By Peter Steiner BSc., DDS., in an interview with journalist and author Barbara Shaw BA., MS., MA.
- Who am I? What is reality?
- What is the universe for?
- More than one universe?
- Why am I alive?
For 20 years I have pursued the answers to Who am I? What is reality? What are the reasons for the existence of the universe? Is there more than one universe? Why am I alive?
I am still investigating the works of the great scientists of our day on this question of Consciousness. These are some of the conclusions I have arrived at so far.
First, who am I?
Can I actually evaluate myself? Can I get far enough outside of myself to be objective about me and see who I am? If I can, where does my self end — at the boundary of my body, of my mind, of my spirit?
The fact is, that each of us has a different boundary system. Of course, some of our sense of boundaries is cultural, some familial and some is individual.
My conclusion is that I believe I can be somewhat objective about myself, that I can step outside and even see my dark side without justification or guilt. I believe I can examine it to see if I should change it. I believe this is the essence of self awareness.
How do I know I am a separate entity? Psychologists use the mirror test on animals and children. Do they recognize what the animals and children see as a reflection of the self? Chimps and dolphins do, and possibly elephants. Small children do after a certain stage of development close to the age of two years..
But systems theory says that if you are part of a system you cannot understand the system completely, therefore we can never be totally objective about what we are. I can never see myself completely.
Another idea we get from physics is that the observer changes the system being observed. Any interaction with the world outside the self makes a small change in the self, so by the time I make the observation I have changed somewhat.
What is reality?
Reality is all we perceive and more. Our individual perceptions are each unique, so all our realities are valid. I am guided by my own system, which works for me most of the time. And I get very annoyed when it does not.
Knowing what reality is, is obviously very complex, made up of sensory information plus probably another form of perception science can’t seem to agree on.
For example, sexual attraction may be related to the vomero-nasal organ on the underside of the brain. It’s tied to detecting pheromones floating in the air.
Intuition or what we call a sixth sense may be related to that along with the parasympathetic nervous system. Of course, it’s modified by our experience.
I operate on a combination of gut feeling and analysis, which can overrule my gut. This is not the case with all of us, some operate on gut feelings, some operate on cerebral logic.
Obviously I don’t know if my ideas of who I am and what reality is, is just in my brain or if there’s an immaterial something that is the bottom line of consciousness.
My own gut feeling is that it’s not just the brain, but that there is something else.
Whether the chimps and dolphins have that, or not, is a very interesting question. If they do have self-awareness, do they have a soul?
Soul is what I call that immaterial something, for lack of a better name. But I still have to ask: If my brain were destroyed would there be anything left of me, of my essence?
What are the reasons for the existence of the universe?
I believe it all started with a system in perfect symmetry, that of the primordial Void. Then, in 10 to the minus 18 or so seconds it exploded into complexity, asymmetry and has been getting more complex for the past 13.7 billion years.
The human brain happens to be the pinnacle, as far as we know, of complexity. We have not yet seen anything more complex that that (the space shuttle and the CERN supercollider is dwarfed in complexity by the trillions of neural interactions in our brain.
I believe the essence of the universe is to create complexity. But why? Because it’s more entertaining! Maybe the creator got tired of perfection and wanted to have some fun, so created this mess. I also believe that the mess will swing back towards its perfection at some point.
God only knows how hard we try to create perfection. Perhaps our striving for perfection is the cause of most of our dysfunction. We are simply not meant to be perfect and when we try too hard we end up insane.
I ask myself if it might be possible for me to ride along on the edge between sanity and insanity. It’s like a high wire act to be at that place, and to notice if I am becoming insane and should put the brakes on.
Is there more than one universe?
Most physicists now believe there are an infinite number; we live in a Multiverse.. At each choice point, or at each bifurcation that we or any other entity might make, the reality of the universe may split.
That would mean each decision we make could lead to an entirely different outcome for the whole of the universe. And that both would occur and lead to two entirely different universes.
This idea may be related to our dilemma when we wonder if we are infinitely insignificant, or infinitely significant. It’s the latter if each of our decisions determines the outcome of the universe. That’s a huge responsibility.
Someone said, “He who saves a life saves a universe entire.” We truly have no idea of the impact that we have. Remember the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” ?
So perhaps something I said to someone thirty years ago could have led to that person either winning a Nobel Prize or rotting in prison. Another quote I like is, “The saint and the sinner are the same person exchanging notes in passing.”
It may not be within our power to choose the result. The outcomes of my life are a co-production of me and the universe. The universe can crush me in an instant, yet all that I do has an impact on so much. For all we know, a single feeling can change the universe.
Why am I alive?
In Greek drama there’s a peripateia, a point in the play when the hero recognizes that everything in his/her life to this point means nothing. It’s the crisis point when the light comes on. For me it came when I was 43 and my father died at 86.
I asked myself if I wanted to live the second half of my life as I’d lived the first half. My answer was, NO. And that feeling changed everything for me.
That brings us to the question.
In a physical sense, I exist because my mother lost a daughter of 12 and decided she should have another child. If not for my sister’s death I’d not be alive, which leads to the question of how good can come form evil.
We teach that good intentions have a good outcome, but we know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I’ve done so much, meaning well, that led to chaos and suffering.
So, what can I say? I guess I am alive because the universe thought it was a good idea. We say God does not make mistakes but notice that Evolution can get rid of the mistakes.
If I believe in either God or Evolution or both – I am meant to be alive, and I am not a mistake, my life has meaning, even if I do not know the meaning of my Life.
I suppose I’m here because somehow I can contribute to the unfolding of the universe. I believe all of us do contribute something because we truly are great, we just have to find our greatness.
When I say “We stand on the shoulders of giants,” I mean we know that our ancestors gave us so much, all they could.
We need to appreciate that, and then move on into our own new and challenging territory where they cannot show us the way.