As a proponent of Gaia theory, I believe that life exists as both a whole and unto itself, as well as being a component of some greater holistic system – The Earth.
However, I will go even further in stating that I hold a believe that everything in this Universe is part of a greater holistic entity or oneness and that consciousness is an intrinsic part of this oneness.
Lets start from the bottom up
Electrons are individually charged particles. Electrons are also components of atoms. Atoms are components of molecules. Molecules are components of organisms. Organisms are components of Eco Systems. Eco Systems are components of living planets. Living planets are components of Solar Systems. Solar Systems are components of Galaxies and Galaxies are components of Universes.
There is a definite distinction between inorganic matter and life.
Life can reproduce, evolve and respond to its environment
For me – ‘Life is the fruiting body of Consciousness’.
So why is it that most scientifically-minded humans don’t believe that all life is conscious?
Well, Consciousness is a very difficult thing to describe. (Read my article on What is Consciousness).
The most common definition for Consciousness is Awareness, or more specifically; To be aware of something outside of oneself or within oneself.
And of course, there are levels of consciousness.
As humans we have a certain perspective on what we interpret consciousness to be, and in my opinion, our perspective is a rather arrogant one, for we westerners have somehow taken to thinking that we are… the only really conscious things on this planet.
Some may allow themselves to believe that a few other animals whom they deem to be ‘more similar to them than other animals’ (primates, dolphins, horses, dogs for example), to also have consciousness, or at least have it in a form they are willing to accept.
What I’d like to propose in this article, is the idea that Consciousness is something more than just human consciousness.
That it is something that flows through all living things.
So, what about trees and plants, they’re alive, but are they conscious?
Again, if we look at the definition of what Consciousness is (‘To be aware of something outside of oneself or within oneself’), then we would have to say yes.
Trees and plants respond to things outside of themselves and can act on their awareness of these things.
Trees and plants turn towards the sun, they seek out food & water with their roots, they respire, they grow, they reproduce and they can even communicate.
Yet in Western Culture, we don’t readily bestow the label of Consciousness onto plants and trees. We deem their process to be so different from ours that we are only willing to describe their entire functioning in terms of chemical processes, nothing more.
If one wishes to remain a materialist, then one would also have to claim that the entire human experience is nothing more than a series of unconscious chemical processes.
The western materialist mind-set seems to want to have it both ways. For there is an acceptance of Consciousness, but the acceptance is born out of what they believe to be an unconscious process within an unconscious Universe.
Where they see Consciousness somehow appearing out of a series of unconscious chemical processes, I see the process of life as being conscious.
It’s quite ridiculous to attempt to rationalize consciousness as something unique only to humans.
Humans make up the planet, we are a constituent part of what makes up ‘the whole’. I find the whole notion of humanity being the authority which picks and chooses what things on earth are conscious and which aren’t, rather absurd.
Do I mean to say that I believe trees, plants and bacteria think and feel like we do? No, of course not.
I am saying that every living thing is conscious in its own way.
Conscious Communication between species
Orpheum frutescens is a flower that can ‘communicate’ with the carpenter bee in a rather remarkable way.
In order to get the flower to open up its stamen (in order to get to the pollen), the bee has to communicate with the flower. It has to communicate that it is the right insect to disperse its pollen.
The password for entry to the flowers pollen is a musical note. When the carpenter bee changes the frequency of the vibration of its wings to middle C, the flower opens its stamen which allows the bee to access its pollen. This specific relationship ensures that the flowers’ pollen is taken by the carpenter bee to another flower of the same species, and so isn’t wasted.
This is an example of something other than just a chemical process, this is a specific form of conscious communication between an animal and a plant.
Let’s go smaller, or more basic still…
There are over a thousand different bacteria living in your gut. Science has recently discovered that these bacteria also communicate with each other in order to carry out community processes – Ranging from maintenance of their population to resisting or aiding infectious diseases.
So, if these bacteria are communicating with each other, then they too must be conscious at some level.
These bacteria are living inside us, therefore we are their environment. We are their ‘conscious environment’. They live in a conscious environment, even though they may not know it (Much as I suspect, do most humans).
Organisms, by definition, are organized living systems. It is only culture that stops us from referring to very large systems (such as planets) as organisms.
It does appear that Consciousness arises whenever and wherever complex organizing systems and forms emerge. The consciousness of each particular living organism will be of a type that is relevant to that complex system or form.
A human type of consciousness is only relative to humans.
What role does consciousness play in evolution?
Darwin states that seemingly random mutations that take place in genetic codes can result in beneficial adaptations that cause the organism to thrive and that these mutations are completely random.
However, there is growing evidence to suggest that these seemingly random mutations are actually environmentally responsive.
Research conducted by Biology Professor Barry Hall suggests a much more intimate relationship between mutation and selection, a relationship in which selective conditions may dramatically affect mutation itself and has collated evidence to prove the genetic rate of mutation in some bacteria actually increases under environmentally stressful conditions.
If genetic mutation is environmentally responsive, then it’s not a very distinct process from what we regard as innovation. In both processes, it is the feedback of information that results in the formation of something new.
Surely, by labelling any living thing with a different process of interacting with its environment than the processes we use as unconscious, is a very weak distinction to make and rather typically and rather humanly – egoistical.
For if other living things can experience their environment and respond to environmental changes that they are able to sense, then they must be deemed at some level to be conscious, or at least, conscious in a way that makes sense to that thing in order to sustain its life.
Back to you – a conscious individual
I believe your true identity consists of both your narrow self identity and your component identity within a greater system.
Your self identity is endowed with your self-consciousness, yet is it not common practice for us in the west to think that, as a conscious component of the whole, you contribute to the consciousness of the holistic system of which you are part (i.e. the earth).
But that, I believe, is what you are.
Culturally, you are taught that this is not the case and that everything is uniquely separate and different when it isn’t.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts