Science is our best tool for understanding the universe, its behavior, and our place within it. Despite its flaws I firmly believe that, given our apparently consistent experience, science will point us in the right direction and fuel our collective growth as a species.
But on an individual level – on a personal, this is me we’re talking about level, science fails – and will always fail – to provide any insight into how a collection of matter and energy – aka, a human being – can be conscious. Science can’t even tell us the difference between living matter and dead matter – beyond the chemical processes that the former undergoes, there is no apparent difference whatsoever.
It’s the same with consciousness – science tells us that the mind is formed by the brain undergoing trillions of electrochemical reactions every second, but there’s no thing in the brain that forms consciousness. A brain that no longer undergoes reactions is no longer conscious, even though all the parts are still there.
This means, then, that the special part must be the process itself – but how? How can an action – like running or mowing the grass or bonding a few trillion molecules together with a few trillion other molecules – produce consciousness?
So far the tentative answer (tentative because it’s the best we can do) is that complex behaviors arise out of the interactions of many, many simple behaviors – that is, complexity emerges from simplicity. This is very vague, and sort of obvious – but even if we follow this line of thought to its conclusion, we end up right back where we started – somehow, chemical reactions (which are just a certain type of action) can be conscious.
I’m going to repeat that, because it’s profound and important to me: somehow, chemical reactions can be conscious.
I don’t really know how to reconcile my personal experience with this fact. I don’t feel like an action. I feel like a thing – a noun, not a verb – but that feeling is an illusion. The illusion tells me that I’m the same Erik I’ve been for almost 32 years. Yes, there’ve been changes – I grew from childhood, through adolescence, and now I’m an adult, but I feel a continuity of existence that is both incredibly convincing and ultimately false. In the end, I – what I call myself, as distinct from my body – am the action of being Erik. I am Eriking, no more than this.
So what happens to me – the action – when the universe is done Eriking? When my body dies and the reactions in my brain stop? What happens to the action when it’s done acting?
There is no answer because the question is meaningless. What happens to the act of counting to 100 once I reach 100? Nonsense. Nothing can happen to ‘counting’ because it’s an action and the action has ended. Death, being the end of life, also means the end of consciousness, but it’s meaningless as well. You wouldn’t say ‘counting’ died just because I got to 100. You don’t wonder whether ‘counting’ is in a better place, or if ‘counting’ will be re-born.
So wondering what the afterlife will be, or what will happen after death – nonsense. It’s only scary to us because we don’t understand it, and we don’t understand it because we don’t understand our nature. We’re actions, bound up into physical form.
Not human beings, but humans being.
- Is the Scientific study of Consciousness plausible? (tempestuoush.wordpress.com)