Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Great Being

I'm back to reading philosophy and the discussions about consciousness being an "emergent" property, something that naturally lies above the hum-drum of cellular interactions, like a face inherently "emerges" from patterns of paint in a portrait, inspired me to wonder about the implications. As a human being we think of ourselves as one being. What is oneness? A feeling of control and influence and feedback. Oneness is communication, and self-awareness. We know what constitutes us by our influence and feedback, control and sense, of our bodies. Our clothes become us when we wear them, without even thinking about it. Our hair doesn't have any feeling to it, not much, but it's still us, if less us than something we can totally feel and control. Of course, we are not one life-form but a collection of cells and bacteria, each a life-form in itself performing a task and co-operating with its neighbours with differing degrees of dependence and independence. Do you think that our cells are aware of us? That any individual cell knows that it forms one big being with an independent self-awareness? We don't command our cells directly, for the notion of us itself, a control centre, is illusory, a factor that emerges from the interactions of the cells. Like a living city, cells are partly independent, and partly responsive to their neighbours, the rules, chemicals and signals from those "higher up" in the control chain. Our bodies function like a country, a world in itself with the commanding brain cells as government, capable of some wilful doctrine or law, but largely independent of the lives of the populace. The cells of our bodies live perfectly well when we are unconscious, after all. But we can't do as much when unconscious. Together we are stronger, just as one cell alone can't achieve most of what one human can. No cell will ever play the piano, never mind compose a Bach fugue, but a collection of them can and did! Our society functions in a similar way too. We interact and socialise depending on rules and needs, interactions. Together we achieve more than we could alone. Nobody invented the electronic computer, or put a man into space; those things were collective efforts. Many activities of society are now essentially collective, with no one person capable of doing them. This applies even to vital public services. The individual has grown less and less important as civilisation has advanced. We respond to rules as complex as those that our cells respond to. We purge the world of vermin in the same way that cells attack bacteria. Societies go to war when threatened, like an attacked body battles an infection. Our memory is made up from the collective memories of our brain cells, but so to does society form and store memories in libraries and archives, memories greater than any one person can have. Could it be that we form a new being, one collective consciousness with a united independent thought, as detached from us as one cell is from our minds? This poses a question; what is the difference between our waking conscious selves and when we are asleep and unconscious? On a cellular level there is probably no difference. When awake we can move about though, talk, and interact, and do things... that's the key difference between being conscious and unconscious! How can a society, a country, a planet, express that it is self-aware? And to whom? Without an entity for our society to interact with then perhaps it can't be called conscious. Perhaps we seek life on other planets because the great being that is all life on Earth feels alone.

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