With consciousness, we are faced with a unique problem: it is something we “know exists” but of which we can offer no direct evidence. It isn’t just an assumption based on inference from other relationships, like dark matter; it is right here, living in the skull of every one of us. One can argue about the “realness” of it, but such arguments are largely irrelevant, at least here: it matters, plain and simple. To ignore or dismiss it as a fundamental mystery of human experience, let alone as a kernel of observable phenomena with massive implications of scientific possibility is silly and philosophically irresponsible.
Imagine that consciousness itself is as diverse as life has proven itself to be, even when constrained to our tiny planet. Is it awfully folkloric to imagine it might have myriad forms, varying levels of complexity, that it might be capable of existing in extreme habitats? Perhaps we are too unimaginative in our assumptions about the phenomenon of thinking. If we don’t know where it is, but we know it’s there, why is it irrational to conjecture that it might be laid out in interconnected webs, stretching through space and time? Doesn’t the possibility itself beg attention? Ecologies are found in all areas where life exists. Might we not assume for a moment, in the absence of knowledge, that a system of relationships might also occur naturally wherever thought is found?
Moreover, there is life on this planet that is more or less provably free from consciousness, as well as life exhibiting varying degrees of consciousness. I posit that consciousness itself may involve a similarly wide spectrum of “selfhood,” that it may indeed exist in less centralized forms than what we would call an entity.
The typical two-value approach to evaluating a “mystical experience” is to either dismiss it out of hand, or to accept it as either supernatural/religious – an encounter with an entity beyond our current knowing. The caveat to the non-religious interpretation is almost always that this entity must be in possession of sufficiently more advanced technologies than we are.
Consequently, as it is their operation of this secret technology which makes the experience possible, there is the presumption of a higher form of intent – or maybe just a higher rate of successful intent-to-event correlation. Even if the interpretation of choice is religious/para-religious, the same basic tenet holds: they have the power to communicate with us. They are privy to something we are not.
The notion that such relationships could be a form of cybernetics starts to approach my central thrust here. The idea is that interaction is a primary, not secondary, facet of things, defining their nature at various points. Cybernetics is all about context, about the product of an interaction. In our assessment of mystical encounters, we presume that we are simply the end-user, involved in a system the design of which is unknown to us.
Imagine instead that the act of beckoning brings a set of forces into temporary stasis as a sentience. Imagine that the relationship is cybernetic – that, when not involved in an interface with us or another compatible being/force/unit, the force in question ceases to have an identity as a sentient being, and returns to a sort of base state of potentials in the universe. There is no secret knowledge that we are not privy to; quite to the contrary, we are instrumental in establishing communication. The technology by which we access this symbiosis is intent to communicate.
Philip K. Dick speaks of Christ/Valis as “The Plasmate.” In some ways, my idea is an extension of that notion. The primary difference is that while Dick sees these forces as fluid and malleable (but still possessing a permanent interior self) and able to form ad hoc symbiosis with people (the traditional set of criteria mentioned above being met here), I see them as aspects of a more absolute state of things which can be made available to us through a prism of communication, but which are not primarily “beings,” and which cease to be beings when they are not being accessed as beings.
I posit not just that language is a form of technology (certainly not a novel idea), but also that intent is perhaps a form of technology itself, and that as such, intent/communication can serve as a signal in the complex system that is reality.
In her novel “Up the Walls of the World,” Alice Sheldon (writing as James Tiptree, Jr.) gives us the nameless destroyer, a being of unfathomable size, comprised of distant points connected over vast space by unseen tethers. The destroyer is somewhat living, but also mechanical in nature; it is, truly, a way of looking at life – and our preconceptions about it – by blowing the whole thing up to unimaginable size. I’m not arguing that this was Sheldon’s intent – my main reason for bringing this up is to point out some precedent for this idea. But viewing it this way brings up some of the ontological issues that must be resolved in order to approach this idea. These are problems of definition – what is “solid?” What is “connected?” What is “one?” What is “alive,” “sentient,” what is “being?”
These are questions of scale as well. Dick perceived that the “low resolution” of our reality (as well as the low fidelity of our vision) causes such connections and events to appear contradictory to our working knowledge of the universe (a fundamentally Gnostic concept). He perceived divine interaction as being technological, as being fully real and in no way super-natural. This unresolved blending of the religious and the meta-scientific, the mystical and the incomprehensible but true, point to only one conclusion: that any answers to the questions above contain, necessarily, spaces between specifics, cracks glossed over in every-day thinking by semantic simplicity. These are the cracks in which we may find new varieties of beings (or not-beings), living (or not) and thinking (or not) creatures (?) that defy our limited terminologies.
And, an early and blatant apologia:
While I don’t think it is necessary for there to be other forms of intelligence, I do think that it is a possibility best explored from a meta-philosophical standpoint, without the restrictive lens of god-language or the assumption of supernatural conceits.
I would very much like if we (we being whoever is involved in discussions of this sort anywhere that are not theological) could divorce all concept of “religion” and “religiousness” from explorations of this sort. It seems to me that the precedent exists for approaching ideas in this range without always needing to apply the arcane conflict of “physical” versus “non-physical.” If there is to be discussion, I can only presume it is going to happen between people who have agreed, if not on anything else, at least on this point: it is the dubious nature of both ideas as any kind of absolute that is in question.
I suppose you can accuse me of paranormal ideas; but please don’t confuse openness to the paranormal with adherence to the supernatural. Science is not just a way to fend off superstition, after all. It is inherently inquisitive. Skepticism is not only a shield against illogic, but a sword with which to test reason in all its manifestations as well. This is the timeless relationship of thinker and truth – this is our sacrament. If it can be punctured, it was never whole. We must always make it speak its name, lest we allow ourselves to be led by fools.