Is consciousness a product of the way our brains are wired? Or, is our brain a receiver of a greater consciousness? Is consciousness simply a by-product of evolution? Does a dog have a conscious level? Does a reptile? How about a tree? Alternatively, is our brain simply a more advanced receiver of something greater? Is the purpose of evolution of improve the receiver? As computers continue to advance will a computer eventually receive this consciousness? If it does happen, will a computer be considered “alive?” What about subconscious and unconscious thought processes? Will a computer need to dream?
We’re moving into a new phase of our relationship with computers. Gone are the days of simple automation of menial physical tasks. Even knowledge workers are finding themselves displaced by computer algorithms. Anyone in financial services knows how trading and portfolio management have evolved to displace knowledge workers. Apparently the new phase will be about computer augmentation of human tasks. Essentially the argument is using machines to deepen the abilities of humans. But, what does that mean about where we are headed? Will we be permanently wired into computer networks? (My daughters seem to be headed that way at times) Will one day computers write blogs about the latest developments in nanotechnology? Perhaps. Will they write novels? Hard to rule out completely.
Rolling the clock forward a few millennia (I like to take a long, long term approach), we may find a world in which computers (call them silicon life forms) and traditional humans (call them organic) look and act quite similar. Maybe they even have equal “life” rights under the laws of the galaxy. Now what? Are humans obsolete? Kicked to the curb with a cup in our blistered hands hoping some benevolent silicon life form throws its unneeded piece of nourishment towards us? Worse, some Terminator-like future in which we are actively battling one another for supremacy?
These become deep questions. What is life? What is the essence of humanity? If humanity is about processing information and collecting objects, well then I don’t see much difference between silicon life and organic. In fact, if our essence is simply internal circuitry that drives us to collect and manage objects then we’re likely going to compete more and more with silicon life forms as they become more adept at, well, that definition of “living.”
The management of objects by both organic and silicon life form could be termed the “super conscious.” Silicon augments organic capabilities, such as improved information sharing and more rapid processing capabilities. Already our organic thoughts are shared immediately with the world when we post ideas on social networks. Silicon enables improved communication and processing, and humanity is better off as coordination of ideas improves. Organic life argues it is the creative side, like a right-left brain breakdown. But, will creativity eventually become the realm of computers as well? If so, what then? If not, why not?
Let’s take a different approach. Does this movement towards the super conscious pull us away from our organic essence? From our creative source? Which is what exactly? Better wiring? Or, is that something a connection to something greater? Maybe the augmentation enhances our connection to our creative source. I’m certainly not arguing we should go back to the woods and shun all electronic devices. I’m just saying are we not spending enough time understanding another network or sorts? One that defines us and has brought us to our current level. Call this the “supra conscious” and puts our brain as either the creator of it or a receiver of it.
The supra conscious, or collective consciousness among life, is not a new idea or even without scientific underpinnings from quantum theory. Many spiritual leaders believe in it. Think of it as we are all connected to something greater. A spiritual side if that resonates, another dimension for the cosmologists in the audience, entanglement for the particle physicists, a collective subconscious for the psychologists.
The Super versus Supra Consciousness tension is central to the novel Evolved. Two paths to save humanity. One rooted firmly in observation, testing and science; the other a more difficult uncharted and almost forgotten inner path. How Amos, the protagonist, handles this choice determines the fate of humanity.
These questions may help us understand ourselves a little better. It has helped me.