by Elaine Walker

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(Left) Rat Neurons. Credit: Paul De Koninck, Universite Laval; (Right) Large Scale Structure of the Universe. Credit: Courtesy V. Springel & the Virgo Consortium.

It is an amazing and mysterious fact that consciousness exists, and that on this planet somehow humans evolved to become the most self aware of any species. We make deliberate choices and we have a will. Western religion believes that a “soul” is assigned to every human which gives us “free will”, but when someone attempts to define these things, there can only be a breakdown of logic. Most people never attempt the logic but rather adopt a purely emotionally based belief that we have a “soul” and “free will”.

Whatever is the ultimate cause or purpose for consciousness existing in the first place is still a complete mystery, but I imagine that the seed of awareness is somehow woven into the fabric of space-time itself, and that it only takes a special type of complexity, like brains, to focus it enough to become recognizable as “consciousness” to us. So consciousness in that case would be a weak emergence, relative to the complexity of the brains in various species. It is really just a matter of degree how conscious—and therefore self-aware—a life form is.

This view pushes the question of consciousness up against the rest of the great mysteries of the Cosmos, to be included in the same question of the very fabric itself. It is a more logical place for the possible origins of awareness to sit, rather than have it be some sort of strong emergence or “soul”.

Ruling out divine intervention, souls, and extra dimensional explanations means the universe has its own mechanism for consciousness to emerge in complex organisms, and this leads to the least belittling and most empowering image of ourselves possible. In fact, it is awesome to imagine that we naturally evolved to be self aware and to control our destinies simply as a result of what we are. We have all of the things the reader is feeling and has ever felt, and in a strange loop sense, we are the prime initiators of our future. But it has nothing whatsoever to do with the notion of free will as people have come to think of it.

No matter how vast and mysterious as the Cosmos may seem from our point of view, and no matter how lonely we might feel, drifting on the spec we call Earth, we can always feel comforted by the fact that we are that universe; at the very least, tiny conscious pieces of it. We are dynamically changing aspects of the Cosmos just as much as our minds are dynamically changing aspects of our brains. We are made of the wondrous stuff of chemicals that were at first born in the stars, and electrical processes which are fundamental to the universe and nature. And what a cosmic religious feeling it is, to not only have the capacity to look outward and contemplate the universe but to analyze and perhaps someday fully understand the process of our own consciousness.

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Other topics:
Nature and Complexity
Chaos theory
Probabilistic Determinism
Abstract thought
Science and “Spirituality”
Our Social Ecosystem