UNIVERSAL AWARENESS: A THEORY OF THE SOUL

first edition first edition

INTRODUCTION

Universal Awareness: A Theory of the Soul, in both its original (2011) and its second (2022) edition, is the outcome of a search for possible answers to some profound questions such as 'Why was I born the person I am?' and 'What happens to me when I die?'

I have attempted to answer these questions by exploring and challenging, in strictly logical and rational ways, the world as represented in thought and language by the human mind (our mind's 'map of the world') in order to gain a more accurate representation of the world in reality. For these purposes I have relied heavily on the knowledge, ideas and discoveries of well-respected philosophers and scientists.

The theory's starting point is that for any of us there is no life before our birth or after our death; so when we die, we lose consciousness forever. However, by following a lengthy and detailed line of logical arguments and reasoning, and being careful not to contradict our current knowledge of the world, particularly science, the theory arrives at a different conclusion.

The theory is not simply about what happens to us when we die and whether oblivion or some form of afterlife awaits us. It goes well beyond these considerations. But to start with, in the next section I summarise the theory's answer to the question 'What happens to me when I die?' The statements also apply to you and any other sentient being. They are expressed in language that is more appropriate to 'the mind's map of the world' than that of the theory (hence my use of expressions such as in a manner of speaking), but this is unavoidable and should not cause confusion. So here goes.

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next part below, 'WHAT HAPPENS TO ME WHEN I DIE?'

WHAT HAPPENS TO ME WHEN I DIE?

When I die, although all the material of which I am made will remain in some form, it will no longer be structured to engage in the activity of being me, the person I am. Hence, the person I am now will cease to exist. No heaven, no hell, no spirit world, or whatever (note 1).

However, my awareness of being -- my 'Soul' in the terminology of the theory (note 2) -- will 'survive'. This is because the theory considers self-awareness as an emergent property of the universe itself; hence the term 'Universal Awareness'.

On my death, in a manner of speaking I cannot be aware of being the person I am before death, so I will be aware of being another entity capable of consciousness and self-awareness. This may be any sentient being in the entire history of the universe within the time frame that such beings are viable.

Thus all beings capable of self-awareness, again in a manner of speaking, 'share the same Soul'. We may refer to this as the Universal Soul.

The theory adopts an understanding of time which means that Universal Awareness is timeless. Our 'awareness of being' is eternal, with no beginning or end. Therefore you and I are forever aware of being some sentient entity.

However, in reality it makes no sense for me to ask, 'Who will I be in my next life?' or, 'Who was I in my previous life?' The time frame of any individual's life, as consciously experienced by them, belongs to the individual and ceases on their death. There is no series of past, present and future lives as envisaged by some religious and philosophical belief systems. So, although it is inevitable that I will wonder who I will become when I die, this question does not really make any sense in terms of the theory (note 3).

When you are ready, proceed to the next part below, 'A CLOSER LOOK AT THE THEORY'.

Notes

1. We shall see that in terms of the theory, it is more appropriate to express the question as 'What happens to me when the person I am dies?' or even 'What happens to the person who I am aware of being dies?' Be prepared for some convoluted statements such as these! (Later, I shall explain that the word 'person' will be used in the sense of an activity rather than an entity or object.)

2. I tend to use a capital letter for 'Soul' when I am using it in the sense intended by the theory. That is, 'Soul' is the 'I' in the questions 'Why was I born (my name) and not as someone else?', 'Have I previously lived as someone else?', and 'When the person who I am aware of being dies, will I be aware of being another person?' 'Emergent' here means it just happens naturally, for no purpose.

3. This is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the theory to comprehend because it represents time in a way that is so alien to how we understand and experience it, but one that is taken seriously by enough philosophers and scientists to give me sufficient confidence to adhere to it.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE THEORY

It is very likely that you are finding the answer to the question 'What happens to me when I die?' strange, confusing and much too 'New Age' to be taken seriously. Why should you or any other rational person even entertain such an idea? And what justification can I give for asking you to take it seriously?

Let's see if I can reassure you. ....

When you are ready, proceed to the section below, 'In What Way is Universal Awareness a Theory?'

Notes

 

1. In What Way is Universal Awareness a Theory?

Universal Awareness is a theory in the sense that 'this is how things might be.' It is the result of thinking logically and realistically about the world, without referring to religious or supernatural ideas or entities.

It does not make any assumptions that are contradicted by science, but it is not a scientific theory; there are no ways of testing it in ways that could support it or disprove it. Perhaps this will always be so.

If true, the theory of Universal Awareness has far-reaching consequences for how we understand human existence and our place in the world.

When you are ready, proceed to the section below, 'Key Distinction: The Real World and the World Constructed by our Mind'.

Notes

 

2. Key Distinction: The Real World and the World Constructed by our Mind

See chapter 1 and Appendix I of the revised edition.

The theory accepts the objective existence of the universe ('the real world'), regardless of whether it is inhabited by sentient beings who are observing it.

However, the world as each of us experiences it is only ever the one constructed by our brain, our mind. This representation can never accurately mirror the real world around us; it is only like a map of that world. But whereas normally we can look both at a map and at the territory it represents, our mind's map of the world is all we ever have to go on (note 1).

The Theory of the Soul attempts to go beyond our mind's everyday ways of representing the world and achieve more accurate ones. We can use science to help us, but we can also examine those ways in which we think about and describe the world that create anomalies -- confusion, conundrums, paradoxes and unanswerable questions. We can then seek other ways of thinking and communicating so that these anomalies no longer arise, thus - potentially -- providing us with a more accurate representation of reality (note 2).

However, as above, the theory acknowledges that the way it represents the universe can itself only ever be a construction of the human mind.

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next section, 'A Working Model'.

Notes


1. I repeatedly emphasise throughout the book that all analogies are flawed. Perhaps we can argue that any way that our mind understands and represents the world is an analogy (or metaphor -- an 'as if' way of thinking)and therefore flawed.

2. Most of the anomalies described in Universal Awareness are already well-known and debated interminably by philosophers. Perhaps more emphasis should be given to the fact that they illustrate problems concerning the way we represent reality (our map) rather than reality itself. Universal Awareness does not provide provably correct answers to these anomalies; rather, these anomalies do not arise in the theory.

3. A Working Model

See chapters 3 to 5 of the revised edition.

For convenience (hence the expression 'working model'), the theory considers a human being in three parts (note 1).

Firstly, we have the physical body, especially the brain and nervous system. This is called the 'Host' (note 2).

Then we have the 'Person'. When we use this word, we usually mean someone's unique 'personal identity' -- Sally Jones, Raj Patel, your name, my name, etc. (note 3).

The third part is the 'Soul'. In some contexts, 'soul' means very much the same as Person here, as when people say that when someone dies their soul (the person they were when they were alive) goes to heaven or to the spirit world. However, in terms of the theory, Soul is our 'awareness of being'; aware of being the person we are now and of always having been so. In this sense we may, for example, wonder whether our Soul survives after our death so that we are then aware of being another living person, or whether we have had a previous life as another person -- i.e. different Persons but the same Soul. This is the meaning of Soul here.

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next section, 'Key Idea: A Person is an Activity'.

Notes


1. The theory is very mindful that many 'distinctions' ('A' versus 'B' [versus 'C', versus D etc.]') that appear on our map of the world may not accurately represent the real world; that is they arise from the mind's representation of the world (analogies or 'as if' ways of thinking) and are not present as such in the natural world.

2. As with Soul (see earlier), I capitalise the first letter of Host....

3. ....likewise, Person.

4. Key Idea: A Person is an Activity

See chapter 6 of the revised edition.

The Theory of the Soul makes much use of another distinction of convenience, namely things or objects (entities), on the one hand and, on the other, activities (note 1).

Consistent with the theory, we would normally say that a Host, the physical body of any sentient being, is an object. And, without wishing to sound offensive, we would usually agree that any person, including oneself, is an object.

Now, normally I do indeed think of my body as a physical object that does lots of different activities. One such activity is being 'me as a person'; so rather than represent 'the person I am' as some entity or object, the theory considers 'me as a Person' to be an activity, something my physical body -- brain and nervous system included -- does. Among these activities is consciousness of the surrounding world as well my body and its activities, and activities of my brain such as thinking and remembering (note 2).

In other words, the theory makes a clear distinction between Host and Person, by defining Person as an activity -- what the Host does, including (and in particular) conscious awareness and self-awareness (Soul).

More strictly in terms of the theory, 'Host' is defined as any object that is capable of engaging in the activity of consciousness, including awareness of self.

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next section, 'Personal Identity'.

Notes


1. The term 'of convenience' is used apologetically for reasons given in note 1 of the previous section.

2. 'I am what I do' is a common assertion, but here it has a very literal meaning.

5. Personal Identity

See chapters 8 to 12 and Appendix II of the revised edition.

Despite the fact that our body (our Host) is continuously changing in its structure, composition and functioning from birth to death, we think of ourselves and any other individual as being the same person throughout life; that is, our personal identity is preserved over time.

However, from the perspective that every Person is an activity of their Host (and from other considerations presented in Universal Awareness) the question 'Am I the same person over time?' no longer applies. Once again, this much-debated question arises only from our mind's way of thinking about the real world and not from reality itself, and no amount of scientific investigation will provide a definite answer. In other words, the idea of preservation of personal identity is, in reality, meaningless (note 1).

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next section, 'Key Idea: The Universe as One'.

Notes


1. In other words, it's not a case of whether we are the same person from moment to moment or a different person. Our personal identity is our mind's way of experiencing the world that does not apply to the world in reality. So why is the experience of having a personal identity that is continuous over time so compelling? This question will be addressed later.

6. Key Idea: The Universe as One

See chapters 20 to 25 and Appendices III & IV of the revised edition.

To the human mind, the world consists of countless things or objects engaged in their own activity This way of representing the world leads to all sorts of well-known anomalies. These anomalies disappear when, in line with the theory, we represent the universe as one organic whole, one object engaged in one activity. In other words, any activity that we identify in the universe is an activity of the universe itself.

So, for any event where we say X (an object, say a rock) is doing Y (an activity, say falling) we can say instead that the event is an activity of the universe. Expressed more specifically, the event is occurring at a part of the universe where the universe is so structured as to enable it to engage in the activity in question (in this case 'a rock falling').

This idea is conveyed using the image of the universe as one vast ocean; what the human mind would identify as objects in this ocean are simply parts or areas of the ocean and whatever is going on in these parts is activity of the ocean as a whole.

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next section, 'Key Idea: Space-time'.

Notes

 

7. Key Idea: Space-time

See chapter 13 of the revised edition for an introduction to thie idea, which is developed further in later chapters (see section 10).

The theory makes use of the scientific idea of space-time, whereby any location in the universe may be represented in terms of four dimensions, three of space and one of time. Thus it is theoretically possible to think of the universe over its entire history in terms of four-dimensional space-time and likewise the ocean in the above analogy. Hence any event in the universe occurs at its own unique location in space-time.

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next section, 'The Meaning of Universal Awareness'.

Notes


You may find that when you are struggling with certain aspects of the theory of Universal Awareness, it can help to remind yourself of the idea of space-time (see later).

8. The Meaning of Universal Awareness

See chapter 26 of the revised edition.

Now let's apply the last two ideas to the working model outlined in parts 3 and 4.

According to the theory, a Host, namely any sentient creature including you and me, is part of the universe; it does not contain any fundamental material that can't be found elsewhere. And how it behaves is subject to the same laws of nature as everything else.

But now we must consider that any activity of a Host ('being a Person', including being conscious) is an activity of the universe. In other words, we may say that Hosts are rare and minute parts of the universe where its composition enables it to engage in the activity of being consciously aware of its own structure and its own activity.

It is crucial to understand that 'part of the universe' is not just referring to the object in question but includes all the environmental essentials for the event to occur. This is obviously the case with the falling rock given earlier, but it applies equally for any activity involving 'me as a Person'. Clearly, as with the rock, my physical presence is essential for such an activity to take place, but so is much more of the space-time universe around me. Thus the theory avoids representing events as the activities of separate objects.

To sum up: of myself, the theory states that at any moment, the person I am is an event, occurring at a part of the universe where its structure enables it to engage in the activity of being this person 'me'. Hence any statement 'I am doing X' is translated as 'the universe is doing X'. Likewise for everyone else.

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next section, 'The Universal Soul'.

Notes

 

9. The Universal Soul

See chapter 27 of the revised edition.

Let's now consider the implications of the above. We are using the term Soul in the sense of 'awareness of being' but now the theory is saying that our Soul is an activity of the universe itself that occurs at those locations where its structure enables it to engage in being a Person -- crucially, being aware of itself and its activities.

Thus the theory is representing the Soul as a property of the universe, something the universe is capable of doing, namely being self-aware. When referring to this you may consider using the term 'Universal Soul'.

To summarise: you and everyone else who lived before you, who lives at the same time as you, and who will live after you, may be said to share the same awareness of being or Soul.

However, the universe's self-awareness is only experienced at the level of each individual Host. So far as we know, simultaneous awareness of being more than one Host, and thus experiencing being more than one Person, is not possible.

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next section, 'Key idea: Every Event in the History of the Universe "Exists".'

Notes


This is another aspect of the Theory of the Soul that is very difficult to grasp because it is so alien to how we normally understand our existence in the world, and appears self-contradictory. That is, the theory is stating that, in a manner of speaking we all share the same awareness of being -- a Universal Soul -- yet, at any moment, each one of us can only be aware of being the individual we are! It takes much mental concentration to make this idea work, and an apt analogy from everyday life has so far eluded me. (Perhaps an analogy involving the process of psychological dissociation may work, specifically parallel or split consciousness.)

10. Key idea: Every Event in the History of the Universe 'Exists'

See chapters 14 to 17 and chapter 19 of the revised edition.

If you are now thinking that the last two paragraphs above make no sense at all, then you are correct. But only in terms of how we normally think about the world. Before they make sense, we must examine the way we understand time and existence and come to a very different way of thinking (note 1).

Science has yet to understand the real nature of time, but it accepts that is not the same as how it is experienced and represented by the human mind. As with our everyday understanding, the theory acknowledges that time is such that events occur in a certain order (the 'arrow of time'), so that relative to one event, other events or 'moments in time' occur before, after or (ignoring considerations due to relativity theory) simultaneously with that event.

Hence, what are past ('before') moments and events and what are future moments and events ('after') must always be defined by reference to some other moment or event. And when, in daily life, we refer to our past and our future we usually do so in relation to our present moment, our now.

However, there is no event or moment that defines 'now' for the universe itself -- i.e. at what stage it is now in its history. That is, there is no universal present which defines what exists as 'now' in the universe, and hence what is in its past (no longer exists) and what is in its future (has yet to exist). All moments and events in the universe throughout its entire history can be said to 'exist' or 'be happening' (notes 2 & 3).

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next section, 'Death'

Notes


1. This discussion has nothing to do with the theory of relativity, which also challenges the way we think about time and existence (as does quantum physics). Neither does the discussion contradict these spheres of knowledge.

2. It may help to think of 'now' as akin to 'here' and 'not now' as akin to 'there'. Thus 'now', as with 'here', is unique to you; 'now' defines what exists for you. 'Not now' events or moments in time, past and future, do not exist for you, but you may still think of them as happening 'over there' or 'somewhere else' in the space-time universe, using the ocean metaphor if it helps.

3. None of this means that the theory disputes the existence time. Time exists in reality and has some property that our mind represents as 'time's arrow', i.e time moving forward, with a 'before' (what has happened, a 'now' (what is happening), and an 'after' what will happen. But as to the nature of this property in reality, the theory has nothing to say (with the possible exception of material summarised in the section 'Why we Experience Continuity of Personal Identity' under 'ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS' below).

11. Death

See chapter 28 of the revised edition.

Let's rephrase the question thus: What happens to you when you die?

When you die, all the material of which you (your Host) are made will remain in some form, but it will no longer be structured in a way whereby the universe can engage in the activity of being you, the person you experience being. Hence, the person you are now will cease to exist. No heaven, no hell, no spirit world, or whatever.

But death is not oblivion for your Soul, as self-awareness is a property of the universe, something the universe does, whether the person you are exists or not. Because of this, and by equating 'I' with Universal Awareness or, if you prefer, the Universal Soul, and being mindful of the above perspective on the nature of time, you may say, 'I am always aware of being someone', meaning any sentient being that has ever existed in the entire history of the universe.

Despite this, the notion of transmigration of the soul, in the sense that we are all living a sequence of lives (previous lives, present life and future lives) is incompatible with the Theory of the Soul. It makes no sense to ask, 'Who will I be in my next life?' or 'Who was I in my previous life?' The time frame of the life of any individual, as consciously experienced by them, belongs to that individual and ceases on their death. But such is our everyday understanding of time that it is very difficult not ask these questions (note 1)

Hence, Universal Awareness is timeless. Our 'awareness of being' is eternal, with no beginning or ending. We always experience awareness of being someone, if not the individual we are now then some other individual or sentient being. We cannot escape this.

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next part, 'ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS'.

Notes


1. As is often the case, it is much easier to communicate these ideas in words and expressions more appropriate to the mind's ways of representing the world rather than those of the theory. To attempt to do otherwise would require some extraordinarily convoluted statements, as I think you will have realised by now!

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

Three more sections follow. Two of them are a little more technical than the previous sections. They examine in further detail the link between consciousness, time and existence and explore our compelling subjective experience of being one person over time, from our earliest to our final years. The third section is a further exploration of the nature of conscious awareness from the perspective that it is a natural property of the universe.

Notes

 

Consciousness, Time and Existence

See chapters 13 to 17 and chapter 19 of the revised edition.

The theory adopts a construct termed 'discrete conscious event' (DCE). A DCE is any moment of conscious activity associated with a unique Host, including awareness of being (Soul). And it is experienced by the Host as 'happening now'. It is a 'now moment'.

Thus any DCE defines what exists now, what no longer exists (events before the DCE), and what has yet to exist (events after the DCE) -- but for that Host only.

As with any other event in the universe:

  1. No DCE has the privilege of determining what moments and events constitute the universe's present, past, and future
  2. Every DCE occurs at a unique location in space-time;
  3. All DCEs of all Hosts in the universe's history 'exist'.

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next section, 'Why we Experience Continuity of Personal Identity'.

Notes

 

Why we Experience Continuity of Personal Identity

See chapter 18 of the revised edition.

For any DCE, the Host is structured to be aware of 'before' (i.e. past) experiences (especially immediately 'before'). It is also structured in a way that largely determines the DCE that is experienced in the immediate 'after'.

Thus, throughout one's life, one experiences each DCE as part of a seamless stream of conscious events (interrupted by periods of unconsciousness) along a timeline from past to present to future.

From this arises our subjective impression that we only have the conscious experiences of one person at any time, the person we identify as 'me', and we are this 'same person' over time. This is despite the fact that the Person we are is not an object but an activity of our Host, and our Host is continuously changing in its material composition, structure and functioning.

Allow yourself enough time to think about all of this before you feel ready to proceed to the next section, 'The Preservation and Expansion of Universal Awareness'.

Notes

 

The Preservation and Expansion of Universal Awareness

See chapters 30 to 36 of the revised edition.

Universal Awareness is an emergent property of the universe. It happens naturally and for no purpose.

In a similar way to life (in the biological sense) Universal Awareness has a tendency towards self-preservation and self-expansion.

The above is exemplified by the individual and collective activity of terrestrial human beings. All such activity is framed, in the Theory of the Soul, as activity of the universe.

This activity includes that which we call science. Science (both theoretical and applied) may be represented as an outcome of the in-built tendency of Universal Awareness (and not merely life itself) towards preservation and expansion.

The above includes what we call 'the achievements of science'. Where these replicate material and events present in locations of the universe where Universal Awareness is absent, the distinction 'natural' versus 'human-made' or 'synthetic' is not applied. All such phenomena are 'natural'; the latter simply occur in those locations in space-time where the structure of the universe enables it to be self-aware.

In due course I shall add a further part to this summary that will consider what are the implications of Universal Awareness for our everyday lives and our place in the world. Before then, you may be thinking of what the implications are for you personally .

Notes