Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Putting us in our place

Recently Charlie Rose had James Watson and E. O. Wilson on his show. The topic was the importance of Darwin's ideas in our lives. At a certain point in the conversation, Watson offered without much qualification that Darwin was more important than Muhammad. Wilson, with a little hesitation said that Darwin was more important to how we view ourselves than any Abrahamic prophet. Charlie asked for an explanation. Wilson, with agreement from Watson, said that each of those prophets had put forth a vision of man's place that had built-in disparities between groups of humans, disparities which reinforced old tensions and gave names and causes for new tensions and had not at all unified humanity whereas Darwin, in one stroke put all life on a common footing and as level a playing field as could be imagined.

I like that reasoning and for the most part I agree with it but I have a slight objection. Consciousness has emerged and in humans, a verbal and self aware power for modeling ones existence that can be partly projected or communicated to others. This advent of human perception and thought threatens to float free of the individual vessels in which it works and tries constantly to get above the physical realm. In that realm a strictly reductionist view of things can, with a fair amount of comfort and consistency, see only the spinning of Darwin's genetic gears, an infinite dance of base pairs calling the tune for all that is more than mineral. But consciousness IS with us and it does not sit easily, does not, despite efforts such as Daniel Dennet's fit easily into the physical. Until some time when we may all see a comfortable fit where Dennet and others pound consciousness back down into the physical, its strikes me as practical to go with the intuitive, to see consciousness as a thing apart from the 4 [or 11? ] dimensions of physics. That destruction of the physical being destroys the consciousness proves little to me about this separation I intuit. Since this is the case for me, there is a super set to the elements of life that Darwin has so beautifully ordered. The teaching and the tools that give us means to deal with the way that mind both is and is not of physical reality and the way that sentience is a special qualifier and equalizer among all that lives are as important and universal as Darwin's insight. But unfortunatly,

Many things are universal yet without any common human or cultural awareness that they are so.

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