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The Issue Of Awareness

You consider yourself an aware being, but is that the be-all-and-end-all to the topic? Are you as aware as you think you are? Is your awareness the same as the next person's awareness? Is your pet aware? How far on down the line can things go before something isn't aware, or is it awareness to a greater or lesser extend all the way on down the line. Things might not be as cut-and-dried as they seem.


Depending on the level of complexity of the structure in question, awareness incorporates a trilogy of things, or a duality of things or just one bottom-line most fundamental thing. I would maintain that everything has an awareness of that one thing; many structures have awareness of other things on up the complexity line. The three things, from the bottom up, are an awareness of the external environment; an awareness of the internal body; finally an awareness of the mind, a self-awareness, a sense of personal identity, etc.


Humans score on all three awareness levels.

We have awareness of our minds and what is going on inside, at least on a conscious level, which, truth be known, is the tiny mental tip of a very large mental iceberg.

There are many things that we are aware of with respect to the body, usually revolving around pleasure or pain. You are aware when you have a headache; when you stub your toe; when you are full after a meal; when you need to burp; and so on.

We have awareness of the external environment that is in our immediate surroundings. Even in our sleep we're still slightly aware and can be woken up by say an extremely loud clap of thunder or the sound of your baby crying.

We have self-awareness. Self-awareness is slightly different from just plain awareness. You are aware of many things that have no bearing on you immediate circumstances. However, if you have to personally react to those immediate circumstances, then it becomes a matter of or for the self and your awareness is that the self had better get is act together and respond. That self-awareness, that responding to the needs of the self, cuts across all three categories - external environment, body and mind.


There are occasions when we cease to be aware in the way we normally attribute our state of awareness. In sleep awareness is severely reduced. If you pass out drunk or are knocked out or in a coma or have been anaesthetized with a general anaesthesia your awareness pretty much is non-existent. Those exceptions aside...

As noted above, nearly all of your mental activity is either at a subconscious level or is fully automated. For most of your day, you go through the motions much like a zombie.

You tend not to be aware of the thousands of chemical reactions that must take place daily in order for you to survive and thrive. You're not aware of the electrons running up and down your nervous system.

With respect to your immediate external environment, you are not aware of the photons impacting on your retina, etc. Indeed there are a whole pot-full of things we, the Royal We, are not aware of, like neutrinos passing through our bodies by the millions per second, magnetic fields, radio waves, etc.


There would be things that we, the Royal We, aren't aware of but which our fundamental constituents, our cells, are - like an example of glucose-regulation. The question arises, if our cells are aware, that is if they respond, doesn't that make us, the Royal Us, somehow aware too? Even in our Royal We awareness, there are threshold values between awareness and non-awareness. You're probably not going to be aware of one photon per minute hitting your retina but up that to a million per second and you've crossed the threshold. You're probably not going to be aware of a bacteria falling on you vis-a-vis a brick. You're probably not going to be aware of developing cancer within the first five minutes, but five years later it's a different story. You probably couldn't taste or smell something if that something was only represented by one molecule but molecules in the thousands you might be able to taste or smell. No doubt readers could think of many other examples.


Any pet owner of say a cat or a dog or a horse will know as sure as Mother Nature made little green apples that these animals are aware. That would extend to zoo keepers when it comes to the mammals and the birds, and to any other profession that involves close encounters with the higher vertebrates.

But is there a threshold in the biological kingdoms between living things that are aware and living things that are not aware. I would argue that every living thing, including down to individual cells, are aware. If something living has no awareness of its external surroundings, then it has no ability to respond to those external conditions and then it isn't going to stay alive for very long.

It is inconsistent to say a snail has self-awareness but your body cells don't - both are living things. So, there's no line in the sand here. If your body cells have no awareness then you, the Royal You, can have no awareness since the Royal You is just a colony of body cells. The awareness equation is thus zero plus zero plus zero plus zero plus zero equals zero.


A rock wouldn't be mentally aware of its mind, since it doesn't have one, nor be physiologically aware even though it has a 'body', but it would be 'aware' of its external environment and respond accordingly.

Now clearly a rock will expand as the temperature rises. There has got to be awareness at some level in order for the rock to react to the heat. I call it awareness; others might call it something else. The bottom line is that the rock expands.

I should perhaps note that I tend to alter that classic saying "I think therefore I am" to one of "I respond, therefore I am". I also tend to place an "I" on inanimate objects. The rock expands with increasing temperature, therefore it is.

Now I equate awareness with response. There's no question that inanimate objects respond to their environment and changes in their environment. I call that awareness; others might call it something else. That's fine. I never claimed that an expanding rock in response to increasing heat was expanding "on purpose", but it is responding to its environment. If you accidentally swallow poison you aren't going to die "on purpose", but you will still die in response to the poison. I respond, therefore I am. Something else responds, therefore it is. You can call your spade a diamond; I'll call my spade a heart. Some people think that Panpsychism* has credibility; others think its pseudo-science; some have a foot in each camp.

The inanimate (like a rock) reacts to external stimuli just like animate objects. Surely no one any more is going to resort to claiming some sort of special "life force" that makes animate objects react differently in principle to inanimate objects?


We are conscious and have awareness. The fundamental particles have a lot less consciousness and awareness. There is a sliding scale between the two extremes. There is no hard and fast line in the sand. If you've ever tried to swat a fly you'll be aware that it is aware of your hostile intentions and reacts accordingly. And I'll pre-empt any resort to instinct since awareness has to come before the instinct. You are aware of the tiger before you instinctively take some kind of action. You are aware of the thumb-tack in your toe before you instinctively lift up your foot to remove the pressure. You are aware that you are going to throw up before you instinctively have to throw up.

How are you aware that something else, something that cannot communicate, is aware? You have to observe their reactions. If you touch a snail's head, it will respond by retreating into its shell and you therefore conclude that the snail was aware that it was touched. Now apply that to a rock. Heat up the rock, it expands. Since no one can actually communicate with the rock, how can anyone be absolutely sure that response isn't one of awareness?

I do suggest here that one should be wary of being way too anthropomorphic. The human species isn't the be-all-and-end-all of life, the Universe and everything. If you're too anthropomorphic you'll be saying we (humans) are the greatest since we (humans) were created in God's image (instead of the other way around).


The bottom line is that the only entity that has awareness / consciousness and knows that for sure is yourself, or in my case myself, or in the case of others, themselves. You aren't really aware that other humans are aware; you just logically assume that based on the observational and other sensory evidence. By extension, you cannot know for absolute certain if a cat is aware, a snail is aware, a bacterium is aware, or a rock is aware. That might go against the grain and the standard view of the majority, especially when it comes to lower forms of the living and of course the inanimate. Of course some standard views of the world have been proven wrong in the past.

*Panpsychism: Panpsychism is the concept that everything with structure and substance in the cosmos has some degree of consciousness or awareness. That awareness applies as much to non-living things as it does to living things. Click here for more info.


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