Random non-intelligence as the source of conscious intelligence


In my newfound interest in non-dualism, which is a derived from Advaita Vedanta but takes its cues from any philosophy that puts infinite consciousness at the center of its experience, I’ve been trying to come to terms with the rejection of materialism which is ardently advocated by the non-dual teachers.

Materialism puts matter at the center of its philosophy and by and large, there is no space for an intelligent God as its driving force. Materialists contend that consciousness is a feature of the brain. This drives non-dualist teachers crazy since they teach that the brain is a feature of consciousness, not the other way around

In the western world, we are virtually all raised in the materialist tradition that puts science on a pedestal and whose view is that all of the universe, nature and man included are the result of a mechanistic process that somehow started a long time ago. The current prevailing theorem for the start of the universe is a random fluctuation in a quantum field.

Most of us are quite convinced by this, surprisingly this includes many of those that believe in God. As Alan Watts puts it, if Christians truly believed that God is the creator and master of it all, they would be taking out full page ads in the daily new papers to assert the gospel. But mostly they don’t because they basically buy into the materialist paradigm and their belief in God is of the “I want to believe” nature.  This is not true for all religions; certainly the fundamentalists of any creed stand by their God.

Now, having said all that, non-dual philosophy does reject materialism and subscribes to a central consciousness. Unlike the monist Abrahamic faiths, non-dualists put the experience of consciousness at anyone’s disposal, not just the initiated and hyper-faithful. To put it bluntly, in non-dualism you can try it for yourself, and it works. The love and happiness we all crave for is accessible  24 hours a day. The experience of enlightenment as recounted by the great mystics is accessible to all. And it is wonderful.

But here is the snag: It is not because something works that it is true.

René Descartes, of “I think therefore I am” fame, like many philosophers had it all worked out for the context that they lived in.

In fact, this is has been the center of the work of all the great philosophers over the millennia: don’t confuse the interpretation of experience with truth.

So I’m faced with two questions:

  • Is consciousness the fundamental substance of that what is?
  • Is matter a convenient human concept but not fundamental as such?

Strangely enough, the first question is the easy one. Many philosophers – if not most – come to the conclusion that we can only know the world through our senses. We experience the world through sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Anything we know of the world is a reconstruction in our mind. We experience the world through a projection in our mind. Since the mind is conscious experience, I’m fine with saying that consciousness is the fundamental substance of my world. That doesn’t mean that consciousness = God quite yet. We’ll get to that.

The second question is one where I struggle. A lot.

I am an engineer first and a mathematician second. I’m also an artist, a businessman and a philosopher but I’m thoroughly grounded in the materialist tradition that matter is the fundamental substance of the universe. I have worked at CERN, the nuclear particle research lab where I co-designed an operated an antimatter particle accelerator. I know firsthand that subatomic particles are real. I have literally, woken, eten and slept with them. I know, as an engineer, how transistors are made and how you can combine them into complex circuitry to create an iPhone or a laptop. Similarly, I know the mathematics behind wing profiles and flight of aircraft. The physics, the math and the engineering is real. No philosopher will ever convince me of the opposite.

Now, non-dual teachers like Deepak Chopra and Rupert Spira don’t deny the reality of iPhones and the jet planes that they board to reach their retreats in beautiful mountain locations, but they insist with utmost certainty that matter does not exist.

You can see my problem. How can physics produce the technology that it produces, based on its understanding of matter and fundamental forces that would not exist?

If I were to accept that materialism and non-dualism are both true – which they appear to be – then how do I square this circle?

Viewed from the side, a can has an oblong shape. from the top it looks like a circle. This is how you square circles.

Are materialism and non-dualism two sides of the same coin? In other words, could we see non-dualism through the glasses of a materialist and equally, can we see materialism through the mind of a non-dualist?

Nothing precludes the answer from being yes in both cases. Some people speculate that the quantum field is the same as consciousness. Given that our conscious observation of quantum phenomena influences the material outcome of these experiments (refer double slit experiment), there is an indication that such an equivalence might be true.

So I could answer my second question with a, yes, possibly but not unequivocally so.

In non-dualism, consciousness has no dimensions, is not finite, is not in time and has no features at all. Now, the same could possibly be said for the quantum field but I hit a snag before even get there.

If consciousness is dimensionless and outside of space and time, how do I account for the materialist reality that everything we experience and measure and calculate is in space-time? In non-dualism, space and time are said to be features of the human mind. Our minds create space and time in order to make sense the world around us. This implies that the world ‘around’ us is not fundamentally made of space, time and matter. This also implies that physics and mathematics describe the world from the human perspective of space, time and matter but that both physics and mathematics are attributes of the human mind and not of reality itself.

This is not impossible and if you think about it, it actually makes sense. Many of the notions in mathematics are human notions. We count to ten because we have 10 fingers. Similarly we have introduced concepts in mathematics that are anthropocentric, i.e. based on our experience. For example the Cartesian basis of geometry (straight lines and angles), have nothing in common with nature where straight lines don’t exist. Everything has wiggly shapes.

So, with a little more conviction, I can answer the second question with a straight yes, it is possible that matter, and space and time, are a human concept that is not fundamental to reality.

Are we done yet? Have I argued that non-dualism is compatible with materialism?

Sri Ramana Maharshi became enlightened at the age of 16 during a ‘death’ experience. His simple “who am I?” teaching led many devotees to experience enlightenment. Himself, he was seen as an avatar, i.e. an incarnation of a deity and people came to him for darshan (“sight of God”).

Not yet. There is a third question. Non-dualists go a step further in their model of reality: consciousness = God. How do we square that with materialism? How does an automated universe that started from a random quantum field fluctuation account for the fact that the consciousness that is the substrate of reality as far as we can know it (this was the first question) leads to that consciousness being intelligent?

Some philosophers say that it is a matter of experience. Others say that it is a matter of faith. Neither are acceptable answers to a materialist.

Let me summarize:

  • Consciousness is the fundamental substance of reality as far as honest humans can know.
  • Matter, space and time are attributes of the human mind, if you want to see it from that perspective.


  • Is the fundamental substance of reality, which is consciousness, intelligent?

So far in this blogpost I have argued point 1 and 2 along the lines that many philosophers have argued them. But the 3rd point is where philosophers often turn to conviction, faith and even premises and axioms.

Instead, I will turn to the world of genetic fractals. As I would, right?!

First, let’s get the human experience of enlightenment out of the way. We can all agree that whatever we experience, it is in the mind. We can also agree that the mind is the best source of hallucination known to man. Everything we experience is a hallucination of the mind. Whether we look at a beautiful flower, whether we dream or whether we are in love, the mind creates the world that we experience. Drugs can cause other hallucinations that often approximate out of the usual mind states. But we don’t need drugs. Just look at a bent mirror or wear red glasses for a while and our mind will completely change the world we live in.

The Beatles probably experienced every form of enlightenment known to man. Somehow flower-power didn’t survive cold hard materialism. We had ‘new age’ for a while and now we have non-dualism.

Whether enlightenment (i.e. the experience of being one with God and having awakened to the illusion of the separate self) is real or a hallucination of the mind, we cannot tell. The experience is real, that is all we can say. The fact that enlightenment stories are the same over the ages probably tells us that our minds respond in the same way to the same state from the same triggers.

But we still have to account for the intelligence of the fundamental substrate of consciousness, which is beyond the personal enlightenment experience. How could a random fluctuation of the quantum field at the origin of the materialist reality lead to intelligence?

I think that the answer is a lot simpler than it would appear to advocates of the non-intelligent universe.

Last year I was messing around with randomness. I wrote a piece of computer code that generated random genetic fractals. Genetic fractals are fractals that are generated from an artificial DNA code. I can play around with that artificial DNA code to generate any form I like. But in this case, I created the DNA code randomly.

a new universe
random genetic fractals are just a mess of wild growing strings

Most of the generated genetic fractals were just a mess but roughly 1 in 100 was interesting. 1 in a 1000 was beautiful, from a human aesthetic perspective. Although I don’t have the computing power, I would expect that 1 in 10’000 would be stunning, 1 in 100’000 would be approaching beauty and inspiration of a degree that we see in a beautiful flower. 1 in a billion would approximate life. 1 in a trillion would approximate intelligent life.

Now, if you take a space with a trillion random genetic fractals. The bulk of these random forms are pointless, disorganized and destined to fall apart. But a small percentage appears to have form, have some meaning and even display intelligence from the perspective of human interpretation. Then on balance, a random universe of such forms shows form, meaning and intelligence. The point is in a random universe, no-form, no-meaning and no-intelligence is that zero state. Anything that randomly deviates from this leads to non-zero form, non-zero meaning and non-zero intelligence.

every so often, even random forms appear to have function, meaning and structure

To put this bluntly: a random universe can only lead to form, meaning and intelligence. It cannot be otherwise. The magic that has propelled it all is randomness. Intelligence is a feature of randomness.

This post is getting a little long but I have been wrestling with these ideas and questions for many years. I think I am now where I wanted to end up.

From a purely rational perspective, we can understand and explain a non-dual world. A world made of (random) intelligent consciousness where matter, space and time are features of the human mind.

Equally, from a purely non-dual perspective, we can construct a materialist world that is real and is not incompatible with the intelligent conscious substance of this world.

This only leaves one last question: which one is the right view? The materialist view that allows for a (random) intelligent consciousness or an intelligent consciousness that allows for a material universe?

The answer is the easiest of all. You can choose the worldview that you prefer since they really are two sides of the same coin. Personally, I liked the enlightened experience of the non-dual world and I love the mathematical universe of physics and fractals.

but I am sure that there are many more true variations in these world views. Take your pick and enjoy.

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted this male swan defending its girlfriend from a interloper. They tried to drown each other while the girl look on, all pretty and possibly a little concerned. Conscious behaviors of love, aggression and possession are not just human traits.

19 thoughts on “Random non-intelligence as the source of conscious intelligence

  1. Haven’t been reading many blogs lately, but I’m glad I caught this one. I was talking about the same stuff with my daughter this morning. When you say space-time and matter are products of mind, that’s pretty darned close to Kant’s space time and causality as the forms of our cognition. I’m getting close to a full buy-in to panpsychism. I’ll be back a lot sooner next time.

    1. Yes, Kant got as far as that. It takes some twisted thinking to see how matter, space and time could be a feature of the mind but it works.
      Good to see you here Steve, but then, here is a feature of our mind too 🙂

  2. Superb post.

    How can we actually say “matter is the fundamental substance of the universe” when the baryonic stuff only constitues 10% of the cosmos?

    Might it change things if we drop the word “intelligence” and replace it with “urge”? Urge to complexity. Urge to a better tomorrow. Adrian Bejan has teased this out in his Constructal Law of design and evolution in nature; an entirely new Law of Physics which, said as simply as possible, accounts for the phenomenon of evolution organisation (the configuration, form and design of inanimate and animate systems together) throughout nature. When viewed as a whole there exists a historically unambiguous universal tendency of design to evolve in a specific direction, and that direction has faithfully produced entities that can move more current farther and faster per unit of useful energy consumed.

    Have you looked into modern ideas on Pansychism. Max Tegmark is well into this, suggesting consciousness is a fourth state of matter.

    1. Thanks 🙂
      Matter is an old word, not only does it represent a fraction of the cosmos, in itself it is constituted of emptiness and forces. I did hear an awesome postulate of one of CERN’s scientists that explains dark matter as being matter but so short lived popping in and out of existence that you can’t detect it, but taken together it represents all that missing mass. But I digress.

      “Intelligence” is an ambiguous word which I use very approximately. I consider the structure of an hydrogen atom to have a degree of organization or intelligence. Loosely used like that, I might have used any word that indicates the opposite from random nothingness. “Urge” could work to, which would introduce direction and flow (as the constructal law says).

      Having dug deep into the roots of very complex fractals (humans, trees, river systems, galaxies), I have found very simple ‘forces’ and ‘structures’ that naturally evolve to complex and ‘intelligent’ systems. In Bejan’s words, systems whose flow improves. I think that Bejan studies phenomena and has found a winning pattern. My fractal approach (when followed back to their origins) finds the causes of such patterns without explaining them. In fact there is nothing to explain: only random patterns that survive, survive.

      From a conscious perspective, I now ask the question: how does consciousness appreciate winning patterns? I’m toying with the idea of having randomly ‘conscious’ observers (as in created randomly) observe random patterns and squeak when there is a match. A sort of speed dating between elementary random conscious observers and elementary random patterns. Like two sides of an equation 1+1 and 2 on the other.

      I am looking at panpsychism vs the other consciousness based philosophies. They seem to differ on the degree of importance of consciousness. Ranging from consciousness being the only substance to consciousness being one of the fundamental features. I suspect that that difference may just be a matter of perspective, but I shall apply curiousness as appropriate…

      OK, that was a bit long as a response perhaps 🙂

      1. On this subject, never too long.

        I do think Bejan is onto something. In fact, it appears so intuitively obvious that it’s odd that it’s taken so long to arrive at it. In concert with Integrated Information Theory (and perhaps with Tegmark’s take on pansychism) it’s all a very neat package. Of course, the Buddhists are screaming at us, “Fuck you all! We had this idea 2,600 years ago, you bastards!!”

  3. I have just listened to a theory of why some people experience ‘deja vu,’ of experiencing something that they have already done, seen, etc… In this particular explanation, it was put down to the symptoms of a temporal lobe firing off memory in an epileptic episode. Hence, deja vu was explained away as just an anomaly of a physical defect. But is it? Equally, scientists expound that life after death experiences, are also random firings of the dying brain. But… if there is an intelligent consciousness (fractal in nature), could this just be tiny glimpses put out by our mind, of that state of everything that forms beyond the physical? Could the actual experience actually show that matter is illusory?

      1. It is easy to create anything that is an illusion. Just close your eyes and imagine…

        But with your eyes open it is harder. Rupert Spira who strongly advocates that matter, time and space are experiences in consciousness and not real as such. However, even he recognizes that within our conscious experience, the ‘laws’ of physics are still valid. As he puts it, he still boards a plane to go to his next plane and uses an iPhone to make his appointments. The truth of matter is an illusion but within the illusion the limitations of matter are still true.

      2. Makes sense. So the trick is to bridge the gap.
        We board the plane that carries us physically to a new destination, yet the matter that makes up the physical aircraft, is full of excited atoms travelling themselves within a vast amount of space, and writhing each atom, a tiny fragment of existence of excited sub atomic particles colliding in a dance of energy… And at that basic level, those energy sources are unaware of the physical aircraft. We must be a small component in something bigger, something that we are totally unaware about!

    1. Interestingly,I was just reading about the latest understanding of deja vu and concluded that there is no single explanation. In some cases it is simply a miss-firing of a “recognition neuron” that makes us believe that have seen something already and than we rationalize our way into believing that we really did experience this. But neurologists admit that there are cases where this doesn’t apply.

      Referring to the post on Ouspensky, he would probably say that we may well see things that haven’t happened yet simply because if we take a 4 dimensional view where our time is stretched as space, then anything that has happened that the things that will happen, are all there, always. A deja vu would then simply a short cut that allowed us to us across the expanse of time.

      One of the problems with experience as a proof of consciousness in a timeless environment is that it can only ever be experience as an experience. Science has no instruments that can measure the timeless. So what we see is that individuals that may have meaningful deja vu experiences can only convince themselves and those that want to be convinced.

      I am rereading “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” in which Phaedrus clearly established that everything we know, every theory ever proven is a figment in our mind, a ghost. There is little doubt among scientists that take the time to consider consciousness that matter is indeed non-existent and that both time & space, colour, taste etc are experiences of the mind that have no provable relationship with reality. Science doesn’t know what reality is. All science does is establish models within a context of the various sciences. The foundation of not address by science, at least not yet.

      1. So, we live in a hologram perhaps? And if so, then reality is only a reflection of the Universal Mind as it manifests mass thought?

  4. I am very new to this place. But what a discovery! Thank you, Colette, and good to John Zande here as well.

    Anyway, I have just read this post and realise that it has exposed a core weakness in me: I need a ‘teach-in’ on dualism. Can you recommend some reading for me? Hopefully online!

    Then I can return to this post and re-read it with fresh eyes!

    1. Great to see you here, Paul. This is a mixed bag but occasionally I manage to surprise myself.

      There is a group called Science And Non Duality (SAND). They host a conference that attracts all the “movers & shakers” of non duality. In truth, non duality is just an abstract form of Buddhism without the bells and whistles and a few short cuts.

      1. Thank you, Henk. It’s good to be aboard! Regrettably your reply doesn’t help me for I can’t define in my mind what you mean by “an abstract form of Buddhism”. What is the straightforward definition of non duality?

      2. The believe that there is only one reality: mind. If you substitute “mind” for “tao” then the opening verse of the Tao Te Ching defines it best:

        Tao (The Way) that can be spoken of is not the Constant Tao’
        The name that can be named is not a Constant Name.
        Nameless, is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
        The named is the Mother of all things.
        Thus, the constant void enables one to observe the true essence.
        The constant being enables one to see the outward manifestations.
        These two come paired from the same origin.
        But when the essence is manifested,
        It has a different name.
        This same origin is called “The Profound Mystery.”
        As profound the mystery as It can be,
        It is the Gate to the essence of all life.

        According to non-dialism, you can’t define “mind” because it comes before definition. “mind” is the source of it all, including language itself. Non-dualists believe that we are each a squiggle of consciousness (other word for ‘mind’). What we perceive as reality such as rocks, trees, skies etc are all projections of consciousness. Even what we ordinarily call mind, is a projection of the actual non-finite ‘mind’. Confused, that’s OK. Most people need 20+ years to understand all this.

  5. Perfect! And very helpful. I’m just a guy, born in London six months before the end of WWII, that is trying to be at rest with some core, fundamental aspects of what it is to be human: correction! what it is to be me, before the reality of death truly puts me to rest! 😎

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