Thursday, August 23, 2007

Self-Conscious Amoebas

Knowing little about the science, but enough to understand its implications, I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that there is no free will, nor much less any individuality arising out of it. Yet I rebel at the thought that we are only distinctively self-conscious.

Everything we always attributed to the "soul," the "spirit" and that idealized thoracic muscle that beats faster when we see an attractive specimen of the opposite sex -- all that amounts to complex biochemical interactions in the brain. We are as "instinctive" as animals, responding to social conditioning and evolved genetic predispositions, as well as the immediate environment.

Self-consciousness does not seem redeeming enough. How do we know that animals aren't also self-conscious in their own way? All we know is that we are hardy, violent, we reproduce in astonishing numbers and we manage to infest any environment we colonize.

Sometimes I even wonder if we're not really bacteria in some galactic-scale organism. We might even be a cancer of sorts in some gigantic being's body or the agents of murder being sought by some humongous crime scene investigators.

I know and wonder about all this, but I don't feel it.

I remain as anthropocentric as ever, blogging about what I am thinking as if my thoughts, or the form of their expression (which is what copyright law protects), were so worthwhile as if to justify burning in minutes the remains of dinosaurs and glacial ages, that took millions of years to become coal and gas, into vast electricity generation plants, so that a server somewhere (in New York?) can allow me to create the electromagnetic impulses that configure into symbols of written language when seen by the human eye. Here I pause ... forcing the gigantic humming network to await my next word.

This is very important! These are my thoughts!

Yet in a blink of an eye I will be gone, soon enough forgotten, all trace of my existence likely erased from the face of the Earth, assuming the planet as we know it even continues to exist.

What is all this growing, striving, reproducing, aging and dying for? Only a hungry stomach, the pull of a selfish gene that commands me to feed myself, makes me get up for work, to earn the value-tokens that will allow me to buy carcasses of animals and plants that others have slaughtered, sliced and diced to suit the tastes I have developed through a complex of nature, nurture and happenstance. (Not to mention advertising.)

Sure, I like my work and my job. Really.

All told I am remarkably fortunate among the 6 billion specimens of my species. I have food, clothing, shelter and amusements far beyond what easily the 2 billion poorest people would find utterly unimaginable.

Among the tiny fraction of university educated people -- no more than roughly 25 percent even in the United States graduate from a four-year college -- I am fortunate enough to be one of the few who captains his own company. Even though I am merely a thousandaire, I have unspeakable unmerited freedom in the way I earn my bread.

Yet again, all this for what? To avoid pain? Point taken. Then what?

The only thing that comes to mind is what Aristotle found distinctive about humans. Maybe we live to enjoy our own laughter.
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