According to Discover magazine, the physicist Andrei Linde is reported to entertain a mind dependent cosmos:
[C]onsciousness may be a fundamental component of the universe, much like space and time. He [Linde] wonders whether the physical universe, its laws, and conscious observers might form an integrated whole. A complete description of reality, he says, could require all three of those components, which he posits emerged simultaneously.
If Linde is correct, what does this mean for our understanding of the evolution of mind in animals? If mind is not a fluke of matter, but something that has always been “in the air” from the beginning with space and time, then the evolution of animals with awareness may be akin to the evolution of land animals and migratory birds. Things that already exist–land, magnetic north, mind–are being discovered and exploited by life.
In other words, just as land-dwelling animals do not create land, and migratory birds do not create magnetic north, perhaps the human brain does not generate mind, but stumbles upon it–taps into it–and so makes use of its existence as a strategy for survival.
I’m being speculative here, but let’s flesh this out a bit by thinking about evolution.
Once a few amphibians stumbled upon the existence of dry land, a few birds magnetic north, and a few primates mind, we could say that natural selection kicked-in, favoring those among their offspring that could ever more successfully navigate these distinct territories.
It may thus be useful to think of animal and human awareness as a sixth sense–an ability to detect a pervasive awareness that is not in our heads only, but out there in the world–something larger than us and into which we tap (as migratory birds tap into the Earth’s magnetic field).
Many animals have only the barest sense of awareness. Others have quite a bit. Of all animals, humans have evolved the most acute sense of experiencing mind. If dogs trump us in the sense of smell, we trump dogs in our acute sense of self-awareness. Our “brain-radios” pick up the universal awareness signal more intensely than other species (certainly better than dogs do), and we put that general awareness to particular use.
And it’s the pervasive mind’s particular use that leads to our category mistake, for we misidentify the pervasive mind as “I” and “me.” We then build narratives around this “I” and “me,” conflating the general awareness with a very particular experience: “My body hurts, and I’m not happy now. This is the story I’m telling myself about who I am.” But it’s only when we mistake the general awareness with the contingencies of daily life that we start talking like this. Maybe we should keep them separate and see how we talk. “Noticing the body in pain. Noticing sadness. But I’ve got a bit of distance from the drama of these particular things because I know, to echo Whitman, that I partake of something larger, that I ‘contain multitudes.'”
This, at any rate, is one way of looking at things if Andre Linde is right that consciousness “may be a fundamental component of the universe, much like space and time.”
Such an idea also gives a shout-out to the experience of meditators, at least of the Hindu variety, who have claimed for millenia that humans can, in each moment, identify awareness with either one of two things: prakriti (the universe of transitive objects, including the transitive self) or perusha (the universal mind, Brahman). The great error, as envisioned in Hinduism, is to mistakenly identify your awareness with prakriti–the little self, the self that perishes–and not with perusha–the big Self, the universal Self.
Mind as an interdependent arising with matter from the beginning also goes rather nicely with Aristotle’s notion of God as the unmoved mover. This idea is laid out concisely in Vardy and Arliss’s, The Thinker’s Guide to God (O Books 2003, 2006, p. 16):
To explain Aristotle’s idea of God’s action, Fr. Gerry Hughes SJ uses the following example: Imagine that there is a room with a pink carpet and there is a cat at one side of the room. Now imagine that a bowl of milk is put into the room. The milk will cause the cat to cross the room–not by the milk doing anything, but just by its being there it will attract the cat. There is a real sense in which the milk causes the cat to move even though the milk does not act.
In other words, the milk just has to be present in the room, waiting for the cat’s eyes to stumble upon the sight of it, and the cat will begin to move toward it, naturally. This is like migratory birds in relation to magnetic north and Homo sapiens in relation to mind. Perhaps mind has always been “in the room” and humans have been evolving toward it.
But this notion could be wrong. So let’s absorb the larger question again: What is the ultimate cause of awareness? Is it:
- a fluke of the brain’s neurons after they have reached a certain level of complexity–an epiphenomenon of blind matter; or
- a “terrain” that has always been there, and that Homo sapiens and other animals have stumbled upon, its pervasive network signal being ever more accurately attuned to over time (by natural selection)?
Put another way, is your awareness born of a brain-computer with internet access–or without it? When it comes to mind, do you have a wireless connection to the cosmic mind, or are you all alone in there with just your face–your interface–to signal to others that, yes, you’re really in there?
Which explanation of awareness seems most sensible to you? Which one fits “Occam’s razor” best? Who are you? Where are you? With what does your awareness identify itself and why?