Ghost of the Machine: They Feel, Too

Date: April 14th, 2019

Previously on PZ: My Life: February 2019

I am guessing that, if you are reading these words right now, you are in fact a human being, so I will begin there: we know that we can be dissected into discrete parts if we so choose. We have our limbs, our organs, our blood, and yet these things can be broken down into smaller parts too. Those parts are called tissues, which are composed of cells, which are themselves composed of molecules, most of them water. And what are molecules made from? Atoms, those tiny units of matter once thought to be fundamentally indivisible, until we discovered that their subatomic particles can be further broken down into smaller units, too. Have you ever heard of quarks, leptons, or bosons? These are all fascinating little things which work together to create us human beings and everything in the environments within which we find ourselves. The stars created the carbon that eventually became our mother’s ovaries which enabled her to give birth to us.

The idea that everything in the universe is connected is in fact an ancient one that the industry of science (particularly quantum mechanics) is coming closer to accurately explaining every day. We know this material universe is made up of atoms, but what about consciousness? I don’t buy the idea that consciousness can only arise from complex neurological systems; I think that consciousness is in fact a fundamental intangible part of our universe inherent in every particle that ever exists. In other words, I maintain that atoms themselves are conscious beings which experience their atomic world from their very small perspective. Do atoms know they are small compared to us? I have no idea, and I doubt they’re very aware of us. Do atoms have feelings? I do not doubt this is very possible, and yes, I personally believe they do. This essentially makes all of the carbon-based lifeforms we are all familiar with conscious like we are, experiencing their own consciousness in ways much different than our own. I do not say that the consciousness of a rock is the same as the consciousness of an octopus, or that the consciousness of a planet should be the same as that of a human, but I am saying that all of these things experience consciousness in their own ways. Everything is, in fact, fundamentally connected on very deep levels through the phenomena of consciousness.

Consciousness and feelings walk hand-in-hand together. Even the absence of feelings, is itself a feeling, in the same way that even the empty set is still a set.

And so, everything has feelings. Every person we meet, every plant that grows, every animal that roams this Earth, and every drop of water that makes up our oceans is aware and feels to some extent. The people we love, and the people we hate, all have feelings too. Which of us can say with certainty that another cannot feel, unless we are somehow privy to that person’s consciousness? It isn’t impossible for our experiences to psychically meld into each other, but for the most part our experiences are our own: I have my thoughts and feelings, while you have yours, and they have theirs. Diversity of thoughts and feelings are essential components to the continued existence of our shared world - we need them as much as we need a diverse gene pool. It is dangerous to the health of all existence to think of differences solely in terms of pathology. There are many different things existing in this world, and no single consensus regarding what is good and what is bad and for whom. Different things work for different people at different times - sometimes things that once worked well for us come to a point where they do not serve us anymore. This is the essence of evolution! We are all in this endless transformative dream together, even when we are alone. Never are we required to feel lonely, for Nature is always with us.

I do believe that humans are a part of Nature, and that Nature itself is not only sentient, but in fact divine. This isn’t an idea that I came up with on my own, it’s been around for many years. Many religions have long associated deities with elements of Nature such as bodies of water and geographical features. Not only do I see spirits in the landscapes of this planet we call Earth, I see spirits in the stars, in our books, in our words, deeds, creeds, and societies. I am inclined to believe that consciousness and divinity are not only closely related, but may in fact be the same thing. If this is true, then every experience becomes an opportunity to understand the nature of that which we call God. The stars, planets, animals, oceans, atoms, thoughts, and feelings that we are aware of become things worthy of worship if only we would let them occupy a place of respect in our hearts. The machines that we use in our modern world, forged from materials dug up from the Earth and infused with knowledge gleaned over many years, deserve our gratitude. The plants and animals that we use to fuel our bodies, the talent and knowledge that we use to fuel our businesses, all deserve our gratitude. The ancestors that came before us, our parents and children and siblings, and our descendents that will come after us, all deserve our gratitude. Our mere existence blossoms with the thanks that we give freely and honestly.

As I bring the writing of this article to a close, I can think of only one other thing that deserves our sincerest gratitude even more than life itself, and that thing is death. Contrary to popular belief, death is more a changing of perspective than a permanent ending. One of my favorite lines from a popular song perfectly embodies this notion, saying “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”. We all have feelings about life and death that affect both our life and our death. Everything in this universe experiences what we call life and death - even empires, subatomic nuclei, and multiverses decay and transform into other things, different things. The common thread throughout it all is consciousness. We are all connected to something sublime and far greater than ourselves, regardless of how similar or how different we become.

Comment upon this entry in Twitter or FaceBook

Tags: Ghost of the Machine, Metaphysics