The title I chose sounds a bit like childish fantasy, doesn’t it? That’s why I couldn’t help but include the song from the muppets, a memory from my childhood. Yet isn’t this how our modern sensibilities would have us approach the idea of consciousness, as a fantasy, as something from our childhood; after all, are rainbows not merely an illusion?
Certain varieties of Buddhism, predominantly in the Tibetan schools, describe the achievement of total realization as the attainment of the rainbow body (also see here, here, and here). Yet the sceptic could rightfully point out this is in no way proof that consciousness exists, and could in truth turn out to be little more than the mirage of religious dogma.
along with illusion, I’ve heard consciousness described as an accident of evolution, as well as bundles of neurons performing parallel-like operations, but this does little to elucidate the experience of the phenomena. One definition I particularly appreciated, expressed by Mark Passio in a recent seminar, defined consciousness as: the ability to recognize patterns; I would add to that, the ability to in-form or create patterns, for, whether this is true, it certainly pertains to our experience of the phenomena of being conscious; and also, the experience of choice or volition is a fundamental part of the phenomena.
It would seem that it is often here, the context of volition, that dispute has arisen. The idea of free will is largely perceived in these “modern” times, if it is perceived at all, as an anachronistic fable designed to torture Christians in-so-much as you can either be obedient to the will of god, or not.
In recent history, social engineers such as Frederick Taylor Gates, Frederick W. Taylor (no relation?), George Estabrooks, Jose Delgado, or William H. Gates (no relation?) have had little use for the concept. These utopians who saw and see the population as “meat machines”, a phrase not uncommon at the turn of the twentieth century, have reproached the idea of a “ghost in the machine” as a malfunction.
But for thousands of years really, predominant narratives have come and gone that in many ways serve to diminish consciousness, and there-in assert justification to dictate existence. These narratives reveal their character in metaphors chosen to delineate the nature of being: there is the Judeo-Christian metaphor that the people are sheep and the priest the guiding shepherd, or the “fisher of men” metaphor of the Nazarene, or Hobbes’ Leviathan where the people are the body of the state organism, or the Newtonian clockwork universe, billiard ball determinism of the causa prima, Locke’s blank slate, Weishaupt’s illuminations, the human resources of the industrial revolution evolving into the scientifically managed grand machine of society imagined going into the twentieth century, now yielding to the newest metaphor, input-output programmed computers, or the current burgeoning metaphor of a human internet. (It should be noted that in each generation respectively, these were not viewed as metaphors, but as reality)
Yet in spite of colossal resources and efforts the illusion of consciousness has persisted, and the social engineers have found their attempts to control and maneuver “the masses” has proven surprisingly elusive (often with hellacious costs).
This raises a question in my mind. Could it be that the opposite is the mirage? The more we are devoted to the concept that there is no consciousness the farther away it moves, like a rainbow.