Letter to the editor

Some reflections on Dhanjoo Ghista’s and Michael Towsey’s “Consciousness, Cosmology and Evolution” (published in Gk Network Issue 34)
by Henk de Weijer

In order to explain a specific view on a subject it is important to define it and establish its relation with already existing views. In the above-mentioned article of Ac. Dhanjoo Ghista and Michael Towsey such essential definitions and explanations are lacking. One example is the word ‘consciousness’. I have to admit though, that Sigmund Freud would not agree with me. He was satisfied with little: “What is meant by consciousness we need not discuss – it is beyond all doubt.” [1]

However, contemporary science does take a great interest in consciousness. It accepts its existence but, as a consequence of its paradigm that everything can and needs to be explained in terms of energy, it is only willing to see consciousness as an emergent property of activities in the neural network of the brain. Thus, definitions of consciousness are restricted to the state of awareness of itself, of the self in a human body and of external objects.

A fundamental question within this paradigm is: ‘How does consciousness arise in human and other living beings?’ Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff propose that consciousness is produced in microtubules.[2] Microtubules are components of the cytoskeleton –scaffolding – of cells, including neurons. Tubulins are the proteins that compose the microtubules; they are cylindrical polymers, about 25 micrometers long. Through quantum tunneling and quantum state reductions at Planck scale, cascades of events are understood to present a “stream of consciousness.” Accordingly, awareness need not be restricted to human beings, since microtubules also are present, although less stable, in amoebae, bacteria and plant cells. The state of conscious awareness however, is thought to be limited to human beings.

Despite their efforts to gain clarity, fundamental questions remain: is consciousness generated in this process or is it passed on from empty space to tubulins and further? The human brain contains not less than 1015 tubulins. What coordinates the observations of all these tubulins and microtubules? Moreover, the hard problem[3] of neurology remains: how can for instance a desire arise from seeing a beautiful interior or inspiration from reading a book? Is the brain the master and the self the emissary or the other way round? Or:  sometimes lower minds and sometimes the overall mind? Does the brain itself also have lower and an overall mind? [4] Penrose and Hameroff limit consciousness to awareness, a relatively passive action. What explains the emergence of intelligence, creativity and the skill of coordinated, adequate action? What is their relation with atoms, molecules, viruses, amoebae, protozoa and plant cells? How did these fundamental units and their subtle properties develop in the course of evolution? What is mind and what is its relation with conscious or unconscious awareness, with consciousness itself? Are cells, simple animals, plants and trees aware; do they have a mind? [5] Certainly they are aware, but whether they possess a feeling of identity and self-conscious awareness, remains an open question. Did their mind, if they have one, evolve[6]  gradually or in quanta, in jumps? Does evolution have a final cause, as Darwin understood for twenty years, [7] or not?

The restrictions of conventional science limit the freedom to search in all thinkable directions. But other ontologies, with new horizons, exist. According to Shri Adi Shankara, (788-820) clay is metamorphosed into a pot when it is supervised and molded by a potter. Unconscious prakrti cannot produce the world with a particular arrangement, order and harmony, without being supervised by an intelligent principle.[8] Shri P.R. Sarkar (1921-1990) explains that Purusa (Consciousness) is the material and the first efficient cause, while Prakrti (Energy) is the linking force between the material and the first efficient cause.[9]

Both these two philosophies allow for a completely different approach regarding the position of consciousness, energy, mass and matter[10]  in biological life. Biological life rests on the laws of physics, but is always searching for possibilities to go beyond them and utilize its observational, intelligent and creative skill. In other words, the mass of matter mechanically acts in accordance with the four laws of physics, while biological structures act organically, as autonomous, intelligent and cognitive systems.

How can the authors try to explain the enigma of evolution [11] without including the nature of nature, the bipolarity [12] of energy and consciousness?[13] Whether energy and consciousness are subordinate or coordinate makes an essential difference in any approach to discover the position of consciousness in biological systems, their emergence and evolution. Without defining and weighing the characteristics of all possible ontologies, and subsequently making a choice, it is not possible to come forward with a new and progressive theory.

[1] http://www.consciousentities.com/definitions.htm

[2] http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/penrose-hameroff/quantumcomputation.html

[3] A term introduced by David Chalmers during the first conference “Towards a new science of Consciousness” in 1994 in Tuscon. The hard problem is the problem how qualia, phenomenal experiences, arise from absorbed information.

[4] 11. Henk de Weijer, 2011, The origin of physical and biological forms, (Part 11). BOMRIM, Vol. 3, No 2.

[5] Petra Stoerig, 2006 in Conversations on Consciousness, Susan Blackmore, p220. Oxford University Press, New York.

[6] Ken Wilber,1999. The marriage of sense and soul. Random House, New York. “Fichte was thus one of the very first to introduce…. the notion of development (or evolution).” [of consciousness, HdW]

[7] http://home.uchicago.edu/~rjr6/articles/Darwinian%20Metaphysics.pdf

[8] Jadunath Sinha, 2006, Indian philosophy, volume 11. Motilal Benarsidas Publishers private limited, Delhi.

[9] Shri P.R. Sarkar,1967, Ananda Sutram. AMPS,  Ananda Nagar.

[10] Definitions and in depth explanations of these and other terms needs the space of a separate article.

[11] Dr A.K. Mohanty, 1998. Call of the Messiah, p240. Renaissance Universal, Calcutta i.c.w. Elite Publications, Bhubaneswar.

[12] Henk de Weijer, 2011, The origin of physical and biological forms, (Part 1). BOMRIM, Vol. 3, No 1.

[13] Michael.B. Towsey, 1986.Eternal Dance of Macrocosm,p3. Proutist Publications, Copenhagen.“Consciousness and Prakrti are the dual and inseparable aspects of the One Entity, Brahma.”