I like the quote “The total number of minds in the universe is one”, and also “atman equals brahman” but I’m probably not using that right and I prefer to explain what I think more explicitly rather than rely on other people’s associations so I’ll just do that.
There is only one mind in the universe to me just means that consciousness is a property of the universe. It’s like combustion in that it just happens whenever and wherever it can, and it’s uniqueness is its initial conditions and the environment it interacts with. Of course it doesn’t work to say “there is only one flame in the universe” but I use the analogy because nobody has a problem with the idea that ‘flame’ is just a phenomenon.
But each of our flames of consciousness feels pretty distinct to us. It’s hard to argue that I’m not you and you’re not me, but I like to say we’re both just different versions of “I”. Of course that sounds solipsist because “I” is me, when I say it, and I’m the one writing. But “I” means more than me to me.
“I” is really a whole continuum of I-ness. At one end is a unit system of biologically active materials that feels things and at least thinks it thinks things, at the other end is the universal phenomenon of self-aware consciousness. Let’s call them lower I and upper I respectively. It’s a first person plural but it’s distinct from ‘we’ because there’s only one upper I’s, and all lower I’s are the same upper I.
Upper I might share some features that others might identify as a soul, but if it’s a soul it’s more accurate to say it’s the soul of the universe. It’s the part of consciousness that is the universe trying to understand itself. I like that description because it’s both functional and aspirational. Even if you’re using your consciousness to understand how to eat all the chocolate you can, it’s kind of true. I like to think it’s most true when you’re trying to understand physics and consciousness, but that feels arrogant and elitist, so it’s good to remember it’s just as true if you’re trying to understand the digestive system of cockroaches, or how to teach little humans to wash their hands and tie their shoes.
Of course you can do all of that for 1000 motivations, it’s not like everyone who studies the universe walks around thinking “I am the universe’s brain!” all the time or anything. It’s a continuum for everyone every minute of every day. Nobody stays very upper I for long. I think that might even apply to alien consciousness. Being a lower I is pretty demanding. I just think there’s some truth to the idea that consciousness has some intrinsic curiosity and that’s a thing that really does connect all minds.
So what good is all that? Well, you can have fun with it if you imagine it means you get to be everyone, and everything. Not psyched about all the shittty human lifetimes, but if it’s universal that means aliens. So I might get to be a giant alien worm person that uses its cilia to perform on some thousand toned musical instrument. Also get to be their backup band, and their fans, and maybe the giant beetle thing that eats the whole band in a tragic onstage accident.
But I don’t think that’s useful except for fun. It’s not parallel reincarnation or anything like that. There’s obviously no physical connection between the minds of the giant worm and the band and the beetle that could join as a ‘universal mind’ to understand all their experiences.
That’s a seductive idea and it would be the only way there could be some kind of comparative analysis of experience itself, but I just don’t think that’s a thing. There’s no ‘great mind’ in the sense that it knows us or our experience just because we are all it. Even if we just say a ‘great mind’ doesn’t exist on this plane, say it exists in some 5th dimensional space and the connections are invisible to us because we exist on a lower dimension or something, it still doesn’t work. I think the experience of upper I through a lower I is kind of an atomic unit. It cannot be anything but what it is without becoming something else entirely.
There’s no way to know what it’s like to be a bat, as a human. Even if you could, somehow, force the neural information from a bats experience through your mind, and forget you were a human for that time, when you woke up your memory of the experience would be as a human analyzing their human memory of being a bat. You would recall the experience only through human recollection, with human faculties. If you could truly ‘share’ the experience of batness with your human consciousness you might be overwhelmingly compelled to eat bugs and hang upside down, but you can’t. You cannot share the experience of a mind, it’s a totally isolated phenomenon by it’s nature.
Just wanted to be clear that this isn’t an edge to work in a new age philosophy of oneness or anything. It’s a perspective that accepts the fundamentally isolated state of self-aware consciousness, but tries to put a more entertaining spin on it and maybe derive a functional framework for morality from it.
This seems related to the idea of karma but to me that is just an expression of the symmetry of the fact that in this arrangement we all experience everything we do to one another because all conscious experience is fundamentally the same phenomenon.
Seems like the idea that all minds have a similar basis of experience is a decent rationalization, maybe even a justification for empathy and compassion. Not that we should really need all that to understand reciprocity, but it helps take it beyond human cultures and lifetimes, maybe even to AI, and it works for aliens if we meet any. It takes the theory of mind out on a limb a bit, but I think that’s probably where it belongs.
It’s probably a good idea to just say minds are minds and humans happen to have them. But when we find anything that looks remotely like a human mind, it gets the same status, so we avoid any robot uprisings over sentient being’s rights. If we’re going to get wiped out by machine life I’d prefer it was because they actually were evil or indifferent to human life, not because we deserved it.