The Dawn of Consciousness or The Lonely Flickering Light
or Where Did It All Go Wrong?
Even as the curtains draw on this world, on this species, on this flicker of consciousness in the infinite, unknowable, and indifferent cosmos, you have to feel some admiration.
Considering we've only been here for about ¼ of a billionth of the planet's existence, and have only really begun to understand ourselves and our predicament in the last couple of hundred trips around the sun, and that nobody anywhere along the line gave us the slightest guidance or advice or even an instruction manual, I think that, apart from the exponential growth of latter day corporate greed, amorality, and stupidity, we've done extremely well.
If we are the only flicker of consciousness (as mathematically improbable as that might seem) in this cosmos, it will be a substantially less interesting place when we're gone.
Let that be a lesson to you, indifferent cosmos.
As we careen headlong towards our own destruction, I am nevertheless mesmerised by the thought that, somewhere along the line, someone among our ancestors must have been the first to experience the primary flicker of consciousness. Can you imagine what that must have been like? To suddenly develop self-awareness and "wake up" among your fellow hominids and be the only one wondering what the fuck is going on?
Imagine, there he or she might be, perhaps sitting around a fire, and suddenly being confronted with thoughts like, “Hello, what am I doing here?” and “Who are these creatures crouched with me around this flaming centre?” and “Are these “my” hands?”. Those first thoughts must have been deeply unsettling. They must have preceded all but the most primitive and guttural forms of speech, so how would one share it? To whom could one turn?
It seems doubtful that the dinosaurs or the ants or the bacteria or any of the other inhabitants of this planet were or are likely to be troubled by such thoughts in the foreseeable future. So what happened to us? What triggered awareness of self? Those of us in the modern era who have abused substances may have had an inkling as we struggled with the practical implications of hallucination, but even this surely could not compare with the eerie isolation of our first thinking ancestors.
One of the lessons we may recently have learned is that the awareness occurs in waves. That is to say, it is unlikely to have suddenly switched on like an electric light. It was probably more a case of experiencing “rushes” of awareness in small, irregular, and unsettling doses.
To some extent, this can be substantiated by the process which every human baby experiences. Human babies are not “conscious”, so far as we can tell. Nor do they have fully functioning memories until they are about three years old. We all grow into "theory of self" (self consciousness) at about that age (3 or 4). It's part of the post natal evolution (like the completing of the skull) which we all go through after the point of birth. This may be a microcosmic replication of the evolutionary path of the species as a whole.
In terms of how much time we may have left on this planet, much depends on how much time we have to our next leap of consciousness. I'm guessing the next flip of consciousness is just around the corner and that the race against time is for that flip to take place among enough of us as a species to reach critical mass before we self-destruct. Some reckon that the first flip may have been induced by chewing the African bark - iboga - and that the next is already in the process of being induced by ingestions of mushrooms or LSD or ecstasy. Who knows?
Whatever, I don't think we can rely on anyone but ourselves. The unresponsive cosmos doesn't appear ready to reveal anything any time soon. I don't think an “almighty”, however configured and clothed, can be relied upon to put us in the picture. I reckon we're alone (so far) and that the almighty and/or anyone else is only us and our fevered intelligences. So it's really a question of when do we acknowledge that we've lost collective control and do something about it. And, if we don't give up and do regain some intelligent collective control, will it be in enough time to halt or divert the supertanker of corporate globalisation as it sets about its work of converting everything on the planet into packaged human consumables and insulating gases?
Having said all this, it never ceases to amaze me that humans can get up every morning without having the slightest idea as to why. Nobody really knows why we are here. Much of the charm of the human condition is based on this - ie humans are charming precisely because they set about doing their stuff - every time the sun comes up - in the absolute absence of context.
This may seem trivial, but ever since we first experienced the inexplicable and random turn of events which culminated in this self consciousness we currently “know”, we have been faced with the most appalling absence of information.
Our ancestors dealt with this by making stuff up. They invented mythology and superstition and religion. Latterly, we've been using "science" to give ourselves more context, and this has done much to fill out the picture, but, essentially, we are still stumbling in the infinite dark.
There is listed at the Church of the Eternal Question web site a top ten of theories (draft answers to the eternal question) which brings me some comfort as I set about constructing a rationale for the day ahead. They may be of use to others. And I'd certainly be pleased to hear of more....
Theory Ten .....to be happy and to be nice to everybody.
Theory Nine .....to be miserable and suffer and to extend suffering to others.
Theory Eight ......to plant trees.
Theory Seven .....to produce motor cars.
Theory Seven (Supplemental) .....to produce motor cars in order to convert planetary stocks of crude oil into carbon monoxide and hydro carbons for use by an extra-planetary species as yet unknown to us.
Theory Six ......to have orgasms.
Theory Five .....to achieve non-mechanically assisted flight.
Theory Four .....to serve the real dominant species, wheat, and to assist in its evolution and proliferation.
Theory Three .....to serve as a receptacle of Light.
Theory Two .....to act as an organic vehicle for the supernatural parasite known as Language.
Theory One .....to develop human communication in order to refine and maintain the Common Understanding.
Incidentally, I happen to suspect that one of the reasons so many of us get off on hard rhythmic dancing is because, in a cosmos bereft of clear purpose, dancing in large groups to unrelentingly driving rhythms gives us a little respite by creating the temporary illusion that we know what we're doing.
© 2011 Deacon Martin