LIFE AND CONSCIOUSNESS
Many of you out there rest serene in your knowledge of life’s mysteries, and of the blessings that await you when you serve out your stint here, so it pains me that I am so ignorant. Quantum physicists tell me it has been proven that, in the microscopic world, any two particles that have ever interacted are forever entwined no matter how far they have drifted apart. But, our macroscopic world is made up of the microscopic so are we all one? That might explain the nagging fear I have had for much of my life, especially when I was dropping bombs, that what I do to others I do to myself.
With frequent cell replacement except, perhaps, for the cerebral cortex, why can I remember back through so many of Me to age 4? Decades of research allow me to name 136 of my ancestors back to 1570, but I only remember 5 of them even though parts of all 136, and many more, have made Me what I am. I do not remember volunteering, so why was I drafted to join this human species? Also drafted, with staggered reporting dates, were the hundreds of trillions of quarks, atoms, molecules, and the like, born in the furnaces of suns, and forced to submit to a strict DNA code to fashion for a brief segment of Time, the edifice for what I call Me? And it took about 4 years of building this edifice before I knew Me was Me. But, where in this immense conglomeration does the essence of Me reside? Why am I so clumsy learning to use these neural pathways? Now, when I feel that Me is a working unit, why does Decay insert its ugly presence? Why do I not know whom I really am and why? If I am immortal, what is my format - pleasant or unpleasant? Why, when I look in a mirror, do I refuse to admit that the apparition staring back at me is really me. Is there any Free Will in all this? Has the limited knowledge I have acquired helped at all?
Trillions of trillions of other molecules had to assemble to make the rest of my world. Some of these assemblages I like very much and are spread among many species. Some, especially humans, I find revolting because of their cruelties to others. All, however, are condemned to a brief existence - unless, of course, we have the concept of Time all wrong.
Gaia, a delightful hypothesis evolved in the 1960s to argue that our world is a living entity that continually reacts against adversities to protect life. I found comfort in that. Alas, digging deeper, I learn that Life is, strangely, very anti-life. For starters, consider our own species. Factors, including greed, a sense of glory, sex, and over-population have resulted in humans killing other humans, along with huge quantities of other life forms, and making survivors suffer terribly. In the 20th century alone, some 190 million humans were killed by other humans. Yet, group violence goes back only 7,000 years, most humans abhor violence, and 74 peaceful cultures existed for long periods. Nature, composed of similar atoms, appears completely indifferent to living things, even though it often suffers from them.
For billions of years this planet has had a chemical imbalance, enhanced by volcanic activity, that promotes life but heartlessly discards species. Our planet, some 4 billion years ago (bya) was sterile and will return to that state in another billion years. Life here commenced 3.8 bya and has less than a billion years left. Life had a mere 100 million years before microbes became so numerous that they nearly destroyed all life with the methane they blindly belched.
Then, about 2.5 bya, photosynthesis evolved permitting plants to convert CO2 into sugars. But, over 200 million years, well-meaning-but-ignorant plants sucked up so much CO2 that the earth was plunged into a deep freeze where even the oceans froze for 100 million years. Recovery was gradual but 700 mya the same mistake was repeated. Once more it was a slow recovery but 360 mya the process started all over again, giving us a 50-million-year ice age. Ignorant Life continued on a very treacherous road. Plants, in absorbing CO2, gave off Oxygen that was deadly to most living things at the time. Had it not been for microbes evolving to tolerate oxygen we would not be here.
Since animals evolved 560 mya, there have been five major and a dozen minor mass extinctions. A few have been caused by non-life culprits such as asteroids and volcanoes but the majority were due to life itself such as blooms of bacteria giving off poisonous H2S. These bacteria thrive during periods of stagnant seas due to global warming.
Not to be outdone by bacteria, humans entered the equation some time ago by multiplying to the extent that their combined interference with vital balances are causing a growing list of mass exterminations. Intelligence still lacking.
Fortunately, if it is not already too late, some humans have evolved an understanding of causes and of the overall picture. They have given us plenty of explanations and warnings which, to date, the majority of humans, happy with their bloated life styles, have either ignored or passed on to the next generation.
While humans, by taking actions, could prolong a life-tolerant environment, Nature is moving relentlessly against us. Our sun has increased 30% in brightness over 4.5 billion years and this will continue, thus accelerating the weathering of silicates removing ever more CO2 so that, 500 million years from now, photosynthesis will be impossible, curtailing the production of oxygen. The loss of plants will increase CO2 so much so that our surface temperature will exceed the boiling point of water. Life, it appears, like so many of us, is now in its old age. In spite of aches and pains, Life is still considered precious by those of us who long to understand and prolong it. Giant strides have been, and are being made, but at a pace too slow for my generation to benefit. A sense of humour does help in mitigating qualms
So, what is left for us? We have observed, in various animal, insect, and plant species, tolerance, and even compassion, for other life forms as well as for members of the same species. Should not Tolerance and Compassion be our companions? So many, like Siddharta Gautama, have tried to enlighten us. We should listen to such thinkers as well as to those Quantum physicists who suggest human consciousness can dictate reality. They do not have all the answers. Maybe we can help. Any suggestions on how to channel my consciousness for a better world? We are all in this together.