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Consciousness, and the Quest For a ‘Grand Unified Theory’ of the Unexplained

Consciousness is something that is well worthy of our study. Of course, it is presently among those things deemed unexplained just as well, and hence, at times it becomes difficult to discern just how, or even whether consciousness “exists”, or if it is a sort of illusory quality that emerges from what we, as humans, perceive as a result of differentiating between the way our brains work, and those of other animal species.

Before anyone begins diving off the deep end at the proposition that consciousness “may not exist, at least as we know it”, I think that rather than to argue its existence, we really need to recognize that the debate over consciousness is one having more to do with what it is, rather than if it is. In other words, I don’t doubt that consciousness exists, but it may not be the incredible, alternative or metaphysical sense of “self” that appears to work independently from the mind or brain that some suggest. For all we know, consciousness may be just one stage in the ongoing evolution of sentience throughout our universe; we simply do not know, and that is why it remains such a mystery.

On the other hand, there is some data that suggests that maybe consciousness is something that, at very least, could exist apart from a brain or other physical structure (such as a machine that becomes self aware). Reports of out of body experiences (OBEs), anecdotal though they are, are rife throughout world traditions dating back to our earliest religious texts; perhaps to a lesser degree, we still find such stories in plentiful numbers throughout various medical literature as well. But as with all great mysteries, it seems that these stories, yet again, remain anecdotal. There seems to be enough consistency between reports of OBEs that they may yet help point us to an aspect of what we call “consciousness” that does seem to exist independently from the brain or body… but out present knowledge, and the scientific tools needed to determine such things, still elude us.

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However, perhaps one of the most frustrating areas we begin to enter with consciousness studies these days has less to do with consciousness as a subject unto itself. Instead, it involves efforts which try to use “consciousness” as a basis for attempting to explain other unexplainables. Discussion of UFOs, Bigfoot, and a host of other popular “paranormal” phenomena often include data that is perplexing to the point of seeming nonsensical. Hence, a suggestion that appears often in relation to such problems is the assertion that, “understanding UFOs may require understanding consciousness.” More broadly, some may even assert that, “UFOs interact with, and may even come from within consciousness… therefore they are not really physical at all.”

To the extremely open-minded UFO researcher or enthusiast, this does seem like an appealing “explanation” for why so many UFO cases involve seemingly impossible things, such as objects that disappear, only to reappear a short time later. Harley Rutledge, Ph.D., conducted an impressive number of experiments during the early 1970s, under what became known as the independent “Project Identification” UFO study that began in 1973. Rutledge and his team of volunteer students from the University of Missouri noted several instances where lights observed at night would seemingly react to such things as a flashlight, or strangely, even a finger being pointed in their direction. This would certainly appear to suggest some variety of interactive phenomena: could it be a direct link between the UFOs, and the consciousness of the observer, as some have suggested?

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There is some merit to this idea; in fact, I would wager to guess that there might indeed be new data to be gleaned from careful analysis of the apparent UFO – consciousness connection. However, there are pitfalls to be concerned with just as well, since the attempt to make a case that “UFOs” remain a mystery because they are paranormal, non-physical, or an artifact stemming from within our own consciousness, relies heavily on the aforementioned “explaining the unexplained with the unexplained” argument. In short, to employ an unexplained, un-proven theory as an explanation for another unexplained, unproven quantity does not really “prove” or explain anything.

Innate to every individual that our consciousness, and our concepts of it, appears to be, there is still so much left to be explained and understood. For the time being, as we continue to make hopeful strides toward understanding ourselves, and what role consciousness may play in our broader understanding of the world and our relationship to it, the concept alone does not offer a “catch all” explanation for various paranormal phenomena. Quite the contrary, over-reliance on it to explain such things is tantamount to intellectual laziness, and a willful desire to be happier simply “not knowing.”

As it has been said before, and shall here again be said, the “mystery” presented by the riddle of consciousness, as well as other curiosities of our world, is part of the fun of studying the unexplained, and there is nothing wrong with that. We are fascinated by the mysterious, and many of us are compelled to try and understand it further. But we must be wary of entering the realm of thought where the unexplained, rather than being understood, is something we merely group together with other mysteries, and loudly say, “job’s done!”

As far as consciousness goes, we have a lot of work left to do, and the same can be said of any number of similar mysteries of our time.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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