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Written by Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, 2011
Anyone who has searched the term ‘consciousness’ will have found it to be a subject cloaked with mystery and confusion. BUT there is a very good reason for this, and it is not because consciousness is an impenetrably complex subject–it is because it raises the unbearable issue of our seemingly-highly-imperfect, ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted, so-called HUMAN CONDITION!
MOST WONDERFULLY, however, this impasse has been completely resolved because biology is now finally able to provide the dreamed-of, reconciling, redeeming and thus psychologically rehabilitating, human race-transforming explanation of the , which at last allows us to explain what consciousness actually is! (And it should be mentioned that this explanation of our species’ deeply psychologically troubled condition is not the psychosis-avoiding, trivialising, dishonest account of it that the biologist E.O. Wilson has put forward in his theory of Eusociality, but the psychosis-addressing-and-solving, real explanation of it.)
Indeed, in his book Complexity, the writer Roger Lewin actually described the great difficulty we have had of trying to ‘illuminate the phenomena of consciousness’ as ‘a tough challenge…perhaps the toughest of all’ (1993, p.153). To illustrate the nature and extent of the difficulty, Lewin relayed the philosopher René Descartes’ own disturbed reaction when he tried to ‘contemplate consciousness’: ‘So serious are the doubts into which I have been thrown…that I can neither put them out of my mind nor see any way of resolving them. It feels as if I have fallen unexpectedly into a deep whirlpool which tumbles me around so that I can neither stand on the bottom nor swim up to the top’ (p.154).
Yes, trying to think about consciousness meant trying to understand what–when we humans are the only fully conscious, reasoning, intelligent, extraordinarily clever, can-get-a-man-on-the-moon animal–is so intelligent and clever about being so competitive, selfish and aggressive in our behaviour; indeed, so ruthlessly competitive, selfish and brutal that has become all but unbearable and we have nearly destroyed our own planet?! No wonder, as it says in Genesis in the Bible, having ‘take[n]’ the ‘fruit…from the tree of knowledge’ (3:3, 2:17) that was ‘desirable for gaining wisdom’ (3:6)–that is, become fully conscious, thinking, knowledge-finding beings–we humans became so destructively behaved, so apparently lacking in ‘wisdom’, that we seemingly deserved to be condemned and ‘banished…from the Garden of Eden’ (3:23) as defiling, unworthy, beings! Instead of being wonderful, our conscious mind appeared to be the great evil influence on Earth. Our conscious mind appeared to be to blame for all the devastation and human suffering in the world! That is how ‘serious are the doubts’ that thinking about consciousness produced within us. Yes, a fearful, all-our-moorings-taken-from-under-us, ‘deep whirlpool’ of terrible depression awaited us if we thought about what is consciousness.
So, unable–until now–to truthfully answer this deepest and darkest of all questions of our species’ consciousness-induced, psychologically-troubled, ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted, seemingly-imperfect, even ‘fallen’ or corrupted condition, of are we humans fundamentally good or bad, we learnt to avoid the whole depressing subject of what is consciousness and the issue it raised of the human condition–so much so, in fact, that the human condition has been described as ‘the personal unspeakable’, and as ‘the black box inside of humans they can’t go near’. Indeed, the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung was referring to the terrifying subject of our seemingly highly-imperfect condition when he wrote that ‘When it [our shadow] appears…it is quite within the bounds of possibility for a man to recognize the relative evil of his nature, but it is a rare and shattering experience for him to gaze into the face of absolute evil’ (Aion in The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 9/2, p.10). Yes, the ‘face of absolute evil’ is the ‘shattering’ ‘serious…doubts’-producing possibility–if we allowed our minds to think about it–that we humans might indeed be a terrible mistake!
What has happened to end this terrible siege, where any subject or question (like what is consciousness) that brought the unbearable issue of our seemingly-imperfect condition into focus has been a no-go zone, is that the reconciling, exonerating and thus psychologically healing, truthful biological explanation of the human condition has finally been found–allowing us to safely present the (as it turns out) simple explanation of consciousness.