from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Saturday 30 May 2015

briefly conscious

'Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?'

~ Mary Oliver

To make up for my recent silence, I thought I'd share here my response to a question someone asked me on facebook yesterday: what is consciousness? 

Beats the trivia of 'what I had for tea', I suppose (not that any of my fb friends write about that). But what on earth do you say in a facebook response to such a q?

Well, I rise to most challenges; sometimes to mine and others' regret. So after a morning weeding and potting up in the garden, and before a couple of hours' watering, and in between typing up some poems I didn't know I'd written to meet a deadline, I thought I'd try and get my head around this a little further.

However, you might prefer to go off and think about tea rather than wade through my fumblings with a holey bucket in the deep well of the mystery of the cosmos. 

You have been warned.

Briefly. Truly, briefly. Here's what I said, more or less. I emphasise that this is only my view, and what do I know?


TM would perhaps say that consciousness and energy are intertwined if not synonymous, and that everything therefore in the universe is consciousness in one form or another.

I'd add that consciousness – energy, I'm suggesting, and also what some call spirit – is the animating force, the electromagnetic force, that infuses all matter, and is modified or shaped in conjunction with the particular form it takes – galaxy, planet, tree, horse, gnat, human. 

In this view, consciousness is neither confined to humans nor utterly distinct from matter. (As usual, it's more helpful to think in terms of both-and rather than either/or.)
My sense is that, if consciousness is energy, in effect, then everything partakes of it, just in differing degrees of density/vibration. Some of these manifestations of consciousness we are able, perhaps through cultural conditioning, to relate to (our dog or cat, maybe); other forms we can't picture as being anything other than inert.

We as humans find it hard, I think, to relate to the notion that other beings have consciousness; perhaps due to our anthropocentric view that it must mean 'self-awareness'; ie can only be experienced via those beings with an ego – that is, humans.

I wonder whether this says more about our own lack of imagination/perception in relation to what we perceive as Other than it does about the cosmos and its amazing being/s?

Consciousness is, I believe, also co-emergent – rather as in the quantum world the observer affects the observed, and no doubt vice versa, so energy/consciousness shapes form and form affects energy/consciousness in a process of co-evolution.

I believe that Scientist Roger Penrose spoke of consciousness along the lines of the wave collapsing. I can't pretend to know exactly what he means by that, but I do take some faint imaginative glimmer from what quantum mechanics has to say about this. I imagine in there is the idea that, as with Schrödinger's cat, the observer affects what happens; so the individual plays a part in the shaping consciousness of a moment, the forms it takes, and its quality of energy.

[A moment's pause here to reconsider the wisdom of taking this blog on: are black holes devoid of energy and therefore uncategorisable, according to my definition above, as consciousness in any form at all?]

Then there's self-consciousness: the subjective experience. This blog is named after qualia, which I define as individual units, if you like, of consciousness; not dissimilar in their relationship to universal consciousness from quanta and their relationship to matter.

I say in the bar on the right: 'We could use the term "qualia" to describe the quality of individual subjective conscious experience; eg the perception of a colour, or experience of a journey; our experience of person-ness. G defines it neatly: "Qualia are what save us from being machines."' 

I have no idea whether the other-than-human has what we know as subjective experience; does that require an ego? It's certainly possible that animals and plants have a more collective sense, their experience being of intersubjectivity; does that include self-consciousness, just on a bigger scale than our own individualised experience?

Neuroscience would have us believe that it's all in the synapses. It seems to me that doesn't go anything like far enough; plus it's unbelievably arrogant to imagine we humans are all that consciousness is. I'm reminded of Hindu philosopher Jai Lakhani saying: 'Thinking that consciousness resides in the brain is like thinking that electricity is generated in the light switch.'

David Lodge wrote a novel called Thinks in which he explores the whole notion of consciousness. He followed this up with a non-fiction book called 'Consciousness and the Novel'. The books are both worth reading (but be prepared to dislike the male protagonist in the novel).

Um. OK. Off to think about supper. And the watering of all those tiny plant consciousnesses (singular or plural). 

Till next time.

© Roselle Angwin

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