Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Against Universal Consciousness

The only way human beings can understand the world around them is through their own experiences. This is limiting and predisposes each of us to egocentrism. Egocentrism is the inability to view the world from any perspective other than one's own and the tendency to frame all issues in terms of how they relate to the needs of the self. So, in discussions of politics, I respond to all comments from my individual, egocentric worldview. Likewise, my deliberations on topics ranging from sports to business to child rearing must all be interpreted through the filter of my own ego. Egocentrism manifests in every aspect of human life.

A natural outgrowth of egocentrism is the inclination to anthropomorphize. Because we are restricted to understanding external items through the lens of human experience, we often
attribute human characteristics to non-human subjects. While my dog, Zeus, certainly understands his world as only a dog can understand it, I constantly (and inaccurately) bestow upon him a full range of human traits. It is intuitive to me that folks who assume the universe is endowed with cosmic consciousness are, likewise, anthropomorphizing.

While human consciousness was once a subject considered too enigmatic for scientific study, recent technologies have helped to demystify consciousness.
Historically, consciousness has been described as being like a stream. Indeed, people may subjectively perceive thoughts as flowing like a stream, however, “stream of consciousness” is a misleading and ultimately inaccurate metaphor. “Hive of consciousness” is a better fit for our current understanding of the phenomenon. “Stream” implies a linear progression of thoughts moving forward from a central source. Neuroscience informs us that human thought patterns more closely resemble a popcorn popper than a stream.

Consciousness is composed of neuronal firings from different parts of the brain. In simple terms, consciousness is a byproduct of the brain interacting with itself. Remove part of the brain and consciousness is altered. Remove all of the brain and consciousness is eliminated. 

Consciousness changes but does not stop during sleep. The brain remains active and different areas of the brain are still able to communicate with one another during sleep. When one awakens from sleep, one typically still
has some awareness of the passage of time and may remember dream experiences. However, when a person is put under general anesthesia, communications within the brain are blocked. When one awakens from general anesthesia, there is no sense of the passage of time and no dreaming. Consciousness is eradicated when internal communications between various parts of the brain are obstructed. Consciousness is produced by the brain and can not exist independent of the brain. No brain, no consciousness.

Since consciousness is a function of the brain, and there is no evidence that the universe itself has a brain, it would stand to reason that the universe is not conscious. 

Wise and powerful caregivers comfort the egos of human children. The egos of human adults desire similar comfort. In the absence of an actual wise and powerful caregiver, human adults invent gods or anthropomorphize the universe to meet this egocentric need.

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