The feature image comes from this article about yet another ‘NASA keeps photographing weird things’ incident.
When Chris problematises the misapplication or sold-short use of the term ‘consciousness’, firstly I want to applaud and then I want to throw a few more words on the fire. Semantic drift is the tsunami-warning klaxon that should see you seek the higher ground. Not even terms that come across to us, dusty with age and shiny with use; like tulpa; can avoid the warp and diminution of their indigenous meaning. When hurled into the gaping maw of monoculture, everything becomes a dreamcatcher -a commodified cultural orphan best used for entertaining the children on a wet weekend.
In the west at least, ‘consciousness’ is ever a placeholder term, employed by Vedanto-friendly physicists in the early twentieth century to cross-pollinate Eastern universal concepts with the post-Enlightenment philosophical tradition. It is a mutant prostitute that lets you cosplay a world where you know that magic exists but you cannot bring yourself -for whatever reason- to utter the ‘m’ word.
The behavioural impulse that underpins the overapplication of terms like consciousness is actually fear. Fear that a tentatively-assembled worldview will come undone with the introduction of new data. You would think that afflicts scientists more than it does magicians but that has not been my experience. Particularly among the most ‘Order(ly)’, there is a manic need to shrilly pin labels like THAT’S YOUR RUACH ENCOUNTERING NESHAMAH!!1!!1 or whatever when trying to describe the sensations felt when encountering little lights in the sky.
Yeah, maybe. Must be great to know everything, hey? How is that working out for you and your mother, living in that car parked at the end of my street?
I like Chris’s choice of the word ‘communion’ for the experience he describes firstly because it is offensive -it will smack of Christendom or Christopher Walken to many- and secondly because it re-wyrds it in a way ‘consciousness’ cannot currently communicate. That is Deep Magic, as are the ‘reasons’ why ‘consciousness’ does not apply.
Let’s be clear. The term ‘consciousness’ explains. Nothing.
But very few things explain other things. As previously mentioned, biology is not especially useful on a metaphysical basis. There is just not enough (carbon-based) living ‘stuff’ as far as we can see to make it significant on the basis of on-balance-volume. Plus it’s basically show-and-tell: ‘look at this new butterfly I found and named.’ So fucking what?
The most metaphysically interesting part of biology is found at the genetic level, and there it’s actually chemistry, anyway. (Chemistry that is also a coding language from space we have completely failed to even begin to replicate in a controlled environment. It is the actual Roswell Crash.) Chemistry is not much better than biology for metaphysicians, because it is essentially Baby’s First Physics. All the interesting parts of chemistry are better explored from a physics perspective. Which brings us to physics.
The question of whether or not a spring onion ‘is conscious’ of the fact ‘I am ripping it from the ground and enjoying its deliciousness’ seems kinda pointless when, based on my ad-hoc experiences with a surprising number of theoretical physicists, it seems like a very slight majority of them have made peace with the fact that ‘consciousness’ -whatever that is- exists as an ontological primitive: some kind of universal field that enables string theory’s different dimensions to rub together or [insert theoretical model here]. The metaphysical ‘big implications’ exist at the level of universal physics which -as the name suggests- are relevant everywhere, rather than just on the thin film of slime that coats this squishy rock.
Let us return to the other terms I want to throw on the fire, then.
There is a pernicious alterna-narrative peddled by the milquetoast ‘Fortean’ podcasts and websites that sounds like it is allied to Magic’s People if you only consider it for a single second. And it goes a little something like this:
- DMT ‘explains’ NDEs, and abduction experiences.
- Altered states of consciousness -that word again- ‘explain’ spirit, god and demon encounters.
- Epigenetics ‘explains’ past life or ‘tribal’ memories.
Now, I’ve written repeatedly and at length about the first two points. (Not the third. It’s pseudoscientific hipster nonsense.) But in no way have I ever suggested that DMT explains shit. In fact, if you actually look at Dr Strassman’s original notes, for instance, he’s saying the complete opposite. He’s saying ‘the realms and beings my subjects describe are real’ and that the frankly-unimpressive molecule that is DMT is -I’m quoting here- a ‘key’. A key is not the room that it unlocks. The same goes for whatever ‘road hypnotism’ is used to ‘explain’ (at best) a minority of rural road encounters with bigfoot or UFOs or ghost hitchhikers or whatever.
In these cases the terms, like ‘consciousness’, have morphed in clumsy hands from vectors of exploration to silly little explanations that can be uttered before returning to podcast discussions about Oculus Rift or MMA -the socially acceptable form of hardcore gay pornography.
Chris is right to problematise and personalise his grammatike, and you should follow his lead. Useful terms have a very short half-life. We all know the etymological links between words and magic because of their capacity to describe and warp reality. Master magicians also know they must change their lexicon as often as they change their underwear.
Lest they become plankton.