Skip to content

The Objective Consciousness Revisited – Understanding the Nature of Consciousness

In a significant revision of his earlier article “The Objective Consciousness,” Robert
Heyward explores the fundamental foundations of consciousness and the primal duality of
subject and object. (

Any answers to the hard problem of consciousness will need to satisfy two distinct and differing
lines of inquiry. Firstly they must align coherently with our scientific understanding of the
universe, and secondly they must answer those questions which arise from the subjective
experience consciousness brings to each individual. The physical sciences still offer no
satisfactory answer to consciousness upon either front, while a plethora of mostly irrational
metaphysical notions remain for the moment the only source of any wisdom on the matter.
Obviously, any metaphysics we do use to approach an answer must be freed of superstition, yet
superstitious alternatives to scientific answers remain as ubiquitous and counterproductive as
ever. Projected numena and qualia generally contaminate all metaphysical constructs, and this
has ever resulted in the positing of metaphysical entities whose essential nature is not
coherent with the known laws of the universe or, at least, that part of it which we know as
reality”. This is not to say that consciousness might not arise from an entity or function of
whose existential nature we are currently unaware, but that any such entity must – by the
fundamental ground of its sheer existence – share the properties of all known things and be
thus in some part “knowable” through its continuance with all being. As in all cases, the
question is: at what point do all things share an essential nature?”
Physical science insists that all things share the primal physical nature of the universe, that
they all came from the mysterious original atom which somehow became unstable, and by
exploding into time created the energetic laws of the universe and the primal particles from
which all things have descended. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? But the scientific-materialist take on the universal creation myth is a little narrow, to say the least. Thus the
“hardness” of what it calls the “hard problem of consciousness” results – as an artifact of its
own limited and essentially subjective outlook: in which only those entities whose properties
are measurable are considered “objective”. Even a particularly stubborn materialist, however,
will assert that the sky is blue, and that “blue” is indeed an object within his consciousness to
which he is subject every time he looks at a clear sky. “So – exactly what is blue? you ask him.
“Hmm,” he replies. Now that’s a hard problem.”

Both scientists and scientific philosophers have been arguing over the right way to approach
the hard problem for some time. One of the foremost of these thinkers is Professor David
Chalmers of the Australian National University, and I quote here from his paper, Moving
Forward on the Problem of Consciousness”:
A further set of issues is raised by my appeal to fundamental laws in a theory of
consciousness. Mills thinks that because I invoke such laws to bridge physics and
consciousness, I am not really solving the hard problem at all (Price suggests something
similar). At best I am providing a sophisticated set of correlations, and finding such
correlations was an easy problem all along.
Mills reaches this conclusion because he construes the hard problem as the problem of giving a
constitutive (or “non-causal”) explanation of consciousness in physical terms. If the problem is
construed that way, Mills is quite right that it is not being solved at all. But to define the
problem of consciousness this way would be to define it so that it becomes unsolvable: one
might call that problem the “impossible problem”.
I prefer to set up the hard problem in such a way that a solution is not defined out of
existence. The hard problem, as I understand it, is that of explaining how and why
consciousness arises from physical processes in the brain. And I would argue the sort of theory
I advocate can in principle offer a good solution to this problem. It will not solve the impossible
problem of providing a reductive explanation of consciousness, but it will nevertheless provide
a theory of consciousness that goes beyond correlation to explanation. (Quoted with
permission of the author)
Whilst Chalmers here limits the hard problem by the recognition that experiential states of
consciousness certainly exist but must be somehow subjective to an explanatory physical
modality, my contention is that if we are to truly understand the apparently objective nature of
consciousness as experience, then it is indeed the “impossible problem” with which we
ultimately have to deal. Current scientific thinking continues within the assumption that
consciousness arises within a purely physical state limited by the terms we currently accept as
“physical law”. Thus the scientific materialist, by the very limits he seeks to extend, limits his
own investigative field and makes his own hard problem”. For indeed, while it might be
acceptable to suggest that educated or adapted consciousness only and always arises at a
certain level of organizational complexity, and thence to infer the laws governing the rise of
such a conditional consciousness, this in itself does not in any way approach the real problem
of “whence consciousness?” Chalmers argues that we might have to accept a pre-existing and
indefinable fundamental law of nature which co-operates with physical laws to create what we
know as physical awareness or the conditional consciousness of the brain. In this way the hard
problem is averted by the a-priori acceptance of a metaphysical absolute. Now whilst this may
be the only way of approaching the problem from the external, scientific viewpoint, even
thinkers like Chalmers leave the explanation of the metaphysic off the agenda. Like magnetism
or gravity, it just is, and is thus placed in the unanswered basket with all other supposedly
fundamental forces of nature.
Physical science has no option but to step around the hard problem in this manner, for whilst
at a deeper level it can be seen that it is created by a primal limit to human understanding, for
materialistic science it is merely the logical impasse that results when one sets the laws one
does understand as arbitrary limits to a system whose essential nature has yet to be
discovered. To do any more than this, it becomes necessary to see how the interposition of
conscious functions moulds not only our world view, but also the apparent laws we discover
within it; to understand that our scientifically objective view of the cosmos is in fact seriously
flawed – the subjective result of our maintaining the deeply ingrained bias that “seeing is
believing” whilst living in a universe that clearly defies such commonsense. Wherever we look,
at the edges of our understanding we now find ourselves ringed by the paradoxes created by
this viewpoint and the explanatory fantasies we build in our attempts to step around them.
Nowhere is this more visible than in quantum physics, where the extraordinary behaviors of
sub atomic particles are regarded not as the paradoxical artifacts of an incomplete view of the
universe, but the essential realities of a mysterious and, at its microscopic limits, irrational and
intractable natural world.
The strange and ineffably twisted geometry of relativistic space/time too, presents more as a
paradox created by wrong thinking than a worthy description of a logically framed reality. Yet
we are expected to accept such paradoxes as part of the natural order: that whilst all things
macroscopic remain true to our sense of logic and geometrical reason, at some certain
fineness of description they dissolve into irrationality.
Physicists seem to be able to step quietly about the paradoxes of relativity and quantum
physics without scarcely a furtive glance while they weave ever more fantastic theories to
explain them, yet confronted with the paradox of self awareness in a physical system they take
a different line, asserting that no real paradox exists: that understanding consciousness is
simply a matter of figuring out how the brain works; that the hard problem exists only though
lack of data.
The truth is that the hard problem is just as hard as giving a clear, geometrically reasoned
answer to how the apparently finite speed of light can be measurably the same in any
reference frame. The fact that this is indeed the way the behavior of light appears subjectively
to us, and that you can work a calculation to make things all add up ok in the end doesn’t
wash away the underlying logical paradox, any more than does the answer that consciousness
simply happens in complex systems and that understanding self awareness is just a matter of
completely describing the system in which it occurs.
The materialistic philosophy which pervades current scientific thinking in regard to the brain
sees consciousness only as a process; a process which relies for its existence on nothing else
but a suitable arrangement of functional parts. Moreover, that none of these parts in
themselves need have a particular specificity for consciousness to the point where it is
generally accepted that if all the functioning parts of the human brain could be replaced with
electronic circuits, no essential difference would or could be determined between the operation
of the living brain and its electronic counterpart. Such are the “commonsense” notions which
flow from seeing consciousness as an epiphenomenon within an essentially “physical” universe.
More enlightened thinkers such as Chalmers reject this notion, yet rely for their approach on
the acceptance that willy-nilly, self awareness must be the product of a fundamental condition
ultimately reducible to physical laws.
The problem with such formulations is that they clearly avoid any and all of the evidence
indicating that consciousness cannot be only an epiphenomenon; that the paradoxes and
discontinuities within our apparently material universe not only offer direct evidence for its
phenomenally objective nature as a fundamental universal dynamic not definable by
consciously apprehended physical laws, but also offer ways to envision this dynamic and its
correlations to experiential “self awareness”.
In a previous paper, (Relativity Revisited – 1997), I showed how the light speed paradox arises
as a subjective artifact of conscious objectivity; that consciousness must exist as a functional
part of the universe and not merely as a subjective counterpoint within some magically
created, self aware limbo of brain process; that it must, in physical terms, participate spatially
within the material universe.
Whilst it was satisfying to come even this far on the quest for an answer, my ideas still offered
little access to the real problem itself, i.e. that of whence consciousness?”
To discover more about this, it is necessary to revisit below some of our most basic ideas about
the universe, and understand the essential nature of these as conscious notions.
Whilst the interests of science in this problem are obvious, the universe of discourse which
shapes its investigations creates a limiting factor which precludes science as practiced, i.e.,
through a series of specialized and narrow endeavors, from seeing the true breadth of the
problems conscious subjectivity creates even within its own postulations. For this reason alone,
it is highly unlikely that scientific endeavor will ever reach an answer to the “hard problem”
without encapsulating it within an already subjectively flawed view of reality. This is already
seen through the attempts by mathematicians and physicists to posit conscious functionality
and its relationship to lineal time via the activity of quantum effects in brain tissue – a process
which seems to be little more than a mirroring back into the unknown of an already subjective
take on another unknown. Such attempts merely illustrate how conscious subjectivity mediates
the percepts and concepts of science at a deeper level than that at which it currently allows in
its view of the universe.

Our personal need, however, is to know the answer to our own peculiar and individual
awareness, and the meaning, if any, that it might have within the seemingly aloof and hostile
universe in which we find ourselves – where our life-long struggle for survival only ends in the
mystery of death and the apparent annihilation of all that we are and all that we have been.
Impersonal science has no problem with the notion that we are just mortal, chemical
creatures: the accidental artifacts of a set of purely functional and arbitrary natural laws
pertaining within an essentially fortuitous and meaningless universe. But personally we do
have a problem with such an idea, a serious and inescapable problem. For, whilst we might
agree that science has outlined the facts as they seem, we know deeply and intuitively that
within no such arbitrary and essentially meaningless universe could our most extraordinary
qualities of experience arise simply as after effects; as nothing more than a kind of
meaningless gloss upon an otherwise pristine and purely mechanical functionality.
Thus the quest for understanding is essentially a personal quest, even if we should cloak it
with the appearance of disinterested scientific inquiry. Being individuals, our lives are the only
grist we have, our experiences the only “real” phenomena we can truly bring to the mill of our
reason without their subordination to a collectively held, external philosophic position. And
whilst it might be incumbent upon us to understand and work within these positions, that any
one of them might be superior to our own recognitions and understandings is the very
question we need to answer. Does neurological science currently explain everything to our
satisfaction? More importantly, in its current form, can it? Does theology or spiritual philosophy
offer any answers? Or are they flawed as they are by assertions discontinuous with our
accepted consensus reality – unlikely to be real answers at all and more likely to be just
panaceas for our underlying uncertainty?
Whilst it is true that many experiences suggest that all is not quite right with our “Monday
morning” view of the world, by accepting the answers of religion, spiritualism or so called new
age metaphysics we merely leap into a box canyon of belief where science is replaced by
superstition and primitive thinking. And while we certainly cannot ban unusual experiences
from any inquiry into the nature of consciousness merely because they defy our preconceived
ideas upon natural law, they must be viewed carefully and the projections we make upon their
seeming otherness carefully defined and discarded.. These experiences, which Jung also found
intensely interesting, are almost always considered to pose questions and offer hints which
might illuminate the metaphysical nature of consciousness, or the impossible problem, as
Professor Chalmers puts it.
The conclusions we often reach, however, are not always as valid as first might seem to those
who confront or investigate such phenomena, let alone those – followers of Jung included –
who reify or envision the human collective unconscious as a metaphysical entity rather than
understand it as a projection of those archetypal dynamics initially proposed by Jung.
The evidence of veridical or truth telling clairvoyant experience might overrule the notion that
consciousness is limited to and by brain function alone, but it does not rule out the possibility
that consciousness is fundamentally a dynamic of a purely physical universe, provided we
accept the more fantastic ideas of quantum theorists. This however merely puts the problem
back into its original question begging form, ie, how do qualia arise, irrespective of their point
of physical origin? For instance, whilst the Penrose Hameroff quantum model might provide a
hypothetical mechanism via which consciousness might couple to the physical, it in no way
provides any access to the problem posed by the existence of the experiential, nor an
explanation of how qualia relate to physical states. The Penrose-Hameroff idea merely shifts
the problem one step further into the micro world – in the same way the problem of the origin
of sub atomic particle “charge” in physics is shifted in one theory by attributing its origin to the
properties of even smaller particles, the origin of whose inferred properties being no less
mysterious than that for which they were invented to explain.
The real problem here, both for the investigation of consciousness and for physics is that posed
by conscious distinction itself – ie, that the objectively physical is always external to
consciousness; always an object of consciousness, thus making all mechanisms we posit to
explain consciousness also objects of consciousness. This is the endless circle at the bottom of
all conscious logic, the fundamental subjectivity of reason, the very root of the “impossible
Argument from the Jungian Perspective
Jung’s initial position was the archetypes of the collective unconscious are the “images” of the
instincts, i.e., the subjective side of the instincts; on the one hand rendered as psychic
“objects” to the experiencing mind and on the other understood as those autonomous psychic
determinants of behavior and perception arising from the “architecture” of the species
neurological structure.
If we look at the archetype as the result of the inherent architecture of an organizing principle,
we can see how it can give rise to a multiplicity of form. In essence the entire physical world is
derived from the mechanics of particle behavior, from the architecture of energy/matter
transformation. The entire periodic table of the elements and the complex and reactive
processes inherent in their chemical relationships all build from the few simple parameters or
organizing principles governing the way in which energy is shaped and transformed.
Within biological organisms, basic neurological structures provide the “arch” or ruling patterns
which lay beneath complex survival behavior. Jung recognized that such behavioural dynamics
echoed within the psyche as instincts, predetermined patterns of psycho/physical coordination
which acted sub-consciously and under all circumstances where the instinct was called by
external circumstances to activate.
Where Jung becomes unclear is just how these inherent patterns of the psycho/physical
system attain a reflective or “imaged” condition within the psyche and thereby become the
organizing principles of the subjective psychic position. It is clear enough that they appear to
do so, but unclear as to how such a condition actually might arise.
If we accept there is an inherent subjective system within the neurological “psyche” in which
the requirements of the instincts are “imaged”, and that these images are organized via the
hierarchy of archetypal dynamics, then how could this subjective point of view have come into
being, to have been – necessarily, in a purely biological context – derived only from the
conditional laws of matter?
Looking more closely, however, we see that the archetypes not only govern the behavioral
dynamics of consciousness, but also the apprehension of subjective images. Color, sound,
smell – sensations of all kind – are defined not by their initiating physical nature, but by
architectural principles unrelated to the physical systems from which they derive, and exist as
objective products within what appears to us as a purely non-physical system of organization.
For example, color is a totally subjective phenomenon, related by the cognitive processes to
data arising from an optical system capable of discriminating a range of photon energy levels.
Color only arises in the subjective percept as the artifact of an internal process. This suggests
a pre-existing matrix of subjective imagery must be read to derive it i.e., that colour is the
result of an archetypal mediation between cognitive data and a matrix of innate yet objective
This same innate relevance applies to all sensory imagery – sound, taste, smell, etc, and it
would appear that the biological mechanisms partake of this matrix to the extent only that
they are capable of discrimination. That is – color perception is not created by a chromatically
discriminative optical system, but that when chromatic data is available to the cognitive
processes it can be referenced against an innate archetypal matrix, allowing the perception of
color within the experiential visual process.
From this it follows that key perceptive data such as colour, tone, smell, taste are absolute
factors continuous with an objective psychic factor not reducible to the mechanics of a
biological nervous function merely informed by learning data.
This leads to the conclusion that there must be a co-related subjective position inherent in all
seemingly purely objective states. That there is an “inside” and an “outside” to all things, that
the subjective position is not something which “arises” with biological awareness, but is an
inherent condition, the “other side” of “isness” which cannot be seen as separate from and is
conversely always the complement of “objective” matter.
When we recognize this, we can see that for “life” to arise, the conditions of both objective and
subjective organization must be met before any coordinated system of survival, self replication
and evolution can occur.
This pondering of the nature of the archetypes leads us to the difficult realization that either
the duality inherent in our logical processes cannot lead us beneath its own nature to any
appreciation of the true unity of being, or, that within this particular universe, the duality of
subject and object is in fact the rational operator; that energetic organizational principles and
their inherent subjective images are the twin “co-operators” and co-creators of sentient

Here we might make a metaphysical hypothesis: that psyche is not only an objective function
(as suggested in my paper on relativity), but also that this objective function is no mere empty
category, but is informed, i.e. with the absolute images from which percepts are built. This in
turn suggests that it is a point of connection within and to a pleromic cosmos in which all
absolute data are manifest, both that of the apparently objective and also of the apparently
subjective i.e. that qualia are in fact entities within an opposing “subjective” universe which is
nothing other than the innate or hidden side of that particular objective or material universe
defined by the properties of our organs of perception.
At this point one can see how Jung’s and Pauli’s idea of the two opposing cones meeting at a
central mediating point reflects not only the above argument, but also the impassable limit of
our conscious logic, because this point where matter and psyche meet seems ever to remain
both above and behind conscious awareness; an ineffable mediating entity of experiential
being. Thus this unconscious root of awareness remains projected as the creator of the
experiential cosmos, as an ineffable unity ever inferring itself beneath our irrevocably
subjective conscious distinctions, and whether posited as the unifying principle of the individual
psyche, or that of the cosmos itself, it seems this primal archetype cannot be rooted out of our
To the logical, scientific mind, this is hardly a satisfactory position, the ambiguity at this point
so great that we either lapse into silence or fall back, either to the never ending quest for a
rational, materialistic answer or the ace up the sleeve certainty of some spiritualist position
both of which remain collectively entrenched, unsatisfactory and ever at odds, not only with
each other but also with much of the experiential reality they each claim to illuminate.
Is there a third position a transcendent function we might access here? Is the limit of our
reasoning ability reached once we exhaust all possible avenues of investigation within our
current notions of the world around us? Or is this merely the result of our scientific subjectivity
the result of our blind pursuit of a materialistic answer to everything?
It is here that we need not only to review those paradoxes inherent in our current vision of the
cosmos, but also those otherwise inexplicable and apparently veridical subjective experiences
and recognize that these offer, at the very least, a path beyond the apparent limits of our
thinking. To understand this, however, requires a complete reassessment of physics and
biology from a point of view which sees consciousness as an objective co-creator of reality
rather than a fortuitous after effect of physical law and biological development.
In a further essay I intend to define the argument from first principles and then consider the
matter of those apparently metaphysical dynamics which predispose us to believe usually quite
without foundation that consciousness implicates a entity separate and distinct from the
physical. In this essay I hope to make clear that such distinctions are the product of a
subjective viewpoint whose explanation leads to the only path beyond the impossible problem”.
Robert G Heyward – 2006

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.