On the “Life Analogy” to Consciousness

On the “Life Analogy” to Consciousness
Annaka Harris

The conclusion we draw about life, once we understand the reductionist story is: There’s nothing fundamentally new going on—all the ingredients were always there. “Life” is just molecules behaving like molecules under certain conditions (beginning with the ability to self-replicate). No injection of a magical tonic is required to breathe life into those atoms. Likewise, consciousness doesn’t require something fundamentally new. As with so many scientific discoveries, we learn that we’re not special.

But because consciousness is not a description of something we can measure and observe from the outside—the conclusion doesn’t follow as we would expect. “Life” is shorthand for a physical description of how a collection of atoms behave, as witnessed from the outside. For the analogy to hold, consciousness mustn’t entail something new, so we are led to conclude that it was always there.

We don’t need anything beyond the known ingredients of the universe to get living systems. So, if something extra is not required beyond the behavior of atoms to cause those atoms to entail an experience of being those atoms, perhaps intrinsic experience is a property of all matter.


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DNA Crop

Click here to read an excerpt on how molecules began to self-replicate
from Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene



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Featured Image: Albarran Cabrera “The Mouth of Krishna”