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view we see irreducible “meaning,” an Element-of-reality.

Present tense
One of the most peculiar things about the first-person
viewpoint is our perception of time. We are conscious only of
the present. It can never be yesterday or tomorrow; it is always
now. We can recall the past and anticipate the future, but only
by doing so at the current moment. Our minds are trapped at
the sharp dividing line between what was, and what will be.
Language reflects this by categorizing events into three
temporal divisions, what we call the past, present, and future
tenses. For example: He ran; He is running; He will run. But
we can experience only one of these divisions of time by
introspection; consciousness exists only in the present tense.
To understand why this is so strange, we need to look at
how science views the nature of time. From the third-person,
time is an Element-of-reality, a thing in itself, something that
cannot be broken into more fundamental elements. It exists
alongside the three dimensions of distance to form the
framework of our universe. While it is difficult or impossible
to say exactly what it is, we can certainly describe many of its
characteristics. For instance, we know that time is a continuous
dimension that can be labeled with a numbering system, such as
done by clocks and calendars. We also know that the laws of
thermodynamics define one end as the past, and the other end
as the future. For instance, it would be easy to place several
photographs of a bomb explosion in sequential order. First
comes the unexploded bomb, then a small cloud of expanding
gas, then a large cloud, and so on. Many unusual aspects of
time were discovered by Albert Einstein, such as time slowing
down near the speed of light, or in the presence of intense
gravitational fields.
But what does science have to say about the present tense?
The astonishing answer is that science knows nothing of it. The
concept of “now” is something that cannot be observed from the
Chapter 4: The First-Person View of the Mind 53

third-person perspective. For instance, stop and look at the time
on your watch. Why is it this particular time instead of some
other? Why is it not yesterday, or one minute from now, or ten
million years in the future? Why are you now an adult reading
this book, instead of a newborn baby seeing your mother™s face
for the first time? For that matter, why do we not experience all
times at once? Science has no answer to these questions. In
the scientific view, time is something that stretches unbroken
from the past to the future, from the big bang to the end of the
universe. Other than the two ends, there are no locations that
are unique or special; every point on this continuum is the same
as every other point.
But introspection tells us that the scientific view of time is
incomplete; a unique point on the time line does exist. The
instant of time that we call now is vastly different from all
others. It defines our reality; it is a fundamental part of what we
are. While we cannot describe exactly what it is, it is as real as
anything we know; it is a self-evident truth of our existence.
The present tense is an irreducible thing that can be observed
only by introspection. It is an Element-of-reality of the first-
person viewpoint.

Free-will
Introspection tells us that we are free to think and act in
whatever way we choose. We perceive that our minds are
continually presented with decisions to be made, and that we
make them one-by-one of our own accord, without being
controlled by an outside influence. While we can be coerced by
the promise of reward or the threat of punishment, nothing can
force us to think or act in a way against what our mind chooses.
We are free agents; our thoughts and actions are determined by
us and us alone.
This is more than just a petty philosophical issue; it is one
of the founding principles that free societies are built upon. It
would be meaningless for a government to provide freedom for
its citizens, if those citizens could not think and act freely within
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness
54

their own minds. Even more important, society claims the right
to punish its citizens for misdeeds, based on the premise that
offending individuals freely choose to perform the prohibited
acts. The nature of free-will is probably the single most
important and far-reaching issue surrounding the mind-body
problem. Our governments and laws are inherently based on
the first-person perception of free-will.
At the risk of toppling society, let™s look at how the third-
person perspective sees the issue of free-will. Between the 17th
and 19th centuries, scientists such as Galileo, Newton, and
Maxwell developed our understanding of what is now called
classical physics. This involves many different areas, such as
motion, heat, energy, electrical and magnetic phenomena, and
similar topics. An interesting aspect of classical physics is that
it is deterministic. This means it is completely predictable; if
you have a complete enough understanding about something at
one moment in time, you can correctly determine what will
happen in the future.
Consider, for example, the start of the famous poem: ”I shot
an arrow into the air, it fell to earth I knew not where.” With
due regards to Longfellow, this archer is obviously not a
physicist. If he were, he would know exactly where the arrow
landed. From the arrow™s initial speed and direction, the laws
of classical physics exactly determine the trajectory taken and
the point of impact. If a more accurate solution is needed, the
scientist could take into account less important factors, such as
air resistance and the rotation of the earth. However, these are
also governed by the laws of classical physics. In short,
classical physics tells us that nothing is free to behave as it
wishes. Everything in our universe, be it an arrow or a brain, it
constrained to follow a predetermined path, dictated solely by
the initial conditions and the laws of nature.
This deterministic view of nature radically changed in the
early 20th century with the discovery of Quantum Mechanics.
This is the study of how very small things behave, such as
electrons, protons, and neutrons inside of atoms. Quantum
Chapter 4: The First-Person View of the Mind 55

Mechanics is absolutely bizarre; it is nothing like the world of
our day-to-day lives. For instance, things of this small size
interact as if they were waves, but suddenly collapse into
particles when we try to measure them. Further, this collapse
is random; it is not possible to know where the particle will end
up being located until the collapse actually occurs. We will
discuss Quantum Mechanics in the next chapter, when we look
at approaches that have been tried to solve the mind-body
problem. For now, the important point is that Quantum
Mechanics is not deterministic. While we can predict the paths
of arrows to an exceedingly high degree, much of the activity in
the subatomic realm is fundamentally unpredictable.
The brain operates by biology and chemistry, which do not
involve the interaction of things smaller than atoms. Therefore,
conventional wisdom tells us that the randomness of Quantum
Mechanics does not affect brain function. On the other hand,
there are still many mysteries regarding how neurons operate,
particularly in regards to synaptic activity. It wouldn™t be an
earth-shattering event if it were discovered that Quantum
Mechanical principles played some role in the process.
But even allowing for this possibility, nothing in the third-
person view of the mind can account for our introspective
perception of free-will. Suppose you are faced with a decision,
such as to continue reading this book or to put it aside. Classical
physics tells us that this decision is predetermined; the outcome
is fixed even before you thought about the issue. On the other
hand, if Quantum Mechanical principles are involved, the
decision will have some truly random component to it, much
like flipping a coin. The problem is, neither of these conditions,
either alone or in combination, correspond to our first-person
experience of free-will. Introspection tells us that the decision
is ours to make; it is not predetermined, and it is not random.
And just as with the other aspects of our introspective world,
free-will cannot be broken apart or reduced; it is an Element-of-
reality as seen from the first-person perspective.
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56

One or More Elements-of-Reality
In this chapter we have discussed five specific aspects of the
mind as seen from the first-person perspective: present tense,
qualia, mental unity, semantic thought, and free-will. Our
ability to list and discuss these as individual items can be
interpreted in two different ways. On one hand, it could mean
that the mind is not just one thing, but can be divided into
several components. On the other hand, we could claim that
these listed items are just different facets of a single unified
mind. It is difficult or impossible to say which of these is
correct, since introspection is such an inexact technique;
different people will give you different answers. However, the
important point is that all of these things, whether they are
individual components or a unified whole, are irreducible. It is
not possible to break apart such things as the present moment,
the redness of red, the oneness of mental activity, the meaning
of an idea, and the freedom to think and act. In other words, the
first-person views the mind as one or more Elements-of-reality.

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