Information-Consciousness-Reality: Existence in a Nutshell

james glattfelder
Jun 20 · 5 min read

Today, the human mind can look back upon an era of unprecedented knowledge generation. Reality has been decoded with spectacular success. Humanity discovered the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences” and the simplicity hiding behind menacing complexity. The emergence of the materialistic and reductionistic scientific worldview is not only a story of how the human mind gained intimate knowledge of the workings of the universe, but crucially how this expertise gave humanity one of the greatest gifts imaginable: the fruits of technology.

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However, in an unexpected turn of events, the human mind appears to have reached a roadblock in understanding. The universe seems to only reveal itself to the inquisitive onlooker as far as to awaken a false hope in its comprehensibility. The collective power of human ingenuity cannot penetrate the veil masking the ultimate nature of reality, the noumenon. And most alarmingly, the human mind fails to grasp its own essence. The notion of consciousness is as elusive as ever. Moreover, like an accidental bystander, humanity can only marvel at the self-organized structure formation and emergent behavior, giving rise to the spectacular complexity manifesting itself on Earth and in the cosmos. Under closer inspection, human knowledge appears to be a shifting, ad hoc, and fragmented structure, lacking any clear foundation and overarching and unifying context. Mathematics and science appear to be true by accident. The island of knowledge is surrounded by ever longer shores of ignorance. Unexpectedly, the human mind re-awoke in a cold, callous, cruel, and cynical cosmos. Existence feels meaningless and absurd.

Nurtured by this zeitgeist, the demons of ignorance and irrationality raise their ugly heads, heralding the age of post-truth. Scientists and experts are deeply distrusted, and everything is a conspiracy: The Earth is flat, created 10,000 years ago, and imminent global environmental calamities are vehemently rejected as political constructs. Dogmatism and fanaticism are flourishing around the globe.

So, was this it? Are we simply yet another civilization at the precipice of its demise? Are we just a very brief, albeit spectacular, perturbation in the billion-year history of life on Earth?

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There is a glimmer on the horizon! There may be something we do not yet know about ourselves and the universe we inhabit, the knowledge of which could change everything. The human mind is currently witnessing a fundamental paradigm shift, replacing the prevailing scientific doctrine. By breaking the taboos of the current materialistic and reductionistic worldview and exposing its blind spots, humanity can progress once again. By rethinking the most basic assumptions and reassessing the most cherished beliefs about existence, a novel scientific paradigm is emerging.

In essence, this radical paradigm shift is uncovering an astonishing new ontology. It appears that at the core of existence, we find a computational engine which needs to be fed with information. Now the notions of consciousness and reality can be braided into a unified fabric of existence. Objective reality and subjective consciousness emerge as the two sides of the same information-theoretic coin. Furthermore, this novel ontology is suspected to be participatory, yielding a computational and programmable universe.

This emerging scientific worldview is gradually becoming visible at the nexus of theoretical physics, theoretical computer science, and neuroscience. Historically, it all began in the early 1970s, when Jacob Bekenstein discovered a remarkable geometric fact about black hole entropy. A few years later, Stephen Hawking would stumble upon the black hole information paradox. Then, in 1990 John Archibald Wheeler famously introduced the maxim “it from bit,” not only popularizing the information-theoretic paradigm but also hinting at a participatory cosmos. Three years passed before Gerard ‘t Hooft proposed the holographic principle, further nourishing this worldview. Later, at the turn of the Millenium, Juan Maldacena introduced AdS/CFT duality in the context of string theory, realizing the holographic principle. Today, this publication is one of the most cited high-energy physics papers. Currently, Leonard Susskind and Scott Aaronson are weaving an information-theoretic tapestry out of quantum gravity and computational complexity at the interface of physics and computer science. Finally, in 2004, the first formalization of consciousness was proposed in neuroscience by Giulio Tononi and adopted by Christof Koch and others, utilizing the notion of information. Some philosophers chimed in with the resurrected idea of panpsychism.

The most radical implication of this new understanding of existence is perhaps the fundamental role consciousness takes on. As a consequence, the human mind is rediscovered in the very fabric of reality. This “neo-geocentrism” is, however, counterbalanced by banishing the sober waking state of consciousness from the center of the existence that can be accessed. Now, the human mind finds itself immersed in a vast and rich “reality topology,” experienceable by altered states of consciousness. Every observer is at the center of their transcendental multiverse.

Looking back at millennia of knowledge generation, humanity’s greatest mistake appears to have been looking for reality outside of the mind.

The above paragraphs represent an attempt at summarizing the open-access book called “Information — Consciousness — Reality: How a New Understanding of the Universe Can Help Answer Age-Old Questions of Existence.”

It is available for downloading here: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-03633-1

Additional information can be found here: http://www.jth.ch/icr

james glattfelder

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