Consciousness In The Individual And Beyond

rogue-primateThe human, in gaining a sense of individual self, loses connection with other species, with its ecological place, and even loses connection with its own species. Yet, this sense of self is truncated, creates a dualism of reality (self/other), and requires ‘pretzel-bending’ rationalization. (99-101) That wild animals have a sense of self too (aka self-awareness, consciousness, or sentience) ‘confuses a number of issues pertaining to [their] human treatment’, such as habitat loss, captivity, or vivisection. (102) Wild animals do not require rationalization ‘because they do not live in a surrogate prosthetic universe conceived, crafted, and constructed on abstract invention. Their world is intact.’ (103) Livingston adds, ‘It is the wholeness of the wild animal that makes ethical constructs unnecessary…. Rules are for domesticates. Infantile, self-centred domesticates.’ (103) He continues, ‘It strikes me that the role of self in non-human beings is profoundly different from its role in human cultures–especially in the Western tradition [where] … there is inordinate emphasis on the individual self … at the expense of other modes of self which it is possible to see in non-human beings.’ The individual self is not so important as the collective self: ‘The naturalist sees a wild animal as … one minor miracle to remind us of the ineffable whole.’ (103-104)

For example, picture a flock of birds–many birds, turning as one, which may be ‘an aspect of being that is neither physical nor chemical, but rather one arising from what we call “consciousness”. But it does not arise from self-consciousness or self-awareness as we commonly know it,’ a self that is ‘tied to the individual,’ Livingston writes. ‘Instead I would suggest that there is at play here some form of awareness that is shared across the entire group. The flock may be seen as having one consciousness.’ The flock is ‘not a mere aggregation of individuals but a superorganism.’ (106-107) Livingston calls this a ‘group self’, which perhaps we humans cannot sense; bears may seem solitary to us, but ‘they appear to have some uncanny way of knowing when other bears are in the general area.’ (108-109) Perhaps, Livingston suggests, just as the ‘reptilian brain’ is the genetic evolutionary basis of our brain, the individual self is the cultural evolutionary basis of socialization; the group self is something which wild animals such as birds and bears have, but not domesticates like humans. (110)

The next level might be thought of as ‘self-as-community’, at which point the ‘self/other’ duality no longer applies, nor does ‘interest’ or ‘competition’. Group self is intra-species. Community self is inter-species. Biological ecology cannot see the self-as-community. As a science, ecology must treat organisms as objects, not as subjects. For example, you are what you eat. Literally. You are the chicken, and the chicken is the worm, and so on, until the plant (or algae) is the sun (via photosynthesis). You are all these, this community of beings. So, how does science recognize this community? It doesn’t. It can’t. To do so would betray our prosthetic ideology.

There is a fourth level: self-as-individual, self-as-group, self-as-community, and now self-as-everything (which Livingston refers to at various times as planetary or cosmological or biospheric). Livingston believes ‘that in spite of our cultural conditioning and domesticated ideological dependence, as living beings we still have access to all four states of self-consciousness…. In theory at least, we all retain the capacity for wildness. In practice, we cling limper-like to the ideology of dualism [self/other].’ (118)

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