A New Theory of Consciousness


A New Theory of Consciousness



The other night the angel Gabriel visited me in my dreams. He came, he announced, to inform me of the true nature of consciousness. I was eager to listen. His account ran as follows (I paraphrase, but this was the gist). The most important point to grasp is that consciousness is the body of God. That’s right—God has a body and it’s identical to the totality of consciousness, human and animal. It is quite wrong to suppose that God is disembodied being—no intelligent agent can be that—but it is equally wrong to suppose that all bodies are alike. Some are made of matter, but some take other forms. God’s mind is not a form of consciousness, at least not of the kind we are familiar with; it transcends anything of which we have experience. It is more like mathematics, as conceived by a Platonist. Consciousness and numbers are immaterial (whatever exactly that means—here the angel Gabriel was emphatic), but not in the same way; well, God’s mind has a higher form of immateriality, not to be assimilated to the immateriality of terrestrial consciousness. So we are to picture the being of God as dualistic: on the one hand, his mind is incomprehensibly immaterial, truly beyond what we can imagine (think of its powers!); on the other hand, his body consists of the consciousness with which we are familiar. It is spread out, indefinitely various, concrete in its way, always like something or other. This sprawling object is God’s body. We are thus at one with God, literally parts of his body–and so with all his animal creation.

What then is matter? Here the angel Gabriel was less decisive: he said two views of it were possible. One view holds that matter is a separate level of being, making up our bodies and the general nature of what we call the physical universe. The other view supposes that so-called matter is just mind in disguise—the view humans know as idealism. If we follow the latter view, then God’s body includes everything, excluding numbers and God’s own mind; if we follow the former view, then God’s body stops at consciousness, with the rest of the universe existing outside of it. The important point, as the angel Gabriel kept insisting, is that consciousness is the body of God. God can act through this body, though he is not required to, and it sometimes does things he does not will it to do, rather like our bodies (a problem of evil admittedly arises here). But it gives God some kind of concrete being and joins him inextricably to his creation—he is not the remote entity that theologians have conjectured. You can literally introspect the body of God! He is with us always, inside us, allowing his being to mix with ours. His mind, however, is a thing apart, like nothing we can experience. Theologically speaking, God is at one with his creation, intersecting with conscious life (he has a great fondness for conscious life). He has given his body to us.

The angel Gabriel allowed that this story might seem incredible, certainly not part of human tradition. He also allowed that mysteries remain—mysteries being the province of God. But he pointed out that the usual human theories of consciousness were also incredible, though we are dulled to their wackier features; was the truth really any more wacky?[1] If there is a God (and who could question that?), and if God needs to have a body (and how could he not?), and if matter could not constitute his body (far too common and grimy)—well then, isn’t consciousness the only thing left to constitute it? And from the point of view of divine design, that is exactly what we should expect: God wishes to unite himself with the creation about which he cares so much. When your consciousness hurts God’s body aches: he suffers with you. He cares as much about you as you care about your body. He is not one of those gods who stands magnificently aloof from conscious life; he is right there with us. So the angel Gabriel asserted, and I could not say otherwise. When I awoke the next morning the world took on a new aspect for me. I felt God’s body throbbing within me.


Colin McGinn

[1] I will spare the reader verbatim reportage of the angel Gabriel’s utterances beginning “Oh ye dullards and dimwits!” and going on in the same vein until the final “Get thee hence!” Suffice to say he was mightily unimpressed with human efforts to fathom the nature of consciousness. For how could anything so remarkable be anything other than an aspect of God?


16 responses to “A New Theory of Consciousness”

  1. jeffrey g kessen says:

    Uhhh, I predict a good deal of fuss over this Post. This Gabriel fellow, angelic as he otherwise might be, ought at least to have given you a heads-up.

  2. Jim Birch says:

    That’s not what Gabriel told me. He said he was a physicalist.

    Are you sure you were talking to the right person?

  3. Edith Zimmerman says:

    I like this. What happens when we die?

  4. This is absolutely correct. If not correct, a stab in the right direction. Julian Jaynes would be pleased. I know I am. The first interpretation in a long time to cut through the materialist crap.

    • I don’t think the angel Gabriel even knows what “materialist” means (like Chomsky)–he certainly doesn’t have a materialist view of the body. But then neither did Newton once he had attributed “occult” gravity to bodies.

  5. jeffrey g kessen says:

    Not so much fuss as I anticipated over this last Post. Let’s call it a relative fuss. Meanwhile, here in Orlando, a tourist town, there’s a good deal of, well, let’s call it a major fuss.

  6. jeffrey g kessen says:

    Never would have imagined that a Swiss would be into kite surfing—talk about eerie (man, that’s a weirdly spelled word) .Anyway ,thank god I have my medicinal marijuana prescription. I shall certainly petition the angel Gabriel, during these trying times, to vouchsafe me greater insight into the wonders of kite surfing .

  7. Giulio Katis says:

    Was Gabriel carrying a trumpet? That’s what we really need to know. (As music is a function of both mind and body it is appropriate I guess it plays a role at the end.)

    Less dramatically, maybe Gabriel read your post on the surprising fact of mental privacy and was just attempting to provide some solace.

  8. Giulio Katis says:

    In Sydney it is feeling a little Old Testament: fires, floods, now virus. I joked with my daughter that an asteroid was probably next. She pointed out that one was passing close to earth in April.

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