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What’s Really The Matter? It Could Be Matter Itself

Many if not most people are dissatisfied with the reality they are living. Life feels unsafe, unpredictable, unfair, prone to accidents, and never far from pain and suffering. Everyone has their own way of dealing with life’s mischances, but headway cannot be made unless we understand what is really going wrong. I want to argue that a pivotal cause is materialism, in fact, the very existence of matter.

First, we have to back up. The problem with reality, as humans experience it, isn’t that we don’t understand reality but that we understand it in too many ways. In everyday life, we skirt this problem all the time without realizing how confused things actually are. What we call reality is really just a perspective, and there is no end to perspectives.

The main source of confusion is that all of us bounce between mental and physical explanations, never deciding on a single, all-embracing view of reality. Take something as simple as sliding off an icy road in winter. You can attribute this to any number of causes:

  • Ice is slippery in contact with tires.
  • The road wasn’t properly maintained.
  • The ice was black and nearly invisible.
  • The driver wasn’t paying attention to the road.
  • The driver slammed on the brakes too hard.
  • The traffic was terrible.

The list doesn’t stop there. Maybe the driver was incompetent or had a medical condition or was too old to be driving. Maybe the car’s steering malfunctioned or the tires were bald. If the incident caused a serious accident, then the law, morality, and psychology enter the picture.

Since each of us is faced with a constant barrage of experiences, things rapidly get too complicated. It is far easier to adopt a blanket explanation. In the modern secular world, the blanket explanation is materialism, also known as physicalism. Any experience, not just sliding off an icy road, but getting depressed, feeling optimistic, enjoying music, or loving a baby, can be reduced to a physical explanation.

In philosophy a banket explanation is called monism, the belief that one cause works in all cases. Religion is monistic when it ascribes everything to God’s will. Science is monistic when it assigns everything to the activity of atoms, molecules, and subatomic particles obeying fixed laws of nature.

The problem with this monism is awareness. You cannot ascribe thinking to atoms, molecules, and subatomic particles. Go back to the example of sliding off an icy road. What determines which explanation you choose as the actual cause? We choose perspectives mentally, not physically. It is absurd to say, “My brain considers the driver incompetent.” Even if you are a neuroscientist, who is extremely likely to equate mind and brain, there is no explanation for how, given a dozen different perspectives that anyone can choose from, people make different choices.

The brain is deterministic: every brain cell obeys fixed laws of chemistry and physics. But the mind is free. These two facts clash, and the materialistic monism therefore collapses. This brings us up to speed when it comes to matter itself, the bulwark of materialism. Matter is the bedrock, sometimes literally, of everyday existence. We are embedded in the physical world. But amazingly, this isn’t enough to make matter real. One of the greatest pioneering quantum physicists, Werner Heisenberg, wrote, “The atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.”

Many other quantum pioneers agreed with Heisenberg, so it is ironic that modern physics spends billions of dollars to affirm the opposite, that nothing is more real than atoms and elementary particles. How could they possibly be wrong?

The experience of the physical world is undeniable and totally necessary. But the key word is “experience.” Physical objects don’t experience the world; we do thanks to awareness, which is mental. If you can accept that basic fact, then the picture of reality clears up once and for all. The sequence of ideas goes like this:

  • Matter is the appearance of mind.
  • Mind is the appearance of awareness.
  • Awareness has no appearance.

This sequence is like a vanishing act. The physical world appears in your mind as a 3-D image accessible by the five senses. This mental appearance is created in awareness. Awareness has no appearance, yet it is the source of the “real” reality. As a logical train of thought, this isn’t absurd, because quantum physics, despite its defense of matter, has its own vanishing act. Any object—cloud, tree, mountain, stars, the human body, including the brain—can be reduced to atoms and atoms to subatomic particles like quarks. But at this point matter vanishes, leaving only energy trails, pure possibilities, and the potential to create the physical world.

So the crucial question is which vanishing act you prefer, the one that ends in pure awareness or the one that ends in physical nothingness? If you base reality on matter, you are ultimately basing it on a void, a virtual space that vibrates with the potential to blink into subatomic activity. If you base reality on awareness, the physical world still pops into existence following standard scientific processes—at least that’s one of the choices—but it pops into existence alive, conscious, intelligent, creative, and endowed with the ability to experience anything and everything.

It’s not a difficult choice, but most people don’t realize that a choice exists. The five senses tell them that they are embedded in the physical world. If any experience comes along like falling in love, nobody says, “My brain is in love.” They conveniently ignore materialism and resort to another perspective. Unfortunately, this habit of jumping around at whim makes it impossible to ever solve the problem of pain and suffering.

The problem of pain and suffering is only solved by going beyond the senses, transcending everyday experience to reach the level of awareness where pain and suffering do not exist. That, of course, opens another story, a vast and never-ending one. But the horizon of higher consciousness can’t be found if you begin with matter. What matters in the end is consciousness, and with that realization, freedom begins.

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL

DEEPAK CHOPRA The writer is MD, FACP, FRCP founder of the Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global

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