Changing Minds

My professional activities have kept me from writing as frequently as before. Another reason for the rareness of my posts is that I’ve been changing, or growing. Or at least that’s how it seems.

As a former surgeon, I’ve been forced to radically change my views about health and illness in order to adopt a new career in medical acupuncture. In addition, my extracurricular readings have taken me further and further into ‘consciousness research’ and the various lines of evidence that suggest mind can transcend body. As a result of these endeavors, I am now convinced that materialist science is simply wrong in its conviction that transcendent feelings are purely psychological, and that all spiritual ideas are either primitive, infantile, escapist, or fraudulent.

Granted, I’ve been moving toward this position for a long time. The difference is that I now believe there is a factual basis for believing in a transcendent reality. It no longer seems necessary to rely entirely on faith.

What we believe about the nature and origin of consciousness has wide-ranging implications. Back in college I greatly enjoyed learning about the nervous systems of insects and other invertebrates. Because these animals have large nerve cells with comparatively simple interconnections, they were amenable to electrical measurements that were difficult to accomplish in the vastly more complicated nervous systems of mammals. I also preferred studying invertebrates because I suffered few ethical qualms about experimenting on them; dissecting or killing larger and more complex animals would have troubled me.

However, I’ve been rethinking my beliefs ever since I recently captured a spider in my bathroom. The little creature showed clear signs of panic, and struggled valiantly to avoid my tissue paper. I finally nabbed it and dropped it out the window, hopefully unharmed. But the animal’s behavior made me wonder about the fairness of my old view of these little organisms as, essentially, biological robots. The spider clearly had an opinion about the desirability of capture. It did not seem to be reacting in a purely automatic way, but actively worked to dodge me and find an escape route. It seemed, dare I say, to have its own conscious volition. It may not have possessed the (obviously minimal) intelligence needed to write a blog, but it had desires and fears just like me.

The accepted scientific view is that consciousness arises as a result of the vast and complicated interconnections in the mammalian (and especially the human) brain. By this reasoning, an arthropod is not expected to have true consciousness, since its nervous system is orders of magnitude less intricate. Experimenting on a simple animal with a rudimentary brain would not be causing distress to any entity aware enough to truly care. It would be ethically sound.

However, if consciousness is not simply an emergent consequence of neural complexity, but exists independently in nature, then a spider probably has just as much right to fair treatment as I do. If awareness has its origins separate from the brain, then why should a larger and more complicated nervous system confer added rights?

This is just one tiny way in which my thinking and my values are changing. Believing that consciousness is an independent force of nature alters my attitude toward my thought stream, my inevitable death, and my sense of meaning. Overall, it gives me an awed sense of responsibility toward my own inner state as well as the well-being of others.

Incorporating this changing perspective takes time and energy. That’s a major reason why my posts have been so rare lately. Plus, during times of growth I hesitate to put my opinions out in public writing: I hate to pen essays based on transient opinions. However, I now believe my new beliefs about consciousness have solidified enough for me to make a small inroad into writing about them. There are many, many books about mind and spirituality, of course. I don’t write with a sense that I have much to add to the conversation, but I might as well chronicle my maturation.


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