I have been considering the subject of consciousness in an animistic context. Most of the advocates of animism agree that consciousness pervades every thing in our known, and speculatively the unknown, cosmos. The mechanism is not understood but for many, this is an irrelevance as their experiences dictates their understanding. This is, I would contend, to be a reasonable position but leaves the individual open to claims of delusion if those same experiences appear to go against the norm. Being an engineer by trade, I tend to look at these things from a process perspective, if I can establish the means by which this process could take place, then the basis for the analysis for the results is on firmer foundations.
One thing I have recently realized is that a lot of the perceptions of the individuals who are brave enough to venture an opinion or share some of their perceptions, seem to consider consciousness as a “top down” process. That is to say, the reasoning assumes that consciousness is seated within the brain, with the brain processing the information resulting in sensory experiences. No doubt this has its roots in the modern disciplines of psychotherapy and the likes. The thought processes are deemed to be behind most of the experiences and if we do something to affect the brain, through the likes of different drugs or using different thought processes, the underlying principles accredit the change to these and other types of brain alterations.
So let us consider an alternative. If we examine the human cell, we find some remarkable facts. The human cell wall comprises of some 30,000 different types of proteins, configured as enzymes, organelles, DNA & the like. Each cell has more parts than people in a medium-sized city. It feeds itself, excretes waste, rebuilds internal parts, creates bio-electricity, reproduces and chooses when to die. When it replicates through division, it replicates all this including the 3 billion plus DNA base pairs of the double helix. This cell could share the head of a pin with about 10,000 of its comrades.
The potential for different courses of interactions are mind-blowing. The amount of suitable material considered suitable for food must make the a la carte menus of the best restaurants as somewhat inadequate. Then there are all the possible consequences of chemical reactions within that same environment, some beneficial, some positively hostile. And yet, the scientific community would have us believe that cells are nothing but automatons, who simply react to environmental stimuli. Close scrutiny however, shows this position to be both inaccurate and selective in its interpretations. If these cells were nothing but automatons, then the consequences of these cells interactions should be all uniform in the evidence, with little or no variance. Of course, factors such as cell makeup and the likes will account for a small deviation in results but overall, the actions of the cells should be uniform.
So, let us take a leap of faith here and grant these cells the capacity of “free will”. This free will would be provided by consciousness. It would be demonstrated by the individualistic choices of these cells, microbes & bacteria present in the biological body. The environment these cells (I’m going to use the term cell to cover all other capable and qualifying entities here) find themselves in may present far more challenges than what the “we” find in our own cultural environments. For example, in favourable environmental conditions, it would not be beyond reasonable conclusions to presume the potential foodstuffs may number into the hundreds, possibly the thousands (think of the sea, for example and the plankton present there). When looking at a typical menu in any well-known fast food outlet, if you group foodstuffs into their original constituent groups, I doubt it would number much above ten.
Then we look at the possible chemical reactions that may occur when cells enter differing environments. Some of these environments may result in physical damage which the cell, minus the supposed source of intellect, a brain, then repairs for optimal use again. The 3 billion plus pairs of DNA in the double helix give the cell the materials with which to equipment itself with the necessary tools for repair, but how does this process originate? The obvious answer is the autoimmune system, but that is dependent, to an extent, of being driven supposedly by the brain. I find it difficult to place all this activity being orchestrated by that same brain. Intuitively, for me, it makes more sense that the cells possess enough autonomy in their actions without directions from a distant organ. It also makes more sense that the information provided by these cells, if provided in great enough numbers, may be the spark that create a synaptic pathway with the resultant thought being created in the brain.
Consider the choices we encounter in everyday life. How many number beyond say six choices? When driving, for example, it’s usually just two. Is it possible that the autonomous workings of these cells actually provide the service of eliminating choices until the resultant number available to us is of a sufficient low enough denomination for the brain to be able to make a better informed choice? If this is the case and organisms without that most human characteristic, a brain, do possess the ability to use free will, and thus demonstrate both independence in action with the ability to relay these results to another organ then the purpose of the brain may now be viewed as the centre where all the information is correlated primarily, and its primary role may not be one that sends out information for cells to act on, as is thought to be the case in many circles at present, but one where the flow of information going into it may well far outweigh the information being sent out. Ironically, the brain may actually be responsible for “dumbing down” this information.
Of course, if this independence in actions is viewed in cells outside the human body, then the consequences for the perception of life may also be in need of a revision.