When I wrote about consciousness yesterday I had an image of a large house full of light and lots of windows. In the darkness we can only see light where it shines through the windows. If we knew nothing of the internals of a house we could easily assume that the house contains lots of little lights, like the stars in heaven. If there were only one light-source inside the house we would be fooled by its appearance. I think we humans are fooled by the appearance of consciousness.
Of course there are many objections to my proposal and a fundamental one is the perception that consciousness is something complex that must have evolved from something much more simple. Complexity is in a way the arrangement of smaller components into bigger ones. Using the word ‘arrangement’ however implies that there is an arranger and evolution insists that there is no such thing, at least not at the beginning.
Complexity, if it evolved, must have done so when favourable circumstances allowed particles through some act of cohesion to become arranged in such a way that they formed something that eventually became animated and gained the ability to replicate itself. What the simplest forms of matter are, nobody really knows yet. We can break things down into atoms and further into a nucleus surrounded by electrons. The nucleus itself then contains protons and neutrons, the protons and neutrons (baryons) are composed of quarks. Quarks (together with Leptons) are thought of as the building blocks of matter. How these came into existence and managed to become arranged to form the complexity of our world today still needs to be explained.
I propose one idea, that consciousness lies at the end of the chain of how far we can break things down.
If consciousness is the fundamental building block of which our universe consists we need to be able to explain how it can be the simplest element and yet yield all that exists. If we can’t explain this than it is just another nice idea that can easily lead to a religious mindset where we take the romantic notions and ignore the contradictions.
From a biological aspect we assume that to experience consciousness we need to have a body, a brain, organs that can interpret the surroundings, etc. There are a lot of arguments in favour of it because what happens to consciousness when we sleep or why do we loose it if somebody hits us hard over the head? (I’m still recovering from it as you can see 😉 )
From psychology we know that there is also sub-consciousness (and according to C. G. Jung a super-consciousness, a collective pool of pre-existent forms (archetypes)). Both of these are part of the unconscious realm from which we humans draw our intuitions. Many psychologists are convinced that humans have a large pool of knowledge that they are often not aware of but draw from subconsciously. Our brains work hard to obscure this knowledge for reasons we don’t quite understand yet.
If we consider that all these consciousnesses are really part of the same source than it makes sense to think of conciousness as something bigger than ourselves. We might all draw from the same source but apply different filters each. For Jung the collective consciousness is inherited and we all share it for we all have the same parent, the mitochondrial Eve. I however believe that although Jung is right that inheritance plays a big part, it does not explain some of the phenomena associated with consciousness.
For example not too long ago I saw a documentary about twins and triplets. For the first time it was publicly demonstrated that there is a bond between them that exceeds that of inheritance. In one experiment one twin was attached to an machine that measures brain activities and given a game that gives minor electrical shocks when making a mistake. The other twin was kept at another location and also attached to a machine. Whenever the twin playing the game received a shock the graphs that were recorded both showed spikes at the same time.
How can we explain such phenomena with inheritance? Was it just a weird coincidence that both spiked at the same time or do their brains spike normally at certain intervals? I’m sure that this can be eliminated.
If we can accept then that this phenomena exists than we have to ask ourselves how this is possible. The only way this can be if humans have access to something that is shared by all of us. The twin whose brain spiked when his brother got the shock did not feel the spike and was therefore not aware of this connection. His brain however was aware and responded accordingly. These twins were tuned into something that scientists still struggle to comprehend.
I personally don’t believe that this phenomena has anything to do with something like a ‘twin soul’ experience. Twins are possibly more tuned into each other so that one can feel what the other experiences in the way when we strike a note on the piano everything tuned to the same note vibrates along.
If consciousness is the building block of all that exists, a singularity out of which matter and life has been shaped, it would explain phenomena like this very well.
Now, how can consciousness be a singularity or what makes it the simplest thing there is? If consciousness was something complex, any aspect taken away from it would render it not conscious. What is that part that could be taken away from consciousness? Is it a particle, is it a quark? How many quarks to make it an entity?
In a materialistic world we try to box consciousness into a framework of physical references. Yet no matter how hard we try, although we can give some logical reasons as to how and why it might have evolved like the instinct of survival, none of it really can explain it. Yes I do go to sleep and wake up hours later not knowing what happened in-between. Consciousness seems to disappear at night and arrive again in the morning. Sometimes memory might fail me for a few minutes until I’m fully awake yet even in those drowsy moments I am aware and conscious.
Memory guides us in this world to pick up the pieces where we left them the day before. If we had no memory we would still be us and have awareness. We wouldn’t be able to communicate or express ourselves properly but we would still have consciousness.
We perceive consciousness as something complex because we associate it with memories and how we process information. All these however are the complexities that have evolved out of consciousness. Consciousness in its’ most base form is simply aware, nothing more and nothing less. Beyond awareness there is nothing, it can not get more basic than this.