With advanced brain imaging techniques now commonplace, and Artificial Intelligence replicating many features of neural networks (but not their biochemistry and biophysics), a chase is on among scientists and artists to break the code of consciousness informationally, just as the genetic code for bodies and personalities was broken by biochemists.
Could artificial minds eventually be manufactured in the same way that artificial limbs and heart valves are now? Yes, artificial minds as language models already exist, and they are talking with us even now. But, just like artificial heart valves, language models are stitched onto a living framework of embodiment. So far, human beings have not abdicated their power of choice completely to AI, except a few lazy inattentive drivers, some of whom have now died.
But my story about qualities of consciousness alerts us to a level of wholeness and life that purely informational intelligence cannot reach, even though machines win chess tournaments and guide explosives out of the skies to rain down on cities. It is called Universal Love… but, you know, it’s Tough Love.
The story of a family discovery
One of my older twin brothers was a brilliant artist who went to Cambridge University to study architecture. But he had a violent disposition, prone from an early age to irrational fighting, paranoid thoughts and terrorising people, our family included. He began overusing marijuana and had his first psychotic breakdown at university. Abandoning his studies, he eventually had a lifetime of schizophrenic torment in mental hospitals and small residential units, where again he terrorised people to obtain cigarettes, his behaviour driven wild by his disturbing thoughts. When he died, his hands and fingers were broken up from where he had been punching walls to get rid of his hallucinations. He basically smoked himself to death. At the end he was on a life support respirator. The staff and family turned to me as ‘the sensible one’, the medic in the family, to make the decision whether to turn the respirator off or not. I said, “Yes. We can have no idea what horrors may be filling his mind while he lies there immobilised.” Farewell, David.
So, when I read of well-intentioned ‘consciousness studies’ researchers saying that Consciousness is a primary integrating force in nature that gets filtered through the brain (as contrasted with a by-product of materialist brain functioning), I find I hesitate… I think about people’s different qualities of consciousness, and ‘what it is like to be a bat’, and whether the molecules of cell membranes are conscious, and I find the so-called ‘life’ of a cell membrane or a panpsychic atom to be as impenetrable as was my brother David’s mind. But David still once said to me, as I had shared with him how my terror at his threatening behaviour disturbed me, with astonishment and confusion in his eyes, “But you’re my little brother! I love you.”
On talking to one such neuroscientist, I discovered this term Consciousness was preferred to ‘information’, because consciousness felt alive while info was dead. I had noticed that many of the people I was relating to in these scientific and spiritual circles claimed there was a presence of consciousness (filtered into the systems of this world) wherever they noticed a degree of responsive change in the system being observed or described. I could imagine responsive systemic change as life occurring in the absence of consciousness, or even of awareness.
Jeremy Young (personal communication) has identified four different uses of the term consciousness in these settings: experiential awareness; an ontological ‘essence’ of mind alongside or associated with particulate matter; a metaphysical synonym for Ultimate Reality or God; a kind of force exerted by a human being or other living creature able to effect changes in the behaviour of matter. Another author added that consciousness was often described to be ‘raised’ when experiential awareness grew of a disturbing social or environmental issue. This fits with the notion of responsiveness as central to a process of emergent awareness, and therefore of emergent consciousness.
In what way might awareness of love become conscious, as I experienced with my brother David? I would like to offer the idea of a comparison of states before and after responsive communication. This would constitute a process view of consciousness, emerging from a quality of ‘awareness’ that is a dynamic simple state of responsive living in context.
My simple state of responsive awareness of living with David in my context had been one of terror. I emerged from my early family traumatised, unable to trust people because of the unpredictability and danger I had thought was normal life, always expecting the unexpected to be unpleasant. These ‘qualities of consciousness’ had been highlighted by David’s astonishment to discover how life seemed from my perspective, and my astonishment to discover his perspective. We both became engaged at that time in a tumultuous new process of comparisons of our different experiences. This process heightened our qualities of consciousness. Each continued to develop uniquely from there, according to the ongoing experiences we were comparing with our memories. These comparisons changed our anticipations of what might happen next.
That is a process view of consciousness. David and I continued to diverge in our unique qualities of consciousness. We each continued to make our different informational comparisons in our processes, living in our different local contexts with progressively different memories. These comparisons continued to guide ‘what happens next’. My memorised experience of our mutual discovery at that time contributed, nevertheless, to modifying my anticipations of life, evolving my quality of consciousness, and making me reflect on how tough love can be at times.