In the book titled Unified Reality Theory: The Evolution Of Existence Into Experience, Steven Kaufman presents a persuasively argued, philosophically profound, and aptly presented original study, centering upon the hypothesis that “reality is a state of existential self-relation.” Consciousness and awareness is truly the source of physical reality, rather than a byproduct, and physical reality is merely one facet of a universal consciousness.
Kaufman states that Unified Reality Theory is a model of reality that describes in detail how the universe gets something from nothing – that is, it shows how the somethings we experience as reality evolve from a more fundamental level that’s nothing. “Nothing” doesn’t mean nonexistence, just existence that’s not a “thing.”
The level of existential nothingness from which experiential somethings arise is referred to in the model as absolute existence. Central to the description of how something can come from nothing is the understanding that absolute existence must have consciousness as an attribute that’s intrinsic to its being. That is, consciousness isn’t something separate from absolute existence, but rather the word “consciousness” and the phrase “absolute existence” are two different ways of pointing toward the same undefinable level of nothingness from which all somethings arise.
In viewing consciousness as fundamental, Unified Reality Theory takes a position on the nature of reality that’s in opposition to the dominant conception of reality held in the West. That dominant conception of reality is called material realism. Material realism is the idea that physical reality is primary and consciousness is secondary. Material realism is the idea that the machinations of physical reality in general and brain function in particular somehow give rise to the phenomenon we call consciousness.
Standing in opposition to the philosophy of material realism is the philosophy of idealism, the concept that nonphysical reality is the primary phenomenon and that physical reality is the secondary phenomenon. Idealism is the conception of reality that in general underlies the Eastern religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism and in particular is the conception of reality supported by Unified Reality Theory.
Although the philosophy of material realism sees physical reality as primary, material realism is itself an idea, a model, a concept. Concepts are mental constructions built from ordering or creating a relationship between two or more experiential somethings. The interesting thing about concepts is that they can be completely wrong and yet seem just as real as if they were right – that is, they can be constructed in a way that completely reverses the actual relationship between the experiences composing the concept, so that the resulting mental construction is the exact opposite of the actuality. In other words, there’s nothing to stop us from creating a mental floor plan of reality that mistakenly puts the first floor on top of the second, or the third floor between the first and second, or from leaving a floor out entirely.
We all have a conception of reality that consists of how we see the world arranged and how we see ourselves fitting into that arrangement. Consciously or unconsciously, this conception of reality is the map we use to guide us on the journey of life. One of the things that motivated Kaufman to create Unified Reality Theory was the understanding that our conception of reality is an important factor in how we lead our lives. With this in mind, his goal was to create the most accurate and detailed map of the terrain of reality he possibly could. Although no conception of reality can perfectly match the underlying actuality, just as no map is the actual terrain, the closer the correspondence between our map of reality and the actual terrain of reality, the more enjoyable our trip will be. This doesn’t mean that we won’t encounter any difficulties along the way – that we won’t blow out a tire or run out of gas on occasion – it just means that we won’t be so prone to let the difficulties we do encounter take all the fun out of the trip we’re on.
Our conception of reality is important because as we move through life, we’re bound to a chain of intention-conception-action-result. Intention is the mover, the flow. However, intention, on its way to becoming action, is filtered through the lens of conception, and that’s where we can get into trouble.
For an intention to create a desired result, the conception that’s the basis for the action needs to be in alignment with the actuality. If it’s not, if the conception is the reverse of the actuality, then the result will be the opposite of what’s intended. For example, you can have a conception about which spigot at a sink is for the hot or cold water. This conception need have nothing to do with the actuality in order for you to conceive it and believe it. Yet, when you then act on that conception, intending to run cold water over your hand, the actuality will then rear its head, and if your conception was wrong, you’ll run hot water and burn your hand instead, getting a result that’s the opposite of what you intended. This is a simple example, but the chain is linked in the same way at all levels with regard to our conceptions of reality, regardless of whether those conceptions deal with something as mundane as a faucet or as abstract as the nature of reality.
As stated earlier, concepts are mental constructions built from the ordering of experiences. Connect experiences together in a certain way, in a certain relationship, and you have a concept. Because concepts require some assembly, the experiences that make up a concept can be ordered in a way that either accurately or inaccurately portrays the actuality. Concepts that accurately portray the actuality are true or correct, whereas concepts that inaccurately portray the actuality are untrue, incorrect, and mistaken.
Having said that, Kaufman maintains that the philosophy of material realism is mistaken. Any conception of reality that’s constructed by placing physical reality before consciousness is simply incorrect. There’s no nice way to put it. The ordering of physical reality and consciousness that’s fundamental to the philosophy of material realism inaccurately depicts the actual relationship between physical reality and consciousness. In fact, the relationship between physical reality and consciousness as depicted by material realism is the exact opposite of their actual relationship. Just as the branches and leaves of a tree extend from the trunk, so all the forms of physical reality extend from consciousness, not the other way around.
Material realism is the flat-Earth idea of our time. Why does Kaufman say this? Because there are so many parallels between the idea of material realism and the idea of a flat Earth. The first parallel is that neither idea corresponds to the underlying reality or actuality. The second parallel is that the conception of reality contained in each idea seems obvious from the most common and limited perspective. Why did people think the Earth was flat? Because that’s the way it seems to be, from a common and limited perspective: Stand and look at the horizon, and the Earth appears flat. Why do people think physical reality precedes consciousness? Because that’s the way it seems to be, from a common and limited perspective. What we call consciousness is clearly related to brain function, and the brain is a physical reality. From this perspective, it seems obvious that consciousness is in some way a product of physical reality. The third parallel is that adherence to each idea limits our exploration of reality. No doubt, people didn’t go on long journeys for fear of falling off the edge of the Earth. Likewise, if someone thinks their consciousness is purely a product of brain function, there would seem to be no need to look any deeper for its source. A fourth parallel is that each idea can be clearly seen as erroneous once added experience creating a broader perspective is achieved. The broader experience that put to rest the flat-Earth idea came from sailors who didn’t fall off the edge of the Earth, from people who went outward into physical reality. The broader experience that will eventually put to rest the idea of material realism has been achieved by physicists studying physical reality at very small levels of magnitude, at what’s called the quantum level – by people who went inward into physical reality.
Integral to quantum theory are the phenomena of wave/particle duality and quantum uncertainty. The discovery of these phenomena has brought into question the very nature of physical reality. Wave/particle duality and quantum uncertainty have shown that physical reality, at least at the quantum level, doesn’t exist independent of an observer, which is to say independent of consciousness or awareness. How, then, can physical reality be the source of that without which it wouldn’t exist as such?
Yet the phenomena of wave/particle duality and quantum uncertainty have been known for almost 100 years, and while even early explorers into the quantum realm, such as Neils Bohr, seemed to understand what the existence of these phenomena might imply regarding the nature of physical reality and its relationship to consciousness, science as a whole and the West in general remain by and large dominated by a material-realist philosophy, a conception of reality that places matter above all else.
Evidence is beginning to mount pointing toward an idealist conception of reality, a version wherein consciousness is primary or, at the very least, not secondary. But people don’t simply discard one concept unless they have something to replace it with. If a supporting beam is rotted, you don’t just yank it out, you replace it, unless you want the whole house to come tumbling down. Likewise, people replace concepts; they don’t just remove them, because they don’t want their whole conceptual world to come tumbling down.
The difficulty in trying to get people to replace their material-realist beam with an idealist beam is that idealism has been, until now, a fairly intangible philosophy, a conception of reality that’s hard to grasp. People are reluctant to switch from a concept as graspable as material realism to one as nebulous as idealism. The difficulty for idealists has been in demonstrating how the universe gets something from nothing. Material realism, as an idea, is easy to grasp, and so it’s hard to let go of. Experiences of something appearing to turn into nothing are common: fire, decay, evaporation, etc. Idealism, on the other hand, is a harder idea to grasp because we don’t really have any experiences to compare it to – that is, we don’t have experiences of something appearing to come from nothing (except perhaps in magical acts where a rabbit is pulled from a hat, which serves to illustrate how credible we consider such an occurrence to be). The purpose of Unified Reality Theory is to demonstrate clearly and visibly how something comes from nothing, how physical reality evolves from consciousness, and in so doing to provide a viable alternative to the material-realist conception of reality.
(Source: Author’s Statement)