Light, Consciousness, Action!
Is Light the Missing Link
Between Matter and Mind?
Q: Many philosophers investigating the “mind-body problem” appear to begin with the presumption that existence can be divided into “consciousness” and “matter,” and that this division is comprehensive. The traditional problems follow from this.
But what about light? In physics, matter and light are considered distinct. In these philosophical debates, are light and matter considered all part of the “physical” realm? Is light believed to “take up space” (a fundamental definition of physical)? Are there specific debates in philosophy of mind regarding light and consciousness—for example, whether they are the same or different, whether they relate to each other and, if so, what is the nature of this relationship? In general, does light come up in these philosophical debates?
CdeQ: Great questions . . . First, the simple answer is “no”— philosophers discussing the mind-body problem hardly ever (perhaps never) talk about light as a phenomenon that requires special attention. Essentially, taking their cue from quantum physics (or even from Newtonian physics), they regard light as physical because it consists of photons, which are “particles” or entities explored and experimented with in physics. So, from this perspective, the relationship between light and consciousness is exactly the same as the relationship between matter (or any other physical entity) and consciousness.
However . . . (and this is a major however) . . . However, philosophically (and even scientifically) the question of light requires a lot more attention (as you have intuited).
First, we know from physics that light (in the form of photons — which are quanta of action) is very unlike other particles explored in physics. Photons do not have any charge (this is also true of, for instance, neutrinos). And, because they travel at the speed of light, they transcend time (at the speed of light, time stops). And because a photon doesn’t use up any energy at it travels through space, this is tantamount to saying that photons also transcend space.
So here we have a “physical” entity that has no charge (and therefore does not interact with charged particles), and transcends time and space. In other words, a photon of light is a close as a physicist could come to giving a description of something non-physical (e.g., spirit or consciousness). In fact, this insight is the core idea underlying the cosmological work of mathematician Arthur Young (see The Reflexive Universe).1
Young asserts that the photon, as a quantum of action, is a quantum of purposeful action. That is, the photon is the source of both manifest matter or energy (“action”) and manifest mind or consciousness (“purpose”). In its unmanifest state, says Young, the photon is precisely the “Divine Light” spoken of by mystics through the ages. He identifies photon as spirit thus:
“quantum = photon = light = spirit”
Young’s “quantum of purposeful action” is another way of describing what, from the perspective of panpsychism, I call “sentient energy.” Just as purpose (consciousness) cannot be separated from action (energy), so is sentience (consciousness) intrinsic to energy. They always go together. Purpose and action, sentience and energy, form a unity.
Nevertheless, purpose is not identical to action, nor is sentience identical to energy. They are ontologically distinct, though not separate. Purpose or sentience (consciousness or mind) is the intrinsic ability of matter-energy to feel, know, and purposefully direct itself.
Consciousness (as purpose) creates intention and this is manifested through action (energy). By itself, intention or purpose (consciousness) can do nothing. In order to do something, consciousness needs action or energy.
We can see this in our own lives: Having an intention is not the same as taking action (“the path to hell is paved with good intentions”). Having an intention is never enough if we wish to make a difference in the world. We also need to enact the intention. Only then can manifestation follow from intention.
What is so remarkable about light is that it includes both intention (consciousness) and action (energy) bundled up into an indivisible little packet — the quantum of action.
Therefore, one way to “solve” the mind-body problem is to meditate on the light within and to experience first-hand how consciousness and embodiment are intimately related. Of course, when we do so, the mind-body problem evaporates because we are no longer concerned about conceptual distinctions and are engaged in the actual experience of our own natural embodied spiritual nature.
1 Young’s The Reflexive Universe is not easy to get hold of. However it is a visionary book and well worth hunting down. The essence of his cosmology is expressed in my novel Deep Spirit: Cracking the Noetic Code.