I don’t mean this in the nihilistic sense but in the rational and experiential sense.
While everything below may seem like a minor technicality, I think think it’s an extremely important distinction that took me years of reading and thinking to really come to terms with.
What is life
When you try to define what “life” really means, it becomes extremely difficult. The closer you look at anything living the more you see that there isn’t any “life” there. It’s just a bunch of chemical reactions, causing other reaction, causing other reactions, ad infinitum.
Cellular biology has done wonders in understanding the micro-interactions that happen within cells. The more they research the more they are sure that there isn’t anything “living” within a cell.
So the paradox is that we call things like cells “life” but there is nothing inherently alive in them.
So you don’t care about life
We don’t really give a shit about life. Life is meaningless to us. Each day millions of cells in your body “die” and yet you don’t seem to care. You don’t care because new ones are being created at an equal rate, enough to sustain “you”.
If your leg was to get chopped off, you wouldn’t miss it because the leg had intrinsic worth, but because being one-legged is difficult and hence your freedom and abilities would be restricted. You don’t care about your living leg, you care about the experiences that your living leg enables.
Not life, then what?
So if we don’t care about life what is it that we care about? Why do we want to live and cherish other living things?
A clue lies with what are you really saying when you say the word “I”.
In contrast to the leg, if I told you that you had dementia meaning that as your brain begins to degrade, your experience of consciousness would degrade too. That over time, the “richness” of your conscious experience would reduce to that of a dog. You would be terrified. I would be terrified. That’s just terrifying.
Consciousness is the only thing that we really care about. It’s what we really mean when we say “I”, we mean this conscious experience.
So you can do what you like to my body, as long as my conscious experience remains exactly the same, it makes little difference to me 👌
The irony of this is that it’s virtually impossible to modify my body in a way that doesn’t change my conscious experience of life. Our hormones, nervous system, muscles all feed into our experience of consciousness. When we are angry, it is as much a mental state as it is a physiological state.
Why consciousness matters
- Since we experience everything in consciousness.
- Conscious experience can be said to be the only thing that is really real.
- All concepts live as unique qualia shapes of consciousness.
- Consciousness is the universe experiencing itself.
- Life itself is meaningless, consciousness is meaning.
Essentially, consciousness is what separates animals (including us) from rocks. It is the only thing that really matters.
If you accept that:
Life is just impressively complex chemical reactions but doesn’t itself have meaning; that only consciousness is meaningful.
Then some of the implications are:
- All animals are conscious and hence have the right to happiness.
- Some animals are more conscious, and hence can experience more. You could argue that killing a higher conscious being is worse than a lower e.g. 🙍♂️ > 🐕 (this is debatable and not relevant for this argument).
- When we save the forests we recognise that we’re not doing it for the trees themselves, but for the animals (including the big ape reading this) who benefit from the carbon-
sucking, ecosystem creating, aesthetically pleasing qualities of the forests.
- When you worry about your “meaning of life”, you actually mean your “meaning of consciousness”. And no, that doesn’t make the existential dread go away 👎
- Living conscious things are more “important” than things that are living but not conscious (e.g. 🐕 > 🌳)
- Abortion is killing something alive, but not conscious.
- If Artificial Intelligence (AI) was able to create truly conscious machines, they would be the same as “living” conscious beings.