Papa Was a Rolling Stone; or Thinking About Consciousness

I was castigating a coffee bean for making a run for the back door, trying to evade its fate in the grinder, which got me thinking about consciousness. There’s nothing in existence that doesn’t have skin in the game of existing. We know plants “feel,” have hooked them up to monitors and done things to them. Trees make choices. There is a single-celled organism that makes itself a protective covering from pebbles. Some variations of these organisms choose only clear pebbles. One type of this organism always chooses one pebble with some red on it, the way some people insist on having granite countertops. How is choice-making implemented in a single-celled organism? I quit my job recently and am trying to figure out what to do next, who I am now, what I need to grow. Why does it matter what I do, who I am, or what I need? I’m constantly astonished at what a random act of science I am. Constantly aware of how ephemeral all this is. And yet I am persistently focused on the future, always looking for the back door. Does a pebble accept its fate? Water or wind wear away at its edges in the world and its shape shifts, as my skin is getting thinner and my body bulging oddly here, sinking there. What is “knowing”? What is the difference between the pebble and its single-celled owner? I guess the key difference is this idea of life, of biological function. Pebbles don’t poop, as it were. We could hook it up to a monitor, poke it, and it would flat-line. Wouldn’t it? It has electromagnetic impulses running through it, just as I do. I don’t know that it would ignore the indignity of a prod. I know it was a simple accident of physics that the coffee bean got caught up in the scoop but fell to gravity’s pull to the counter, on which it glanced off, its curvature sending it rightward and, upon its floor landing, skittering it toward the door. Maybe on my demise I’ll be as delicious to the universe’s tongue as this coffee, intransigent bean included. My choices make all the difference, and? or? little difference at all. I’m an organism gathering pebbles. If I insist on pretending there is a future, I guess I’d better pretend my choices matter. Or resist the pretense. Enjoy the cup.

 

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