Consciousness: Why Materialism Fails

By Larry Dossey, originally published at

The most urgent issue we humans face is how we conceive ourselves — whether as complex lumps of matter guided by the so-called blind, meaningless laws of nature, or as creatures who, although physical, are also imbued with something more: consciousness, mind, will, choice, purpose, direction, meaning and spirituality, that difficult-to-define quality that says we are connected with something that transcends our individual self and ego. Every decision we make is influenced by how we answer this great question: Who are we?

There is growing awareness that the endless arguments between proponents of these two views are more than hairsplitting disagreements among experts, but they have real consequences for our future on earth, and perhaps whether we shall have a future.1 As a novelist and statesman André Malraux (1901-1978) said, the twenty-first century will be spiritual, or it will not be.2

Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), the author, poet, playwright and diplomat who was the first president of the Czech Republic, saw a hell looming in our world and had the guts to say so on the international stage. As a potential solution, he said, “It seems to me that one of the most basic human experiences, one that is genuinely universal and unites — or, more precisely, could unite — all of humanity, is the experience of transcendence in the broadest sense of the word.”3 Havel endorsed what he called “responsibility to something higher.” In a speech to a joint session of the United States Congress on February 21, 1990, he said:

Consciousness precedes Being, and not the other way around…. [F]or this
reason, the salvation in this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart…. Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our being as humans, and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed — be it ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilization — will be unavoidable. If we are no longer threatened by world war or by the danger that the absurd mountains of accumulated nuclear weapons might blow up the world, this does not mean that we have definitely won. We are still capable of understanding that the only genuine backbone of all our actions, if they are to be moral, is responsibility. Responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my company, my success — responsibility to the order of being where all our actions are indelibly recorded and where and only where they will be properly judged (emphasis added).4

There are vibrant developments in key areas of science that show real promise in humankind’s search for, and responsibility to, something higher. There are solid reasons to believe that Havel’s “global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness” may be closer than we think — that, after three centuries of a flirtation with, and seduction by, a purely physical view of who we are, another view is emerging.

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This article was originally published at and is partially reproduced here without the permission of the author, who is not affiliated with this website or its views.

  1. Schwartz GE, Miller L, Moreira-Almeida A, Dossey L, Schlitz M, Sheldrake R, Tart C. Manifesto for a post-material science. Explore (NY): 2014; 10(5): 272-274. Available at: Accessed 7 April, 2015. []
  2. Malraux A. Quoted in: Hirst D. On the spirituality of the 21st century, Malraux revisited. 30 January, 2009. Accessed 25 March, 2015. []
  3. Havel V. Quoted in: Delia Popescu, Political Action in Václav Havel’s Thought: The Responsibility of Resistance. Lanham, MD: Lexington/Rowman & Littlefield; 2012: 83. []
  4. Havel V. Speech to Congress, February 21, 1990. In: Jackson J. Spielvogel. Western Civilization. Volume C: Since 1789. Eighth Edition. Boston, MA: Wadsworth; 2012: 953. Speech available at Accessed March 24, 2012. []

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