares as a child, scary things in your dreams that seemed absolutely real, wake up scared to death, and then run into your parent’s bedroom afraid, and they tell you, “It was only a dream”?
Dreams can sometimes seem so real, but they’re just movies running in our mind. Lanza and Berman propose that all of reality is like that, just one big dream. According to them, what you see when you look around you right now is no more “real” than the dreams you had last night.
Think of something else: A study was done of a Shaolin warrior monk hitting himself on the head with a stick of wood thicker than a hoe handle. He bashed that thing up against his head so hard that it broke in two, but he had not a scratch on his head. You could probably kill someone by hitting them in the head like that with a piece of wood that big, but it didn’t phase him. He must have an unusually hard skull, right? Well, they did a bone density scan of his skull, and it turned out his skull is no harder than normal. He did a form of meditation before he hit himself in the head, and somehow that protected him. Sounds unbelievable, and stuff like this is not talked about much, but it’s there—mind over matter.
But how could that be?
According to Lenza and Berman, there is no physical universe. Nothing exists as hard, solid objects. There is only our mind, and this doesn’t mean the physical organ our brain, because even the existence of the brain itself is a projection. By “mind” they mean our consciousness, and by consciousness they mean life, what we would call our soul. What does really exist outside us are various energy fields. What we perceive as reality are pictures our consciousness draws based on those energy fields. We think those pictures are real things that exist, but they’re no more real than images on a TV screen. They exist nowhere but inside our consciousness, inside our soul. According to this idea, reality exists only within us, inside our consciousness, or, as we would say, inside our soul.
I know this sounds weird, but here’s why it interested me so much: It made me think of something Jesus said in Luke chapter 17. The passage says, “Now when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here’ or ‘See there.’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
“The kingdom of God is within you.” Biblical scholars have never really agreed on what that means. You can find lots of different opinions about what it means, but frankly, most people just ignore it. The kingdom of God is within you.” Actually, literally, that says “The kingdom of God is inside of you.” “Inside of you.” Doesn’t that sound like what Lanza and Berman are saying?
There’s more. In Mark chapter 11 Jesus says, “For assuredly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.”
How in the world could you tell a mountain to be gone, and it would be gone? People have come up with all sorts of interpretations of that, all sorts of ways to try to get Jesus to really not be saying what He’s saying, but Jesus did in fact say, “Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.”
Doesn’t it sound like what Lanza and Berman are saying, that reality is within you?
In Mark chapter 9, Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes.” Again, people have gone to a lot of trouble trying to interpret that so it will not mean what it says, but Jesus did in fact say, “All things are possible to him who believes.” It’s as though Jesus said that your beliefs can change reality. How in the world, if reality is real, hard, physical stuff, set in stone, could your beliefs affect it? If reality is real, hard, physical stuff, it wouldn’t matter what you believe, but if reality is a construct inside your consciousness, as Lanza and Berman propose, then it would.
Maybe we should consider that passages like that actually are saying the same thing Lanza and Berman are saying: “Reality is within you.” After all, Jesus did plainly say, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
We’ve talked about this idea in this podcast before. A long time ago, we saw basically the same idea in the Zohar. The Zohar is ancient Jewish writings that predate the time of Jesus, and they were influential in Jesus’ day. According to the Zohar, the whole external world is a projection inside your mind; everything you see when you look around you, everything you experience in your life, is nothing more than a projection inside your mind.
That idea is way more than 2000 years old, and there’s no doubt but that it’s found in the teachings of Jesus. It eventually was rejected by organized Christianity, but it’s coming back today, not from religion, but from science.
Is it true? I don’t know. But what if it is?
It’s certainly something to think about, and as we’ve seen today, there is a biblical basis for it, a basis for it even from the words of Jesus Himself.
Why is this important to think about? Well, look at it this way: One of the main things people do is take all the experiences they’ve had in life and all the things they’ve seen in life and try to make some sense of it all, try to pull everything together into some big picture that makes sense.
I don’t think that’s a point we will ever arrive at in this life. It’s a journey we are on, a process that continues. But we have to keep on with the quest, with the journey. We have to keep moving forward, striving to understand.
We’ll never do that if we stop in the road and plant ourselves. We must continue on the journey, even if we do encounter some very surprising things along the way.