There is a story that Socrates used to visit the markets regularly. When asked why he does so he replies that it is because he enjoys looking at all the things he can do without. This seems eminently sensible. Materialism in any form does not seem nearly so sensible.
If consciousness is an illusion of some sort, the epiphenomenal steam from the whistle of a steam-driven train in Ryle’s suicidal metaphor, then so are the contents of consciousness. In this case materialism is false. All scientific data would be illusory. It is ironic. After all, if consciousness is an illusion then nothing really exists, just as the Buddhist sage Nagarjuna goes to so much trouble to logically prove in the second century. On the hand, looking on the brighter side, if consciousness is not an illusion then materialism is false.
This illustrates the muddle that ensues when we do not make a clear distinction between what philosophers of the school of Chalmers and Dennett would call ‘consciousness’, and what a mystic might call ‘pure’ or ‘pristine’ awareness. If we fail to make this distinction then terminological, conceptual and logical chaos ineluctably ensues. We will not have the language or concepts that would be required for a coherent and comprehensible explanation of consciousness. We are left with a permanent gap in our theories that prevents us from completing them, a missing ingredient, and no general solution for metaphysics.
The ‘easy’ problem of consciousness, the filling in of all the details, may be an infinite and endlessly complex task, and probably an increasingly dull one. The ‘hard’ problem is finite and simple. The solution would be to suppose that ‘awareness’ is fundamental and then reserve the term ‘consciousness’ for whatever this awareness is aware of. What it is aware of may be defined as Maya, the phenomenal world, and counter-posed to this our little ‘self’, constructed like a bower-bird’s nest out of a hustle and bustle of thoughts, images, perceptions, sensations, hopes, fears, dreams and desires. Awareness can be none of these things so must be prior.
Using this trinitarian terminology the missing ingredient in the problem of consciousness would be ‘awareness’. We would draw a clear distinction between the contents of consciousness, that of which we are aware, all that moves and changes, all that could ever be an object for intentional consciousness or a subject counter-posed to it, and the simple fact of awareness. As well as ‘I think’ there would be ‘I Am’.
This simple fact is so completely simple that it defies intellectual analysis. As a consequence it is easily overlooked in any strictly scholastic philosophy. The definition ‘strictly scholastic’ would actually demand that we overlook it. We must talk of awareness in terms of ‘woo’, as if the whole idea is ridiculous, and ignore the vast and global literature of the one and only discipline that empirically studies the relationship between intentional or temporal consciousness and awareness.
In any strictly scholastic philosophy we certainly cannot consider the idea that when we attempt to reduce the world to the subjective or the objective, as we have been trying to do for thousands of years now, we are creating a problem that has no solution other than to stop trying to do it. We would be doomed to a lifetime of not being able to quite pin down what we are talking about when we say ‘consciousness’.
Explanations are categorical, dualistic. We explain one thing in terms of another. Explanations reside in the world of Yin and Yang, of dualism and relativity. In order to bring an explanation to an end, to reduce this two-valued logical system to its foundation, we would require three terms, one of which must transcend the dualism of the system. This allows a final reduction. Fortunately, all formal axiomatic systems of explanation require at least one undefined term, and so we can kill two birds with one stone by making this meta-systematic third term our initial axiom. ‘Tao’ would be a traditional place-holder.
This is the solution for consciousness and origins in my opinion. The whole of it. It is mysticism. It is not ‘woo’. It is merely a more subtle and sophisticated idea than those who believe it is ‘woo’ can currently imagine in their wildest dreams. It would embarrass a materialist to learn what the use of this dismissive terminology gives away to anyone conversant with the literature of mysticism or who has some empirical knowledge of the origin and functioning of consciousness, as would the large number of people who fall into one or both of these categories.
Woo is the secret of the universe. Until we see this we will be trapped in intellectual and perceptual chains, fearful of death and ultimate meaninglessness, unable to describe Nature except as incomprehensible to us, doomed to be forever banging our heads against a thousand metaphysical dilemmas. The evidence for the truth of this is there for anyone to see.