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in the past, and will undoubtedly change many times in the
future. Science inherently progresses by incremental steps. We
are in the middle of this process, not at the end.
However, we are fortunate in one important respect; we live
at a time when the search for the Elements-of-reality no longer
involves the things in our day-to-day lives. As little as a few
hundred years ago we could not answer the most basic questions
of our everyday existence: Why does the sun feel warm?
Where does water go when it evaporates? How does a poison
kill us? Today we understand these things in great detail
through the method of reduction. While the reduction process
has not yet produced its final answers, the fuzzy edges have
been pushed to very extreme realms, such as the nature of
quarks, and how the big bang created the universe. These
frontiers of knowledge are now so specialized and complex that
they cannot be understood by the everyday person, or even the
everyday scientist. Only scientists that have spent years
studying these problems can grasp what they are really about.
In the twentieth century the method of reduction moved from
the realm of everyday experience to the realm of pure science
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness

and mathematics. This is clearly one of the most momentous
landmarks in all of human development.
This also sets a milestone in the study of consciousness,
since it defines where the human brain fits into the scheme of
things. Research during the last century has clearly shown that
the brain operates by biology and chemistry, both of which arise
from the interactions of atoms. Things smaller than atoms, such
as quarks and strings, do not directly affect the operation of the
brain, any more than they affect the operation of grandfather
clocks and hourglasses. In other words, the fuzziness of the
endpoint of reduction is almost certainly no longer relevant to
our understanding of brain activity.

Consistent and Chaotic Realities
Why does the method of reduction work in the first place?
To answer this question, imagine living in a reality of chaos,
one that is ever changing and unpredictable. For instance, we
might try to analyze our grandfather clock by the method of
reduction on five successive days, Monday through Friday. On
Monday we find it is composed of atoms in some particular
arrangement. On Tuesday we find it is irreducible, and must be
taken as an Element-of-reality in itself. The analysis on
Wednesday reduces it to only two Elements-of-reality, simply
placed side by side. Thursday's reduction shows the same two
Elements-of-reality, but this time one inside the other. On
Friday, we find it is rapidly oscillating between being composed
of atoms and being a single irreducible object. Can we make
sense of this changing reality? Does the method of reduction
have any meaning or use under these circumstances? How do
we go about understanding what we observe?
Fortunately, science does not have to answer any of these
questions, because we live in a universe that is well behaved
and consistent. As far as we can tell, what was found yesterday
is what will be found today and again tomorrow. The physical
laws that apply on the earth also apply across the galaxy and
across the universe. That is, our ability to make observations
Chapter 2: Reduction and Emergence 17

and use reduction does not change with time or distance.
Science, as we know it, is critically dependent on this kind of
consistency. Even Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity,
strange as they may be, are very consistent.
Why does the method of reduction work? The answer is
simply because it does. It is an observed fact, a characteristic of
reality as we know it. However, as we will discuss in later
chapters, this does not preclude the possibility of private
realities (such as dreams) that are poorly behaved and full of

The term Gestalt is used in psychology and elsewhere to
mean, "the whole is more than the sum of the parts." For
instance, the Gestalt view of a grandfather clock is that it has
characteristics of its own, over and above the metal, wood and
glass components that it is made from. After all, a grandfather
clock tells the time, controls the storage and release of energy,
inspires a sense of beauty and tranquility, and so on. None of
the individual components have these characteristics; they
emerge only when the parts are combined into the complete
Even better examples of emergence arise when the
components are combined in nonlinear ways. This is a fancy
way of saying that the parts are not just added together, but
merged in a more complex manner. Nonlinear combination is
interesting because it can result in totally unexpected behaviors
and characteristics. For example, suppose you had never seen
fire, and one day you happen to encounter an unlit candle. Even
in your wildest imagination you could not anticipate that this
simple combination of parts could produce something as
exquisite and complex as a candle flame. Again we find a case
where the assembly appears to have something that is not
contained in the components.
At first glance, one might think that emergence is
contradictory to the method of reduction. After all, how can a
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness

thing be reduced to its parts, if it is more than the sum of its
parts? As we will see, reduction and emergence coexist without
conflict, and are both important in science.
To understand how this works, suppose that our alien
friends become tired of constructing hourglasses and want to
experiment with something more interesting. We learn that the
atmosphere of their planet does not contain oxygen, and
therefore they have never seen fire. We suggest that the best
way for them to learn about this new concept is to construct a
burning candle. Accordingly, we transmit to them the position
and state of each of the atoms in a lit candle, including those in
the flame and surrounding air. Will the aliens be able to
reconstruct the burning candle? Of course they will; they have
everything that they need. The ability to "be a candle flame"
is inherently contained in the properties of the Elements-of-
reality, plus the assembly instructions. Nothing else is required.
In the jargon of mathematics, these things are both necessary
and sufficient to produce the object.
However, even though the aliens can construct a burning
candle, they will not necessarily be able to understand it. For
instance, consider what a human scientist would need to know
to understand a candle flame. Being given the position and state
of each and every atom would not be enough, simply because
humans cannot analyze this type of raw data. The scientist
would want to know something about the chemical reactions
going on, the spectrum of the light being emitted, the patterns
of air currents being generated, and so forth. While the
Elements-of-reality plus the assembly instructions already
contain all of this, it is not in a form that humans (or our alien
friends) can directly understand. These ideas are illustrated in
Fig. 2-4.
When we say, "the whole is more than the sum of the parts,"
we are referring to human understanding, not to what actually
exists in nature. A super intelligent being may look at a candle
flame and proclaim: "I understand it fully from the Elements-
Chapter 2: Reduction and Emergence 19

Reduction versus emergence. Reduction guarantees that an alien
could reconstruct a burning candle on his home world, given only
the assembly instructions to do so. However, this does not mean
that the alien would be able to understand it. Emergence is the
process whereby humans (and presumably aliens) rearrange raw
Information to create an explanation.

of-reality and the assembly instructions, and I need nothing
more." Unfortunately, humans are not this smart; they require
the Information to be rearranged and molded into a form they
can more easily grasp. Just as a goldsmith shapes raw metal
into fine jewelry, the scientist is an Information-smith, shaping
raw Information into explanations.
It is human nature to think of a candle flame as being more
than a mere assembly of components, a thing in itself, an entity
existing on its own. And there is nothing wrong with this; it is
an important tool for understanding the world. Just don't make
the mistake of believing that these “mental entities” are more
than they really are. They are a way of thinking about things,
not residents of the external world.
In short, reduction is pure physics, an attempt to understand
the nature of reality in its most basic form. In comparison,
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness

emergence deals with how humans choose to understand that
reality, blending physics with bits of philosophy, psychology,
historical context, personal preferences, and so on. While
emergence does not have the purity of reduction, it is a key part
of science as well as our everyday lives, and humans would be
able to understand very little without it.
The important point is that emergence deals only with
Information, not Elements-of-reality. In other words, there is
nothing that emergence can create that reduction cannot break
apart. This means that reduction and emergence can be easily
merged into a single framework for viewing the world. As
shown in Fig. 2-5, this is done by adding another category next
to the assembly instructions, something we call Emergent
Properties. This is a broad and poorly defined depository for
whatever explanations we need to understand the world. Of
course, everything in this new category is redundant with what
is already contained in the Elements-of-reality and the assembly
In the end, reduction plus emergence breaks the world into
the same two types of things as reduction alone, (1) Elements-
of-reality, and (2) Information. This brings us to the first major
teaching of the Inner Light Theory:

Major Teaching #1:
How we Understand Reality
We understand reality through the methods of reduction
and emergence. These methods divide reality into two
categories: (1) Elements-of-reality, those things that are
irreducible; and (2) Information, those things that can be
transmitted over a communications channel.
Chapter 2: Reduction and Emergence 21

The endpoint of reduction plus emergence. Even when emergence
is added to reduction, reality is still broken into the same two
categories, Elements-of-reality, and Information.

Where Does Consciousness Fit In?
Science and our everyday commonsense are based on the
methods of reduction and emergence. In turn, these methods
tell us that everything that exists in reality can be divided into
two categories, Elements-of-reality and Information. The
obvious question is, into which of these two categories do we
place consciousness?
As introduced in the last chapter, we can look at the mind
from two different perspectives or positions. The first of these
is from the outside, the objective world of science, what is often
called the third-person viewpoint. As shown in the next
chapter, the third-person view sees the mind as nothing but the
operation of the brain, meaning that consciousness is pure
The other way we can observe the mind is by introspection,
where an individual turns his thoughts and scrutiny inward for
self-examination. This is a view of the mind from the inside, a
perspective referred to as the first-person. It is the personal
and private way that we each see ourselves, the unique access
we have to our own mental world. As we will discuss in
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness

The mind-body paradox. The first-person perspective sees the
mind as one or more Elements-of-reality, but to the third-person
viewpoint it appears as pure Information.

Chapter 4, the first-person perspective sees the human mind as
a unified entity, a thing in itself, something that cannot be
broken into components. In other words, it is irreducible, and
therefore consists of one or more Elements-of-reality.
This deep conflict is the heart of the mind-body problem, as
illustrated in Fig. 2-6. From the third-person perspective the
mind is Information, while from the first-person view it is one
or more Elements-of-reality. Not only do the two viewpoints
disagree, they disagree in the worst possible way. In the next
three chapters we will look at these issues in detail.


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