What is Consciousness?

Q. If one says that some form of soul exists beyond death, I ask what particles is that soul made of?

A. What particles is “red” made of? The “soul” is not something to believe in or not to believe in. “Soul” is a particular definition of consciousness/experience, which to date remains a great mystery to science.

By “red” I refer no to the photons, but to the “experience of red.” There is nothing in matter to account for such experience. Surely you are you familiar with the “Mary’s Room” thought experiment. Despite attempts to refute the argument in this thought experiment, experience itself remains the so called “hard problem” of consciousness. Why is there any experience at all, and what experiences or constitutes experience? Yes, consciousness does but what is consciousness? This is the mystery, the question, which some turn to Vedanta to experience the answer.

Consciousness, the seat of experience—be it red, white, or blue—is the soul, and it is something that defies measurement. So again it is not a question of believing in the soul or asking someone to show it to us. Consciousness exists in everyone’s book. Our differences lie only in our definitions of it, our conjectures regarding its nature.

I think we are talking more about a material vs a spiritual or non material definition of consciousness. A non material definition of consciousness is a common sense, universally intuitive definition, in which consciousness is fundamental and causal. In the sacred texts, along with such definitions methodologies for experiencing the fullness of consciousness is offered, methodologies through which numerous persons have attested to the same experience that corresponds with the spiritual definition of consciousness found in the text. Whereas a material definition is extremely counter intuitive, illusive, and illogical in that it seeks to deny consciousness a causal role, when the act of denial itself requires consciousness. Such material definitions are driven by empirical evidence that makes sense out of the world in many respects, even while ultimately saying that the world makes no over all sense. It is the practical day to day sense that empirically derived data makes of the world that often improves our standard of living and facilitates acquisition that usually carries the day in the laboratory and then in turn drives material definitions of consciousness. As such in Bhagavad-gita terminology, these material definitions of consciousness could be said to be doing-based (rajas) definitions as opposed to being-based (sattva) definitions. But it is also worth noting that there are credible empirically based theories that, perhaps in search of being over doing (and thus more objective), have arrived at spiritual definitions of consciousness—scientific theories that find room for a soul with a captain’s role in a sea of matter.