What is Consciousness?–Getting our Categories Straight and Asking the Right Questions

I know some of you–perhaps many of you–have followed the work of Dr. Robert L. Kuhn on his TV and now Youtube programs “Closer to Truth.” If you have not visited the web site lately, it has been marvelously redesigned and Robert is ever at work with new horizons…see closertotruth.com.  The program looks at the broad categories of Cosmos, Consciousness, and Meaning, drawing upon a wide range of scientific, historical, and philosphical approaches.

I received the following from Robert this week and pass it along with his permission:

My comprehensive review of theories of consciousness, A Landscape of Consciousness: Toward a Taxonomy of Explanations and Implications, derived in part from Closer To Truth, was just published in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology — and will appear in print in August.

In the paper, I seek an organizing framework for diverse theories of consciousness and to explore their impact on big questions. My central theses are twofold: (i) understanding consciousness at this point cannot be limited to selected ways of thinking or knowing, but should seek expansive yet rational diversity, and (ii) issues related to consciousness, such as AI consciousness, virtual immortality, meaning/purpose/value, life after death, free will, etc., cannot be understood except in the light of particular theories of consciousness. In addition, I want to present consciousness and its significance to broad scientific and scholarly communities.

The paper has good visibility in scientific circles. Any promotion in other communities via social media and/or personal networks welcome (but not expected).

I know Robert has worked on this harder than anything he has ever produced…and the results are remarkable.  I may have mentioned here before that I have a whole series of interviews with Dr. Kuhn which you can find very conveniently collected here: https://closertotruth.com/contributor/james-tabor/

On an even more personal note, I had Robert as a guest in the LAST university class I taught, capping off my 45 year career, when I “retired” in July 2022. Here is a recording of that class for those interested:

Thoughts on Some Monday…

Paul Tillich once said, I don’t pray, I meditate. I would head in that direction, but with this change: I neither pray, nor meditate, but I try to “atune,” through most of my waking moments, to the greater ordered PROCESS that has given rise to my very being. I am particularly fond of “naming” that personal conscious Process/Force as “HaShem,” the unnamed name who cannot be limited by any diminishing proper noun.
If I have to offer anything more specific, it might be something along the lines of “The Great Orchestrator…” Not of massive events, miracles, magic tricks, or anything noticeable or dramatically impressive, but somehow, the Force of all Forces, in which our very being is grounded, witnessed by the emergence of self-consciousness and the values of justice, truth, compassion, and kindness, and connecting the dots and circuits of our lives between the millions of humans who are somehow “tuned in” to have “ears to hear,” and a “heart to understand.” There is a cosmic clear channel always open. This unfolding must involve chance and necessity, circumstance, contingency, serendipity, congruence, and all obvious realities of tragedy, suffering, joy, and love. Who we connect with in our lives. What chance idea or inclination we seem to grab out of thin air, that ends up co-ordinating with something else, that in turn unfolds in this or that course or direction, too complex for even an imaginary future Quantum Computer to factor out…but nonetheless operating at all times end places in history. The goal is to promote the good, the beautiful, the creative, the just, and the compassionate–and the outcome, finally, is pure joy

What Rough Beast . . .?

W.B. Yeats’ The Second Coming:
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Days of Infamy…

October 10, 2023

Dear Friends,

Day 4—I woke up at 3am with my heart and mind on Israel. I am following i24News, which I highly recommend (internet or YT)—it is fair, balanced, and reliable. The first story I watched was of the report of over 100 bodies recovered from Kibbutz Be’eri…and scores from Kfar Aza–both including many babies. They are just now this morning going through all the kibbutzim and towns that were ravaged on Saturday. I am filled with fury, sadness, love, and stunned silence. The Hamas charter is almost identical to Isis in its goals for the Middle East and the world…these horrors have nothing to do with the rights of Arabs living on the West side of the Jordan. It is about human rights, freedom, democracy, and decency.

The horrors unfolding this weekend are unspeakable. Many write of behaving like “animals” but we need another category. Those animals who kill almost always do it for food, except in cases of social or individual anomalies…and many “do no harm” to other creatures at all. In Hebrew a good term is אֲנָשִׁ֣ים רֵיקִ֔ים–lit. “empty people.” I think the venerable KJV used “worthless fellows,” which also fits, but does not pick up on the sadistic evil.

I believe this is the Valley of Decision for our world—people, groups, religious communities, and nations are being separated. Russian, Iran, North Korea, China and others—of varying degree of culpability—plus each and every person who learns what is happening, is being judged…

I wish peace to all humans of good will…always–as all good people do. But we all know we live in a world “outside the Gates of Eden” (thanks Bobby Z), with that horrible mix of “the good, the bad,”–and yes, let’s add “the ugly,” (thanks Clint Eastwood).

My life has come to a halt this week. I am not posting videos on YT, blog posts, or anything else–I don’t have the presence of mind right now. I am following the news and unfolding events. I am closely connected to several of the dead—and one of the abductees–and since Israel is such a tight knight country, from those I know I am immediately told of untold others that those friends are connected to. I lived through 1967 and 1973—and two intifadas and five Gaza attacks—with 73 trips to the Holy Land, sometimes staying for two or three months. I know and love Jews, Christians, and Muslims…but I tell you this is different. It is a watershed. We are back to 1936…and the nations are being weighed in the balance.

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

There are countless dichotomies of the human species collectively called Homo Sapiens–or if you prefer Homo Stultus.
Good and Evil; Strong and Weak; Smart and Stupid; Male and Female; Poor and Rich, and on and on it goes…

The one that I think most defines and separates us all:
“What’s it all about–Alfie Types”                            and                        “I never really think about it Types”

If you don’t get the Alfie part ignore–it’s from a movie . . .but in my limited observation of individuals this dichotomy might be the most crucial. I would not venture to even guess about percentages–and some might exhibit one type and end up another, in either direction, over the years. Taking up the Quest or Giving it up out of disappointment. I have been on the Alfie path for as long as I can remember, discouraged at times, but never for a moment able to forget the Big Question…in which the very asking puts you on one side of humanity or the other.

The Whole and its Parts…God as Process

The Whole is more than the sum of its parts, but it can not be less than any one “part.”

When I speak of God, that word means to me the unseen force of all forces that drives this universe and cosmos of which we are cognizant and makes you and me the creatures we are with all the mystical existence we know and enjoy upon this earth.

Jack Pyle, personal letter reflecting on our “Closer to Truth” conversations

That Force of all Forces…

Bits and Bites

It’s easy to confuse a soulmate with a mirror.

On the jagged edge of the world I’ll roam, and the realm of the wolf shall be my home.

The liar’s punishment is not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else.

The past is hard to face sometimes. Time moves us ever forward. Consequences remain. Maybe we should all be judged by what we do today.

Death, Afterlife, and the Future in the Western World

I am really looking forward to this new series on Youtube.

Please like and share this short introductory video, as I think many others will want to follow these studies. Here is the link for a PDF of article I mention in the video that I am asking you all to at least begin reading. Enjoy!!  “What the Bible Really Says About Death, Afterlife, and the Future,” in What the Bible Really Says, edited by Morton Smith and Joseph Hoffmann (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989 (Harper & Row paperback, 1990), pp. 33-51.

The Bad Idea that Took Over the World

Most forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–not to mention more “eastern” modes of thinking, have gone down this path pretty much wholesale–that this earth is not our Home–a kind of alienation from the world. Salvation is beyond. I call this the “bad” idea that took over the world. I prefer Robert Frost’s line Birches: The earth’s the right place to be; I don’t know where its likely to go better…”  

Please subscribe to my Youtube Channel if this looks interesting to you. I have uploaded nearly 200 videos since I began last year–with much more to come. 

This video lecture that I did in 2015 covers some of the most basic presupposition of an upcoming series I am doing on Youtube on “Death, Afterlife, and the Future” in the ancient Western world. See what you think. I am convinced that the core idea has permeated every facet of our culture–religious as well as philosophical. It is like it is in our mother’s milk.

Understanding the 1993 Waco Tragedy: A One Hour Tutorial

Thirty years ago…Some of my readers remember, others were not old enough, but heard from parents, and some not even born–like many of my students in their 20s. I asked an undergrad class of 70 last year–Who has heard of Waco, the Branch Davidians, or David Koresh? Five hands went up, but none knew much about it. The rest had no reference point with any of these three key terms.

My parents remembered FDR’s death, Pearl Harbor, and D-Day. I remember the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and Robert Kennedy, Viet Nam, and the 1960s. Waco was 1993. But even September 11, 2001 is becoming too long ago for our college age kids.

That I was even so closely involved in the Waco confrontation with the BATF/FBI is a story in itself. My field is ancient apocalyptic  ideas, not new religious movements–but in this case the overlap and “fit” between understanding Waco and ancient constructs was rather tight. See my article, “Patterns of the End: Textual Weaving from Qumran to Waco,” which you can download and read free of charge.

So whether you remember April 19, 1993 or not, here it is In One Hour–the good, bad, and ugly of it all…This is one of the tightest summaries the whole Waco story that I have done over the years–from origins of the Branch Davidians in the 1930s to the disastrous end at Mt Carmel after the 51 Day siege in Waco, TX in 1993 (Feb 28-April 19).