Digital consciousness: the advent of a post-materialist ‘theory of everything’
In his new book, ‘Digital Consciousness: A Transformative Vision’, Jim Elvidge provides a persuasive answer to the great questions of life and existence
So what is digital consciousness? Well, first, what it’s not. It’s not simply a way of labelling human consciousness in our ‘digital age’.
Nor is it the idea that an individual’s consciousness, or personality, could be transferred to, or stored, within a computer, creating avatars or robots that behave like humans: the notion of ‘mind uploading’ (Jim Elvidge does discuss this briefly, but dismisses its efficacy).
For Elvidge, digital consciousness — and the phrase appears to be of his own invention — is ‘the true theory of everything’. In bright and breezy prose, he unravels the abstruse tangles of consciousness studies to advance the cause of post-materialism in our world-view.
In Digital Consciousness: A Transformative Vision (Iff Books, UK £16.99 / US $27.95, December 2018), one finds a passionate and cogent argument against the prevailing reductive-materialist paradigm which is rapidly running out of answers as profound new questions continue to be raised about the role and nature of consciousness in life and existence.
Elvidge argues that, when you get down to the deepest microscopic level of matter we can measure, it appears to be simply information, or data, composed of ‘bits’ — a bit being a unit of information expressed as either a 0 or 1 in binary notation.
So, he says, every physical object, from a quark to a giant sequoia, is ultimately represented by 1s and 0s. Existence is essentially a binary system consisting of two different things separated in space.
Nothing is truly physical; ‘rather it is virtual data representations of those things’. There is no such thing as objective reality, as quantum science has shown. Consciousness is separate from the brain, Elvidge is convinced; it does not emerge from it.
Instead, consciousness is fundamental to existence, interpreting digital information and creating reality. It is the ‘stuff’ of which everything is made (reminding me of the quantum physicist Amit Goswami’s theory that consciousness is the ‘ground of being’).
Ancient religions and spiritual teachings sprang from similar insights of mystics, including Buddha, Mohammed, Moses and Jesus, arising from ‘a state of being connected to something divine’, and the realisation that we are part of a greater whole and all interconnected, and that the everyday world is illusory.
In the last century, certain thinkers heralded Elvidge and other writers today who take a similar line to his on the fundamental nature of consciousness. To give some striking examples: the German theoretical physicist Max Planck (1858–1947), the English physicist, astronomer and mathematician James Jeans (1877–1946), the Austrian naturalist and philosopher Viktor Schauberger (1885–1958), and the Israeli-American scientist and inventor Itzhak Bentov (1923–79).
Early in his book, Elvidge anticipates the claim that digital philosophy is tainted by the tendency of people to view ideas through the lens of their time; that, just because we’re now engulfed by computers, the internet and smart phones in our ‘digital age’, we think the world works digitally, too.
But he points out that concepts of digital and binary go back thousands of years: to the Chinese I Ching, where the 64 combinations of eight trigrams contain the first three bits of binary code; to Indian and Polynesian cultures which used binary codings for millennia; to African tribes who had a binary divination system as long as 12,000 years ago.
The great unifier
Elvidge claims that his digital consciousness theory (DCT) underpins many ideas of the great physicists as well as New Age philosophies: ‘Digital consciousness is like the great unifier, making sense not only of the discoveries and theories of modern science and the wisdom of the ancients but also clarifying the reasons for their limitations.’
This digital system, Elvidge maintains, consists of the aggregate of all individuated conscious entities, ourselves included, of course; not only is matter digital, but so also is consciousness. The ‘informational substrate’ in which consciousness resides is either ‘the true physical reality’ or a ‘truer reality’ than the virtual one in which we think we live.
In the same way that the philosopher-scientist Bernard Kastrup believes that consensus reality tries to get our intellects to ask the right questions about ‘reality’, Elvidge says the everyday reality we experience is ‘an illusion of sorts’ which has been designed for us to learn and evolve our consciousness.
‘Simulated reality’, which we hear a lot about nowadays, is not a good phrase in this context (who or what is doing the simulating?), and Elvidge admits this — ‘representative’ or ‘fabricated’ wouldn’t be much better — because it implies something artificial when there is nothing artificial about our experiences, which presumably include the reality illusion.
Elvidge understands that some people react negatively to the idea that everything is composed of bits, but this is only because, up to now, the things we most think of as binary are associated with ‘cold, calculating technology’, such as computers and smart phones: ‘But there is nothing cold about flowers, music, love and emotions, and there is no reason for them to be analog versus digital in nature.’
I have a great deal of sympathy with Elvidge’s DCT, having had a strong post-materialist leaning with respect to consciousness theory for many years, and because it supports all foundational elements of metaphysics as well as physics. If one accepts that consciousness is also ‘out there’, and not merely ‘in here’, that we are within consciousness, rather than consciousness being within us, then everything changes.
Psychic and anomalous events
And, in DCT, Elvidge also finds explanations for an afterlife, reincarnation, near-death and out-of-the-body experiences, past-life experiences, precognition, meditation and intuition, and many other psychic and anomalous events. For such events are only paranormal or anomalous if we decide that the brain creates consciousness; if we accept things the other way round, that consciousness lies outside brain function, then it’s easy to think of consciousness as a flow in which such events are elements.
Crucially, if matter arises from consciousness, and not conversely, then there’s no reason to suppose that consciousness dies with the body, but instead returns to live on in the universal flow. General acceptance of this position, needless to say, would profoundly alter people’s outlook on life and death.
I think it’s true to say that materialist theories about reality are being gradually refuted and, as Elvidge succinctly puts it, ‘those who believe in materialist dogma are finding themselves being painted into an ever-shrinking philosophical corner’.
Idealism-based theory (for example, that of Bernardo Kastrup) have much potential and, as Elvidge points out, few have been falsified experimentally; indeed, while there is actually zero evidence for materialism, he asserts, there is a tremendous body of evidence supporting idealism.
On the question of our reality being digital simulation, some scientists, technologists and futurists have been speculating that this is so. But a big problem with the idea of a simulated reality is that of infinite regress, in that any perceived evidence for it could be another simulation, and any perceived evidence of that, another simulation, and so on.
Similarly, even if we are in a simulated reality, whoever or whatever is running the simulation could be in a simulation, too, and so we go into infinite regress once again.
As I understand it, there is no experimental confirmation as yet of the binary (or quantised) nature of the universe, which would be fundamental to a digital physics or cosmology. At present, digital physics — a collection of theoretical perspectives based on the premise that the universe is describable by information — is actually a vexed issue, having many competing perspectives as well as valid criticisms (which Elvidge does not mention).
Nevertheless, I feel digital physics will gain the ascendant in the future. Meanwhile, Elvidge’s ingenious theory of a digital ontology does have tremendous explanatory power and, if correct, is ahead of its time in its apparent ability to describe all aspects of reality.
Yet the question remains: why would nature have digitalised itself? One can only marvel that it’s taken nearly 14 billion years for the universe to evolve humans capable of discovering and understanding its digitalisation, by means of which they can grasp the essence of ultimate reality and reconcile it with their science and philosophy.
Is that thought going a ‘bit’ too far?
Jim Elvidge holds a Master’s degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University, New York, and has applied his training in the high-tech world to technology and enterprise management, including many years in executive roles for various companies, entrepreneurial ventures and leadership consulting. He holds four patents in digital signal processing and is a regular speaker at technology conferences.
Outside the high-tech realm, Elvidge has years of experience as a musician, writer and science researcher. Merging his technology skills with his love of music, he developed one of the first PC-based digital music samplers, and co-founded RadioAMP, the first private-label online streaming-radio company.
He has kept pace with the latest research, theories and discoveries in quantum physics, cosmology, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and metaphysical anomalies. This provided the foundation for his 2008 book, The Universe-Solved!, which presented evidence that our reality might be under programmed control.