Is Consciousness Part of the Fabric of the Universe?

Whether or not the observer/observed duality occurs in some nonhuman animals is an interesting question (perhaps with no clear answer). Many mammals and birds can develop distinct personalities that are obviously conditioned through past memory - which would be the ground for any potential observer duality - but it is highly unlikely that this has developed anywhere near the extent that it has done in humans.

However, that animals apart from humans exhibit vigorous mental activity is not in dispute (for instance even chickens have REM sleep, some parrots are able recall hundreds of human words and even assess their meanings, chimpanzees can count and subtract, elephants show clear evidence of empathy for non-elephant species, etc).

So clearly a continuity of life across human and nonhuman animal species exists; meaning that everything we see in ordinary human beings - whether at the level of anatomy, chemistry, physiology, genes, and even psychology - can be shown to have its antecedents and predecessors in the animal kingdom.

However the essential point here is that the sensory systems of pain and pleasure in particular (which humans share with animals) are truly ancient.

While it is true that most animals are very stoic in their endurance of pain, and do not (usually) suffer from complex mental suffering that compounds physical pain in human beings, their physiology, nervous and sensory responses, are on a continuum with human pain and suffering.

Obviously the degree of sensation (of pain or pleasure) that may exist in fish or crustaceans is at the polar opposite end of the spectrum from that which exists in more advanced nervous systems like ours (or those of dogs, cats and chimpanzees). Perhaps a better word for the so-called ‘pain’ that a shrimp might possess would be disturbance, or at most vague shock or distress.

But basic anatomy, chemistry, physiology and genetics show a clear continuity in the phenomenon of animal sentience (i.e. of pain/pleasure) - and I would suggest that it is only anthropocentrism (or speciesism) that denies this.

As the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard has written,

“Asserting that animals do not have consciousness is nothing other than the continuation of the Christian and Cartesian idea according to which animals do not possess a soul.”

Douglas, based on the kinds of things you have shared in the past you seem to be someone who at least recognises the potential usefulness of the scientific method (as a model for achieving certain limited objectives). While science clearly cannot explain everything, it has its own resourcefulness and power.

The field of consciousness studies is a relative newcomer in the sciences, but neuroscience has been around for at least half a century now, so it may interest you to know that in 2012 - 11 years ago - a group of prominent neuroscientists (who convened for a conference on animal consciousness at Cambridge University) signed a well-known joint declaration concerning the existence of consciousness in nonhuman animals.

It states:

Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.

So for those who strongly object to animal sentience there is a responsibility to come up with equally strong counter evidence that animals are not sentient.

Yes I think science is great.
I think animals and plants react to their environments, some might even have emotions about themselves.
I think rocks can roll downhill.
That compassion is highly important, as is an understanding of ecology.

I hope that is helpful - also I think mantis shrimp (and their eyes and speculating on what they experience) are fascinating (and so are octopuses) I would not want to hurt any.

I suppose this is meant to be humorous? From the brevity and tenor of your reply I take it that you wish to drop the subject of animal sentience? That’s ok, I won’t pursue it anymore here - I oughtn’t assume an interest where this is not shared.

In relation to the OP the question of animal sentience (which I take as a given, though you may not) is that it is proof of how deeply sentience is embedded in the “fabric of the universe” - after all, if sentience is as widespread as cuttlefish and shrimp, then consciousness clearly matters to organic life. For me this is quite revealing about the world.

Let us go a step further: Is consciousness the primary stuff of the universe?

I would say that consciousness/mental and matter/physical are equally fundamental aspects of reality. But neither is primary. Primary is the underlying Mystery in which they inhere.

A lot of this comes down to the way we use these words.

For me the word ‘consciousness’ (as it is ordinarily used) implies at the minimum sentience (rather than mentality, which is simply a tool employed by sentient organisms); but this doesn’t mean that consciousness (or awareness) is limited to sentience.

Clearly sentience and matter are interdependent - without the physical senses the word ‘sentience’ has no meaning. But consciousness as awareness may not be reducible to matter (or the senses).

Krishnamurti distinguished between consciousness and awareness. By consciousness he meant psychological recognition. You recognise someone as your enemy. That is consciousness based on conditioned memory or past experience stored as psychological memory of thinker as word which is recognition. It involves observed image and observer recognising this. But it is all part of psyche or conditioning. It is unnatural as it is not fact but illusion.

Awareness is moment to moment, without psyche or thinker. It is silence. Silent or passive awareness or perception. It is unconditioned, natural being.

Silence is the true state of the universe.

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The worldview known usually as dual-aspect monism, which resonates sehr with me, sees the mental and the physical as two aspects of the non-dual ground that ‘lies beneath.’ (There are proponents who speak of the two aspects, which are essentially tied at the hip, as ‘phental.’) Mental here does not necessarily mean sentience, rather: “a wide range of phenomena related to consciousness, cognition, thought, and experience.”

I’m sympathetic to this view. It’s very similar to Bohm’s approach to mind and matter (or what he called signs-soma, or soma-signifance).