My apologies for my last entry, it was too disjointed and got too bogged down in the technical details (ironic, I know). Here is a rewrite:
Talking about flowing water in the last post in this series reminded me of this scene from Prince Caspian (starting from 1 minute 12 seconds into the video below):
Let’s imagine I witnessed these events in the flesh and described them to you like this:
A temporary and constantly changing arrangement of water molecules came sweeping down an open flow channel, interacted with and modified structures composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, calcium, iron and other trace elements, then carried them various distances downstream. It was amazing!
I’d expect you to look at me as if I was slightly insane. It may be a scientifically accurate description of the situation, and forms part of the physical and chemical foundation that enables the events depicted to occur, but I’m sure you’d agree it’s far from complete and misses the most significant point of what happened; it could just as easily describe a bunch of muddy twigs and leaves being washed down a small stream, or raw sewage heading for a water-treatment plant. The fact that concious entities are involved, acting, deciding, instilling and experiencing fear, rage, awe, living and dying, none of these things are even implied.
And yet there are people who think we need to explain reality, including the human condition, from the perspecive of the most basic physical forces, that the only type of truth allowed is scientific truth. The result of that is the nonsense above – technically accurate but very incomplete and utterly incapable of even adressing certain issues. Not every question is a scientific one.
The material aspect of our nature is a vital part of what we are and what we are capable of, but it is only one aspect. The watery creature in the video clip, the river god, is constantly taking in water from the main body of the river and expelling it, every molecule and atom in constant flux. Though it occurs much more slowly and much less obviously, our bodies are similar. Our bodies are 72% water, and basically all of that water is completely replaced every 16 days. 98% of the all of the atoms in our bodies are replaced in a year, and all of them in five years, even in the cells that are never replaced.
If materialism is true, then you are not even a collection of atoms, but a temporary, fragile and constantly changing arrangement of atoms. Also, about 30% of your body by weight isn’t even human, but belongs to the millions of bacteria that help us with all sorts of bodily functions, the bacterial cells in your body outnumber the human ones ten to one. That may sound revolting to begin with, but your body would not function nearly as well without them. You are a walking, talking ecosystem.
Despite all this, our minds don’t seem to function as a collection of components, there is a profound unity to our consciousness that is reflected in the holistic nature of our experences, as well as how we experience things like musical melodies, stories or even just complete sentences.
For example, take any medium-length sentence of say, twelve words, and tell twelve different people those twelve words, but only give them one word each. No matter how hard they think about their individual words, none of them will have the same understanding or experience as someone who heard the entire sentence. The words themselves make the meaning of the sentence possible, but without the context, the structure and relationships between the words, those individual building blocks lose all of their significance.
When we experience something, then we do not perceive the smell seperately from the sight, sound, texture and taste, pleasure, pain or accompanying emotion, we are counscious of all the aspects of the experience together. Although we are capable of focusing on one aspect more than the rest, and some sensations can prove more memorable than others in the long term, those other aspects are always there. When you detect a familiar smell, especially one you haven’t come across for a long time it will often trigger a range of memories, sensations and emotions from situations and profound experiences, like briefly peering through a wormhole into your past.
You are far more than the components that went into making you, far more than the teeming mass of bacteria that you house; you are a conscious entity capable of perceiving, investigating, comprehending and influencing the world and beyond, of deciding for yourself and even of contacting the divine. What will you do with this tremendous power and responsibility?
Some suggested further reading on the unity of consciousness:
On the remarkable replacement of atoms in our bodies:
Next in the series: The Joy of the Material and Immaterial