The diagram below represents an exhaustive description of reality. The eight roman numerals in the diagram correspond to the ontological linchpins furnishing this description, the circled terms represent the domains of science they pass through, and the colored bars represent two different aspects of existence: the informational and the physical. Certain parts of this description refers to things that cannot be captured in language, yet language is helpful because it can direct attention to significant aspects of our own conscious experience. I use the word suchness (in Sanskrit tathata) to indicate the aspect of conscious experience that is entirely itself and nothing else. The various spiritual traditions of the world refer to this differently — “pure consciousness” is popular nowadays — but such terms are only helpful insofar as they direct us to mindfully consider the present moment. Whatever is considered, that is suchness. Keeping this ineffability in mind, my ontological description proceeds as follows.
I. Information as the Essence of the Universe
Our most fundamental understanding of the universe is given by quantum mechanics. Quantum objects and systems have no definite properties. They can only be described by a series of mathematical probabilities, or by what’s known as a quantum wave function (which itself can contain a description of infinitely many different possible worlds). Thus, the most fundamental aspect of the universe is a realm of pure potentiality, pure information. Digits. Numbers. Meaning. This stuff.
II. Collapsing the Wave Function and the Emergence of the Physical World
Precisely how the quantum level of reality congeals into our physical world is still an open question. It’s been proposed that the answer lies in the “observer effect.” This issue undeniably points to the understanding that our conscious experience is causally continuous with the physical world.
III. The Evolution of Earth and the Universe
This is pretty basic stuff. Go watch a Neil DeGrass Tyson documentary.
IV. The Evolution of Life and the Human Brain
This is also fairly basic… like you.
V. The Brain as an Information Processing System
The main idea behind cognitive science is that the mind is an information processor. This notion is important because it leads to several instructive parallels between the brain and another information processor, the modern computer. This returns us to the notion of information as fundamental to the universe in (I) and to the notion of the mind and the physical universe as causally continuous in (II).
VI. Cognitive Architecture of the Self
There is no such thing as a self. No-self has arisen from the causes and conditions of reality and now I’m typing about it.
VII. Cognitive Training
The road to suchness is paved with stones called “meditation and its effects.” This road pays equal respect to ancient contemplative traditions and modern science, relishing the paradox.
VIII. Suchness or Information as the Essence of the Universe
I might conclude by discussing the phenomenal experience of nirvana, suchness, information, or the cascade of semanticity flowing through your mind as these words do, and how they relate to the fundamental nature of the universe, ultimately leading us back right where we started, but my patience is as lacking as this sentence is long.