Awhile ago a friend said to me (1), “Words are sounds that gain meaning with use. Saying a rock is conscious is like saying a rock is alive. Might work in a poem but not for logical communication. Look in dictionaries for guides to usage (of course, they’re fallible) rather than rely on my memory”
So I looked up conscious and then the tracked down some of the words used to define that word. As usual, it turns out to feel like a vicious circle. Clearly, word definition is a messy affair when you scratch the surface (which few ever do in my experience). Nevertheless, I can articulate why a rock, or even an atom for that matter, qualifies as being conscious using this trail of definitions,
The problem I’d have here is that some definitions specifically refer only to living organisms. That being the case, I’ll limit this inquiry to the living initially. Limiting the view to organisms, we readily see how even a virus, bacteria or amoeba are conscious (or ‘subconscious’). To perceive this, you’ll have to follow the trail of definitions below. For instance: … subconscious -> mental -> mind -> spirit -> breath -> the faculty of breathing (i.e., respiration).
The Trail of Definitions
Conscious (Date: 1592)
perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation <was conscious that someone was watching
Perceiving (Date: 14th century)
to attain awareness or understanding of
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French perceivre, from Latin percipere, from per- thoroughly + capere to take.
Awareness (Date: before 12th century)
a: watchful, wary b: having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge
Etymology: Middle English iwar, from Old English gewær, from ge- (associative prefix) + wær wary
Subconscious (Date: circa 1834)
the mental activities just below the threshold of consciousness
Mental (Date: 15th century)
the conscious mental events and capabilities in an organism
Mind (Date: before 12th century)
a: the element or complex of elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons b: the conscious mental events and capabilities in an organism
Etymology: ME mynde < OE (ge)mynd, memory < IE base *men-, to think > Gr menos, spirit, force, L mens, mind
Spirit (Date: 13th century)
an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French or Latin; Anglo-French, espirit, spirit, from Latin spiritus, literally, breath, from spirare to blow, breathe
Breath (Date: before 12th century)
a: the faculty of breathing b: an act of breathing
the faculty of breathing:
I’ll stop here for as usual, it is looking more like a vicious definition defining circle to me
Definitions aiming at the core of experience reflect much human-centric, culture-centric, self-definition bias. That children, women and Africans were long thought to be not fully capable of awareness, consciousness, mental ability, etc., exemplify such bias. Obviously, definition lines drawn in the sand are placed wherever they feel most comfortable for the person drawing them.
One striking problem with language is how it boxes perception into preconceptions learned from birth onward. Peeking outside this culturally induced ‘brain washing’ is not possible as long as one is a staunch supporter of any definitional status quo.
Finally, dictionaries are coming from an ‘inside the box’ point of view. Like all humans, I was raised inside this box, and understand the view from in here. Correlations, the process of Using Yin and Yang to Pop Preconceptions arose out of my need to ‘peek outside the box’ so I could reevaluate my from ‘inside the box’ view (i.e., the necessity of contrast; I need to find a ‘there’ in order to see a ‘here’).
So, is a rock conscious?
It all depends on what you mean by conscious. By my definition, rocks are conscious, although they don’t think (or breathe). Only we think (as far as I know) and so only we have contrived the word consciousness. If we limit the definition of consciousness to thinking, then only humans are conscious. And even then, only after the age of 12 months or so after we’ve learned enough language to begin thinking.
What is thinking? I define thinking as a brain function that requires symbolic language. Thus, according to this definition, without language, there is no thinking. Think is also a synonym for believe. To paraphrase chapter 71, To know yet to believe that one does not know is best; Not to know yet to believe that one knows will lead to difficulty.
Clearly we are stuck with thinking. Symbolic language is burned into our awareness. What we think, however, is more fluid. Acknowledging that a rock may be conscious is more fluid, and conforms with, ‘to know yet to think that one does not know is best‘. Why? It leaves the door open for mysterious sameness to enter your consciousness. In this case, the essence of being is consciousness; it is shared by all existence.
(1) This is the same friend who instigated my last blog post, See No Evil. This post, Is a Rock Conscious? , and that last post are somewhat connected. Okay, yes, I suppose everything I write is kind of that way.