Well, we’ve come full circle from gnostics believing the material world is an illusion to materialists believing that consciousness is an illusion.
People are often unaware of the materialist assumptions they hold and how they affect their view of reality, even when they lead to absurd, contradictory conclusions. Even an intelligent person like Scott Adams can end up in a silly place because of such assumptions—the primary one being that the material world is all that exists. Having read his view on free will in one of his books, he was almost at a compatibilist belief regarding free will (his “donut theory”), but couldn’t shake the belief that all things are incidental, arising from previous events.
Interestingly, one of the big existential fears found as a theme in 19th-20th century art was Solipsism, the idea that the self is the only thing that can be known or understood. This flows from the understanding that we rely on our senses to understand the world and other people. We cannot really know another person, we can only know what we perceive of them through our senses, what they tell us, etc. This attitude and fear when along with the rise of atheism and criticism of religion in modern times.
In a twist, we now have a materialist perspective leading to the inverse conclusion: because the self cannot be independently verified through sensory data, it must not exist. At least one “scholarly” article (I use that term loosely) in the last few years has questioned the idea of consciousness, stating that it’s an illusion created through various trained behavioral loops.
The absurdity of such a position is no doubt evident to you. It’s a bit like writing an essay on why words are meaningless. The very fact that somebody could think of an argument and write an article to “disprove” consciousness is evidence of its existence.
Consciousness, thought, mind, soul—these concepts are confusing to materialists because of the assumption that all things that are are material, or (perhaps if they are trying to square the circle) they arise from the material. Never questioned is the assumption that all things are material and verifiable physically. That’s just a given. Instead of creating a “God of the gaps,” they create a “science” of the gaps. Of course, the mind is in the brain because matter is all that is; “science” just hasn’t discovered how consciousness arises from neurons, that’s all. They tend to do the same thing with miracles.
It’s hard to underestimate how pervasive the materialist mindset is. We have an entire field, psychiatry, that fuels an entire industry, the drug business, built on materialist assumptions about the mind. Feeling anxious? It must be a “chemical imbalance” in the brain. Take this drug for the rest of your life to fix it. The fix for the materially unverifiable mind is material.
Psychiatry on the individual level vs. the industry is a bit like a neuron vs. the brain. Neuroscientists understand how dendrites work but not how the brain, as a whole, functions, and certainly not how consciousness arises from (or uses) the brain. Psychiatrists know how to treat an individual patient and can see the effects of drugs, but they usually don’t question the effectiveness of their industry as a whole. The rise of “mental health” treatment has coincided with more mental health problems. 1 in 4 older women use antidepressants, just one of many psychotropic medications that are used frequently. It makes sense the next thing would be to affect the systemic problems of the soul (like selfishness) with pills (the subject of the article Adams is referencing).
So no, I don’t think there is any coming “mindfuck” regarding consciousness, just some absurd conclusions arising from taking the materialist philosophy beyond its limits to the realm of the soul. The transhumanist movement is obsessed with moving the self (the mind inhabiting the brain) to some “immortal” container (a computer, usually, as if that is analogous to the brain). That would be rather pointless if the self, as defined as the state of consciousness, doesn’t even exist. There would be no “you” to preserve nor any reason to attempt preservation since “you” are just a set of pre-determined routines in a temporary matter state that mean nothing.
We’ve moved past Gnosticism and into Oblivionism. Absurd except for the seriousness of those who hold these beliefs.
Read my new book of stories dealing with Generation Y, the first generation raised on materialism, philosophically and practically, as well as my new tragic fantasy book on the conflicts of immortality: