Consciousness, Mind and Whirlpools

My previous post was about Panpsychism, a long held, newly resurgent view of mind, consciousness or awareness. Consciousness, I suggested, should neither be regarded as an illusion, nor as miraculously ’emerging’ from unconscious matter. Rather, it should be viewed as ‘built in’ with the bricks of the universe – a ‘given’, like photons, electrons and other ‘fundamental particles’. Where there’s matter, there’s mind : where there’s mind, there’s matter – like the two sides of one coin.¬†

The question then arises, how do our individual minds relate to that primordial, cosmic Mind?  What seems to me to be a helpful analogy is suggested by the philosopher and scientist, Bernardo Kastrup. He sees himself as an Idealist rather than a Panpsychist, but these two perspectives have enough in common for the analogy to suit either. So what is it? It’s the analogy of the whirlpool. Let’s imagine the primordial, cosmic Mind as an ever-flowing stream of water, and the minds of each person as being like individual whirlpools in that stream. 

Whirlpools have an identifiable existence. We can point to them, and even give them ‘personal’ names. In Scotland, we have the Corryvreckan whirlpool, between the islands of Jura and Scarba. So a whirlpool is a ‘thing’ we can observe, and even experience if (inadvisably in the case of Corryvreckan), we sail a boat into it. It’s not, however, a ‘thing’ a scientist could place on a laboratory bench, and weigh and measure. It’s a phenomenon consisting of water no different from the water in the stream in which it’s found. It’s simply a specific pattern of flow, at a particular point. 

How does the whirlpool relate to the surrounding flow? It localises, one could even say ‘traps’, part of that stream. It’s as if it ‘filters out’ some of the water for itself, while ignoring the rest which continues on its way. Kastrup notes that “anyone observing a whirlpool will notice that, at its outer edges, it seems to ‘push away’ whatever part of the flow it doesn’t capture within itself”.

What’s being suggested is that our minds are temporary localisations of tiny parts of the cosmic Mind. A very great deal of that flow ‘goes past us’, which is just as well, or we’d be totally swamped. What ‘enters into us’, we make our own, and it generates our sense of self, with its memories of the past and plans for the future, our hopes and fears, loves and hates, sorrows and joys. Our minds are, of course, linked to our brains. We could say that the latter are like radio receivers, allowing us to ‘tune in’ to particular wavelengths to the exclusion of all the others, so that a deafening, unintelligible cacophony of noise doesn’t deafen our ears.

Depending on changing conditions on the bed of a stream, a whirlpool can come into being where there wasn’t one before and can also, after the passage of time, disappear. Nothing however has been lost. No water has ‘gone missing’, only a particular pattern appearing at a specific point for a limited period of time. It’s simply that the whirlpool is reabsorbed into the flow of water it temporarily came from.

This seems to me to provide a possible image of an ‘after life’. You and I are temporary localisations of the cosmic Mind – one of a multitude of specific patterns which come and go in the ceaseless flow. When we die, our personal awareness is reabsorbed into the universal Awareness, where it joins all the others that have appeared and been reabsorbed before us. Similarly with the brains linked to our minds. They are temporary molecular patterns, no different from all the other atoms and molecules that fill the cosmos. We die, but these molecules don’t. They simply float away, and find new things to do. I’m reminded of one of Wordsworth’s ‘Lucy’ poems in which, having died, she becomes “rolled round in earth’s diurnal course, with rocks, and stones, and trees”. I can live, and die, with that ! 

What is presented here is, of course, only a ‘picture’. To what extent it corresponds with ‘how things are’, you and I must think about, and form our own opinions …

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