Federal Communications Commission
Washington, DC, USA
Abstract: In this paper, I wish to consider an arguably important, yet underexplored question: What does the psi data (specifically the laboratory data) suggest about our lived experience? To put it another way, what does the psi data tell us about the meaning of it all? Current scientific theories offer little support for meaning in some intrinsic sense. There is no evidence for an overarching purpose for our existence. The physicist Stephen Weinberg has said, “the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” Many influential physicists, such as Brian Greene and Sean Carroll, have argued similarly,ut such a view is difficult to square with those who argue that meaning helps us live a more satisfying life. We can note that throughout the history of humanity, art, music, and literature has been produced by individuals attempting to express some greater sense of meaning beyond drudgery or simple, mundane experience. Yet according to many scientists and philosophers, this deeper or intrinsic sort of meaning is not to be found in our conventional scientific theories.
However, the psi data doesn’t fit conventional theories either. If we accept the psi data as real, we perhaps might broaden our thinking to consider what that data is telling us. Perhaps such a broader or richer framework might support a notion meaning or purpose for our lived experience.
But first we must try to pin down this term ‘meaning.’ Philosophers have struggled to understand the sense of ‘meaning’ or ‘larger purpose’ that many humans throughout history have attempted to find. I will try to identify some necessary components for this sense of ‘meaning’ by examining some examples from literature and film.
We might understand most works of literature and film (although perhaps not always) as expressions of elements linked together into a whole. In the book (or TV show) Game of Thrones, for example, we follow a wide range of various characters on different trajectories throughout the plot. As we read (or view) this vast unfolding story, we can discern an underlying unity. Somehow, we sense, these different characters are meant connect or impact one another, even though they are spread out over a very large landscape. They each play a part that fits into a larger whole.
In many cases, we can view this whole, in a way, as a process guiding the characters toward some sort of high powered or climactic moment. An author often uses techniques of foreshadowing future events that have yet to unfold. Through such foreshadowing, the reader senses how events will tend to unfold. Thus, characters that are linked holistically are also governed through a process outside of their own linear time.
Although characters within a novel of movie appear to be influenced by larger forces outside of them, I believe we should see them as characters exercising free will or true volition. In the movie Casablanca, the central character Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is faced with a difficult decision during the time of World War II. He can choose a life with the woman he loves, but at the cost of seriously weakening an important source of resistance against the Nazis. That readers believe the character Rick has the true ability to choose is necessary for experiencing the power of the film. Viewing Rick’s actions through a deterministic framework substantially diminishes the power or meaning the viewer would experience.
Thus, I submit that these three components necessary for meaning in work of literature of film are 1) connection with a greater whole, 2) a central purpose or direction that guides the various events and characters through time, and 3) freedom to choose. These three are necessary for a feeling of what a novel or movie means. Of course, I do not suggest that our lived experience fits well with such novels and films. It is arguably rare to find lived experience exhibiting the unity and sense of completion we find in works of literature. Nevertheless, I do argue that these aspects of meaning we find in many important examples in literature and film point to something important in our quest for greater meaning.
Further, I believe the psi data also points toward supporting these aspects of meaning. The empirical data on telepathy and remote viewing do suggest our conscious experience is connected to other people as well as the world around us. This is consistent with each of us representing a part in a greater whole. The precognition literature is consistent with our sensing of how events might unfold through time. Apparently, events (and people) are connected to this greater whole or unity, which can be understood as a deeper process (that we may not yet understand). The psychokinesis data, in addition to suggesting an action or influence at a distance, also appears to require free will or agency. Overall, perhaps we can take the psi data as providing necessary support for the ingredients of finding meaning in our lives.
But to go further, we need a theory or framework that helps us account for the psi data, and hopefully supports these necessary components of meaning. In recent work (Williams, 2021), I’ve combined threads in philosophy of mind and foundations of physics in a way that leads toward a view of taking consciousness as fundamental and identical with the intrinsic aspect of matter. I proposed identifying the quantum ground as a field of potentiality in a nonlocal space, which provides the ontologically prior basis of our physical world. Further, this ground also provides the foundation for conscious experience. This underlying quantum ground of aware potentiality is consistent with all of the laboratory data recently summarized by Cardona.
How does the notion of meaning explored here fit such a nonlocal quantum field with phenomenal properties? Consciousness of every organism is ultimately rooted in this more fundamental ground, a quantum field of aware potentiality. Every conscious organism is linked with this inherently holistic quantum ground. Further, this field of potential is arguably oriented to guide such organisms, as well as various events, through time. An inherently unified ground guiding conscious organisms and events through time suggests some sort of overarching direction or purpose. In addition, this ground, as the base of conscious experience, also provides the basis for volition or free will. I suggest that this fundamental quantum field possesses self-organizing properties: each part (conscious organism or event) is connected and guided by the whole in a way that supports the overall goals of the system.
The psi data thus supports a more profound sense of meaning about our world and lives than what we find from our more conventional theories. Providing a deeper sense of meaning for our lived experience is an important application that psi provides to us. Once we accept the psi data and follow the implications, we can recognize the connection we have with one another through a deeper reality, which I believe can support a more compassionate world. This deeper reality also likely possesses creative resources for artists, musicians, and writers to express this oneness or wholeness in myriad different ways. Simply put, a stronger, more deeply felt sense of meaning adds richness to our experience of life.
Cardeña, E. (2018). The experimental evidence for parapsychological phenomena: A review. American Psychologist, 73(5), 663.
Williams, G. R. (2021). Can the psi data help us make progress on the problem of consciousness? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 28(5-6), 145-172.
George Williams is currently employed by the Federal Communications Commission as an economist. His work there focusses primarily on the regulation of broadcast media and cable. However, he also has strong interests in philosophy, particularly on matters concerning consciousness and science. Most of his recent research concerns how the psi data can tell us about theories of consciousness and quantum mechanics. He is also very interested in science fiction.
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I definitely think art gives our lives purpose, reverence for the beauty of life, and allow us to express our dreams/thoughts to others. I think Art can come from otherworldly sources and I know many artist talk about tapping into that otherworldly source to create their art. Art also teaches us, Game of Thrones is a perfect example with the White Walkers and Zombies attacking reminds me of the attack on the US Capital, Life imitating art for sure. I would love more studies to examine the correlations of life imitating art. Thank you for your presentation!
Thanks, Mark! I hadn’t thought about White Walkers in GOT as a representation of the attack at the Capital!
I really enjoyed your presentation. I think you made a powerful argument in a brief time frame. Well done.
Powerful. But I see science as a search for meaning also.
Thanks, Margaret. In my view, “meaning” in these sense I am using the word involves an inherently subjective experience. I certainly believe that conducting science (searching for answers in our world) can give meaning for the scientist, as well as others who value the work of scientists. But do the scientific theories we have on the table now account for people wondering if life has a purpose, or if there is a “deeper meaning” in their lives? Many scientists would deny this, I think. So I am inclined to think we need to expand our theorizing to account for meaning in this sense. Thanks for your comment!
Thank you George. This is beautiful, concise but clear, and, may I say, deeply meaningful. Time for a book? Or at least a widely distributed article.
Thank you, Roger. I think things are at a preliminary stage at this point, but yes, definitely I plan on making a paper version of this. Also, very happy to see so much great work around the GCP at this conference.
Reminds me of the concept of the leela (the play’s the thing) of the ancient Vedic wisdom tradition
Thanks for your comment, Renay. I hadn’t thought of that.
Thank you. Personally, I have entertained the “Many Worlds” interpretation, which postulates all choices are real and exist, but the forward arrow of time only exists for biological life. Each choice that is made propels one into a parallel universe. This is fascinating to think about but difficult to get my monkey mind around!