Eurasian Magpie – image from from Wikimedia Commons
Consciousness is like the weather. Since everybody experiences it everybody has an idea about it.
Philosophers take it as their unique prerogative since without it they would have no field. Neuroscientists want to make pictures of it and reduce it to chemical and charge. Physicists, who mostly think they are the rightful ones to explain almost anything (especially if it seems mysterious), try to explain it with information theory. New Agers talk about expanding it and political activists about raising it.
What if consciousness isn’t such a big deal after all? What if consciousness is like eyes or ears – just another part of what we are as human but otherwise not so special after all?
Max Tegmark has a new paper Consciousness as a State of Matter. The paper is filled with mathematics which I am not going to try to explain or pretend to understand but there are parts of it which are fairly accessible to anyone with a modest understanding of modern science. Here is a good write-up of it without the mathematics. The paper takes the seemingly radical position that we can understand consciousness as another state of physical matter just like solids, liquids, and gases. I have argued in some other posts that consciousness must be material so I will find myself in agreement with the general sentiment even though I disagree with this approach There are, however, some additional aspects of this that Tegmark may be missing that I want to discuss.
Tree of Knowledge (courtesy Wikipedia)
In The Cosmic Serpent Jeremy Narby presents a novel theory that the snakes often in seen in the visions of people taking ayahuasca actually are visualizations of DNA. The proposed mechanism of transmission is biophotons which I discussed more extensively in a previous post. The double helix of DNA resembles two snakes wrapping themselves about each other. The ayahuasca vine itself often wraps itself around itself or around limbs of other trees in a serpent-like fashion. His hypothesis is that ayahuasqueros are seeing DNA-emitted photons in their visions, hence the visions often contain snakes. During these visions Nature is actually communicating with us at a cellular level.
While DNA may be involved, there might, however, be a simpler and in many ways more profound explanation. The visions of snakes may be ancestral memories of real snakes.