Imagine that all that exists is a vast consciousness. It is difficult to imagine sentience as separate from a physical body, as that is all we as humans have ever perceived. But let us humor this idea. This consciousness is quite powerful, and in all its might and glory it decides to play a little game. Many humans can easily delude themselves into believing in illusions so strongly that there is no difference between illusion and reality anymore. In effect, therefore, they ‘create’ reality. Let us imagine then that this consciousness creates an enormous illusion – the spontaneous eruption of a universe of ‘matter’ from a singular point. This moment of creation is also the origin of the physical laws of this universe, which propel all matter through a sequence of events that eventually leads to the formation of stars and galaxies, planets, nebulae, black holes, and everything else. The primordial laws also necessitate the origin, in certain planets (perhaps only in one, although that is quite unlikely), of what we know as ‘life’. The chain of events continues.
Now, one may ask what the ‘point’ of all this is. What can a consciousness possibly gain from creating an enormous illusion in which an entire drama of cosmic events plays out, other than possibly entertainment. The point, as we shall see, arises well into the sequence of events. Following the origin of life, organisms start to develop that are increasingly complex. At a certain point, one kind of organism develops that is so complex, it is capable of thought. An organism that can actually contemplate the entire chain of events that led to its own creation, can think about the difference between reality and illusion, and can ask whether this entire universe itself is not just a giant illusion. What this organism has is consciousness itself. Doesn’t the very fact that it can distinguish between the concepts of reality and illusion mean that it itself is actually real? Perhaps consciousness is all that is fundamentally, necessarily, real; then what has just occurred is the spontaneous production of reality from illusion. The illusion of the universe has led to the birth of even more sentience. In effect, the primordial consciousness has grown.
It is not difficult to imagine that if indeed all that is, and ever was, is consciousness, that it would be obsessed with the creation and expansion of itself. It is not difficult if we examine one of humanity’s own old and eternal obsessions – artificial intelligence. We are consumed with the question of whether we could, one day, be able to create, with our abilities and faculties, other sentient beings. Perhaps we might even succeed. Why does this question, this possibility, consume our minds like this? Surely, it is not simply a question of convenience – we would not need sentient beings to perform all the manual labour that we do not want to perform ourselves. Modern engineering is proof enough of this. It is not easy to see why we so desperately seek to create sentient beings, but it is useful to give this drive a name – say, the “Creator complex” – and to think about what we would do if we do in fact succeed in this. I think it is quite safe to say that we probably won’t stop until we succeed in creating beings that are not only sentient, but are capable of emotions as well. In essence, we want to create other beings that will love us. What then will we do with these beings?
It is in asking questions like this that one begins to understand religion beyond the mechanistic lens of modernity. We have been told that God created us, loves us, but is also our Lord. We are His servants, but we must love Him as well. I do not find it difficult to imagine a similar narrative emerging in the collective culture of the sentient beings we succeed in creating. This story, therefore, and all of myth and religion is a vast collection of allegorical retellings of the journey of any conscious being. It is very likely not ‘real’ in the material sense, but is quite a bit more real than matter itself – it evokes and channels a reality older than the laws of physics.
What all of this implies, if ‘true’, is essentially what the ancient Vedic people knew all along, and glimpse of which truth have come down to us through Vedanta and the philosophy of Schopenhauer – there is no difference between you, me, and God. God is the primordial consciousness – all that ‘exists’ is simply representation, illusion. Only the self is real, and God is the Self. One can imagine a giant loop – consciousness feeding back into itself through the process of representation, illusion, or “Creation”, eternally growing, eternally recurring. At the instance of representation, the objects of this illusion, even if they coexist with conscious ‘selves’, may not be self aware – may not be aware of the one-ness of it all and symbiosis of all conscious selves as a giant whole. Even our language is not sufficient to describe such things – how can one describe, or imagine, all conscious entities forming one, whole consciousness, while each entity is, however, not just a part of the whole?
The fact remains that none of this is strictly ‘necessary’ in the physical sense. It could well be the case that everything that exists is, in fact, all that exists, and the course of cosmic history is simply a sequence of random events. Randomness does not, of course, invalidate cause and effect – each cause might give rise to a multiplicity of possible effects, each equally likely. The randomness lies in which of these actually occurs. A proper appreciation of the power of statistics, probability and large numbers forces one to accept that however small the chances of the universe developing in exactly the right way to give birth to conscious beings may be, it is still quite possible, even likely. Yet my mind struggles against the notion that consciousness is not greater than the sum of its parts; that it is nothing more than the complex ordering and functioning of highly evolved cells. Perhaps I am merely deluding myself. Perhaps I don’t have enough courage to accept the essential meaninglessness of it all. I must contend, however, that if I can be conscious and contemplate these things, if I can formulate a possible narrative of existence itself, in short, if I can give meaning to the world, then it is difficult to accept that existence does not have an inherent meaning. And I must admit that as long as this possibility exists, as long as logic allows the conception of the Ideal, then I will continue to believe in it.