What came first, consciousness or the material universe?

To the best understanding of our scientists, it started with a bang. Anything before that is utterly unknowable, as all the rules that make the jigsaw fit together weren’t really there until then, so, well, I can’t finish this sentence without it being nonsense. That’s the point. Beyond the beginning, there is nonsense.

Out of the unknowable, we got a cauldron of matter,  a universe. That pot began a vast beyond imagining period of alchemies, scattering lumps of stuff (all sorts of different stuff made out of all sorts of the same stuff) in every direction.

The mass of it, the vastness of it, the immensity of the numbers, meant that at least somewhere, (not far from here, but a long way back) and possibly all over the shop, things started getting organised, replicating themselves, and making enough mistakes as they did so to start changing.

That’s life.

It’s the most remarkable evidence of the law of averages ever created. Out of soup, comes life.

In life, there is something conscious. In consciousness, there is something to look at the soup. From that long, winding (and long-winded) standpoint we can see the material universe formed, and then consciousness birthed ready to experience it.

But. But. But.

There’s another point of view. A little closer to home, and reliant on a different sort of guesswork.

I am that point of view. And for you, you are too. My consciousness is right here, or something like that. And everything outside it is the material universe. I am a product of this enormous numbers game, some incomprehensible prime number.

And I can’t decide if any of it is real.

From a universe to a grain of sand, and down into the invisible. Everything out there is a myth of my consciousness. An understanding drawn on the wealth of information my consciousness has allowed me to channel. My senses are all I have to guess at reality. If there is anything to observe, I can never tell how reliably I am reporting it.

Philip K Dick worked up an occasional model of reality. He suggested that reality might be the things that are still there when you stop believing in them.

The thing is, some things are easier to stop believing in than others. The universe is in that box right there.

Is it there? Am I here? Where is the here that is there? What else is there but here?

If consciousness were to come first, then it’s likely that the material universe isn’t at all. Alternatively, we’re all just sitting in the midst of a soup we made ourselves, following a recipe from that unknown unknown beyond the bang that started it.

I don’t have faith in things, but I can see a world around me, and I don’t feel any choice but to live in it.

I believe there is consciousness.

From nonsense we came, an unstruck melody.

And  still we’re swimming in that noise.

Illustration by Helen


About Alabaster Crippens

Joiner of Dots. Player of Games. Unreliable Narrator. Dancing Fool.
This entry was posted in Illustrations by Helen, Questions by Jake. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What came first, consciousness or the material universe?

  1. Anshuman Patwardhan says:

    Great post. Thanks.

    Don’t you think which of the two you believe has a huge impact on how you live your life? If the material universe is real and our consciousness merely a product of it, then all our external sorrows, stimuli and frustration triggers are real and we have to find ways to deal with them. On the other hand, if you believe otherwise, you can easily detach from the hubbub of daily life and feel the calmness of just being conscious, and take pleasure in that ultimate reality, something that is called in the Upanishads as, “Satchidananda”.

  2. Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.

    To be honest, No. I don’t think there’s all that much of an impact, because without a way of knowing either way (and I don’t think there is one) you have to act as if you’re splitting the difference.

    In an ideal world (I started with ‘in an idea world’ due to shoddy typing, and don’t have the capacity to finish that sentence, so I’ll go back to intention). In an ideal world, we’d do both. Learn to deal with the vicissitudes of life, and step back and take pleasure in the ultimate reality at the same time. Or maybe I’ve just broken my brain in a way that I can’t trust instinct to take me out of the world, no matter how hard I enlighten. I want to escape the veil of suffering, but my inner light is too confused to be a sanctuary from anything.

    I don’t think I’m getting myself across.
    Deep breath. Start again.

    If the world is real, then it is good to practice not getting too stuck in it. Being able to take a longer view, and see clearly is vital to good living.

    If the world is not real, then there has to be a reason why we’re seeing something. There must be something to learn from.

    So we should act towards the opposite. Belief doesn’t change the fact that I’m seeing things that appear to follow some set of rules. At the risk of upsetting something that might be real, I have to play along with those rules. I won’t risk a possible reality on the basis of faith. That’s become a core tenet of mine. Belief isn’t enough, because belief can be built on anything (and more importantly, nothing).

    So it doesn’t matter which I believe. I have to work with the consciousness and the universe that I have been dealt. These are my only cards.

    I will continue to play.

    I hope, during that play, I learn enough to be wiser, and kinder, and happier, both on the inside and outwardly. That hope is as close as I’m willing to come to an act of faith.

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