“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Consciousness in the Wild

I just finished a 2.5 hour debate with David Long (moderated by Bruce Alderman of The Integral Stage). David is a proponent of “Integral 2.0,” an attempted upgrade of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory which David feels amounts to a kind of idealistic creationism when it comes to cosmological questions and the origins of consciousness. David argues for a form of emergentism, the idea that consciousness or sentience emerges out of neutral physics and chemistry at some point in evolutionary history. I argued against emergentism by pointing out that as an account of consciousness it ultimately collapses into either epiphenomenalism or dualism (I unpack why in this article). I argue in favor of a Schellingian/Whiteheadian form of evolutionary panpsychism. The debate should be uploaded in the next few days, and I will share it here. Below are a few reflections offered in an attempt to bridge my position with David’s.

I’m fine with saying that consciousness is an emergent property/product of a complex system. But the system in question is not just the neurons in the skull, it’s the system of the universe.

When we abstract brain physiology from the wider organism-environment field and evolutionary developmental history to which it belongs, when we stick a brain in a laboratory fMRI machine, we may learn some interesting things about how we’re wired up to respond to the world. DARPA/The Pentagon is spending billions on brain science, because it pays off if the goal is the instrumentalization of human souls. It could also pay off therapeutically, if that’s what society valued.

But consciousness is different “in the wild.” Out here in the midst of human history on an imperiled planet earth we conscious beings find ourselves not only embodied but embedded within the body of the world. This world-body’s horizons are analogous to our rentinal blind spot where the optic nerve enters the eye. The light of sight recedes into the darkness of a seer unseen.

As an emergent product of cosmogenesis, consciousness can’t quite get a handle on its comic origin. A finger can’t touch itself. An eye can’t see itself.

We reach for the edge of space-time only to have it recede from us at an ever-accelerating rate. My consciousness is limited in its capacity for ever-vigilant attentiveness to the entire experiential field encompassing me. My focus on this field is always shifting from locus to locus and fades off at fractal edges. Consciousness is an emergent product of the entire history and extent of the cosmos. I mean this quite literally and physically. What else could it be?





2 responses to “Consciousness in the Wild”

  1. kyphres Avatar

    I love the increased YouTube content as of late, especially the dialogues with a variety of people. I was excited when I saw your Sam Webster video up, I hope you guys can talk deeper, I am interested in an unpublished paper he wrote on concresense and magick.

    Can’t wait to listen to this debate. I am mostly a silent listener over the past five years.

    Thank you.

  2. Tony Hegarty Avatar

    Thank you for sharing all of this Matt. I was inspired to write “August Rain” as a response to your comments from the Yoruba you might like to take a look at Poetry Garden 3 on my blog. I agree strongly with the idea that consciousness is a little ineffable, I can’t “get a handle” on my cosmic origin anyway. So it remains partly a “mystery”: I like that. I like Teilhard de Chardin’s view that there is a spectrum of consciousness and as we have evolved to be the most complex entity we have it in its most complex form. I argued this in “Gaia: the question of consciousness”: its on my blog.
    I don’t quite get why consciousness is diffrent “in the wild” as you say. It may expand …come alive even…but it must be the same thing must it not? Or are you saying it couples/combines with a cosmic consciousness to become less a personal consciousness: so it’s now moving towards transpersonal expression? Finally, it does somehow overlap with whatever we mean by “spirituality”…we shared some thoughts on this a while back. (see https://wp.me/p46SRW-3h “Towards a Definition of Spirituality…”) I also wonder how our concept of consciousness relates to the “unconscious”. Would a conceptual exploration of out unconscious experience, as an embryo or asleep, or in our most “resistant” “in denial” moments, help us to think of consciousness.

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