This week I listened to Sam Harris interview his wife Annaka on his podcast Making Sense. She has recently written a book entitled Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind, which I should note I haven’t read. An interesting moment occurred when she said it was not altogether obvious why consciousness should exist from an evolutionary perspective, because there is very little, if anything, that we cannot imagine occurring just as well without a conscious witness to the proceedings. We can visualize a computerized intelligence, for instance, with the right programming, that could behave much like a human being without actually being aware of what it was doing, or how it felt to be doing those things.
This led Annaka to ponder the possibility that consciousness is not something that is the product of matter and energy, but is a fundamental part of nature, or fundamental to physical reality let’s say. It exists in the same way that matter and energy do, as a given. I’m a little unclear on exactly what to say about what she really means, because I haven’t read her book, and because its admittedly a challenging topic to review in detail. She and Sam were very careful at this point to note that this is a scientific conception of consciousness, wholly unrelated to New Age ideas of the topic. It always amuses me when people insist on these distinctions, because it’s sort of like saying we have a scientific theory of why things fall down to the ground, and just so you know, it’s completely unrelated to the layman’s delusional awareness that things fall down due to a mysterious force.
These false categories do nothing but sustain false lines of demarcation. We draw them because it makes us feel good to be on the right side of them, but they are of no real value to the process of inquiry.
Enough on that. What brought me to the page this evening was an interesting idea that struck me as Sam and Annaka were exploring this topic of panpsychism, which is the word for a range of ideas related to the idea that consciousness exists—in some form—at all levels of physical phenomena. I realized there is an insistence when approaching the topic scientifically to note that atoms have such a miniscule, dim, and protean form of consciousness that it would barely be considered consciousness at all. In other words, humans are at the apex of known forms of consciousness, and atoms have the awareness of comatose bricks in a wall. The idea that struck me is that we quite possibly have this backwards.
I’m going to get New Age now and refer to A Course in Miracles, which for me is as valid a source of information as any scientific experiment. It also is irrelevant, as core ideas in the Course can be found in essentially all spiritual teachings that aim at offering its practitioners the experience of non-duality. The Course is just one form of what I believe is a universal truth, and this particular form happened to appeal to me. At any rate, there is an idea presented early in the Course, and which only appears on a few occasions, but which made a big impact on me when I first encountered it. It goes like this, “…the mind is naturally abstract.” I would like to relate this to the notion that human consciousness is quite possibly a much more limited form of consciousness than that which obtains throughout the universe. It’s just a fun idea to ponder, so bear with me please.
Now, when the Course speaks about the mind, it is speaking about the One Mind, or the whole Mind, or the instantaneous totality of being of which all that exists partakes. It’s hard to describe in words. You can’t describe it in words. But you can give some inklings, just as you can give kindling some heat, and hope that at some point awareness catches fire… The basic point in the Course is that specificity, and the situational awareness so conducive to winning professional sports titles, is really secondary. It is illusory, and fundamentally related to what Annaka and Sam would both describe as delusional notions: one being the sense of a personal self, and the second being free will. These don’t exist as we think they do, according to Sam, and I agree. I’ll actually agree and disagree simultaneously on the notion of a personal self, because it’s paradoxical to a certain extent. But for the purpose of this discussion let’s equate a personal self with an egoic awareness—with the idea that there is an “I” that exists separately from all other “I’s.”
The Course says, “Everything the ego perceives is a separate whole, without the relationships that imply being. The ego is thus against communication, except insofar as it is utilized to establish separateness rather than to abolish it. The communication system of the ego is based on its own thought system, as is everything else it dictates. Its communication is controlled by its need to protect itself, and it will disrupt communication when it experiences threat. This disruption is a reaction to a specific person or persons. The specificity of the ego’s thinking, then, results in spurious generalization which is really not abstract at all. It merely responds in certain specific ways to everything it perceives as related.
“In contrast, spirit reacts in the same way to everything it knows is true, and does not respond at all to anything else. Nor does it make any attempt to establish what is true. It knows that what is true is everything that God created. It is in complete and direct communication with every aspect of creation, because it is in complete and direct communication with its Creator. This communication is the Will of God. Creation and communication are synonymous. God created every mind by communicating His Mind to it, thus establishing it forever as a channel for the reception of His Mind and Will. Since only beings of a like order can truly communicate, His creations naturally communicate with Him and like Him. This communication is perfectly abstract, since its quality is universal in application and not subject to any judgment, any exception or any alteration.” (emphasis added, quotes taken from the Text, Chapter 4, Section VII, Paragraphs 2-3)
What does it mean for the mind’s natural state to be a perfect abstraction? It sounds kind of ridiculous. But what it means is that the mind, in its natural state, might say, “I love,” and stop there, instead of saying “I love ice cream.” There need be no object—no specificity—to the mind’s natural extension of Love, since it extends love simultaneously to all that exists with it, and as it, and thus has no concept whatsoever of inventions or schemes (such as the ego’s concept of a separateness between beings) that do not ultimately obtain.
What I’m proposing when I suggest that the scientific notions of panpsychism as presently framed are fundamentally backwards, or upside-down, is that the simplest forms of matter and energy are the least constrained. We like to think consciousness is all about having experiences, and for us that means having experiences as a human being. For the vast majority of us, that means having experiences as a particular human being. The forms of conscious awareness most readily available to us are those bound by this beautiful complexity we call a body. But a particle—whose behavior in quantum mechanics can be explained perfectly by presuming that it explores every possible state available in the entire universe simultaneously—is not bound at all by this complexity. It could, conceivably, possess a far more abstract form of awareness, which for us is indeed unfathomable. We could say it is so dim as to be nothing at all… or we could flip the coin and say it is so bright as to be everything at once. It really is not possible for us to distinguish between these two possibilities.
The long and short is that I find it very interesting to consider that complexity is, paradoxically, proportional to limitations when it comes to consciousness. That’s not to say there are not beautiful and holy spaces to explore through this lens. There are. But I suspect a valid theory of panpsychism will need to reframe the very idea of materialism, by considering that physical systems do indeed inform consciousness—not by building it up, but by focusing it down into very specific pathways, in order to yield very specific forms of experience. Materialism would then predict that the formation of complex systems is the product of collapsing the natural, unbounded and unified form of consciousness that ultimately exists within and as everything, into localized, ephemeral, illusory, but instructive vehicles for the creation of novel experiences.
The body in this view is not an exemplar of heightened consciousness, but an exemplar of specificity, giving rise to a very limited form of consciousness.
Always so delightful to read your mind ponderings Michael… I try to stay out of my human mind that I began to realise is so limited, but a beautiful gift we all gave ourselves to be able to experience duality on Earth. I don’t believe we can ever discover answers from within the mind, even though it is in itself a sliver of limited consciousness. Instead I allow myself to feel beyond the mind into what I imagine is a pool of everything that all is. Much love yo you dear Michael❤️, Barbara x
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Thanks for your note. I would agree there are limitations to what the human-eye view can provide, but these are balanced to some extent by the inspirations and creative knowings we receive from what lies beyond our present sight. What a joy it can be to behold the Mystery…
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i’m impressed with your synthesis, Michael!
as the mind can go
in a thousand directions,
i’ll enjoy sitting and pondering
this post for now 🙂
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Good call, David! Ha! Thanks for reading and responding with the wisdom that marks your passage through here… This was a fun thought that caught hold of me, and fun to explore for a wink or two of time!
Fascinating, as usual, Michael. So lovely to read you again. We humans so love to try to figure things out, to earn our place on the top of the consciousness hierarchy. There’s a whole realm out there that remains beyond language., especially when it comes to different levels of consciousness. It’s natural to try to describe everything, but I now find it very liberating to just sit with the mystery.
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Thank you so much, Julie. Yes, I agree about trying to figure everything out… but also about the realms beyond language. They do nurture me so, and you too, I suspect. Just being aware the Mystery is there, and that we are involved in something open-ended and profoundly beyond anything I could actually contrive to name or limit, is beautiful…
Interesting post Michael. It’s refreshing to see a different perspective on this complicated topic of consciousness and how it might be grounded in the panpsychism architecture you outlined. Panpsychism is the most parsimonious explanation of why physical states give rise to our own experience of consciousness, even if we don’t understand its dynamics.
In agreement with your proposition, fundamental particles that are conscious do possess the greatest possibility for the conditions that are necessary in order to make up the construct of our complex universe including ourselves. I see consciousness as the linear, continuous system (the hardware) that the discrete systems of appearances (the software) run on. According to this model, discrete systems, beginning with the most fundamental systems would all be conditions. And those conditions are the underlying architecture of all possibilities, and those possibilities would become the building blocks for other conditions and so forth.
I think the most compelling question to consider is the one David Chalmers raised: “Why conscious experience at all?” If our own conscious experience is a condition, that condition would also be a possibility, and that possibility would become another condition. What would the possibility of that condition be, and what would that condition look like?
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Thanks for reaching out. I know you seconded a notion I had suggested over at Mike’s place once, and I never responded, but I recall being very busy at work at the time and the moment passed. I’ll tell you that your comments there have always been very interesting to me.
You are clearly very intelligent and it took me a couple of read-throughs to grasp this comment you’ve offered. If I may, I’d like to attempt to repeat what you’ve said in my own words to see if you think I’ve understand you. When you say consciousness is the hardware–for me that means you see consciousness as the infrastructure which the phenomenal aspects of our universe require behind the scenes to “run on.” I’m not sure what you mean by linear and continuous, but if a ball needs a surface to bounce upon in order to trace a clever path, that surface would be consciousness. Am I right?
So then, your phrase “discrete systems of appearances” strikes me as relating to transitory phenomena or transitory states. Appearances sounds to me like something temporary. Don’t ask me why… but it does. But it makes sense, because I think it sounds a bit like the notion of impermanence in Buddhist thought. And discrete also is something temporary, as anything discrete is time bound and also therefore transitory. So, I interpret us to be in at least general agreement that transitory phenomena run on the infrastructure of consciousness, (whatever consciousness may be, which I confess, in its most abstract form is surely beyond my comprehension).
And lastly, to describe a discrete system of appearances as a condition means to me that, by being something in particular–as opposed to something truly empty or all-encompassing, which would be without attributes or particularity–the discrete system as some thing creates the opportunity for some other thing to come into being in relationship to it. And in this respect, putting a stake in the ground, albeit a temporary, transitory one, establishes new points on the map for the next stakes to exist in relationship to.
Are we tracking, good sir?
Even if we are, I fear I cannot answer your final question. Ha! It seems you are asking what potentialities human consciousness may be preparing the way for, and I don’t have an answer to offer with certainty. My personal belief and opinion is that we have been existing in a dominant conditions of separation consciousness in which we mistakenly presume we are truly independent of one another, and that what this will yield to in its good time is unity consciousness in which we comprehend simultaneously our unity, even amidst our temporary differentiation from one another, which enables us to come into being in relationship to one another.
But I don’t know if that floats your boat or not.
Thank you for sharing, Lee.
“Are we tracking, good sir?”
You are very intuitive Michael… Just a couple of notes to explicate a linear, continuous system in contrast to a discrete system. The Greek Parmenides was the first to establish the infamous Reality/Appearance distinction. Nagarjuna followed suit in the East a few hundred years later by introducing the Two Truths doctrine, a doctrine which distinguishes the Reality from the Appearance of Reality which he characterized as the Ultimate Reality in contrast to our Convention Reality, i.e., the phenomenal realm. So according to these models, there is a definitive dividing line or a clear distinction between Reality itself and the Appearance of reality. So in conclusion: consciousness, as a feature of the Ultimate Realty would be the linear, continuous system, (the hardware) that the discrete systems of appearances (the software) run on. The discrete systems of appearances are the expression of the Ultimate Reality. Our phenomenal realm is literally a living, dynamic work of art.
It doesn’t float my boat Michael, but thanks for sharing your own personal belief and opinion. Now I shall reciprocate: Our own personal experience of consciousness as a discrete system is not an illusion, it is real enough, but that “real-ness” is contextual as outlined above. If we consider all discrete systems to be conditions, and those conditions are possibilities; then once those discrete systems reach the apex of the human experience of consciousness, one is compelled by David Chalmers pondering. Taken as a whole, there is plenty of evidence in the written, historical records, throughout many different cultures, especially within the Judean/Christian traditions to suggest; that our condition is a possibility, and that possibility is the potential of being transformed from an expression of Reality to literally becoming Reality itself, as Reality, is Reality, (whatever that might be).
Thanks for your time Michael, and peace be to you also.
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Thanks for clarifying. Having read your response, I am not sure we actually disagree on much, and while what I wrote may not have floated your boat, what you said here completely floated mine. I agree wholeheartedly with this, The discrete systems of appearances are the expression of the Ultimate Reality. Our phenomenal realm is literally a living, dynamic work of art.
A Course in Miracles, which I referenced above, and noted was perhaps one form of a universal idea, would also agree completely with the Reality/Appearance distinction you noted. Likewise, the subsequent text in the series, A Course of Love, agrees completely with your concluding paragraph, with regards to the possibility of potential being transformed from an expression of Reality into Reality itself. Agree 100%.
Your opening comment was just difficult for me to parse, and I probably used terminology in my reply that was equally opaque. But I’m completely on board with your follow-up. Thank you…
Hello, Lee. I occasionally visit selfawarepatterns.com and here.
I noticed your comments on that blog here and there, and like Michael here said, you are intellegent. I like the way you people think.
I used to think panpsychism was completely pseduoscientific, science fiction and/or bull. But not anymore. I’m open.
And I have not read this book by Annaka Harris ( interesting person ), but I plan on purchasing it as soon as I can afford to do so.
My more specific comments regarding panpsychism can be viewed on Phillip Goff’s blog: (conscienceandconsciousness.com) in the articles titled: “Is Panpsychism Inconsistent With Physics?” and also “Can Panpsychism be Tested and does it Matter? You might find my comments interesting….
Thank you. Sorry for late response
Upon further evaluation of your belief Michael, your articulation of a “unity consciousness” may indeed be on target within a contextual framework. Here’s my take on that framework: The objective reality of the unknown is the elephant in the room. In the framework of our primary experience, homo sapiens have either a chronic relationship with that objective reality or an acute relationship with that objective reality. Chronic relationships are not problematic because individuals who experience this condition have the innate ability to believe, and/of cling to an intellectual construct which gives them stability and a sense of control. Acute relationships are more problematic for individuals because the objective reality of the unknown is more immediate, keen or sharp. Intellectual constructs do not have the same staying power as they do for chronic relationships, so these individuals will move from one intellectual construct to another seeking that all evasive sense of control. These individuals are unfairly characterized as individuals who have additive behaviors. Unfortunately, that is the condition of our primary experience. The next possibility on the evolutionary ladder is a condition where as a discrete system, the expression has a meaningful relationship with the unknown.
Kant’s model of transcendental idealism is an “ideal” ontological model except for one built in paradox, and that paradox is that the “thing-in-itself” is unknowable. This is where I disagree with Kant and where your articulation of a unity consciousness may fit. The Ultimate Reality will always be unknown, but that reality is “not” unknowable. It is at this convergent point of singularity, where the dynamic experience of engaging in a meaningful relationship with the unknown is a shared, common experience by every individual who is a participant in that experience. There is no separation at this convergent point of singularity, and it is here where individuals can meet each other and recognize the exact, same, shared experience. It is an experience which literally has one voice.
Don’t know if that makes any sense to you…
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I struggle a bit with your use of terms like acute and chronic to describe our relationship with the unknown, but I would like to say that your second paragraph is precisely in-line (if we can be precise about such things) with what I mean by unity. It’s exciting to me to read it, because you describe not only “what” it is, but what it offers, which is the ability of individuals [to] meet each other and recognize the exact, same, shared experience. And yet it remains an experience of the unknown, and there is a richness to the way we bring it out in one another.
So this does make sense to me. What I mean by separation consciousness would be much like what Parmenides would describe as a human caught in illusion. Without access to the Ultimate Reality, we all too easily presume that the appearance is all there is to it, and then we are snared by this perception of our “selves” that is incorrectly rooted. That is perhaps human consciousness prior to what you describe in the final sentence of your first paragraph–when the expression develops a meaningful relationship with the unknown, for to your point, it is this shedding of a false skin that enables true joining in that convergent point of singularity…
Lovely stuff, Lee! I’m very grateful you’ve chimed in here.
Duly noted Michael,
The late philosopher Richard Rorty once noted: That without a vocabulary that captures either the way the world really is, or a core human nature, there is never any possibility to locate a metaphysical foundation for truth and that the endeavor should be abandoned. His justification consists of few words: In order to locate this standard, the seeker must already be at the convergent consensus point which is being sought. The seeker must already know what this is in order to recognize it when seen.
No truer words have been spoken by a modern day philosopher and I have always been intrigued by Rorty’s intuition. It has been my experience, that this enigmatic convergent consensus point is something that is done to the individual, it is not a choice of free will that one can exercise. The individual is either predisposed to be at this convergent consensus point by birth or through a dramatic, traumatic transformation very similar to what the Apostle Paul of the new testament experienced. From what I’ve seen and personally experienced, a transformation to the convergent consensus point is clearly on the terms of the unknown and does not take place on our terms. I would like your input on this point…
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Apologies for the delay here. It’s a very interesting question you pose, and I don’t know that I have a definitive answer. For me, it gets into the space where boundaries between the individual’s will and the reality of the convergent consensus point exist in an almost quantum superposition. Does the individual control this? I would say no. For it is the very loss of that controlling (egoic) self that ushers us to the convergent consensus point (CCP). So, it is clearly not in any one individual’s control per se.
And yet, it strikes me that individuals can feel the attraction of this CCP, and since I don’t feel any of us are ever truly divergent from it, then it’s never the case that we don’t possess an innate knowledge of it. We may dissociate from it. But it’s never lost to us. And so something like a desire for it may aid in shifting focus from the image to the content. Now desire is tricky, too, because it also is something that is sort of out of our control, but I think we can cultivate it, or at least feed it. And so in that sense, while the culmination involves a dissolution of what it means to accomplish this movement “on our own terms” I do think, paradoxically, we are capable of surrendering to our desire for what is wholly alive in us. For what is whole, and holy, and profound.
But I acknowledge some don’t feel even this desire, and yet I think they do… it just gets expressed in different ways. So, sorry for the rambling here. Do we individually and independently control this? No. But have we ever truly been distinct from it? No. So even to answer the question quickly carries me to a place for which I just don’t have the words…
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Thanks for your response Michael,
I appreciate your candor and openness. The idea of “disassociation” is a long standing tradition of eastern idealism and one of its grounding tenets. Being very familiar with that tradition, eastern idealism, just like western traditions or any other traditions are all intellectual constructions. What being at the convergent consensus point (CCP) teaches us is that all constructs are irrelevant. Constructs are a phenomenon of our primary experience, because as an expression ourselves, which itself is a construction, the only “thing” that we have access to are constructs. Therefore, our entire experience is predicated upon constructs of one form or another. We inherent them, adapt them for our own use, reinvent them or create new ones for ourselves in an attempt to explain ourselves. All intellectual constructs are originally designed to serve us, but in a twisted irony of fate, we end up serving these constructs because they give us a transient sense of control. The phenomenon of control cannot be overstated, because control is coextensive with the self-model. One cannot have a “sense” of self without the coextensive “sense” of control. That in a nutshell is the underlying form of our primary experience.
These intellectual constructs are what you often refer to in your writings as the array of divergent traditions, be them scientific, religious, spiritual, or whatever. These traditions, all of which are intellectual constructions may indeed be valid, but none of them are reliable, let alone relevant. The only thing that can be trusted is being an active participant of the dynamic experience, an experience which itself is a condition, the next evolutionary ontological level of consciousness. The dynamic experience is a “meaningful” relationship with the unknown, one that is free from the influence of constructs.
Thank you for your thoughts Michael,
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Interesting, Lee. So the most helpful of these intellectual constructs/traditions would include within them a proviso they they should not be taken literally, nor as truths within themselves. Reminds me of the Thai monk Acharn Mun, and others, including the Buddha (the Raft parable, etc.)
Just a quick anecdote Michael: I found your short expose’ over at Mike Smiths blog brilliant, absolutely brilliant… Of course Wyrd won’t pick up on it, and it’s not his fault, that’s just the way it is.
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Thank you, Lee. I appreciate the note. I am traveling this weekend and the first part of the week, so will respond to your previous note when I have some more time to give a cogent reply.
This is an interesting post, and one that I largely agree with. From my understanding of A Course in Miracles, this world was made as “an attack on God” and on his oneness. However, the moment we had the idea of separation, the Holy Spirit was created, and he was with us as we made this world of separation. With the presence of the Holy Spirit, this world was made so that it could be reversed from one of guilt and attack to one of forgiveness and true perception.
This true perception is necessary before we return to knowledge, a true omniscience, because everything is fundamentally connected. Our current consciousness is only aware of our very limited perceptions, and we see only what we want to see. We cannot avoid psychology here, because everything is mediated by the mind.
If I understand the Course correctly, there will come a time when one person completes his lessons of forgiveness, his mind becomes purified, and he awakens those who are ready to awaken to the “real world,” a world in which bodies are still used but one in which the mind does not feel limited to the body, but rather anticipates with joy its imminent arrival home, where it will become completely aware of where and what it has always been.
As far as panpsychism goes, the Course says that our brothers are everything that God created, and if God created spirits or souls in electrons, then they are our “brothers” too, in the one united mind of creation. And I agree that particles could be more aware, free, and unlimited than humans. In addition, in another dimension, perhaps there are awakened beings who are anticipating with joy our return to oneness, to the one mind.
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Thank you for your note!
I think you’ve summarized elements of A Course in Miracles fairly well, though I might emphasize things a little differently. For instance, when we say “world” it can mean “the self-referencing system of perceptions that we hold” and thus suggest that when we believe we are separate, that is what we perceive, in which case the reality around us takes on a particular tint that is ultimately not there… or it can mean “the physical world around us–the trees, the butterflies, the rivers and streams, the mountains…” are an attack on God. The latter, I do not believe. The former, I do.
But these are matters of one’s own heart. To be at peace with oneself, to be able to love all those with whom we come into contact, is ultimately the key. I thought this was a fun idea to play around with, but when it comes to suggesting I have a clue how it really is, I’ll admit I do not. I do like to wonder, and imagine, and dream. And you get some interesting ideas from letting yourself do those things. And those are delightful experiences. We meet God there, I think, even if the ideas we concoct while wandering through the imaginal fields are not 100% accurate. What could ever be 100% accurate when discussing capital-R Reality!? Ha! But the heart-feeling is there…
Thank you for going on the ride with me.
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An important question to me is this: If everything is energy, then what is the difference between the body and the spirit, the temporal and the eternal, the unreal and the real? The following quotation may shed some light on this question.
“Only the mind is capable of illumination. Spirit is already illuminated, and the body in itself is too dense. The mind, however, can bring its own illumination to the body by recognizing that density is the opposite of intelligence, and therefore unamenable to independent learning. It is, however, easily brought into alignment with a mind which has learned to look beyond density toward light.” –A Course in Miracles: Complete and Annotated Edition
In other words, the body in itself is too dense to be illumined, but the illumined mind can bring the body into alignment with itself and bring its illumination to the body. This seems to mean that while an illumined mind is associated with a body, the body becomes illumined too. But once the illumined mind leaves the body, the body reverts to its unreal and temporal condition.
Another question is this: Do particles have a body, spirit, and mind, as we seem to have, or are they only spirit? These are not questions that I can answer yet, but I believe they will be answered eventually.
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Definitely interesting questions, Alan. I tend to think the body is the energy of God, too, just in a different state. Certainly a denser state, like you said. Just as water can be a vapor, a liquid, or a solid. It’s a crude example, but I don’t think that ultimately anything is separate. What is temporal about the body is its particular structure, or organization, but the energy bound up in that dense matter ultimately finds new forms when the body is left behind, and nothing is ever lost.
I have no idea about the particles, but in playing around with the ideas here, in my view they would be closer to the point of intersection of solid, liquid and vapor. I don’t know if you know much thermodynamics, so excuse me if you do, but there is also a supercritical state of water in which the liquid and vapor phases cannot be separately discerned. If I had to think anything on this, I’d say the particles we’re discussing here are probably something like that: at the point where the pure energy of Spirit is just beginning to condense into matter. Body and spirit would be virtually interwoven. But these are just ideas!
Would be fun to see where the future of knowledge takes us!
Thanks for your reply, Alan.
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