Where did human consciousness come from…do you have any thoughts?
(yes-that’s meant to be a joke)
I drove past a huge dairy the other day, and an odd thought popped into my mind (it had been there before). I wondered if any of those hundreds of cows were thinking about how to escape the daily grind of life, which is to wander around and lay down in their own filth and mud, eat, and get milked. Could any of them be thinking something like:
“If I could just find a way out of here-maybe develop some more muscle so I can jump over that fence-I would mooove down to Miami and build myself a nice little condo on the beach. Then I might start a business selling…milk or something, find the right bull-friend and settle down. I could do some painting (probably experiment with pointillism), read some Shakespeare, try my hand at tennis…”
As far as we can tell, none of them seem to have any such ambitions. They don’t form clubs or unions, they don’t sing in any orderly fashion, and they don’t smuggle pieces of wood and wire into the dairy to build tools of escape or betterment. Even when some determined or lucky creature escapes a zoo or some cruel and oppressive home or farm environment, it lives the rest of its existence as an animal, and not with any apparent plan or power of reason. The “chikins” are not organized (as in the great movie “Chicken Run”), ducks are not building IT infrastructures, and the wildebeest keep making the same kamikaze run through lion and crocodile territory every year. As real as the great Gary Larson is, his cartoon world is totally imaginary.
We could argue that some of the animals have it right and we are foolish: we’re the ones dying of stress-related diseases. We could also argue that animals have a level of consciousness and intelligence. But let’s face it, how many of us would sit on cold, wet water or mud all night and eat worms, slugs, bugs and weeds if we didn’t have to? Not many humans seem to be anxious to give up their “civilized” ways, their comforts, gadgets or tools, and not many of us would surrender our consciousness even if we could choose to.
So what makes us different from the animals?
One fairly standard example of the evolutionary explanation for human consciousness refers to the rise of upright posture (excuse the pun), and bipedal motion: the cows are at a disadvantage from the start. “As we know,” says the article, (since they have actual BBC videos of the events) “evolution started 7-8 million years ago in the African savannah.”
Seven million…eight million: what’s the difference? Somehow those numbers don’t seem to fit with the words “we know”.
The article continues to account for thought with the need for tools and the tool-brain relationship, better food intake from improved hunting making the brain larger (hey students-eat healthy and your brain will grow), a fortuitous occurrence of beneficial mutations improving the gene structure of the brain which “could have happened around 200,000 years ago” (none of them have been observed), and the advantage of sexual dominance which channeled the gene pool (another pun, sorry) in an upward evolutionary direction. Finally, “…the evolution of language was the basic condition of conscious thinking as a qualitative change, which fundamentally differentiates us from all other creatures” (1).
Other comments from evolutionary viewpoints are very illuminating. They demonstrate, for one thing, that the only “evidence” available is speculative and often contradictory. In one article by I. Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History the candid confession is made that while most who have accepted Darwinian theory have believed that consciousness evolved gradually with the human body (I don’t believe in physical evolution) by means of natural selection, the evidence points much more convincingly to a recent and sudden acquisition of consciousness:
“…the human fossil and archaeological records indicate that modern human symbolic consciousness is not the culmination of the long trend that natural selection would predict. Instead, it shows that major change in the human past has been episodic and rare and that, as far as can be determined from the archaeological record, the passage from nonsymbolic to symbolic cognition is a recent event as well as an unprecedented one. So recent, indeed, that it significantly postdates the acquisition of modern human anatomy as expressed in skeletal structure.”
With a different slant on human evolution, Princeton University psychologist Julian Jaynes wrote that ancient peoples could not think as we do today and were therefore “unconscious”. Only catastrophe forced mankind to “learn” consciousness, a product of human history and culture. He offered the idea that human consciousness did not begin far back in animal evolution but as one commentator summarized, is “a learned process brought into being out of an earlier hallucinatory mentality by cataclysm and catastrophe only 3000 years ago and still developing” (3)
This is more in line with the Biblical time frame for human consciousness, and it’s interesting to me that even in secular writings the acknowledgment is made that the first organized human civilizations began only a few thousand years ago.
THE ALIEN FRINGE
Other ideas on the origins of human thought, to my mind only slightly less fantastic, involve extraterrestrial life-forms. One theorist whose concepts were taught at a prominent US college and have been featured on TV, radio and in print claims that she watched an actual video of hundreds of alien craft simultaneously exiting and entering their mother ship. She has coined the term “exoconsciousness”, because she believes that our consciousness has extraterrestrial origins and is even now linked to the cosmos (4).
Numerous other “researchers” take the view that an extraterrestrial race bioengineered modern man (5). Even that man of cold, hard “reason”, Richard Dawkins, has entertained the idea that the evolution of life on earth from non-life could have been the result of extraterrestrial “seeding” (an hour and a half into the movie “Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed” by Ben Stein-see note 6). The logical question to ask is, “How did that extraterrestrial life-form evolve from nothing, especially given the fact that the universe is finite?” Creating a seeding life form does not solve the problem of the origin of the amazing complexity of life.
Theories, or should I say “hypotheses” abound. How can they all be “fact” since they are often so contradictory? The answer is that they cannot. But we are here, and we are intelligent: this all happened somehow…
There is another explanation which is far more logical and straightforward. The Bible explains that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). It also tells us that he “created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). This doesn’t mean that we’re all omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent: it means that we have been blessed with consciousness, with intelligence, with spirit, with the capacity to love, with an understanding of justice and righteousness, and with an appreciation for beauty and design and order. To detract from this, and to turn us into creatures from the slime, is to diminish and belittle the dignity of all of life… including cows.
2: (2) Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024, USA.