My old friend Andy and I have two theories for what accounts for consciousness: Andy says his impressionistic idea of consciousness is that it is characteristic of sophisticated nervous systems and thus diminishes down the phylogenetic scale. In his view, consciousness is a consequence of a nervous system’s myriad sensory input, making any creature “down the phylogenetic scale” less conscious than those up that scale. My only argument with his theory is that it is too narrow. For me, consciousness feels a great deal deeper.
I think of consciousness, especially the synchronous, spontaneous moment-to-moment experience side of consciousness, as a consequence of ‘quantum weirdness’. Deep down quantum non-locality tunes the individual’s consciousness into all of it — cosmic consciousness I guess you’d say. Isn’t this why, as chapter 21 puts it, As a thing the way is Shadowy, indistinct.
Andy maintains that the more sophisticated the nervous system, the more conscious. Conversely, I say ‘everything is conscious’, from atoms to humans: no nervous system necessary here. Here, each thing’s biological and chemical processes determine its experience of consciousness. However, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll set aside my ‘everything is conscious’ view and limit this to the biological side of consciousness.
So whose theory holds more Taoist water? The recent article in Science News, Living Physics, offered some support for my view. As one researcher put it, “Now, with growing evidence that quantum weirdness indeed exists in biological systems, scientists are looking for ways to tell how, or even if, nature exploits these effects to confer an advantage.”
Still, there is no true way to prove either theory. Like Schrödinger’s cat, perhaps both theories exist in two states: alive and dead — true and false. From that standpoint, they are equal. Take your pick and your observation will determine the outcome. Of the two, I like mine better because it offers me a deeper sense of unity and communion with all things of which I’m conscious. In addition, quantum non-locality parallels chapter 1’s These two are the same, but diverge in name as they issue forth and chapter 56’s, This is known as mysterious sameness.
The moral of this story: If you can’t prove either of two theories, picking the one that offers a deeper sense of connection makes sense. After all, we are social animals. Thus, anything that can enhance our sense of connection should certainly feel better.