One of the most important insights a person should have in the 21st century if you want to settle yourself, and give yourself come perspective, is this – Accept the continuity between humanity and other species.
Now, I’m not just talking about human-ape proximity. Though I am. All too often we forget how close we are to primates, how similar they are to us. All too often, we know how close we are to primates, and acknowledge it in the worst way. All too typical of us, I should say.
I spent quite a few years studying philosophy of mind, and one reason I walked away from that as a major research focus was frustration – Frustration that so many researchers ignored the obvious answer to so many of their problems.
So many discussions I had and papers I read about the “hard problem” of consciousness fell to dust to me as I accepted that the human mind is a perceptual field. Our thoughts aren’t just in our heads. Our brains and nervous system develop through environmental interaction. They continue to function through complex feedback loops that we’ve been refining for our entire lives.
Henri Bergson was on to a similar way of thinking. He just expressed it in a totally different way.
The tragedy of Bergson is that he so radically misapplied true and valid philosophical principles of becoming. In the most notorious* example from his work – No Henri, the cause of life getting more complicated isn’t a force of life energy constantly struggling against the inertia of matter’s torpor.
* And simplest to explain.
But yes, large amounts of matter interacting in complex systems that constantly generate energy – say, from giant balls of gas falling in on themselves until they become nuclear fusion furnaces that can be stable for billions of years – tend to become more complex over time.
Think about Chalmers’ hard problem of consciousness – that a scientific understanding of consciousness will never help us understand the experience of consciousness. An essential premise of that concept is unspoken, but necessary for someone to arrive at that concept at all.
Consciousness is exclusively human, and only humans experience the world as a phenomenal sensory field. Absolutely untrue.
Everything that is capable of action in response to external stimuli – whose reaction to fields of force and affects in its environment – is conscious. That covers every organism. Humans have peculiarly complicated and complex perceptual fields, because we’ve refined our powers of communication and memory with language and technology.
But all those actions are mechanisms. They aren’t deterministic in the most strict sense, because organic responses are based on feedback loops – previous responses condition future responses. The feedback loop is the most rudimentary form of memory.
Even the simplest organisms perceive because their responses are actions – the movement of response itself originates internally and kicks off a feedback loop of the organism with its environment which couples them into a single dynamic field.
Add Bergson to the history I’ve strung together. Even if he might not have realized he’d become a member.