Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Life, and Consciousness, and Equivalency

I got to thinking about the physical sciences and our ingrained worldviews.

Physical sciences tell us that all there is is matter and energy (and Einstein told us that the two are actually the same).

Take carbon: Coal - Graphite - Diamonds - Whatever its appearance, no one will tell you that it is alive. Nor is oxygen. Carbon and oxygen do not willfully combine to form carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide, or anything else. The same things can be said for hydrogen, nitrogen, or whatever element you choose.

These elements are not alive, but put them together in the right combination and you get Life.

How does Life happen? There is no physical answer for that. But we know what Life is; we recognize when something is alive. Alive means consuming, growing, reacting, reproducing. And we have no problem allowing that a butterfly is just as alive as a human.

We also know what "consciousness" is (never mind philosophical attempts to obfuscate the idea). You know you are conscious, or else you wouldn't be translating the pixels on your screen into words and those words into concepts that I'm trying to communicate.

But for some reason society, and science, and religions all want to put a fence around consciousness, and not allow it to any other life, just humans. All those defining forces of our lives constantly beat this idea into our heads, that only humans have conscious intellect.

Yet, those people who have first-hand experience with animals know differently. They know that the animals they interact with are just as capable of thinking, feeling, and loving as they are. And yet the concept of a barrier between conscious and non-conscious life is so ingrained that it doesn't usually disappear completely, even for such people. The barrier gets stretched, pushed outward, to allow some animals in, but not all of them.

In his book Kinship with All Life, J. Allen Boone describes how he established a relationship with a house fly. He and the fly had a real responsive relationship. No one can reasonably deny that this is true--to do so would be to deny this man his own experiences when he gives no evidence of being other than intelligent, reasonable, and articulate. So to deny what he says about the fly and its ability to have a relationship with him would be to say that you know more about his life than he himself did, which is simply ridiculous.

So if the barrier that allows consciousness can be stretched so far as to allow house flies into the exalted realm, surely by that point it must be stretched so thin as to fall apart completely.

In the light of all the experiential evidence that exists, would it not be more logical to assume that all forms of life have consciousness than to assume they don't?

Then why is the idea of the separateness of humans from the rest of nature so very difficult to shed?

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