The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"


The US philosopher Guy Murchie was perhaps the first to advance the notion that super-organisms are pervasive in nature. The term was introduced in 1876 by the British philosopher Herbert Spencer, and in the 1920s applied to societies of insects by the US myrmecologist William Morton Wheeler.

Inspired by Wheeler, Murchie showed that groups sometimes behave like individual organisms: who runs an ant colony? how do ants decide to move their nest somewhere else? It is the interaction among the individuals: some ants carry eggs and food to the new nest, some ants carry them back, and eventually one of the two competing population prevails (in a sense, "natural selection" decides whether and where the nest moves); bees of a beehive communicate (at least as far as directing their fellow bees to food) with a language which is made of dance steps (including sounds and smells); furthermore, honey bees fan their wings to maintain a constant temperature within the beehive, the same way an organism's parts cooperate to keep the organism within the narrow range of temperature that allows for its survival.

An ant colony or a beehive behaves like an organism with its own mind: a beehive metabolizes, has a cognitive life (makes decisions), acts (it can move, attack) and so forth.

In this scenario, language can be viewed from a different perspective, as the mechanism that allows for the organism to be one.

Murchie envisions the entire Earth as an organism which uses as food the heat of the  sun, breathes, metabolizes, and its cognition is made of many tiny parts (organisms) that communicate, exchange energy, interact.  All living organisms, along with all the minerals on the surface of the Earth, compose one giant integrated system that, as a whole, controls its behavior so as to survive.

And so do galaxies. After all, we are made of stardust.

Life is inherent in nature. Murchie describes sand dunes, glaciers and fires as living organisms, the life of metals and crystals.

The question is not whether there is life outside our planet, but whether it is possible to have "non-life".

Then Murchie shows that properties of mind are not exclusive to humans. Memory is ubiquitous in nature. For example, energy conservation is a form of memory (an elastic band remembers how much energy was put into stretching it and eventually goes back to the original position). The laws of Physics describe the social life of particles.  Electrons obey social laws that we decided are physical laws instead of biological laws thereby granting their behavior a different status from the behavior of bees. But this is an arbitrary decision. Mind can be viewed as a universal aspect of life and energy.

Murchie believes there is one huge mind, the "thinking layer" around the Earth, which corresponds to the "noosphere", a concept introduced by the French paleontololist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin ("Hominization", 1925).. Individual “consciousnesses” are absorbed into the superconsciousness of a social group, which is part of a superconsciousness of the world. In Murchie's opinion, the world has a soul, an analogous of the Pythagoreans' "anima mundi" and of the Hindus' “atman”.


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