Mind Beyond Matter

What if it turned out that we weren’t just bodies with brains, but embodied souls, and that this explained a whole lot about our psychology and the fundamental nature of reality?

I’m an Australian doctor of medicine with an interest in the big questions, particularly in relation to cosmology, quantum physics and consciousness. And by consciousness I don’t just mean the dry topics discussed by philosophers of mind like free will and qualia (the ‘feel’ of a conscious experience). I mean all the other stuff that comes with having a mind that is more important to us, such as our emotions and our mental health.

At our current level of scientific knowledge, there are a lot of unanswered questions. You can read about them in my other writings. I’ll give you one example here just to illustrate a couple of points. In the early 1980s cosmology was discovering new and unexpected features of our universe. It became apparent that the whole thing must have undergone a huge and incredibly rapid period of expansion in the first fraction of a second of its existence. Then almost as quickly as it started, it stopped, forever. This has become known as cosmological inflation and is a necessary part of our understanding of the cosmos. Importantly, what was expanding during inflation was empty space itself between the particles of matter. And to achieve what we see in the later universe, this energy of inflation had to be undiluted by its own expansion. So, at the start of inflation it would have had a certain strength of ability to push two nearby objects apart. If you could have put your fingers there, you could have felt that. And just before the end of inflation, when the universe had expanded to a size approximately 1026 times larger (that’s 10 with 26 zeroes after it), your fingers would have felt the same strength of force.

This newly discovered force was unlike anything previously observed in nature. It became popular to say that it was a reverse of gravity, but gravity, if run in reverse, would lose strength as things spread apart. All sorts of mathematical models, without any convincing connection to reality, sprang up. These were mathematical simulations of inflation with their own input parameters that could be tweaked by the physicist to explain the data. The accepted narrative came to be that these models explained inflation. The fact that the best models fit the data came to be reversed to say that these inflation models actually predicted the data — theory was said to be predicting reality, where in actual fact the theories were reverse engineered to fit the data.

The thing is, expanding empty space, and doing so in a way that is undiluted by its own expansion, are not features of matter. Let’s compare it to dark energy, another force of our universe discovered in the late 1990s. This force is also expanding empty space and doing so in a way that is again undiluted by its own expansion. It’s different in its timing and strength, but not different in its core properties. The cosmological community accepted from the start that this dark energy is not a property of matter and is therefore ‘nonmaterial’. That was a big step forward for science as it was the first nonmaterial ingredient accepted into our standard model of the universe. But cosmological inflation, despite having the same core properties, remains tied up in the official narrative — that it is a property of matter and is explained by these unnatural mathematical simulations. These simulations are particularly favoured by physicists who like the idea of a multiverse, as the simpler mathematical models have no ending for inflation and go on spitting out different universes forever.

Don’t get me wrong — I think a lot of cosmology is good, solid, scientific work. But there are a number of things that need to change, and they all relate in some way to our big scientific blind spot. That is, scientists find it hard to acknowledge nonmaterial stuff. Dark energy is the first crack in the dam wall, and I think the next step will involve cosmological inflation accompanied by a reverse form of dark energy (there are loads of data coming in about the early universe that will push these changes). From there, it will be a domino effect and we won’t have to wait long for a totally different understanding of the mind and our place in the universe.

What do I think this new understanding of the mind will be? I think the mind interacts closely with the brain, but is made of nonmaterial energy – dark energy and the yet-to-be-discovered reverse dark energy. Now don’t be put off by the word ‘dark’. It’s not dark as in evil. Dark in cosmology means invisible; not directly detectable with scientific instruments. Oh, and there is one other really big call I think we will have to make. I have proposed that, within space and time, there is a dimension of ‘whatness’, which is constructive-destructive in nature. There are a lot of clues hinting at this dimension in cosmology — in particular the fact that the universal laws and constants appear to be ‘designed’ to create complex life forms. I won’t try to explain this any further here, as it is a complex argument which requires, for a start, a detailed examination of space and time.

I’ll now try to explain how minds (and psychology) work in these nonmaterial terms. But you can take it all with a grain of salt because I am obviously stepping well outside of our current scientific understanding.

A mind is comprised of two nonmaterial energies — one positive/constructive and one negative/destructive. It is the ratio between the two that dictates the current mood and, in the longer term, our mental wellness or illness. Mood is that background emotional state we all have but might not always notice is there, particularly if it is a neutral mood. It’s a spectrum that depends on the ratio of energies, and as the mood becomes quite strongly positive or negative, it becomes more noticeable.

Our overall mood is somewhat dictated by our early life experiences. If they were very negative, we are predisposed to more negative moods. Other influences on moods include feedbacks from the human body, such as pain or the feeling of wellness that comes from regular exercise. And of course, we are also strongly influenced by our interactions with the outside world, especially the people in it.

Mood is generally just a spectrum from dark to light, but if we want more detail it is often easy to pick out one or more emotions. Emotions are generally positive or negative — such as happiness or joy on the positive and fear, sadness and anger on the negative. In terms of psychology, we talk of mental wellness and mental illness. Mental illness is characterised by high levels of negative emotion and preoccupation with destructive ideas, such as in substance abuse, phobias and suicide plans. Mental wellness is characterised by higher levels of positive emotion, with constructive relationships and life goals.

All of these three — mood, emotion and mental health — are therefore spectrums from positive to negative. They are all therefore clues — that a good theory of consciousness should contain a fundamental positive and negative.

It appears as if the nonmaterial mind interacts with the brain through quantum physics, and scientists are currently gathering more evidence of how this could happen. Quantum coherence is important, as are tiny quantum levers on cellular surfaces and within internal cellular structures.

Nature operates at many levels. The positive and negative mental energies are the drivers of the moods and emotions. Moods and emotions drive thoughts and perceptions of things. If I am in a bad mood, I may see that person as annoying, or anxiety provoking. If I am in a good mood, I may see them as entertaining. Thoughts and perceptions in turn feed back into our moods and emotions. Because of these feedback loops, our emotional lives tend to spiral upward or downward depending on our overall positivity or negativity.

In any discussion of the mind, we must also consider the outside world. The senses deliver information to the mind, via the brain. In doing so, the outside world is ‘inside’ the mind, in a way that has quite surprising consequences. Let me explain further. There are two broad types of coping strategy underpinning most mental illnesses. Again, it’s a spectrum, so that in the middle a person might employ a bit of both coping strategies. The two strategies are termed internalising and externalising, and they illustrate a lot about the human dilemma.

As I see it, the positive and negative mental energies are very fundamental. If a person’s mind is 100% negative energy, it is 100% likely to think negative thoughts and 0% likely to think positive thoughts. So, if I am experiencing a lot of negative mood, what choices do I have? I can still choose what type of negative information to think about, and one broad choice is whether I am going to see the negative internally or externally. Internal options might include worrying about what is going to happen to oneself, and regretting past failures. Externally related ideas could include plotting for revenge on another person, or occupying the mind by driving a vehicle recklessly around city streets.

Choice of predominant coping style tends to develop at an early age and is probably related to biological factors as well as psychosocial. In the middle of this internalising-externalising spectrum tend to be the people who are still thinking rationally and who are responding to each situation in life fairly appropriately. At either end of this spectrum, we tend to find the people who are more mentally unwell. Their approaches to situations are more governed by preoccupations that are separated from reality. For example, in the case of the severe anxious/depressive this might involve interpreting every situation or stimulus as hostile in some way, and therefore withdrawing from interaction with the world as much as possible.

The case of severe externalising strategy is an interesting one, as these people have a difficult task to pull off. In order to avoid the pain of internally directed emotion, it becomes necessary to continually come up with thoughts relating to the outside world. In impulsive individuals this can involve things like reckless driving, assaults and crime sprees. Less impulsive types engage in longer phases of planning and preparation and are less frequently apprehended by the law. They might cultivate (or ‘groom’) a target for bullying or control. And in order to obtain a readier supply of targets, they might seek promotion to a position of authority. Seeking leadership positions tends to come naturally to externalising types, as part of their strategy is a sense of being better than others, termed narcissism. However, these types of people usually turn out to be bad leaders, and organisations are best to avoid appointing them to positions of authority.

The externalising strategy tends to involve a lot of lying to others in order to manipulate them and to themselves in order to bolster their sense of inflated self-worth. False narratives are complicated lies that proliferate in these situations, for the purposes of ego maintenance, manipulating others and avoiding blame.

Externalising is a risk-reward strategy, although the rewards tend to be short to medium term only. These people lose friends easily, and only tend to find sustained allegiance in like-minded people and people they can control. All the lying is of course risky, as one might get caught in a lie and people might see through the façade.

Knowing all this, how can we understand our minds in the bigger picture? I like to think of the analogy to bone strength here. The calcium structure of our bones exists in a balance between two types of cells — those that build bone calcium and those that tear it down and return it to the blood. In people with osteoporosis (low bone density) we find that the balance between building bone and returning it to the circulation is skewed, with the cells that tear the bone down holding the upper hand. The treatment for osteoporosis generally involves putting a brake on the cells that tear bone down, so that the bone building cells can gain the upper hand and build more bone structure.

Our minds are much the same, existing as a balance between the units of constructive mental energy and the units of destructive mental energy. Individuals who are dominated by the negative mental energy are dominated by a force that is tearing something down. In the internalising person this mental energy is tearing down that person’s emotional wellbeing and resilience and self esteem.  In the externalising person this mental energy is tearing down that person’s moral framework, and trying to tear down the emotional wellbeing of other people.

Society-wide we tend to see increasing levels of mental illness coincide with increasing decline in moral standards. This is because, upstream, increased levels of negative mental energy naturally bifurcate into internalising and externalising coping behaviours.

What can we do to oppose this tide? Firstly, don’t go with the trend towards declining moral standards. If you have the emotional strength, you should be setting good examples and encouraging others towards higher moral standards. Parents and teachers should be empowered to provide strong boundaries on moral behaviour, and they should not be hobbled in their ability to call out immoral and antisocial behaviours.

Secondly, learn more about how to read yourself and others. Learn more about things like narcissism and psychopathy. Learn to distinguish real morality from fake morality. Be honest with yourself — am I an internalising or externalising type? Where do I think I sit on a scale from emotional wellness to emotional illness? What am I doing to improve myself and the world around me?

Leading scientists are enamoured of the idea that reality can be explained in entirety by a set of mathematical equations — the so-called “theory of everything”. Candidate theories of everything are entirely restricted to mathematical and material explanations. They have no room for nonmaterial consciousness or a constructive-destructive dimension, because these things defy direct measurement and mathematical representation. Therefore, in these mathematical theories of everything, there is no satisfying explanation of consciousness, or the seeming fine tuning of the universal laws and constants.

The limited view granted by science plays out in a limited view of morality. Contrary to modern science, morality should not be represented as an evolutionary adaptation or religious anachronism, as moral behaviour is a fundamental impulse of the universe. Morality is really just the constructive dimension of the universe, as expressed in relationships between conscious beings.

In our own lives, we can follow this constructive dimension in many ways. We can tend to the needs of our bodies and look after the people around us. We can build knowledge and understanding. It is especially worthwhile to engage in activities that are sustained and constructive in nature — longer-term projects with positive goals. Along the way, we can be more selfless and altruistic, new skills are learned and relationships are forged.

You may have noticed that the most positive people naturally pursue these types of activities, and regularly succeed at them. However, people who suffer from high degrees of negativity tend to struggle. They may find themselves derailed by negative self-talk, negative interactions with others, unrealistic goals and difficulties with motivation and focus. A skilled psychologist can provide useful assistance in breaking these habits.

As a medical practitioner, patients ask me to help them with their mental health problems on a daily basis. Since I have developed this new understanding of the mind, my ability to understand and help people with their troubles has been greatly enhanced. One might wonder whether it prompts me towards more “spiritual”-type discussions, but it doesn’t really. Patients occasionally present me with their near death experiences and so forth, but 99% of the time I am just doing what any other competent mental health professional would do.

What excites me most are the new findings about the early universe. As I have said, I see them as the triggers that will open up a new understanding of the mind. To get to this level of understanding, a lot of the reasoning will be abstract and difficult to prove outright, particularly the idea of a dimension of whatness. But I think the payoff will be a new understanding of human motivation and mental illness at a time when it is urgently needed.

To find out more, please visit Dr Rowland’s website here.

Dr Gavin Rowland’s Mind Beyond Matter – How the Non-Material Self can Explain the Phenomenon of Consciousness and Complete our Understanding of Reality (2015) is available through online booksellers in both print and ebook formats.

Subscribe to Rude Health Project

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.