Why Am I Me?

Some thoughts on the origin and nature of consciousness

An essay in hypertext by Scott Bidstrup




Why am I me?

This is a question that almost everyone has asked as a child, but with all our modern technology and scientific insight, no one knows.

Science says the question is beyond its ability to answer, so it refuses to speculate.

Religion has attempted to answer it, but with conflicting, often demonstrably false theories, lacking in any credible evidence. But the question persists.

It is a haunting, nagging question, often asked early in childhood and occasionally throughout life, and asking for an answer that is never there, yet a question that is an important one, as it touches on the very nature of human consciousness.

For me personally, it was a challenge. I could not find an answer to that question, at least one that satisfied my desire for an answer to that question. So I kept turning in the only direction I could for an answer - to religion.

I once entered into an email dialog with a fellow who accused me of being a closet religionist, as I believed at the time in the genuineness of my reincarnation regression experiences. He felt, and I secretly have to agree, that I had to invoke religious explanations to come up with the explanations that I was seeking. Nothing else seemed to offer the answer I was looking for.

Well, I've since learned a lot about myself, about the hypnotic experiences that I had, and about the nature of the universe and of human consciousness itself. In particular, the insights of modern theoretical physics, and some of the explanations of the nature of the universe have had some bearing on my thinking. And so this essay is a distillation of the experiences and insights I've had.

In a strictly material sense, it may be true that the matter that makes up me could have made up a tree, or a lizard or a rock or anything else. But what we're talking about here is consciousness; in particular, the consciousness which is unique to me, and not shared by anyone else. The matter that makes up my body has little relevance to the fact of my consciousness. It doesn't do one bit about explaining why I am me in terms of my consciousness. It just explains the fact of the carrier of my consciousness, my physical body. The body should not be confused with the consciousness. It's like confusing a program running on a computer with the computer itself.

The personal distinction, which I experience as a personal consciousness, is quite independent of the matter that makes up my physical body, as when, for example, if a chunk of me is removed in surgery, I do not continue to experience what is happening to the removed chunk; it simply becomes a part of the world I experience and is no longer "me."

If that chunk includes living cells that are cloned into another complete, living, breathing, human being, that human being still isn't me, even though it had its beginnings in my body. It isn't me because it does not have my consciousness, as similar to mine though it may be/ It should be self evident that even if the chunk of me that is removed and 'grown' into another human body is a part of my brain, complete with my 'software' still running in it, it still isn't me because I don't experience what it (the new body) is experiencing. For it to be me, I would have to be conscious of and experiencing two lives at the same time, and I find that to be rather unlikely.

The question posed to science, then, is how does science explain the uniqueness of my personal experience of consciousness? Until very recently, there was no possible answer. But now there is, based on the insights of theoretical physics. My answer is a bit involved, but bear with me:

Modern physics implies "action at a distance," a result of the process of observation. For example, electrons and other subatomic particles exhibit the properties of both waves and particles, but not at the same time, because many of the wave properties are incompatible with the particle properties. So experiments can be devised which force a particle to behave as either a particle or a wave, depending on the expectations of the observer. It can even be shown that it behaves as both, until it is observed, at which time it takes on one set of properties or the other, and does so instantly. Schrodinger's "cat" is both "alive and dead" until you look in the box, at which time it becomes one or the other.

The act of observation of Schrodinger's cat is not a function of matter, it is a function of consciousness. This is a fact that is a demonstrable reality of science, and implies an inherent interconnectedness between the experimenter and the experiment. Einstein didn't like the idea (and fought tirelessly against it, in fact). He needn't have bothered. There's a purely rational explanation.

Another example: if a pair of subatomic particles are created in a particle collision, and one of that pair has a 'top' spin, the other must have a 'bottom' spin, since spin is a conserved quantum, and it can be mathematically demonstrated that all the spin of all the particles in the universe must add up to zero. It has been demonstrated that if you reverse the spin of one of the pair, the other 'knows' that it must reverse it's spin for the total spin to continue to add to zero -- and it's spin will indeed reverse. But how does it 'know'?

What science has recently concluded is that there is an infinite number of universes. Probabalistic events, such as Schrodinger's cat, mean that not just one, but two universes exist, one in which the cat is alive, and the other in which the cat is dead. The act of observing simply picks one of the universes. Every time a probabalistic event occurs, such as a coin toss, the universe splits in two, and there is then a heads universe and a tails universe. We proceed down, say, through the heads universe, and the tails universe becomes unknowable to us. We are unaware of its existence, but it exists nevertheless. All outcomes of all probabalistic events have led to independent universes.

But it gets even more complex than that.

The universes are not as we see a universe, but really are an infinite collection of frozen, eternal instances. These "multiverses" as the instances are called, are not at all as we experience the universe. It's like time is frozen and the contents of the multiverse are unchanging, like in a bad science fiction movie where time stands still. Each multiverse is a sort of "snapshot" as it were.

We experience time because each of these multiverses has a point of congruence with other multiverses. We progress from the experience of one multiverse to another in rapid succession, and the result is what we experience as the illusion of time, and a single thread of multiverse congruences is what we call our consciousness.

The Uniqueness of Individual Consciousness

I do not know your mind and you do not know mine because for some unknown reason, these threads of congruence cannot overlap. Each is unique.

Why am I me, then? It is simply because I am the only thread of congruences that is progressing through the multiverses that I am progressing through. It is really that simple. I am alone in that the thread of congruences I am experiencing is unique to me, and all the rest of you out there are all an illusion. As I am an illusion to you, since you are alone in the thread of congruences you are experiencing as consciousness.

My consciousness is born when points of congruence emerge, and my consciousness ends when the points of congruence no longer continue.

Why Haven't I heard more about this theory?

This theory is brand new, and hasn't been rigorously tested yet. It is proposed by Julian Barbour, a physicist and mathematician living in South Newington, Oxford, England. It is but one consequence of a grand theory of his, intended to unify and explain many of the heretofore irreconcilable theories of the universe with which physicists are working.

Physicists are tremendously excited about the theory, because as radical as it is, it offers the best hope yet at unifying quantum mechanics with Newtonian physics and relativity, as well as a means of unifying all the known forces of the universe into a single explanation.

This theory as to the nature of time and the experience of the universe is a radically new concept for physics. The only place where I know it has been discussed in an accessible manner is in the pages of the December, 2000 issue of Discover magazine (page 54).


The one book I highly recommend (which, if you wish, you can buy safely through the web from Amazon.com by pursuing the link here. They can ship anywhere, from any major currency, and you will receive your books surprisingly quickly):

The End Of Time by Julian Barbour is a discussion of and argument for his new theory. Intended to convince skeptical physicists, it's not a book intended to give you an overview of modern physics, but presumes you at least understand the basics. If you do, this book is a gem - you'll finally have the tools to answer many of the questions you've undoubtedly asked.




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