The Paradox of Consciousness

There is an interesting and unsolvable paradox when it comes to understanding consciousness, and perhaps more specifically, conscious awareness. I’m referring here to the witness: that which is alive, alert, and aware; that which is aware of its surroundings, and more importantly, of itself, whether it is conscious or unconscious of itself.

In the spiritual domain, when consciousness becomes conscious or aware of itself, of its own awareness, true nature is realized. However, whether one’s true nature is realized doesn’t negate the sense of being alive, alert, and aware, particularly of one’s surroundings or mental and physical states. However, to date, as far as I know, no one has ever been able to point to, measure, or find consciousness!

This has been known as the hard problem of consciousness: Just what is it and where is it located? The materialist perspective is that consciousness is a function of brain activity. However, no one has been able to locate consciousness in the brain. The idealist perspective is that consciousness is a priori and gives rise to perceptions of a universe and reality “out there.”

Neither are correct, for the paradox is this: for consciousness to exist, a perceptual unit—a body with sensory apparatus—as well as a brain that serves as the mechanism for consciousness, must also exist. For awareness or consciousness to be aware of anything supposedly outside of itself, it requires a unit—a body—for translating physical energy (sensations, such sound waves, light, physical pressure, etc.). And for consciousness to be aware of itself, it also requires a brain that allows for the translating of mental and conscious activity into that which is perceived as the witness or awareness.

However, the body/brain system that appears to be required for consciousness to exist is itself dependent upon consciousness for its very existence. For the body to exist, it must be perceived, and for it to be perceived, there must be consciousness. That is, even the perception of a body/brain mechanism that supposedly gives rise to consciousness is itself dependent upon that consciousness to be perceived.

What we call reality, including the idea that there is universe and a specific body/brain mechanism in that universe, is nothing more than a set of perceptions. And those perceptions cannot themselves be perceived without consciousness.

So, we are left with a recursive and circular and unresolvable paradox: awareness (consciousness) is dependent upon the body unit; but the body unit is dependent upon awareness (consciousness) to be perceived. Perception and awareness cannot be explicated from one another. Perception requires awareness and awareness requires perception. Body and consciousness; reality and awareness; subject and object; regardless of the labels used to identify both sides of the paradox, they are mutually interdependent.

William S. Burroughs once wrote: Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. Quantum physicists have been saying this for almost a century. Mystics have been saying this for millennia.

Ultimately, the only way out of the paradox is to drop the paradox and to recognize directly that the observer and observed; what is perceived and that which is doing the perceiving; consciousness and the universe; awareness and reality, are one and the same!