Posted by: David
We all know that Miss Piggy and Doctor Bob (a.k.a. Rowlf the Dog) didn’t really have awareness or consciousness, but their puppeteers certainly made you laugh. What is laughter anyway and are there any other species capable of it? Laughter is most likely special to us because of our consciousness. In most cases, laughter is a spontaneous reaction when our morality or our sense understanding of the world is tested. I think the reason the Muppets’ joke above is so funny to me is because Doctor Bob and Nurse Piggy or so dismally aware of the concept of death and dying. They take death so lightly that they can make a bad joke about the death of a patient. Why does it make me laugh? You’re more than welcome to analyze my psyche if you’d like. I expect that it simply jars my subconscious understanding of right and wrong.
In bringing up the loaded word consciousness, I’ll begin by explaining my usage. I am not using it in a sense such as, “He lost consciousness.” I am using it in the sense that implies having some level of understanding of right and wrong such as, “It was his consciousness that made him a crusader for justice.” Consciousness in this usage implies that there is a complex awareness of the morality of an event or an action.
Previously in Re: Salvation, I implied that there is a curious co-dependence between freewill and justice. Without justice there is no need for freewill and without freewill there would be no need for justice. The same thing applies to consciousness. The existence of morality depends on the existence of ‘someone’ who can make a choice in the matter. Without morality there would be no need for choices and vice versa. When we make choices, we are basing those choices on some sort of system of value judgments of what we think is right and wrong. Consciousness is simply an awareness of what is right and what is wrong. (Interestingly, In Genesis the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is sometimes translated as the Tree of Consciousness.) Without knowledge of what is right and wrong, humans would still be aware of our surroundings and relationships, but would we have consciousness? Interestingly, Eden was a place where man had choices, yet didn’t have the knowledge of what is right and wrong. It wasn’t that right and wrong didn’t exist, mankind just didn’t know about it.
Most of us would agree, except the deeply antisocial personality or philosophical word-smither, that there exists some sort of right and wrong in our world and that we make choices based both on a deeply-ingrained sense of morality or common sense as well as a socially-constructed criteria of social ethics. And not always do we make the right choices. Sometimes we clearly, stubbornly or brutally make the wrong choice. Anyone who can look at one’s actions even partially objectively will see that sometimes we do what we sense is wrong, usually for our own selfish desires. But let’s not go here yet, the point is that consciousness depends on knowledge of right and wrong.
I doubt that a dog has the form of consciousness outlined above. He knows that if he wags his tail and is cute, he’ll get a dog biscuit or that he’ll have a warm house to curl up in. He’ll probably even have specific affections toward certain people for complex reasons, but I doubt that he understands the ‘Golden Rule’ like we do.
It seems to me like a shot in the dark to guess whether planets or other grander scale systems have consciousness. Most would say that shot is easy and is an unequivocal, “No, don’t be absurd.” I will say that they do not seem to have much choice in their motions, and thus even if they have an awareness, applying consciousness to them is a bit far-fetched. They follow extremely precise patterns and have been so for a long, long time. Even larger-scale systems, such as galaxies, have such beautifully-defined and mathematical structures and they seem to follow very closely to a pattern. Following defined patterns, would seem to indicate a lack of consciousness since the pattern’s lack variation. A lack of variation in pattern may demonstrate the inability to choose. However, one could argue that they do have choice, but they always choose to follow the pattern defined for them. But again, let’s not get sidetracked.
For some reason, we are special organisms in the universe so far as I can see. We seem to have a grasp of right and wrong and have a choice in the matter. Most of us feel a sense of right and wrong. Some would argue that this sense of justice is just complex reactionary forces that are no different than that of a dog. I beg to differ. No pun intended. I believe that we do have consciousness and there was a particular point in our history in which we became enlightened for better or worse. And this particular point was actually the beginning of History.
This moment was also very important because it marked the point when we began building our own tree of knowledge. One intriguing part of consciousness is how it relates to knowledge. If we didn’t have knowledge in the first place, we wouldn’t be able to store up understanding of right and wrong. In Part 4, we’ll build on the first three parts in this series as we look at how knowledge relates to consciousness, memory and forces.