Take a look at these images. Which do you feel best describes your essence? Is the real you more like a complex spider web with lots of gossamer interconnections, or a simple unitary, unchanging diamond?
Most people have the feeling that they possess, or are, a core consciousness that often is termed the Self or Soul. This is the dominant religious philosophy, whether Western or Eastern (Buddhism and Taoism excepted).
So the goal of a "diamond" perspective is to get in touch with an unchanging essence that remains the same in the midst of an ever-changing world.
That perspective almost certainly is wrong. Modern neuroscience and psychology, along with the aforementioned Buddhist and Taoist teachings, hold that what we are is, to use a Buddhist term, empty of inherent existence.
In this context empty doesn't mean non-existent. Rather, it points to the fact of everything, including us, being part of a web of interconnections, causes and effects, relationships with countless other things.
Almost every guided meditation I listen to on Sam Harris' Waking Up iPhone app contains requests to look in a certain fashion.
Look for the center of consciousness.
Look at that which is looking.
Finding nothing -- which is my experience, along with that of most meditators who attend to what is really there in one's psyche, rather than what is conceptually thought to be there -- is the point of the exercise.
Things simply appear and disappear in consciousness. There is no place from which we sit and observe what is transpiring within our awareness. The idea that there is, such as a mythical "eye center" or "third eye," is just another appearance in the spider web of consciousness.
I'm an avid reader in the fascinating area of modern neuroscience. The title of a cover story in the September 21, 2019 issue of New Scientist asks a big question, "What is consciousness?"
Michael Graziano, the author of the article, has written a book called "Rethinking Consciousness: A Scientific Theory of Subjective Experience." Here's some quotes from his New Scientist piece.
Our attention schema theory explains why people think there is a hard problem of consciousness at all. Efficiency requires the quickest and dirtiest model possible, so the attention schema leaves aside all the little details of signals and neurons and synapses.
Instead, the brain describes a simplified version of itself, then reports this as a ghostly, non-physical essence, a magical ability to mentally possess items.
Introspection -- or cognition accessing internal information -- can never return any other answer. It is like a machine stuck in a logic loop. The attention schema is like a self-reflecting mirror: it is the brain's representation of how the brain represents things, and is a specific example of higher order thought.
In this account, consciousness isn't so much an illusion as a self-caricature.
OK, if that isn't crystal clear, and I'm sure it isn't, let's take a look at a seemingly related conception of consciousness in a book that was the subject of my previous post, "The Feeling of Life Itself," by Christof Koch.
According to integrated information theory (IIT), consciousness is determined by the causal properties of any physical system acting upon itself. That is, consciousness is a fundamental property of any mechanism that has cause-effect power upon itself.
...The theory takes the five phenomenological axioms of experience that I introduced in the first chapter -- any experience exists for itself, is structured, is the specific way it is, is one, and is definite -- and formulates for each one an associated causal postulate, a requirement that any conscious system has to obey.
The theory reveals or unfolds the intrinsic causal powers of any system that obeys all five postulates. These causal powers can be represented as a constellation of points (distinctions) linked by lines (relations).
According to IIT, these causal powers are identical to conscious experience, with every aspect of any possible conscious experience mapping one-to-one onto aspects of this causal structure. Everything is accounted for on either side.
All these causal powers, including their degree of intrinsic existence, can be evaluated in a systematic fashion, that is, algorithmically. Figure 8.1 illustrates this structure by way of a visual metaphor, a byzantine tangled spider web.
Koch ends that chapter with an apt observation: "If you've made it through this chapter, congratulations, as the covered material stretches anyone's mind." For sure.
After I finish his book, I'll try to summarize this spider web'y theory in (hopefully) my own understandable language.