By Promod Puri
What is the difference between you, me and a spoon, a table, a stone, or any object or a thing? Both are physical matters. But we have consciousness others don’t. Or maybe they have it which we don’t sense. Anyway, that is what distinguishes you and me, and the “non-consciousness” objects.
How is this distinction through consciousness created which directs the nature of physical matter to make it a mindful entity?
There are two theories.
However, before we approach these concepts let us define or get a practical understanding of consciousness.
According to Wikipedia consciousness is an “inward awareness of an external object, state, or fact,” and these could include perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. The key words are “inward awareness” suggesting it is already present. The dictionary explanation says, “full activity of the mind and senses.” In that activity, the knowledge gained through external or inherent factors stimulate the development of a conscious mind. Consciousness is both a biological and psychological phenomenon which correlate with each other.
Now back to the theories:
The first one is called dualism where consciousness is an import from an unknown source which plugs into the physical matter to make it conscious. That suggests consciousness is separate and independent from the physical matter. But together they make a dual entity.
In dualism, the independent nature of consciousness is unseen. And its source is unknown unless the divinity factor is contemplated giving soul to the object such as humans or animals. The moment the object is unplugged consciousness disappears or might be expired.
In the second theory, consciousness is already a built-in occurrence in the constituents of a matter. That means every single particle, even the tiniest one, has an inherent awareness caused by consciousness. But the residing of consciousness in them is a very basic or simple structure. The latter is so elementary that it can’t be imagined as consciousness.
It is only when these particles come together thru some complex process, which may include neurochemistry, that together they constitute the realized consciousness such as human instinct.
Consciousness is thus created out of dormant or “non-conscious” materials present in physical matter. The materials are the small fragments of an object or its composing molecules along with their atomic and sub-atomic particles. This theory is called materialism; meaning created out of materials.
However, believing all things have conscious quality, the term materialism has been replaced and is widely known and accepted as panpsychism. It is derived from two Greek words “pan” meaning “all,” and psyche means soul or mind. Nonetheless, to meet human conclusion panpsychism involves the construction of consciousness to the level when it can be humanly realized.
At what stage the aggregation of “conscious” materials, from a human perspective, is ready to be called or felt like a conscious object? As humans are limited in their perception, consciousness can develop and complete its process to form its own system which under human observation is not noticed. In that respect, consciousness may already be dwelling in a spoon, a table, a stone, etc.
Or the particles may never combine to create the conscious system. Still, these are plugged forever in their own individual conscious orders. If that is acceptable, then the panpsychism does merge with the dualistic concept as there exists duality of consciousness and matter.
The dualism theory is secured because it has the support of the widely believed existence of some divine utility responsible for supplying the power of consciousness. On the other hand, panpsychism offers some rational assumption based on metaphysics in its understanding.
In panpsychism, the particles are already “divined” as part of the whole with the concept that the entire universe is one whole conscious body. And the whole is represented by individual physical parts like mountains, rocks, trees, humans, animals and other seen or unseen matters down to the atomic and subatomic levels.
The universe in its continuum is a conscious body of conscious parts, no matter how tiny or big they are. When the whole is conscious, its parts are conscious too, just like a human body. When it is alive, every organ of it is live as well. There are minds in the universal mind.
The ideological value of panpsychism lies with the conception everything existing in the universe has consciousness. It can be inherent or created internally or by an external source. And all the constituents of the universe are fundamentally connected with each other as being contained in one big whole.
The connectivity concept gets ardent support from the Upanishadic wisdom in Hinduism. The unique mantra of Om purnam adah talks about the totality of the universe and the togetherness of its composing constituents. The trees, the mountains, the people, the birds, the stars, howsoever far away they may appear, but they are all associated.
In this connectivity, the two theories of consciousness do meet in their divine orders.
(Promod Puri is a journalist, writer of human interest, politics and religious topics, and author of Hinduism Beyond Rituals, Customs And Traditions).