I came across this article in scientific american about how people conceptualize different types of beings – with respect to how much consciousness / human qualities they can ascribe to each one. The subjects in question were robots, corporations and gods. The test groups were generally willing to ascribe some anthropic qualities to these different types of beings – except feelings. People seem to feel that what really sets us apart from other entities is our awareness/sense of self, and our ability to have feelings like joy or sadness.
This cognitive intuition (about how aware we think other entities are) tends to make us want to get on a pedestal and preen. Oh look! We have feelings. We can express ourselves. But what if our collective cognitive intuitions are the wrong way round? Maybe consciousness is not some higher state to be achieved… maybe it’s the bottom rung of the ladder…
Sentience just might be overrated.
That’s right. What if sentience is a sign of evolutionary ineptitude that like all ills and wounds, will just take time (eons of it) to heal? If we think of conciousness as ‘the purest state of being’, it conjures up zen-like images of ‘being one with nature’ and so on. But with that kind of criteria, a stone has achieved nirvana, and beings (like us) who still have to think have a lot to learn.
A stone doesn’t have to know it’s a stone in order to go about the business of being one. Whereas humans everywhere bog themselves down with “who am I?” and “How do I feel about this?” and “What is the meaning of life”. In short, we’re still figuring out what it means to be human. Meanwhile, the rest of the universe is getting on with life, Jim, but not as we know it.
Stars, planets, black holes and a frigillion swirling galaxies keep things together – whether those things be forces of nature or rising and setting in the right sky or whatever it is that heavenly bodies do. They just have one job – to maintain whatever illusions the laws of physics in our particular universe requires. They don’t complain, they don’t want days off, they don’t have guilt trips and they don’t go on about what a rollocking good time they’re having either. Our cognitive framework tells us that they can’t respond in any of these ways because they are hobbled in the sentience department. I say they can’t because that’s THE POINT.
There are entities that are already part and parcel of nature while we’re busy trying to become “tuned in / one with” nature. Well at least we’ve got the right idea, I suppose… from the point of view of ‘you can’t beat nature so you might as well join it’.
One day when we aren’t even remotely recognizably human, we might finally start to get it. That our place in the heavenly dance is to process the data the makes the universe go, period. And that only sounds sad cos you’re still sentient.
A toast to our infancy!