Manuel Matas
9 min readMar 20, 2021

Properties of Consciousness by Dr. Manuel Matas — December 20, 2020

When I spoke at Banyen Books in Vancouver in 2018, after I had finished reading excerpts from my book, The Borders of Normal, the first question I was asked in the discussion period was: “What is consciousness?” The post-reading discussion went on for over two hours.

I recently watched Russell Targ’s YouTube video “Scientific and Spiritual Implications of Psychic Abilities”, which prompted me to write this essay about the properties of consciousness.

Russell Targ is a laser scientist. It might seem odd that a laser scientist would be interested in “psychic abilities.” It shouldn’t be. Psychic abilities, including ESP, clairvoyance, telepathy, and the like, have attracted the interest of scientists for over a century. The Society for Psychical Research was founded in London in 1882. The American Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1885. The British Society included three Nobel laureates, a future prime minister, great scientists, and brilliant academics. The American Society similarly was composed of many prominent physicians, scientists, psychologists, and academics.

The 19th century term “psychical research” was replaced in the 20th century by the academic discipline of Parapsychology. American universities as prestigious as Stanford, Duke, and Princeton, studied parapsychology in university research labs. In Europe, Utrecht University in the Netherlands and Edinburgh University in Scotland established Chairs in parapsychology. Still, the stigma associated with such research remained. In the 21st century, parapsychology has been, for the most part, superseded by a related discipline, namely, consciousness studies.

Targ ran the CIA-funded Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto for many years. He and his colleagues studied psychic abilities, ESP, and remote viewing. The researchers were mostly physicists. Their research was published in peer-reviewed, scientific journals. The program was funded by the CIA for 23 years but was eventually defunded because of pressure from religious fundamentalists, who said if it’s not from Jesus, it’s from the Devil. The politicians who approved the funding were intimidated and pressured to defund the program. Then as now, the religious fundamentalists in question saw everything as good or evil, black or white, Jesus or the Devil; in other words, duality.

Targ says there is no separation in consciousness. He talks about non-locality. We know that light can be a wave or a particle, but not at the same time. If light passes through a spectrum it has all the properties of a wave; if it passes through a photon counter, it has all the properties of a particle.

Aristotle, father of modern logic, said something is either true or not true. He didn’t discuss the third way, or the middle path, whereby something can be true at times and not true at other times, depending on circumstances. We also tend to talk about reality and illusion as a duality. We don’t discuss the third way. The third way describes unity consciousness.

When his close friend Michele Besso died, Einstein wrote that it didn’t really matter which of them died first, because physicists believed that the distinction between past, present, and future was only an illusion. Einstein was not alone in his observation about the illusory nature of time. William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” Alan Watts said, “I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, [and] that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.” By thinking and fretting about the past, we bring it into the present; likewise with worrying about the future.

Or in the words of the fetus-narrator in the Booker-Prize winning novelist Ian McEwan’s international bestseller Nutshell, “But here’s life’s most limiting truth — it’s always now, always here, never then and there. . . Pain begat consciousness, adversity forced awareness on us.”

Einstein’s 1905 paper on special relativity, the most famous physics paper of the twentieth century, obliterated the popular conception of absolute time. His paper was considered revolutionary because it showed that time was relative, not absolute. He proved that time was affected by gravity and mass, and that the observed rate at which time passes depends on an object’s speed relative to the observer.

In a 1908 essay, Einstein’s teacher, Hermann Minkowski, wrote that, in a relativistic universe, time and space cannot be separated. By using a mathematical model, which he called “space-time”, he showed that space and time formed a continuum. Added to the three dimensions of space (length, width, and depth), time is the fourth dimension.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, many of us lost all sense of time. A day felt like a month. A month felt like a day. One day faded and blurred into the next. Time stretched and bent and melted. It was elastic and plastic. Einstein showed that in the middle of a black hole, the force of gravity is so strong that time disappears. During the pandemic, we often felt like we were living in the midst of a black hole.

The idea of different dimensions, or different levels of awareness, is relevant to our understanding of consciousness. Different levels of consciousness would include personal consciousness; the personal unconscious, which exists outside of conscious awareness; and the collective unconscious, which Jung said is impersonal, universal, inherited, and identical in all individuals. The collective unconscious is also known as Universal Mind.

Many near-death-experience (NDE) survivors have reported that when they left their bodies, either time slowed down or there was no sense of time. In her NDE memoir Dying to Be Me, Anita Moorjani said that when she was out of her body, she was taught by the spirit of her late father that all her reincarnations were simultaneous. She said that we as human beings simply do not have the mental capacity to understand how time works. The twin ideas of parallel lives and the Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics beggar the imagination.

These are also properties of consciousness. In consciousness, there is no time. Consciousness operates outside space and time, outside cause and effect. It is difficult, if not impossible, for us mere mortals to comprehend the many different dimensions of consciousness. For example, our understanding of cause and effect is tied to our understanding of time. If we think that cause precedes effect that thought is based on the assumption that time is linear. But time is not always linear. What if effect can precede cause? The idea seems far-fetched, but physicists and researchers have shown that effect can precede cause (retro-causation). Stephen Hawking has written about the arrow of time. The arrow of time doesn’t always point forward. Just because a compass is pointing north, that doesn’t mean that the compass itself is moving north.

In the ancient Greek pantheon, there were two gods representing time — Kairos and Chronos. Kairos was depicted as a lithe, young, athlete. He stood for the auspicious moment, the perfect moment. He was the moment when the time is right, the time is ripe, when everything falls into place. Kairos embodied the perfect intersection of time and space, when one is in the right place at the right time. In that moment, the gods smile down on you.

Chronos, representing linear time, was depicted as a weary, stooped old man with a grey beard, leaning on a stick. In our society, which only acknowledges linear time, Chronos is Father Time. Once a year he departs stage left at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. A newborn baby, who is a stand-in for the New Year, enters stage right and takes his place. Sadly, Father Time dies every year, as the year ends. We celebrate and embrace the New Year, the new order. Out with the old; in with the new.

Chronos is mortal; Kairos is immortal. Chronos is material; Kairos is immaterial. Chronos is human; Kairos borders on the divine. In her novel Flights, Nobel Prize-winning Polish author Olga Tokarczuk wrote that Kairos operates at the intersection of linear, human time, with divine time, which is circular. She called Kairos “the point where the straight line for one moment makes contact with the circle.” Kairos is the point where humanity touches divinity.

Unity consciousness allows no separation in time; similarly, it allows no separation in space.

Just as Einstein brought us new insights into the nature of time, University of London physicist David Bohm expanded our knowledge of space, with his description of non-locality. Non-locality describes the ability of entangled particles to be affected by each other’s state regardless of the distance they are separated. Non-locality represents universal connectedness on a quantum level. Einstein called Bohm his “spiritual son.”

When we say that consciousness is non-local, what do we mean? Is consciousness in the brain, the gut, or the fingertips? Yes and no. Is consciousness in the body or out of the body? Both. Consciousness cannot be pinned down. Bohm said, “Deep down, the consciousness of mankind is one.” There is no separation, in space or time.

Physicist Menas Kafatos explained that non-locality operates through entanglement, which is outside space and time. He said that the quantum world is not the world reported to us by our five senses. Quantum entanglement, which Einstein famously called “spooky action at a distance”, is the phenomenon whereby a pair of particles interacts in such a way that the measurement or description of one particle simultaneously affects the state of the entangled particle, even when the particles are separated by a large distance, potentially even by billions of light years. Chinese researchers were able to demonstrate entanglement between two particles when one particle was on Earth and the other particle was on a satellite.

Targ said, “Who you are is timeless awareness.” He also advised us to incorporate non-spacious awareness into our lives. He gave as an example lovers who live in different cities. Let’s say one is in Montréal and the other is in Beijing. Even though they are separated in space, in their minds (consciousness) they are together.

At a fundamental level, the universe is non-local. Non-locality bridges the gap between quantum physics, philosophy, and spirituality. These observations about space and time reinforce the here and now worldview: all space is here and all time is now. These are the properties of consciousness.

Bohm’s concept of non-locality was embraced by spiritual teachers as diverse as the Dalai Lama and Krishnamurti. Bohm and Krishnamurti jointly explored different aspects of consciousness in a series of conversations which were known as the Krishnamurti-Bohm Dialogues. Over thirty dialogues, from 1961–1986, were recorded and published in a series of books, including The Limits of Thought and The Ending of Time.

The Dalai Lama said, “Wholeness is an attitude. David Bohm opened my mind. So grateful.” The concept of wholeness was central to Bohm’s work. He related the macro world to quantum theory by identifying different levels of reality, which he called the implicate order and the explicate order. Bohm called the familiar world of space and time, cause and effect, separation and distance, the explicate order. The implicate or enfolded order, on the other hand, operates on a non-local, quantum level, in which there is no separation or distance, no cause and effect, no permanence or objectivity. As Krishnamurti said, the observer is the observed, the thinker is the thought. Or as W. B. Yeats said in his great poem Among School Children, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

The implicate order gives rise to the explicate order, but all levels interact in a universal movement which Bohm called “holomovement” (movement of the whole) through a process of constant folding and unfolding. Bohm’s “whole” represents the totality and the confluence of matter and consciousness.

Concepts such as non-locality and timelessness are difficult to hold and maintain, because they are not logical; however, we can say that they are “spiritual”, on a quantum level. Forty percent of Canadians describe themselves as spiritual, with no formal religious affiliation, but many of them have a poorly formed concept of what spirituality entails. Targ said that consciousness survives bodily death. This is one of the major tenets of spirituality. Thoughtful consideration of Targ’s ideas about consciousness affords us greater understanding of many spiritual concepts, including kindness (“Do unto others”), awareness, meaning, purpose, and unity.

Unity is opposed to duality in the same way that yin is opposed to yang. But yin and yang are not really opposed, in essence, because they are complementary. They combine to form a circle, the circle of life. There is no separation. Separation is an illusion, but it’s also real. Each of us has their own individual identity, but we are also part of something larger than ourselves. We are like ants in an anthill or bees in a beehive. The whole is larger than the sum of its parts. On a deep level, we are all part of a seething, roiling mass of humanity. We are all one.

Truth be told, we are all brothers and sisters under the skin. This connection is continuous, contiguous, immediate, and imperative.

Manuel Matas
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Dr. Manuel Matas is a psychiatrist, writer, portrait artist, photographer, and public speaker. The Borders of Normal was a #1 paranormal Amazon Bestseller.