Some excerpts are pasted below, and I invite you to read the full essay on The Transfigurist.
Eastern philosophies insist that “all is one” – the boundaries between different parts of the world that we perceive, including the all-important boundary between “self” and “other,” are permeable and ultimately an illusion conjured-up by our special ways to interpret the world.
Also Western mystics throughout the ages have had the powerful intuition that everything in the universe is deeply connected to everything else to the point that, in a fundamental sense, everything is one.
It’s undeniable that the concept of “self” has important evolutionary advantages – if your ancestor didn’t perceive a very clear and very important distinction between himself and a predator, he wouldn’t have run fast enough to escape the predator and reproduce.
But perhaps, behind the veil of perception and interpretation, consciousness is one: your ancestor and the predator were really one, from a fundamental perspective.
That is the theory of Daniel Kolak. In his book “I Am You: The Metaphysical Foundations for Global Ethics” [Kolak 2004] he proposes the metaphysics (and practical philosophy) of Open Individualism: every consciousness is fundamentally the same, and we are all the same person.
I like Open Individualism because it explores and formalizes intuitions that I often had. Consciousness shouldn’t be thought of as a property of thinkers, but as a property of thinking. My favorite metaphor, essentially similar to Kolak’s, is a large room with many windows. Consciousness is the observer in the room, and experiences different individual reality streams looking from different windows. For example, one window could look at children on a playground, and another at a parking lot. Those would be two very different perception streams, but the consciousness experiencing them is one. You are the observer – consciousness – and the views from different windows are different lives.
What happens when the blinds of a window go down? You continue to observe reality from the other windows. What happens when a person dies? Consciousness continues to observe reality from other eyes. What happens after you die? You continue to live, as another person – actually, you continue to live as every other person. You continue to live a myriad of parallel lives, forever and ever. Your lives are not conscious of each other, but are yours in a fundamental sense.
Open Individualism as a practical philosophy can make an important positive difference in our lives. If you think that other people are you, you will not harm them, because you would be harming yourself. On the contrary, you will be kind and compassionate to them – to all other instances of you.
Read the full essay on The Transfigurist.
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