Chapter Three. The Church's Three Denials.
"Our little life endeth in a sleep"
This life is a window of consciousness without which the
Universe and all that is in it would not exist.
There is a big piece of the picture missing and it has to be filled with a good sound generally accepted theory of consciousness and as yet there has not been one forthcoming. The number of candidates are from a wide spectrum. viz. Consciousness is a fundamental property of matter; or consciousness is a primary property of the universe; mind is a fundamental property . Everything is conscious, only some things are more conscious than others. Computers will eventually become conscious when they become complex enough.There is no one genius who has shown the way. We await a Copernicus or a Darwin. Maybe the answer is staring us in the face.
That the field is so open-minded seems right and proper. After all, if there is
one thing that is certain about consciousness studies, it is that we do not know the
answers. We do not know how to think about consciousness, how it relates to the
body, or how it might connect to anything beyond the body. We do not know if the
final theory of consciousness will look like a formula, a brain diagram, a sentence,
some combination of the three, or something entirely different. We do not
even know the correct questions to ask[Jensine Andresen & Robert Forman, Methodological
Pluralism in the Study of Religion (Volume 7, No.11/12)
Many believe that consciousness or the soul is a gift from God. This part of the paper is to where I have got to and how I understand it. It partly satisfies me. Consciousness can be traced back to the beginnings of life in the first simple bacteria and from there it has evolved by degrees.Core consciousness,or proprioception, is the ability of an animal to know its own body and its position, and kinesthesia, its movement. Crabs know not to eat their own legs. There is no learning process in this. Many animals, mammals and birds, can run within minutes of being born. So they know their own bodies. They don't have to think about it, or think about where each part of their body is They just know.I don't believe we are different from other animals in this respect. It all depends on the animal we are. Pigeons, birds of prey and sparrows have to be nurtured while, chickens and ducks must run right out of the egg to be saved from being eaten as do wildebeest, zebra and elephant. It does not necessarily have anything to do with intelligence.What has made our consciousness different is our long term memory, language and culture and knowledge, experience and our environment and genes. Unfortunate children who are born deaf, dumb and blind, without help would remain without a developed consciousness. Children brought up by animals, feral children remain without consciousness as we know it. Nature via Nurture built up from generation to generation. Our core consciousness has been scaffolded by language, culture, and experience. There is also the knowledge in our genes which is instinct.More and more information is coming forth. The new Evolutionary Psychology has a lot to say about it. It deals not with individuals but humans as a group.Our evolutionary past tells us why we act as we do. Its our instinct.We don't come with a blank slate as was once thought. All this has given us our consciousness/mind/soul.(depending weather a philosopher,scientist or religionists,) and the ability to know that we are aware and be aware that we are aware of ourselves as independent individuals. Reductionist science won't necessarily help here as the total will be far greater than the parts But there is still no place for the supernatural.
This next section is a paper I wrote trying to figure out the odds of anyone being born. It came about because I had been dealing with embryos and knew,and had the ability to divide them to produce twins.
2 The Impossible 'Me'
Having got to Homo sapiens we must look at three further aspects, all concerning this very unique ‘experiencing ‘me', this one only event, this 'me'.
2.1] Alvin Toffler  in ‘Future Shock’ discusses the effect of the Pellopenesian war, which was little more than a skirmish by modern standards, but had a profound effect on the history of Greece, Europe and eventually the whole world through
changing the movement of men, and the geographical distribution genes.
If one considers that 150 years ago the marriage of two of my ancestors had not taken place I would not exist, would never have existed or will ever exist in the future.
The effect of this marriage 150 years ago not taking place would have had a domino effect changing many partners in that generation and all their generations to come, resulting in thousands of different people. If such a changed pairing had happened a thousand years ago, the result would have been a different population in the whole of the United Kingdom and in the colonies.
It would appear preposterous that the whole of history would be different because of one altered pairing a thousand years ago. Would this have changed the history of the world? All the population would consist of different people, but the gene pool would remain essentially the same.
2.2] If I was to take a ticket in a lottery with a one in a million chance of winning I would not think I had much chance at all, and wouldn’t hang around to see the result, yet at my conception there were approximately 300 million sperm and 400000 eggs to choose from so that the chances of me being born were about one in 10 14, very remote indeed, in fact impossible. Yet I am here. Roberts[personal communication] puts it another way. ‘The human genome contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, with approximately three billion nucleotides; the odds against the appearance of a specific chain of nucleotides in a typical human being is left as an exercise for the reader(of course the chain length is not specified in advance, we are left with the unfortunate problem of handling an infinitely large quantity of possible chains)'. Yet I am here. Once this chance meeting of sperm and egg had passed, the opportunity would never occur again, not like the numbers in a lottery when there is always a chance of them coming up again. No second chance here. With these infinite numbers the chance of ‘me’ being born would be impossible. Yet I am here.
I call myself ‘the impossible me’. I can understand that some must be born but not me. As far as I know this is the only time I have existed. This 'me' if it is the only time it has occurred, had but this one chance. I am the result of one sperm and one egg getting together in the whole of unwritten and written history of mankind, and I am living in the present, and at the beginning of the third millennium. When an egg and sperm get together it will of course result in a human being, and of course if the sperm and egg were to get together at a certain time, a body and brain, followed by a mind would come into being. But why should it be' me'?
2.3] Now to muddy the water a bit, we have this unique embryo which is to be me, with all the improbable chances and all the possible twists and turns in just the last 10000 years or 400 generations, where one tiny mistake would change everything
forever after. This pre-embryo which is to be me, starts off as one cell but will increase to about 120 undifferentiated cells in a few days, at which time they start forming the various parts of the body. Certain cells will be destined to form the heart, the brain, the skeletal system and so on. My sex however was determined at fertilization. Under the right conditions, theoretically at least, each of these 120 undifferentiated cells could develop into 120 identical embryos with identical DNA, and if implanted into surrogate mothers, into 120 genetically identical humans.
Now if when I was such an embryo my mother for some bizarre reason had wanted 120 of 'me', which one would have been me? Probably none at all.
Of course maybe the cell that had originally been designated to become my brain would have been me, but then why should the other cells have been able to develop into other identical beings, but yet not be 'me'. Each one would be born into this world genetically identical but being different perhaps because of differences in the uterine environment. From then on differences would appear because of unequal cultural and other environmental factors. Each having his own conscious awareness, each growing up with different memories and experiences. If none of those embryos had been me I would never have existed, the moment for my coming into being would have been destroyed never to return again. This is part of the lottery of life.
There is the case of Patty who had a small accident and permanently lost her memory. Her brain was otherwise undamaged. She felt fine but had severe amnesia. Her amnesia is retrograde. She has no difficulty remembering events after the accident but can remember nothing from before. Patty had to relearn everything including language She had to reinvent herself, even her personality changed she had to learn everything from scratch and the new Patty was a different person with a different self, the other lost inside her somewhere. She knew nothing about racism, she hated bananas before, now she loves them. She had her entire brain but lost her self. (National Geographic. June 1995.)
Francis Crick of DNA fame says 'you your joys and your sorrows,your memories and your ambitions,your sense of personal identity and free will, are no more that the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells. Communication between these nerve cells occur via chemical reactions and transfer via chemical energy. Emotions are neuropeptides attaching to receptors and stimulating an electrical charge on neurons. Joy, grief and love are all biochemical says Candice Pert. (National Geographic. June 1995.)
That we are special there is no doubt. That we have come into existence would seem to be a miracle. That others are born seems to be no problem, but that " I " have been born is a problem considering the improbability of it all with the infinite chance from the beginning of time. I have no problem with any one of the six billion people on earth being born, that is what I would expect. People get born and come into existence. I am sure that none of the six billion people would experience any surprise that I have been born even if I do, so that's six billion to one which makes the odds in my being born seem a little less surprising. And what if there were an infinite number of people on earth who would not be surprised?. The chances of any other particular person being born has the same impossible odds. We have all the same impossible odds. Everything in the Universe is measured in infinitely large numbers. The distances to the nearest star, to the middle of the milky way are in unimaginably large distances. The numbers of galaxies in the Universe are counted in billions and each galaxy has billions of stars. The
numbers of cells in the human body, and the numbers of bases in our DNA are measured in billions. So we have no way of knowing how great the odds really are as measured against other odds.
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most
people are never going to die because they are never going to be
born. The potential people who could have been standing in my
place but who will never see the light of day outnumber the sand
grains of Sahara -- more, the atoms in the universe. Certainly
those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Donne, greater
scientists than Newton, greater composers than Beethoven. We
know this because the set of possible people allowed by our
DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the
teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I that are privileged to
be here, privileged with eyes to see where we are and brains to
wonder why. [Richard Dawkins]
One change say 65 million years ago all would be different. Every creature on earth would be different. So we have this problem with infinity, we can't grasp it, therefore we assume that there is something supernatural about it all. We just have to accept that we were lucky and if we weren't we wouldn't know, all would be nothing. We had this one chance in eternity and we took it, thank you.The scary thing is that your number can come up but once and if missed it will never come up again, unlike Lotto. An embryo when divided under the microscope will become two different people. The one that it would originally have become will then not ever be.
If there is an acceptable theory of consciousness it will be found in genetics. It will be found by
comparing the human genome with that of the Benobo chimpanzee and perhaps other animals. It will be possible to pin it down to the gene level. Not one gene of course but a whole raft of genes on different chromosomes., but you will see that the genes for this consciousness will have to be switched on by nurture, most probably our language and culture. So to repeat what Matt Ridley, referring to the Human Genome Project,. has so enthusiastically said' It will revolutionalise anthropology, psychology, medicine, palaeontology and virtually every other science'.... 'In a few short years we will have moved from knowing almost nothing about our genes to knowing everything'.
A minister of religion said to me that you can clone a person but you cannot clone the soul If a solution to the problem of our consciousness is found it will become the Church's third denial and on it will not be able to come to terms with in any way or any more than evolution by natural selection.. It will not accept the findings of Science. I do not know if a theory of consciousness will fit into Darwin's picture or just maybe Darwin's Picture will have to fit inside a theory of consciousness but an acceptable theory will be found..
Our ancestors worshiped nature, the sun, the earth the sea, animals or their ancestors, feeling that they were at one. We have strayed a long way from there. Lovelock who is no slouch, he has advised NASA about the possibility of life on Mars, has written extensively on our earth being a living organism. He may or may not be technically correct but it depends on the way life is defined. Lynn Margulis supports this idea. In her book 'What is Life', Lynn Margulis who was married to Carl Sagan, and it was said that "the greatest contribution to science that Sagan made was persuading Lynn to do Biology instead of English",
advocates another dimension, by placing a lot of emphasis on symbiosis. Symbiosis is the way species evolve together so that both benefit from the arrangement. Just like bees and flowers both gain by their co-operation.. Margulis maintains therefore that animals and plants work together to get the best result, and the" suggestion is that life, not just human life, is free to act and has played an unexpectedly large part in its own evolution." while the Darwin tradition emphasized competition far more than co-operation. Nevertheless natural selection would then select those that cooperate the best.
In the beginning 4.6 billion years ago the earth was a hostile planet with an atmosphere of carbon dioxide. When it cooled off sufficiently, some how , and we may never know how, life began. In the primeval soup there were all the elements for life, perhaps already many amino acids naturally occurred, phosphoric acid and who knows what else. Perhaps natural selection has always been a fundamental property of the universe and so began the replication of the first signs of life, and eventually the blue green bacteria that changed the whole character of the earth.. It began with the long process of oxidizing the earth, the rocks and all the elements and eventually leading to an oxygen rich atmosphere. The earth was not there just waiting for living organisms to evolve. It was life itself that created the earth's surface as we know it today and made it more suitable. The blue green bacteria were the true pioneers that created a world and made it what it is.
This is why so many of us see God in Nature. Our spirituality has been part of the evolutionary process. It has always been part of life so perhaps our ancestors were closer to the truth and the religions have usurped this characteristic for their own ends. By teaching that we are the pinnacle of God's creation and have dominion over the whole earth, and that we were to exploit the resources for our own ends has done great harm to our relationship with the earth. We evolved from the first bacteria that created the earth's more friendly environment, those same genes of those very same bacteria are still with us and in us.The same energy conversion from the sun to adenisine tri phosphate is still with us and the very ingredients needed to create our life. We are part of them and they part of us. Right from the very beginning there has been a symbiotic relationship with the environment which includes all organic life and the material earth, so we can talk about the living earth of which we are a part. Just as Bruno "could not conceive that God and nature could be separate and distinct entities as taught by Genesis, as taught by the Church and as even taught by Aristotle".
Let Darwin have the final say.
There is grandure in this view of life,with its sever powers, having been breathed into a few
forms or into one: and that, whilst this planet has gone on cycling on according to the fixed
law of gravity,from so simple a beginning endless' forms most beautiful and most wonderful
have been,and are being evolved.
[ Darwin's first edition, -conclusions]
Richard Tarnas The Passion of the Western Mind.
Fred Hoyle. Nicolas Copernicus, an Essay on his Life and Work 1973.
Portugal and Cohen The History of DNA
Sayre, April Pulley Rosalind Franklin and Dna
Janet Browne Charles Darwin, Voyageing
Charles Darwin, The Power of Place 2003
Steve Olson. Mapping Human History, discovering the past through our genes.
Martin Brookes. Fly : the unsung hero of twentieth-century science /2002
1st ed. London [England] : Phoenix, 2001. Held at: Hastings - Adult Non Fiction - 576.5 BRO
Kevin Davies. The Sequence : inside the race for the human genome /
London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001.
Matt Ridley Nature via Nurture, genes,experience what makes us human 2003
Matt Ridley Genome
Greg Nixon -- Excavating the Cultural Construction of Personhood Prescott College
Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, Department of Philosophy, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA. Email:
firstname.lastname@example.org CONSCIOUSNESS: A NATURAL HISTORY* Journal of Consciousness Studies, 5, No.3,
1998, pp. 260-94
Steven Pinker. The Blank Slate
Alvin Toffler  in ‘Future Shock
Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan. What is Life 1995
Carl Zimmer, Stephen Jay Gould, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea. Hutton 2001