Introduction Part 1: Philosophical Foundations of My Big TOE

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Are we bodies? Are we minds? Are we both? Part 1 of this introduction explains why the most rational assumption is that consciousness – not matter – is the only thing that fundamentally exists. My Big TOE conceives of the universe as a virtual reality, and we will see how this solves the problem of mind-body interaction and accounts for the fact that we experience a common, seemingly physical reality governed by mathematical laws of nature.

As we set out to probe the fabric of reality, it seems useful to begin with ourselves. This will help us lay the philosophical foundations required for a Big Theory of Everything. Who and what, really, are we? Giving a coherent answer to this metaphysical question is not straightforward.

On the one hand, we tend to identify almost completely with our bodies: our physical appearance, abilities, skills and limitations. Our bodies are as unique as our personalities. It is also our bodies by which others recognize us and relate to us.

At the same time, we feel that there’s more to us – that there’s an immaterial “I” which is the “owner” of “our” body. Some call it soul or spirit, others simply call it mind or consciousness. They all refer to something non-physical that is the real "us” – something that may carry on after our body perishes by entering another realm of existence.

For many people, this is largely a hope or belief, instilled in them through their religion or culture at large. For others, it’s much more than that: a certainty achieved through transformative personal experiences.

Yet others remain skeptical. Yes, it might feel as if our consciousness were something distinct from our bodies. But where is the evidence to support such a dualistic view of ourselves? How can we be made of two different types of stuff, and how do they interact with one another?

Perhaps the most prominent attempt to solve this puzzle relied on logical reasoning.

Dualism: Are Mind and Matter Both Fundamental?

“I think, therefore I am.” – this statement by René Descartes, a 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician and scientist, may be the most quoted in all philosophy. What does it mean?

On a quest to probe the nature of reality, Descartes skeptically examined which things could be said to exist beyond doubt. At the end of his investigation, he found he could doubt almost anything. It was conceivable that the entire physical world could be a dream or an illusion, or that his senses were being deceived by an evil demon. The one thing he couldn’t doubt, however, was his own thinking mind – because it was his mind which was doing the doubting in the first place.

Descartes had thus achieved certainty about consciousness being fundamental to reality, existing independently of his body. (We can use the terms mind and consciousness interchangeably for practical purposes.) But what about matter? Upon reflection, Descartes concluded that God would not allow him to be deceived about the material world. And so, he eventually took the view that both matter and mind do fundamentally exist as two separate yet somehow interacting types of substance. We still speak of “Cartesian dualism” today.

Four centuries on, what are we to make of such a dualistic view of ourselves? Are we really made of two kinds of stuff? This idea throws up multiple logical conundrums which philosophers group together as the “mind-body problem”.

Objections to Dualism

Perhaps the biggest challenge for dualism is the interaction problem: How should mind and matter be able to interact if they are two fundamentally separate kinds of substance? How can mental thoughts and intents create physical and biochemical events in our brain, such as electric nerve impulses telling our muscles to move?

Moreover, the physical world seems “causally closed”: under the current scientific consensus, every physical event must have a physical cause. This assumed causal completeness leaves neither room nor need for any additional input from consciousness. If our mind were to add mental causes to physical causes, our bodily actions would seem “overdetermined”, possibly violating some laws of physics.

How can physical events have non-physical causes?

To complicate things further, if we really do have some sort of “soul”, how does it “enter” and “leave” the body and the physical world? And where does that soul come from and return to? Most religious and spiritual traditions affirm the existence of other realms, whether physical or non-physical, which we access after death of the body. But they cannot say where those worlds are supposed to be located or how exactly one would get there.

Thus, if we are to devise a coherent model of all reality, thinking of ourselves as two different kinds of substance interacting in mysterious ways doesn’t seem to get us very far.

A good model, moreover, keeps the number of unexplained assumptions to a minimum. Rather than assuming that both mind and matter are fundamental, it seems preferable to choose a metaphysics that posits only one fundamental substance from which it derives everything else (a monism rather than a dualism). Can this be done?

Many modern scientists and philosophers think so.

Materialism: Is Everything Physical?

Current scientific orthodoxy holds that we are nothing more than our physical bodies. This claim is grounded in the metaphysics of materialism – the idea that everything can be logically reduced to, and ultimately explained by, physical laws and entities. These include the quantum field, spacetime, energy, the four fundamental forces plus at least 17 types of particles and 25 fundamental constants, which together just so happen to produce a habitable universe.

In the materialist view, consciousness is merely a byproduct of material interactions. Neuroscientists continue to discover more and more correlations between our subjective mental states and objectively measurable patterns of brain activity. To many of them, these correlations also suggest causation: they believe that electrochemical brain processes are somehow able to create consciousness.

Materialism gained a strong foothold in science in the 19th century. The universe was thought to unwind deterministically like a gigantic clockwork. British biologist Charles Darwin proposed a theory of evolution which didn’t seem to require an intelligent designer. Many scientists thought it would soon be possible to explain everything in terms of the physical.

Curiously, this hope has remained alive to this day even though in the early 20th century long-held physical assumptions were shattered at the core. Quantum mechanics, to the bewilderment of its inventors, suggested that at the most fundamental level the universe is neither deterministic nor objective. Instead, it is probabilistic and responsive to measurement choices made by conscious observers.

A few quantum physicists have been grappling with the problems of measurement and consciousness ever since, but the rest of the scientific community responded with a shrug. Quantum mechanics was simply a “weird science” – very useful for developing technologies such as lasers and computer chips but philosophically incomprehensible. Most physics students were told not to waste time wondering what it all meant but to “shut up and calculate” (a quote frequently, but possibly falsely, attributed to theoretical physicist Richard Feynman cf. David Mermin).

Scientists have become the high priests of Western culture

Materialism has thus shaped Western education systems for more than a century. As organized religion lost its grip on modern society, it was the scientists who became the high priests of Western culture, telling everybody else what to believe about the nature of reality.

Crucially, the materialistic belief-set implies an atheistic worldview. It says that however the universe came about, it wasn’t created by an intelligent source. The cosmos has no ultimate purpose. Life on Earth emerged through chance chemical reactions. Biological evolution is undirected, driven only by random gene mutations. Our lives have no higher purpose or meaning other than what we choose to give them. When our brains and bodies die, we cease to exist. If religions make claims about the afterlife, that’s just to give their followers an illusory hope for eternal life and compensation for miseries endured. In times past such a belief must have been useful for physical survival, otherwise it wouldn’t have evolved.

These, in a nutshell, are the core beliefs underlying today’s scientific paradigm (the current set of methods, standards and assumptions on which scientific research must be based to be legitimate in the eyes of the science community). Researchers who challenge these assumptions or even try to prove them wrong – which should be a natural thing to do given that scientific progress is often achieved by falsifying or improving upon existing hypotheses – are often ridiculed by the scientific mainstream and have great difficulty raising funding for their work.

Its proponents regard the materialist paradigm as utterly rational, devoid of all superstition and belief. They also claim that only materialism qualifies as a valid philosophical foundation for science. But is it? Is this really a rational way to view the world, let alone the only one? Does materialism even agree with all scientifically established facts?

Objections to Materialism

The shortcomings and problems of the materialist paradigm are too numerous and complex to address here in detail, so we will limit ourselves to looking at four key types of issues. First, nobody can explain how the brain – three pounds of unconscious matter – should be able to produce consciousness. How could a brain “feel” anything at all? How could electric impulses flaring up in brain cells create our inner experience of “qualia” such as the taste of chocolate, the redness of a rose, or the pain of a toothache? Philosophers call this the hard problem of consciousness. Even after decades of trying, nobody has been able to convincingly suggest how it could be solved even in principle.

How could unconscious matter give rise to immaterial consciousness?

Next, the very idea of matter having fundamental existence is being questioned by physics itself. Quantum physics experiments have shown that there is no objective material world “out there” independent of conscious observers. Subatomic particles, for example, only exist as a probability distribution until we measure their properties. It is only at the moment we request information about them that they manifest these properties in physical reality.

Some physicists have tried to explain away the role of consciousness in generating the physical world. But alternative interpretations of quantum mechanics largely rely on making unscientific assumptions far removed from reality. The “many worlds” interpretation, for example, does away with uncertainty and probabilities at the quantum level by speculating that anything which could possibly happen actually does happen – in an infinitude of parallel universes branching out of ours every fraction of a second. However, there is no empirical evidence to support this claim, nor will there ever be, as it cannot be scientifically tested.

The third type of problem concerns our free will. If we are to believe that consciousness is created by the brain, we must also believe that we have no free will: everything we think, say or do is fully determined by electrochemical brain processes. Under materialism, we are carbon-based robots acting out our genetic programming by mindlessly responding to environmental stimuli. If this were true, it would follow that we bear no moral responsibility for our actions – which seems a shaky foundation for organizing human societies. Moreover, if our consciousness had no causal power over our bodies, it would be entirely useless. That would beg the question why consciousness should have evolved at all, since it could not possibly represent an evolutionary advantage – if we were unconscious “zombies”, we would be able to navigate the world just as well.

Another problem is the fact that materialism must categorically deny the reality of paranormal phenomena. They are dismissed in Western culture as nonsense because neither mainstream science nor organized religion seem ready to take them seriously let alone investigate them. And yet, there is by now enough well-documented evidence to show that they are real.

Independent and unrelated testimonies about near-death experiences (NDEs) or out-of-body experiences (OOBEs), for instance, are strikingly coherent, containing many similar elements. Those who have been through such events describe them as profoundly meaningful and life-changing. Some have accessed information in the process which they could never have obtained otherwise, and which later turned out to be factually correct. Yet according to materialism, NDEs and OOBEs can be nothing but hallucinations caused by misfiring brain cells.

The evidence for the paranormal is not limited to personal reports. A growing number of peer-reviewed studies have objectively verified, with statistical significance meeting strict scientific standards, that phenomena such as precognition, telepathy, remote viewing or distant healing do occur under certain conditions, even if they function according to different principles than physical processes. Most people are unaware that one can actually learn how to experience some of these phenomena oneself, thus creating undeniable first-hand evidence that they are real.

The Scientific Evidence for Paranormal Phenomena

One of the world’s foremost researchers in the field of paranormal phenomena is Dean Radin, Ph.D., Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Science (IONS) in California. His website features a comprehensive list of recommended reading for anyone interested in the scientific evidence for the paranormal.

The fact that materialistic science has no idea how paranormal phenomena work does not mean they should be dismissed as delusions or fiction. What is needed is a scientific paradigm shift which, rather than rejecting all evidence as "pseudoscience", enables a rational explanation of the paranormal.

Such a paradigm shift is likely to unlock progress on other fronts, too. All the problems with materialism we discussed earlier have to do with key facts about consciousness: its existence (the “hard problem”), role (in quantum mechanics), attributes (free will) and functioning (the paranormal). Understanding consciousness, it seems, is the key to understanding reality.

Understanding consciousness is the key to understanding reality

Materialists will disagree. An impressive increase in scientific knowledge and technological progress has taken us from the industrial revolution to the information age. This leads many to believe that given enough time, science will be able to explain absolutely everything, including consciousness, in terms of matter. Neuroscience is a young discipline, so surely it will solve the hard problem of consciousness sooner or later.

Asking the entire scientific community to drop this belief seems futile without offering a better alternative. If we are to transcend the materialist paradigm, we’d better say what is to come next – and provide compelling arguments.

What other options are there? If matter can’t explain mind (materialism), and if matter and mind cannot both be fundamental (dualism), can mind explain matter?

As it turns out, it can.

This is where My Big TOE comes in.

Idealism: Consciousness Is All There Is

The concept of consciousness being the ground of all existence goes back a long way. In the East, some 2500 years ago, the Buddha concluded, after years of intense meditation, that the material world was an “illusion”, thus confirming from his own experience what Hindu mystics had said before him. In Western philosophy, the view that reality is essentially a mental phenomenon, is called idealism (derived from “ideas”, not “ideals”).

Throughout history, mystics and sages in every corner of the world have said similar things using metaphors such as “the world is but a dream”. In some cultures, notably those often dismissed as “primitive”, this intuitively resonated with many people. In other cultures, especially those laden with heavy religious dogma, the insight remained mostly confined to the minds of monastics or individual contemplatives. Today, thanks to the internet, the common insights of the world’s wisdom traditions are accessible to anyone willing to do a bit of research.

Curiously, the mystics made their claims about the fundamental nature of reality without any scientific knowledge or access to high-tech instruments such as particle accelerators or space telescopes. They based their insights on transformative experiences gained through introspection, the subjective but systematic exploration of their own consciousness, which many performed through various types of meditation. By exploring their “inner space” they were able to gain knowledge about “outer space”. What must seem absurd from a materialist viewpoint is, as we shall see, entirely logical if consciousness is fundamental to reality.

In modern science, however, idealism never took hold. Although various versions of it were championed by philosophers such as the 18th-century Irishman George Berkeley, it was materialism which eventually formed the basis for the systematic investigation of nature. Materialism motivated scientists to find physical causes for all physical events. And for a long time, it seemed as if there was no end to the explanations a materialistic science could provide. As we have seen, though, that’s far from correct – and the problems with the current materialist paradigm are becoming more and more obvious.

Idealism, like materialism, is a monism: it seeks to explain everything in terms of one substance only. Under idealism, that substance is consciousness. That implies that the physical world is not fundamental but somehow emerges from consciousness.

How is that even supposed to work?

Objections to Idealism

The ramifications of the idealist paradigm are radical. In its strongest form, idealism says that the physical world has no fundamental existence: it’s an illusion, existing only in our minds. According to idealism, the physical world does not create our consciousness – the physical world is the content of our consciousness. This seems highly counterintuitive.

In our everyday experience, it clearly feels as if our mind is located within the physical world, rather than the other way around. We cannot simply “step outside” of physical reality. Whichever way we look, the physical universe is all around us, extending endlessly in all directions.

Furthermore, if the world is but a dream, as the mystics assure us, then how come we’re all sharing the same dream?

It also seems tricky to reconcile idealism with some basic scientific facts about consciousness, particularly about how mind and matter interact (recall the “mind-body problem” from our discussion of dualism). And in many ways, matter clearly appears to precede consciousness, both temporally and causally.

Fundamental Questions for Idealism

If consciousness is more fundamental than matter, and if the physical world is supposed to be a product of consciousness, then:

  1. Why did conscious beings evolve in the universe only after billions of years?

  2. Why does consciousness emerge in a fetus and vanish from the body upon death?

  3. Why does most of the material world seem to behave so orderly and independent of our volition, obeying the laws of physics but not our personal will?

  4. Why can changes to our brain (whether through an injury, tumor, alcohol, psychedelic substances or anesthetics) alter or even shut down our conscious experience?

An idealist model of reality had better have very good answers to these questions. Until recently, that seemed impossible. But in the information age, which brought us the internet, virtual realities and multiplayer online games, we now have concepts that can help us better understand how our experience of the physical world comes about if consciousness is fundamental.

All the questions and objections presented above are answered and resolved if we conceive of the physical universe as a virtual reality. As we noted in the beginning, this is the core idea of My Big TOE.

Who, then, are we, according to My Big TOE?

We Are Players in a Virtual Reality "Game"

A virtual reality (VR) is a computed reality that only exists in the minds of the players. This is true whether we put on a VR headset or sit in front of a TV screen playing a video game. In both cases we interpret two-dimensional pixels and 360-degree surround sound to represent a three-dimensional virtual environment.

Crucially, this setup implies a hierarchy between the virtual reality and the more fundamental “base reality” from which we perceive it. As players of a video game character, we are located outside of the virtual reality but we make choices for our virtual character inside the game environment. Our consciousness is the only thing connecting the two reality frames: we can choose which one we want to focus on. From the perspective of our character within the virtual game reality, however, the “base reality” is invisible and seemingly inaccessible – it appears as if our game character is making all the choices on its own.

We can now extrapolate the same concept one reality level up. Think of our universe as an interactive multiplayer game in which our consciousness is fully immersed. In other words, think of the physical world as a simulation that only exists in our minds. Our consciousness, then, is located “outside” of the virtual universe. As it logs on to the simulation, it receives a multisensory data stream representing the experience of planet Earth from the perspective of a human body. Our consciousness is the “player” making the choices for our body from outside the simulation. Each conscious being within the virtual reality is played by a consciousness like us. Consciousness is fundamental; the physical universe is only virtual, rendered to all conscious participants in a logically coherent and historically consistent manner.

At first glance, this may seem like a stretch of the imagination. But grant for a moment that reality works like this (the rest of this introduction will explain why it does), then you will see that the virtual reality model resolves all the earlier objections to an idealist metaphysics.

Fundamental Questions for Idealism Answered by the Virtual Reality Model

  1. Why did conscious beings evolve in the universe only after billions of years?
    A virtual reality game environment must exist before the appearance of avatars.

  2. Why does consciousness emerge in a fetus and vanish from the body upon death?
    The avatars appear to “become conscious” and “die” when players log on to or log off of the game.

  3. Why does most of the material world seem to behave so orderly and independent of our volition, obeying the laws of physics but not our personal will?
    Every virtual reality has a ruleset defining what may happen within the virtual world. The game environment and the range of choices available to each player must obey that ruleset.

  4. Why can changes to our brains (whether through an injury, tumor, alcohol, psychedelic substances or anesthetics) alter or even shut down our conscious experience?
    Any damage done to an avatar alters the subjective game experience and the range of choices available to its player, in accordance with the ruleset.

These answers may seem superficial, but they will be elaborated upon in more detail later on. For now, the question is: What evidence is there to support the idea of the physical world being a virtual reality? Is the universe really a computation?

(We can use the terms “computation”, “simulation” and “virtual reality” interchangeably for practical purposes – if something is computed, it can be simulated, and if something can be simulated, it can be experienced as an immersive virtual reality.)

The Universe as a Simulation

With some basic understanding of physics, it’s not difficult to notice that the physical world displays striking characteristics of a computer simulation.

Scientific Facts and Observations in Support of the Simulation Hypothesis

  • the universe had a beginning (the launch of the simulation)
  • the laws of physics are mathematical in nature (as required for a simulation ruleset)
  • these laws are in part probabilistic as described by quantum mechanics (randomness can be simulated through computation but cannot be the result of natural cause-and-effect)
  • space and time seem to be quantized into the smallest logical units which physicists call Planck length and Planck time (representing the simulation’s pixel grid, or "resolution")
  • the speed of light in vacuum represents a speed limit for the transfer of information in the universe (as you would expect to find in any simulation)
  • light and matter exhibit mutually exclusive properties of both particles and waves, which shows they have no fundamental existence (they only respond to our observations and measurements)

There is more evidence than can be listed here. The virtual reality model presented by My Big TOE, in particular, resolves a host of puzzles and paradoxes in physics which today’s materialistic science fails to explain. (Exactly how it does that will be addressed in Part 4 of this introduction.)

Besides our objective description of the world through mathematical equations, it is equally striking that our subjective perception of the world is information-based, too. Our sense organs convert environmental stimuli into electric impulses, which they send to the brain. When we see a red rose, for example, a quantum of light (photon) reflected from its petals hits a photoreceptor in our retina, which generates an electric nerve impulse. Our ears, nose, tongue and skin perform similar jobs, converting environmental input into electrical signals.

Thus, our experience of the world – a multisensory panorama of sights, sounds, flavors, smells and touch – is effectively a qualitative interpretation of quantitative data. This interpretation is subjective. Taste, for example, is not an objective attribute of material stuff. Things don’t have an objective “taste”. Cows find grass tasty, humans don’t. Every conscious being, it seems, perceives the physical world as its own subjective virtual reality.

How are these subjective realities produced? How do we turn quantitative data into qualitative experience? For materialist science, the answer is clear: the brain does it. The brain produces our inner virtual reality experience of the external world. That seems fair enough, since all sensory input ultimately arrives in the brain. But it takes us back to the “hard problem of consciousness”. How should the brain, a bunch of unconscious matter, be able to “feel” or “experience” anything at all?

Given a moment’s thought, it becomes clear that the “hard problem” is created by a belief in an objective reality outside of us. We believe there’s an external physical world in which our brains and bodies exist, and we then wonder how those physical brains and bodies produce our conscious experience. In other words, we look at the content of our consciousness and wonder how that content produces the very consciousness which experiences it. That’s like playing a video game and wondering how one’s virtual game character was able to program the game of which it itself is a part.

The “hard problem” is solved – or rather, dissolved – once we drop our belief in a fundamental external reality. The virtual reality model helps us do that. In this view, our subjective perception is not some “internal” representation of an “external” world: There is no objective world outside of us.

The fact that it feels as if there were, is the illusion created by the simulation. Physical reality is virtual – it only exists as information in our minds. What appears to be an objective external world is in fact nothing but data: ones and zeroes on a metaphorical hard drive in “consciousness space”. That doesn’t mean that the physical world is not real or important, just that it’s not fundamental. Only consciousness is fundamental; everything else is virtual.

R = I Reality equals information

This is how the simulation works: we experience the world as if we had a physical body with a physical brain, and as if that brain were computing our perception of the world from physical sense data. However, the brain neither computes our perceptual experience nor does it create our consciousness. Our brain can’t be the source of the simulation because it itself is part of the simulated world. The brain is neither a producer nor a receiver of consciousness. It’s a computation, nothing but data – a virtual brain within a virtual body. (The real role of the virtual brain will become clear in Part 4.)

What, then, is it which turns sense data into our subjective perception of the world? The answer is: our consciousness. The ability to turn data into qualitative experience is an attribute of consciousness, not the brain. Consciousness is fundamental, and one of its fundamental attributes is the ability to be aware – the ability to have all sorts of qualitative perceptual experiences. The act of seeing, for example, is performed by neither the eye nor the brain (which are virtual), but by consciousness. The same goes for hearing, smelling, tasting and tactile sensations. Any act of perception is done by consciousness, not the brain.

In addition to these types of sense perceptions, it logically follows from an idealist metaphysics that consciousness also performs the cognitive functions that materialist science attributes to the brain. These include understanding, thinking, memorizing, intuiting, communicating, and choice-making. In summary we can say, in slightly more technical language: Consciousness receives, processes and sends data, and converts information into data and data into information. Consciousness is an information system.

We can now see why consciousness, not matter, is the fundamental stuff of existence. This move from a materialist to an idealist worldview is the first of three paradigm shifts My Big TOE seeks to help bring about (the other two will be discussed later on). It will put science on a new foundation, enabling long overdue progress in disciplines as varied as foundational physics, cosmology, neuroscience and biology, while retaining the enormously useful benefits gained from our hitherto materialistic science.

My Big TOE Paradigm Shift #1: We Live in a Virtual Reality

Consciousness is fundamental. The physical world only exists as information in our minds.

The Source of the Virtual Universe

Logic dictates that a virtual reality cannot compute itself – its source (the "rendering engine") must lie “outside” of the virtual reality in a more fundamental “base reality”. This base reality is not just another “dimension” within the virtual world: It is a different reality frame altogether, inaccessible to the avatars populating the virtual reality. We already mentioned this hierarchy of reality frames when we noted that the players, too, are located in base reality outside of the simulation.

This, then, is how all virtual realities work: The computer serving up the virtual reality and the players playing in it must be based in the same reality frame. The server and the players must exchange data, and in order to be able to do so, they must both be part of base reality.

According to the idealist paradigm proposed by My Big TOE, the base reality is the Larger Consciousness System (LCS). The LCS provides both the “computer” (server) and the players of our virtual universe. The virtual universe is computed by and for consciousness.

We can visualize this as follows:

Diagram showing the relation between base reality (consciousness) and our virtual, physical reality

If our universe seems physical to us (symbolized by the color blue in the chart above), then its source, which is outside of physical reality, must be non-physical (black). Consciousness is non-physical, as it has no measurable physical properties (no mass, size, charge etc.). Consciousness – or more precisely, a specific part of the LCS – is the source of our physical universe.

Thus, while the physical world presents itself to us as a multisensory panorama of shapes, colors, smells, sounds and so forth, all that really happens “under the hood” is an exchange of information between different parts of the LCS. One part of the LCS (the server) computes the virtual reality and sends the relevant data to other parts of the system (the players), who interpret the data to be a virtual universe and in turn communicate the choices they make for their digital avatars. This brings us to the second paradigm shift My Big TOE seeks to usher in:

My Big TOE Paradigm Shift #1: We Live in a Virtual Reality.

My Big TOE Paradigm Shift #2: Consciousness Is the Computer.
The source of our physical, virtual universe is the Larger Consciousness System (LCS), which is a natural, evolving, intelligent and aware information system.

Quite understandably, the idea of a conscious, intelligent source of the world sits uncomfortably with many people who subscribe to the materialist paradigm. In an increasingly secular Western culture, which has largely freed itself from millennia-long domination by religious dogma and superstition, many materialists are happy to believe in a purposeless universe that popped out of nothing for no obvious reason. Part of what makes this view appear so rational is what philosophers call the problem of evil.

Virtual realities, however, are created for a reason. There’s a reason why someone makes the effort to compute them, and there’s a reason why somebody else logs on to experience them. But what intelligent being would create a world so cruel and brutal as ours? And who in their right mind would log on to play? There is so much suffering on our planet – caused by illness, natural disasters and humans themselves – that to many people, the only explanation seems to be that there can be no purpose to any of it: life on Earth must be the result of one (un)happy accident. Undeniably, the problem of evil represents a major challenge for an idealist model of reality positing an intelligent creator source.

Who would create such a cruel and brutal world?

Another concern is that admitting an intelligent source of the universe might lead us right back into the Dark Ages of religious superstition. Once the materialist paradigm is transcended, religious fundamentalists may feel vindicated and try to grab hold of social and political power again. They might also rekindle religious conflicts, proclaiming that “My God is a better programmer than your God!” and asking that their God be praised and worshiped. The path towards an idealist paradigm may turn out to be a bumpy road, with great upheavals lying ahead. And yet, as My Big TOE tries to show, it seems the only logical way forward.

My Big TOE explains why the Larger Consciousness System computes virtual realities in the first place and why it demands neither praise nor worship for that. It also explains why we, the players, choose to log on to our virtual universe of our own free will, however unpleasant, unfair or unjust this world may seem. And it explains why love is the goal and purpose of human existence, which is the common tenet of most religious and spiritual traditions. All of this will become clear by the end of Part 3.

As we shall see, My Big TOE logically derives all of this understanding from a deep insight into the nature of reality itself – that is, from the nature of consciousness as an evolving information system. No belief, dogma or any unusual assumptions are required. This way My Big TOE does not support the teachings of any one particular religion but, on the contrary, shows why belief and dogma are the enemy of true understanding and wisdom.

So who and what, finally, are we?

We Are Consciousness

Expressed in My Big TOE metaphors, we are Individuated Units of Consciousness (IUOCs) having the experience of playing human avatars in our virtual “physical” universe. We have free will, which we use to make choices for the avatars we’re playing. Since our consciousness exists “outside” of the simulation, it doesn’t depend on a body. We are not a physical body having consciousness – we are consciousness playing a virtual body. When our avatar dies, that doesn’t damage our consciousness. We simply pick another avatar and get back into the game. We are immortal.

Consciousness is immortal

Consciousness is non-physical. It does not extend in space – it has no size, mass or any other physical properties. Consciousness cannot be measured directly by any physical means within the simulation. All we can objectively measure are patterns of brain activity correlated to our subjective conscious experience; all we can objectively observe is people’s bodily behavior.

To simulation dwellers like us, who tend to feel a strong attachment to our virtual bodies, the idea of being reduced to something so intangible as consciousness may feel uncomfortably abstract. That’s a belief trap. We are so conditioned by our experience of the physical that we believe only physical stuff can have any properties worth speaking of.

This belief is only strengthened by the materialist paradigm. Some scientists believe that only objectively measurable facts are real whereas the subjective is not. Others believe that the subjective may be real but it’s just not important because the natural sciences can’t deal with the subjective (since the scientific method is based on repeatable, objective, third-person observation).

Once we stop to think about it, however, we find that the opposite is true. The subjective is fundamentally more real than the objective. Most people have an intuitive sense that what’s really important in our lives is our subjective experience and motivations, not the objective stuff. The stuff is just the stage and the props upon which what’s significant in us acts out our story. What’s significant is why we feel what we feel and why we do what we do; the meaning, point and purpose of our lives; our emotions, love, fears, wants and needs; our memories, goals, passions and projects; and the quality of our friendships, relationships and interactions with other living beings and our natural environment. All of this makes us who we truly are, and all of it is contained within our subjective consciousness.

Whichever way we look at it, therefore, consciousness is more fundamental and more important than the physical. Consciousness is the superset (the Big Picture) of which physical reality is but a subset (the little picture).

Consciousness is the Big Picture, physical reality is the little picture

The Theory of Everything (TOE) which physicists since Einstein have been trying to devise by unifying the fundamental forces of physics (so far, without success) would be but a Little TOE, because it would only provide a unified description of the ruleset of our physical reality. As materialists, they believe that a Little TOE would explain everything there is to explain because the little picture is all there is. This, as we have seen, is one of the problems of scientific materialism.

A Big TOE, in contrast, must explain the Big Picture – how consciousness works – and from that basis it must derive everything else, including our physical reality. In My Big TOE terminology, we can call the little picture Physical Matter Reality (PMR) and contrast it with the rest of the larger reality, the Big Picture, which we can call Non-Physical Matter Reality (NPMR) because it seems non-physical from the perspective of PMR.

We Are All Connected

In the little picture, while playing our PMR avatars, we often feel separated from one another. From a Big Picture perspective, we are not separated at all. All individual consciousness is “netted”, because we’re all part of the Larger Consciousness System (LCS). The LCS both represents the source of our virtual universe and connects all the players. Thus, just like many spiritual traditions assure us, we’re all One – but at the same time we always maintain our individuality.

Since all consciousness is fundamentally connected, and since our consciousness is “located outside” the simulation, we all have access to the larger reality (NPMR) beyond our PMR. All reality is information, and that information is encoded in a data stream received by our consciousness. Habitually, we’re fully immersed in the information representing PMR. But My Big TOE logically and rationally explains why we can learn to use our intent – our focused intentional awareness – to connect to different data streams and access other types of information. To use the computer game metaphor, we can open another window on our computer and start another program that sends us different input data in addition to the game we’re already playing.

As will become clear in Part 5, all paranormal phenomena can be explained by the fact that the larger reality of consciousness – according to its own rules and principles and within well-defined limitations – is both accessible to our subjective consciousness and can influence what happens in our objective physical reality.

We can use our consciousness to access data from the larger reality

To access the larger reality of NPMR, we need to have a strong, clear and focused intent – this is the only way we can deliberately stop processing the data from PMR and shift our attention towards NPMR. For most people, the typical way to achieve that, at least in the beginning, is through meditation. Meditation techniques can help us calm our mind as well as focus our intent. In principle, anyone can learn how to do this. Some people are naturally good at it (for reasons which will become clear) while others need sustained practice.

Through a combination of natural ability and diligent effort over many decades, Tom Campbell developed the capacity to systematically explore the larger reality and understand how consciousness works. This is how he was able to come up with the My Big TOE model of reality.

In fact, this is exactly how mystics of all cultures and ages have been able to understand that consciousness is fundamental and physical matter is not. They all learned how to obtain additional data about physical reality, or to stop processing the physical altogether and access information about the larger reality. They only used different methods and tools to train their minds, and different concepts and metaphors to convey their insights to their contemporaries.

My Big TOE is the first model to describe all of reality with concepts and metaphors of the information age. It is also the first comprehensive model to ground modern science in an idealist metaphysics. This way, My Big TOE manages to reconcile science and spirituality, which both have the goal of uncovering the true nature of reality, but do so from complementary angles.

We have thus laid the philosophical foundations for a Big Theory of Everything, demonstrating why an idealist virtual reality model is the most rational metaphysical view to take, as it resolves all of the problems within which a materialist view of the world remains trapped.

Equipped with this understanding, we are now ready to tackle the My Big TOE model itself. Along the way, we will address more fundamental questions: Why do virtual universes like ours exist in the first place? How do they work? Why do we log on to them?

This is what we shall see next.

Going Deeper

Part 2 of this introduction gives a detailed overview of the core elements of the My Big TOE model, looking at everything that is fundamental to reality: consciousness, free will, time, information, entropy and evolution.

Part 3 shows how My Big TOE derives the existence of the physical world as a logical consequence of the idea that consciousness is an evolving information system.

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