Evidence for the Presence of Consciousness in the Cosmos
In the first of this three-part series on consciousness in the cosmos, I suggested that there is a newer and more adequate concept of consciousness than the standard “turbine theory” (which claims that consciousness is generated by the brain) and even than the more advanced “cloud” theory (where our individual consciousness is said to be linked to a cloud-computing information system in nature that “saves” and integrates its principal elements). The more adequate concept maintains that our individual consciousness is part of the consciousness that pervades the cosmos. This concept (anticipated by the great spiritual traditions) is that our individual consciousness is an intrinsic part of the consciousness that resides in—and perhaps is—the deeper reality of the cosmos. The question I take up here is whether there is concrete evidence for a cosmic consciousness in the world—in the universe science tells us is the real world.
What could be evidence for the presence of a cosmic consciousness in the world? There should be some evidence, because it stands to reason that if the cosmos harbors a consciousness there should be traces of it in the world we observe. What traces should we look for? I suggest that we should look for the kind of order that characterizes the structures and processes of the universe. If the universe is “in-formed” by a cosmic consciousness, the kind of order it discloses cannot be random and transient; it must be order that embraces space and time. If we find such order in the universe we can assume that it is in-formed by something we can characterize as a mind, logos, or consciousness. Hence in searching for evidence for a cosmic consciousness we look for order in the universe that is not random and transient, and defines the way the universe is, as well as the way it evolves.
1. ORDER IN THE UNIVERSE
It is prima facie evident that the universe is not a random assembly of things and processes. But it is not clear how embracing is the order that characterizes it. We are aware of a great variety of processes, but many of them could be temporary, transient, and local. This kind of order would not furnish evidence that the universe is in-formed by anything like a consciousness. The order we are looking for is one where things have relatively enduring, non-transient and non-random relations to each other.
When things have relatively enduring, non-transient and non-random relations to each other thay are parts of a larger whole: a system of multiple parts. Such a system has some form and level of coherence. It has minimal coherence when the relation among its parts is partly random and the system has elements of chaos. It is fully coherent, when all parts are systematically and enduringly related to all other parts. Then what happens to any one part happens to the other parts and hence to the whole system. And conversely, whatever happens to the whole system happens to every one of its parts.
It is highly improbable that the universe would be a fully coherent system. Yet elements of order may underlie even apparent disorder. Coherence could be the basic orientation: the dominant “attractor.” This would be an indication that the universe is affected by a some kind of ”in-formation”—it is not the prey of chance.
Coherence in the physical universe
There is scientific evidence that order in the universe is not short-lived, short-range, or accidental. There are two kinds of embracing order in the physical universe. One consists of numerical coincidences among its basic parameters, and the other of the harmonization or fine-tuning of its physical constants.
— Numerical coincidences. The mass of elementary particles, the number of particles, and the forces that exist between them exhibit recurrent ratios. Already in the 1930s Arthur Eddington and Paul Dirac remarked that the ratio of the electric force to the gravitational force is approximately 1040, and the ratio of the observable size of the universe to the size of elementary particles is likewise about 1040. This is surprising, since the ratio of the electric force to the gravitational force should be unchanging (these forces are assumed to be constant), whereas the ratio of the size of the universe to the size of elementary particles should be changing (since the universe is expanding). In his “large number hypothesis,” Dirac speculated that the agreement of these ratios, the one variable, the other not, is more than a coincidence and is not temporary. But if the coincidence is not temporary, either the universe is not expanding or the force of gravitation varies proportionately to its expansion.
Additional coincidences concern the ratio of elementary particles to the Planck-length (which is 1020) and the number of nucleons in the universe (“Eddington’s number” which is estimated at 2 x 1079). These are very large numbers, yet harmonic numbers can be constructed from them. Eddington’s number, for example, is close to the square of 1040.
There are further numerical coincidences. Observations indicate that the cosmic microwave background radiation is dominated by a large peak followed by smaller harmonic peaks. The series ends at the longest wavelength, which Smolins termed R. When R is divided by the speed of light we obtain a measure of time that agrees with the age of the universe. When the speed of light is divided by R, we get a frequency that equates to one cycle over the age of the universe. And when we square and divide the speed of light by R (c2/R) we get a measure of acceleration in the expansion of the galaxies that corresponds to the actually observed value.
Cosmologist Menas Kafatos showed that many of the coincidences can be interpreted on the one hand in terms of the relationship between the masses of elementary particles and the total number of nucleons in the universe, and on the other in terms of the relationship between the gravitational constant, the charge of the electron, Planck’s constant, and the speed of light. Scale-invariant relationships appear. The physical parameters of the universe turn out to be proportional to its overall dimensions.
—The fine-tuning of the values of the universal constants. The universe proves to be surprisingly coherent also in regard to the constants that define its physical processes. This coherence involves more than thirty factors and it is of staggering precision. If, for example, the expansion rate of the early universe had been one-billionth less than it was, the universe would have re-collapsed almost immediately; if it had been one-billionth more, it would have flown apart so fast that it could produce only dilute, cold gases. A similarly minute difference in the strength of the electromagnetic field relative to the gravitational field would have prevented the existence of hot and stable stars like the Sun, and hence the evolution of life on planets that can physically support life. And if the difference between the mass of the neutron and the proton were not precisely twice the mass of the electron, no substantial chemical reactions could take place, and if the electric charge of electrons and protons did not balance precisely, all configurations of matter would be unstable and the universe would consist merely of radiation and a nearly uniform mixture of gases.
That the universe is such as we find it—and is such that living beings like us can exist in it—is owing also to another series of coincidences. The existence of particles we call “matter” is due to a remarkable, and on first sight unlikely condition known as “CP violation” (where C is “charge conjugation” and P is “parity inversion”—the kind of inversion produced by reflection in a mirror). Given that the universe was born in a cosmic explosion and subsequent inflation, it should contain equal numbers of particles and antiparticles: matter and antimatter. But if that would have been the case, the particles and antiparticles would have annihilated each other and space would be empty—at any rate free of anything we could call matter. But because there has not been parity between the particles of matter and anti-matter that survived the initial chaos, there is a surplus of matter in the universe. This surplus forms the atoms of the elements that then condensed into stars, stellar systems, and galaxies. It now forms also the substance of our bodies.
These “coincidences” have no explanation in the physics of the universe. This does not mean, however, that they should not have an explanation in reference to the deep dimension I discuss in my book The Self-Actualizing Cosmos  and summarize in the previous article. This dimension could underlie and “in-form” the universe we observe.
Coherence in the domains of life
The physical universe proves to be astonishingly coherent, with laws and processes precisely tuned to favor the emergence of the complex systems we call living. We now look at the coherence that characterizes these systems themselves.
We know that the domain of the smallest observable entities that persist in space and time—the domain of the quantum—is highly, indeed quasi totally, coherent. Every particle is connected with, and responds to, every other particle. This phenomenon is called entanglement. It was believed that it only exists at the microscale at very low temperatures: higher levels of size and temperature create decoherence. However, this is not the case. Complex molecules, cells, and even living organisms exhibit quantum-type processes. This was first demonstrated by physicists Eric Cornell, Wolfgang Ketterle, and Carl E Wieman who received the 1995 Nobel Prize for their discovery. They showed that under certain conditions particles and atoms—they tested rubidium and sodium atoms—interpenetrate as waves.
In 1999 the atoms of a heavy isotope of carbon (“buckminsterfullerene”) were shown to be capable of entanglement: these atoms exhibit wave in addition to corpuscular properties. By 2005 also complex organic molecules could be entangled, and in 2007 biophysicists Gregory Engel and collaborators reported that quantum-type coherence is present in green sulphur bacteria: it acts as an energy “wire” that connects the light-harvesting chromosome to the bacterial reaction center. This allows living organisms to evolve through photosynthesis, converting the energy of the Sun to counterbalance the tendency of biophysical systems to tend toward thermal and chemical equilibrium.
Complex organisms could not have evolved and could not function in the absence of a quantum-type of order. The human body, for example, consists of 1014 cells, and each cell produces 10,000 bio-electro-chemical reactions every second. For a human organism to maintain itself in its environment these reactions must be constantly and precisely correlated. A viable organism is extraordinarily coherent, with all its molecules, cells and organs multidimensionally, dynamically, and in some cases instantly correlated with all its other parts. Such coherence could only have come about if there is a quantum-type resonance between the components.
The kind of coherence that maintains the organism in the living state is not limited to the organism itself: it obtains also among organisms. A multi-species ecology is a complex system of which the coherence is assured by multidimensional and multiscale connections among its elements. Each element is constantly “tuned” to all the other elements and jointly maintains the system in its physical and ecological environment. Without this kind of constant and active interconnection between the domain of coherence in the organism and the domains of coherence in the biosphere life would not be possible, and neither organic nor multiorganic systems could exist on the planet.
The evolution of complex forms of life in the biosphere is a clear indication of the coherence of living organisms with their environment. The genetic makeup of even a relatively simple organism is so complex, and its “fit” to the milieu so delicate, that in the absence of a significant level of coherence between the genetic information that defines the structure of that organism and its environment it could not sustain itself in the biosphere, and if threatened with extinction, could not mutate into a viable species. Random mutations would not be enough: the search-space of possible mutations is so high that the probability that viable species would result from a random re-arrangement of genetic information is totally insignificant. (Mathematical physicist Fred Hoyle remarked that this probability is about the same as that of a working airplane being assembled by a hurricane blowing through a scrapyard.)
Biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky noted that the creation of new species by genetic mutation would be nearly impossible even if new species would emerge only on a “quasi-geological scale.” However, new species emerge much faster. “Punctuated equilibrium” theorists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge showed that the populations that are most likely to mutate are peripherally isolated and relatively small. But changes in their genome can be fast and precise, and thus new species can emerge in the relatively brief span of five to ten thousand years. This transforms the time-frame of biological evolution from geological time into an evolutionary instant.
The evolution of complex species is due to the fact that, contrary to the classical Darwinian tenet, the genome of a species is not isolated from its phenome. They constitute an integral system that is coherent with its milieu. Mutations in the genome are not random but are tuned to the system’s environment. That there are human beings on Earth and not just bacteria and blue-green algae is due in the final count to an embracing and ongoing “dance” between genes, species, populations, and the whole web of life on the planet.
2. ORDER IN EVOLUTION
The universe, we have seen, the same as the domain of life, is astonishingly coherent. This coherence applies to the way the universe is. Does it also apply to the way the universe evolves?
Ever since the 1920s, when the Friedman equations that decode the dynamic structure of the universe proved unstable, cosmologists realized that the universe changes over time. It evolves from the initial explosion known as the Big Bang to the state we observe today. And it will most likely continue to evolve, either expanding infinitely in cosmic space, or reversing in finite time to its initial quantum-state. Following this Big Crunch it could give birth to another universe, with explosive birthing followed by inflation and expansion issuing in contraction. This process could repeat, perhaps infinitely.
We are not concerned here with the evolution of the macrostructures of the universe, only with the evolution of the order in these macrostructures. If we find an order underlying the processes of evolution on our planet, we have an indication that whatever intelligence or logos in-forms the universe also in-forms the evolution of that order.
As we have seen, order in the universe is mind-boggling. Things and events appear to be part of a network of coherent relationships that extends from one end of the universe to the other, from the domain of quantum particles to the highest reaches of biological evolution. The question is, whether—at least on this planet—order extends to the way these relationships unfold over time.
There are myriad processes under way each and every second throughout space and time, and they include everything from interaction between protons and electrons in hydrogen atoms to the collapse of superdense stars and their “evaporation” in black holes. Is there a discernible trend disclosed in these processes? Let us consider the order represented by the emergence of life on Earth.
The evolution of life is a major novelty in the universe. It is not clear, however, whether it constitutes a universal trend or is only a local and accidental development. We know that life in the physical universe is highly improbable. Physical processes tend to run downwards toward entropy and not upwards, toward structures that conserve and process energy. Could it be that the evolution of life on this planet is just an instance of serendipity?
Until the dawn of the 21st century the prevalent view was that life is an anomaly in the universe, a chance occurrence due to an improbable coincidence of the conditions required for it. For life to appear not only the basic constants and parameters of the universe need to be finely tuned, also a further set of conditions must be met. There must be a planet with the correct mass at the right distance from a main sequence G2 dwarf star; the planet needs to occupy a nearly circular orbit; it must have an oxygen/nitrogen rich atmosphere, a large moon and a moderate rate of rotation. It must be at the right distance from the center of the galaxy and have liquid water on its surface, and must have a correct ratio between water and land-mass. Last but not least, the planet must be protected from asteroids by giant gas planets in the local solar system.
Findings came to light, however, that suggest that the emergence of life is not entirely dependent on the statistically improbable confluence of these conditions. It seems that life evolves in the universe wherever conditions permit, and these conditions are not as rare as it was thought. More and more planets with life-sustaining properties similar to Earth have been found in our part of the galaxy, and we have no reason to assume that they would not be present in other parts and in other galaxies as well. Moreover there is observational evidence that molecular structures essential for life come about not only on planets with a statistically rare combination of physical, chemical and thermal conditions, but under a much wider range of environments. Organic macromolecules have been discovered even in the vicinity of active stars.
That complex molecules could be synthesized near active stars was considered not only improbable but impossible. This was contradicted by the finding of a team of astrophysicists headed by Sun Kwok and Yong Zhang at the University of Hong Kong in 2011. They found some 130 organic macromolecules in the vicinity of active stars, including glycine, an amino acid, and ethylene glycol, the compound associated with the formation of the sugar molecules necessary for life. It appears that these compounds are produced in processes of stellar evolution. If so, life is not an improbable and rare event in the universe, but part of the physical-chemical evolution stars, its prevalent macrostructures.
On first sight life appears to be radically different from the physical and physical-chemical systems that are its foundation, yet on a closer look there is coherence and continuity in this evolution. We have noted that all systems, even quanta, have a distinct and high level of systemic coherence: they are sensitively and universally interconnected. In living systems this connectivity is closer and more articulate than in physical and physical-chemical systems. In general, the more complex the system, the higher the coherence among its parts, and hence the more precise and sensitive is their interconnection.
With the emergence of life a further stage has been reached in the unfolding of the trend toward sensitive interconnection. The new stage can be defined as marking the emergence of a basic form of perception. A close and focused interconnection among parts in a system constitutes a form of reciprocal perception among the parts. The basic form of this perception does not call for sensory organs and a nervous system. It is an expression of the coherence of the parts within the systems.
Coherent interconnection within and among systems has been growing throughout the time and scale of evolution. Even bacteria show “irritability” in regard to stimuli reaching them in their environment, and progressively more complex species articulate this elemental sensitivity to higher and higher levels. We know that organisms with a nervous system have an articulate sensitivity to the world around them. It now appears that the basic form of this sensitivity does not require sense organs and a nervous system: it appears to be coded into the cells and organs of even simple organisms.
In the 1970s lie-detector expert Cleve Backster showed that what he called “primary perception” exists even in plants. When he placed the electrodes of his lie detector (a polygraph) on the leafs of plants in his office, he noted that the plants respond to what happens in their surroundings: the electrical conductivity of the leafs is sensitively tuned to people and other organisms. And this tuning, Backster and now scores of experimentalists found, persists over distance.
This kind of primary perception seems to exist throughout the realms of life. Because it also exists in organism that have a nervous system, such organisms have not one but two ways they perceive the world: one way is through their nervous system, and the other through the resonance of their cellular and subcellular structures with quantum waves and fields and in their environment. The latter is not a sixth but the first sense: it is the most basic perception of living organisms of “the rest of the world” —a preception that exists in humans but is largely ignored by modern people.
In human beings primary perception can be traced to information processed by the subneuronal networks of the brain. Physicist Roger Penrose and nerophysiologist Stuart Hameroff showed that there are networks of microtubules beyond the brain’s networks of neurons, and the number of elements in the subneuronal networks substantially exceeds the elements of the neuroaxonal networks—there may be 1018 microtubules in the brain, compared with 1011 neurons.
Thanks to nanoscale information-processing in the brain, humans can perceive the world not only through the five senses, but also through what has been considered an esoteric endowment: extra-sensory perception. Remote-viewing experiments pioneered in the 1970s by Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff demonstrated the reality of veridical perception beyond the range of the senses. Such perception occurs mainly in altered states of consciousness. In these states also the electrical activity of the brain becomes synchronizied. Italian physician and brain researcher Nitamo Montecucco showed that as individuals enter a deep state of meditation, their EEG patterns can achieve a degree of synchronization in excess of 90 degrees without sensory contact among the meditators.
Perception beyond the reach of the senses has been known to and used by traditional people. Shamans and medicine men knew how to induce the altered state of consciousness that seems required for such perception. Anthropologist Robert Lawlor noted that the aborigines of Australia enter the altered state they call “Dreaming” and in that state they can be in touch with their ancestors as well as with their fellow tribespeople. In Africa and Asia entire clans are known to enter a state of consciousness in which they remain in touch with each other even when roaming far from their homestead.
Carl Jung, fascinated with this esoteric aspect of the psyche, attempted an explanation in reference to the higher or deeper reality he called unus mundus. He compared unconscious processes in individuals with the myths, legends and folktales of a variety of cultures and found that the recollection of individuals and the collective material contain common elements. These, he said, make up humankind’s "collective unconscious."
The collective unconscious has historical as well as archetypal aspects. The historical aspect consists of experiences accumulated by humans throughout history: these experiences are conserved in the collective unconscious of the species. Archetypes are dynamic principles that organize these elements. They are irrepresentable in themselves, but have effects that make visualizations possible. Archetypal ideas do not merely repose in the historical dimension of the collective unconscious but can become part of waking consciousness.
There is an order unfolding in the universe. It began with the birth of the universe some 13.8 billion years ago and continues to this day. Astrophysics and evolutionary cosmology tell us that in the history of the universe its macrostructures have evolved from swirls of gases to proto-stars and nebulae, to galaxies and the metagalaxy. The life sciences find that on Earth the molecules that make up the matter-content of the forms of life that emerged in the primeval seas some four billion years ago evolve into more and more complex structures. Relations among the parts of the systems, together with relations between them, become more and more coherent and fine-tuned. First entanglement, then basic irritability, then primary perception, and then articulate perception appear. The capacity for perception has been growing throughout the range of evolution. The trend underlying this process is toward closer and more sensitive and coherent connection within and between the systems that emerge. On Earth it has lead from entangled quantum-reactivity to biological irritability, to primary perception, to articulate perception, and then to the complex and differentiated conscious and subconscious perceptions that appear in human beings.
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Let us draw our conclusions. Order in the world, we have seen, is not random and limited: it is embracing and enduring. There is coherence and connection in the physical domain of the universe as well as in the living domain. A trend toward coherence and connection is evident in both domains, and the trend is continuous. The processes of life on this planet set forth processes in the physical domain. The trend appears to culminate on Earth in the articulated and differentiated perceptions that characterize our own species.
The meaning of this trend for our life and aspiration is the subject of the next article in this three-part series. Here I conclude that order in the way the world is, and in the way it evolves, offers significant evidence the world is not random and its processes are not meaningless. There is a logos underlying the things we observe in the world: a consciousness beyond space and time, in the deep dimension insightful thinkers and scientists have always told us is the ultimate reality of the cosmos.
Three Concepts of Consciousness. Mind, Body Spirit Magazine, vol. 39 (2014).
In physics coherence in a system is described as the harmonization of the phase of the oscillations that charcacterize the parts. In a fully coherent system the waves of all parts are in phase.
Kafatos, Menas, The Nonlocal Universe: the New Physics and Matters of the Mind. Oxford: Oxford Universiy Press, 2001.
Ervin Laszlo, The Self-Actualizing Cosmos, Inner Traditions, 2014.
Kwok, Sun Organic Matter in the Universe. Wiley 2011..
Backster, Cleve, Primary Perception: Biocommunication with Plants, Living Foods and Human Cells. White Rose Millennium Press, 2013.
Penrose, Roger and Stuart Hameroff, Consciousness in the Universe: Quantum Physics, Evolution, Brain & Mind. Cosmology Science Publishers, 2011.
Targ, Russell and Harold Puthoff, Mind-Reach: Positive Proof that ESP Exists. Paladin, 1978.
Montecucco, Nitamo, Psicosomatica Olistica, Edizioni Mediterranee, Roma, 2005 (cited in Ervin Laszlo, Science and the Akashic Field, Inner Traditions, 2004, 2007).