In A Guide for the Perplexed (1980:47), Schumacher postulated that man could be described by the following formula, namely: Man = Mineral (Matter) + Life + Consciousness + Self-awareness – his four Great Levels of Being.
Thus, according to Schumacher, we have:
- Plant = Mineral + Life
- Animal = Plant + Consciousness
- Human = Animal + Self-awareness
By self-awareness is usually meant the ability to perceive one’s own existence, including one’s own traits, feelings, beliefs, and behaviours – much like consciousness, but more introspective. In an epistemological sense, self-awareness is a personal understanding of the very core of one’s own identity. It is the basis for many other human traits, such as accountability and consciousness, and as such is often the subject of debate among philosophers.
The Wikipedia defines self-awareness as the ability to perceive one’s own existence, including one’s own traits, feelings, and behaviours. In an epistemological sense, self-awareness is a personal understanding of the very core of one’s own identity. It is the basis for many other human traits, such as accountability and consciousness, and as such is often the subject of debate among philosophers.
Itzhak Bentov in his book Stalking the Wild Pendulum (1988:84), mentioned a hierarchy of mineral, plant, animal, human, emotional, and spiritual entities. For Bentov the difference between the entities is the combination of the ‘quantity’ and ‘quality’ of consciousness that makes all the difference. He (1988:81) writes, “Out of this it appears that in Nature we have a spectrum of realities, each occupied by a population having a certain level of consciousness.”
I agree with Bentov that consciousness and self-awareness are not qualities that suddenly appear on the Chain of Being as Schumacher proposed, but rather are present right through the chain in different quantities and qualities of being.
I feel that Erich Schumacher’s hierarchy is somewhat simplistic because he left out a very important level, namely that of the cell. I will also later show that plants are most certainly conscious and therefore unquestionably possess consciousness! I therefore suggest the following hierarchy as a more realistic attempt, i.e.:
- Mineral or Inorganic Matter
- Cell = Mineral + Organic Life
- Plant = Cell + Instinctive Mind
- Animal = Plant + Intellect
- Human = Animal + Spiritual Mind
I further believe that Schumacher had his terminology awfully in disarray. Consciousness and self-awareness, like memory and the soul, are not stepping-stones up the four Great Levels of Being.
The structure and the associated information that is needed for a cell to develop into an organ, an organ system, and then into a complex organism is a huge step to make. Where does all this critical information comes from?
The hierarchy above is a major ingredient in my thesis for the anatomy and physiology of the human spirit that is to follow.
In the making of the physical and spiritual anatomy and physiology of a human from the level of a ‘simple’ atom, right up the ‘ladder of being’ to be part of a very complex biosphere comprises a number of enormous jumps. An even more comprehensive hierarchy will be the following, namely:
- Leptons and Hadrons*
- Organic Molecules
- Cells and Organelles
- Organ systems
- Populations (one species)
- Communities (different species)
- The Biosphere
Despite the enormous advances that have been made in our knowledge, some fundamental gaps remain; matter, life, and mind remain entirely, disparate phenomena. Our double mistake of abstraction and generalisation has thus led to a departure in our thought from the fluid procedure of nature as Bentov suggests. We desperately need to return to Gregory Bateson’s (Mind and Nature: a necessary unity, 1988) proposed ‘unity of mind and nature’.
Whatever Barbara Brown (Supermind: the Ultimate Energy, 1983) has said, the genesis of a ‘living’ cell from ‘dead’ atoms was truly a huge accomplishment of ‘nature’ as was the origin of complex life forms from single cells.
Life is in essence spirit and manifests physically in an organism through the soul and ‘evolution’ is essentially the progressive development of spirit towards perfection!
The sole purpose of organic life seems to be immortality through procreation – physical survival. The purpose of the soul is said to be evolvement and the ultimate union with Spirit; Spirit again strives towards supreme enlightenment.
I am ‘certain’ that spirit has no gender; it is androgynous, or hermaphrodite. However, what about the soul; does the soul have gender? We certainly know that the physical body of advanced organisms ‘can’ have sex.
If Spirit is the essence of the Creator and the Creator is immanent and transcendent, then everything in the universe is spirit and therefore has consciousness.
According to Itzhak Bentov in his book Stalking the Wild Pendulum (1988:77-92), consciousness can possibly even be measured or quantified in terms of quantity and quality.
Bentov writes, “Consciousness, for our purposes, can be defined as the capacity of a ‘system’ to respond to stimuli. When you are for example in a state of ‘unconsciousness’ you express very limited responses to stimuli.
“Suppose we stimulate an atom by applying ultraviolet light or other kinds of electromagnetic radiation to it. One or more of the electrons might be exited and respond by jumping into a higher orbit further away from the nucleus.
“When we remove the stimulus, these electrons may drop back into their previous orbits and emit photons of a certain energy or frequency in the process. By applying different stimuli, we shall elicit different responses from this system.
“Next let us take a virus and stimulate it. It will react with a number of different responses. If we take a bacterium and ‘tickle’ it, it will react with an even larger number of responses than the virus: it may ‘giggle’ or wriggle its flagellae, etc.
“The higher and the more complex the organism, the more varied and the more numerous the responses per stimulus. When we come to mammals, apes, and eventually humans, the number of possible responses grows rapidly. So let us call this number the quantity of consciousness.
“We may at first have trouble trying to visualise a rock or an atom as a living thing because we associate consciousness with ‘life’ as we understand the concept. However, this notion is most probably just a human constraint; a rock may also have serious difficulty in understanding human consciousness.
“At present we restrict the term ‘living being’ to organisms that can respond to stimuli, breathe, feed, grow, reproduce, and die, etc.”
Fire also has a number of different lifelike properties – fire needs ‘food’, it ‘responds’ to certain stimuli, it ‘breathes’ oxygen, and it ‘procreates, ‘grows’, and eventually dies. However, does fire consciously gathers information, or remember?
One can probably argue that fire has ‘spirit’, but I do not think for a moment that the same can be argued as far as a soul for fire is concerned! Life, or living organisms, is sometimes defined as entities that lower entropy in their vicinity – fire does not have this ability either. Nevertheless, ‘small fires’ burn or rust (metabolise) the inputs into our cells into useful outputs and waste products all the time.
Nevertheless, let us continue with Bentov’s thesis, “We can express the quality of consciousness in terms of frequency response. The higher the quality of consciousness, the higher the frequency-response ranges of the system. We can for example say that the human ear has a frequency response of between 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz.
“Human vision* also has a limited frequency response, as do all our senses. Thus, the ‘quality of consciousness’ describes the degree of refinement of such a response and its range. We can also call it the ‘intelligence level’ of the response.”
*… Visible light is electromagnetic radiation at wavelengths that the human eye can see. We perceive this radiation as colours ranging from red (longer wavelengths; ~700 nanometres) to violet (shorter wavelengths; ~400 nanometres).
Now the big questions; where does consciousness begin? Does it start at the level of the quark** (whatever this means) or leptons, the electron, the atom, the molecule, complex molecules (maybe organic molecules), cells, tissue, organs, organ systems, or organisms?
**… A Quark is any of a group of subatomic particles believed to be among the fundamental constituents of matter. In much the same way that protons and neutrons make up atomic nuclei, these particles themselves are thought to consist of quarks. (EB)
Furthermore, where does it stop, at the level of organisms, organisations, societies (or species), populations (human and otherwise), communities, ecosystems, the biosphere, or the planet (Gaia) in its entirety?
Do rocks have consciousness then? Well, maybe it is like temperature (analogous to intelligence) and heat (analogous to consciousness). We can then speculate that a very big rock has a lot of heat (consciousness) but a low temperature (intelligence).
Rock in geology is a naturally occurring and coherent aggregate of one or more minerals. Such aggregates constitute the basic unit of which the solid Earth is comprised and typically form recognisable and mappable volumes.
Rocks are commonly divided into three major classes according to the processes that resulted in their formation. These classes are:
- Igneous rocks, which have solidified from molten material called magma
- Sedimentary rocks, those consisting of fragments derived from pre-existing rocks or of materials precipitated from solutions
- Metamorphic rocks, which have been derived from either igneous or sedimentary rocks under conditions that caused changes in mineralogical composition, texture, and internal structure
These three classes, in turn, are subdivided into numerous groups and types because of various factors, the most important of which are chemical, mineralogical, and textural attributes. (EB)
Dr Philippa Uwins a geologist from Queensland University in Australia studying sandstone core samples from an oil exploration project off the West Australian coast, first discovered nanobes (nanomicrobes or nanobacteria) in 1996.
Nanobes are a group of organisms that have been discovered growing in some sandstone samples that came from outer Western Australia. The interesting thing about the nanobes is that they are in a size range (20 nanometre, or 20 x 10-9) that is argued, on a current understanding of biological theory, to be too small to exist as living entities.
Another interesting aspect of the nanobes is that they are in the same size range as the controversial Martian nanobe bacteria that were found in a meteorite from Antarctica some years ago. The debate was triggered in 1996 when NASA scientists in Houston reported the existence of fossil nano-organisms in a 4.5 billion-year-old (4.5 x 109), potato-sized Martian meteorite that crashed to Earth in Antarctica about 13 thousand years ago.
Remember that an iceberg has a lower temperature (measured in Kelvin) than a tub full of boiling hot water, but the iceberg has much more heat (measured in joule) than the boiling water in the tub. Thus, although the ‘intelligence’ of a huge rock formation might be much lower than that of a human just perhaps it has much, much more ‘consciousness’ according to Itzhak Bentov! Then think about the consciousness of Gaia (the Earth), or even Helios (the Sun).
Perhaps rocks can sense (is conscious of) heat and cold, light and dark, but most probably it has no sense of self (self-awareness).
The Wikipedia defines consciousness as ‘a quality of the mind generally regarded to comprise qualities such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and one’s environment’.
As was mentioned before, philosophers divide consciousness into phenomenal consciousness that is experience itself and access consciousness that is the processing of the things in experience.
When someone ‘dies’, what is really happening? Is it a case of the bigger consciousness (or mind, soul?) moving on and the lower consciousnesses then carrying on by themselves? What happens to consciousnesses when a cell divides? I really believe that the soul does have consciousness – it does possess mind!
How does ‘my consciousness’ interact with the ‘consciousnesses of one of my cells’? Where does the consciousness of the ‘Absolute’ fit into the whole scheme of things? What do we mean by personality in this sense? Maybe holography is the answer here.