The emergence of universal consciousness: Brendan Hughes at TEDxPretoria

The emergence of universal consciousness: Brendan Hughes at TEDxPretoria


Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Maria K. Good afternoon everybody. I’m going to speak on the emergence
of universal consciousness. Now, admittedly,
that’s a controversial topic. And it’s a controversial topic
because so far universal consciousness has not been scientifically
proven to be true. But this conception that things
need to be scientifically proven in order for them
to be true is itself false. And that’s neatly demonstrated
each and every time scientists discover something new,
something that we didn’t know before. Most recently, scientists
are finding evidence for the Higgs boson. But if it’s true that it exists, then it means it’s existed
for millions and millions of years, it’s always been true. So, I think the way to play
a game of philosophical chess is to try and start
with just one sentence, one sentence that we can maybe agree upon, and then see if we can take it forward
one step at a time until the next sentence
just seems too improbable or too outlandish,
and that’s really where we should stop. By the end of this talk, you might agree
or disagree with everything I say, and that’s fine. If you should find yourself
coming to agree for the first time that some of these concepts
are possibly true, then that could change the way
you possibly think about many things. So I’d like to start
with a simple proposition, and one that is credited to Aristotle: “The whole is something greater
than the sum of its parts.” Or put another way, everything that exists,
exists both as a whole unto itself as well as a component
of some greater holistic system. Now, there’s a lot of evidence
for this proposition. For example, we know that electrons
are individually charged particles. But we also know that electrons
are components of atoms. Atoms are components of molecules. Molecules are components of organisms. Organisms arise
within systems and ecosystems. Ecosystems are located on planets. Planets are components of solar systems. And solar systems
are components of galaxies, and galaxies are components of universes. So it does seem
that everything that exists, exists both as a whole unto itself
and as a component within a greater whole. Now if that’s true, then it suggests
that your true, holistic identity consists of both your narrow self-identity and your component-identity
within a greater system. And if you can come to accept
that it is your narrow self-identity that is endowed
with your self-consciousness, then you can at least begin to question whether the holistic system
of which you’re a component has holistic consciousness. And we’ll come back
to that question in a minute. But we need to start by discussing,
what do we mean by ‘consciousness’? There’s no uniform,
scientifically accepted definition of the term ‘consciousness.’ I think consciousness means
the ability to sense or to respond to what you sense
in your environment, whether it’s your internal
or your external environment. That’s what I think consciousness is. Imagine this example: You wake up a little bit late one morning
and you decide to skip breakfast. You’re on your way to a meeting
and you’re walking down the street, and you smell some freshly baked
croissants coming from a nearby bakery. The smell triggers
a chemical response in your brain, which stimulates your appetite. You turn, you walk into the bakery,
and you order a croissant. So what about plants? Well, when plants
experience their environment, why don’t we call it consciousness? We know that leaves
will turn to face the sun, to absorb its energy. We know that an entire field of sunflowers
will all face east in the morning when the sun rises
and they detect the sun’s rays. They will then track the sun
across the sky throughout the day and then all face west at sunset. We know that plants’ roots
will penetrate the earth and then extend in various angles
as they seek out water, but we don’t call this consciousness. I think consciousness is an attribute. It’s not a measure of one’s ability, it is something that you either have
or you don’t have, and you can have it in different measures. So, with plants, why don’t
we call this consciousness? We call it things like holotropism, and we tend to say with plants
it’s not consciousness because it’s fundamentally
a chemical process, it’s not consciousness. But neurobiologists are telling us
that our own brains are fundamentally
super-chemical computers, and that our own decisions,
the actions we take, and indeed our entire state
of consciousness at any particular time, is fundamentally influenced
by chemical processes in the brain and the chemical balance in our brain
at any particular time. So, I think not calling
non-human things conscious is a weak distinction to make, and frankly, egotistical. We need to get over ourselves in that way. Surely any living thing
that can experience its environment, and that can respond to what it senses
in its environment, is conscious. But conscious in a way
that makes sense to that thing, makes sense to its ability
to sustain its own life. What about even really,
really small things, like bacteria? Well, we know that inside
your own human gastrointestinal tract, there are up to
1,000 different species of bacteria. And over the last 20 years, scientists have been discovering ways in which bacteria can signal
and communicate with each other to coordinate community processes, ranging from maintenance
of their population, to resisting or aiding
an infectious disease. But if these bacteria
are signalling and communicating, then they too are conscious. And then this is where
it gets really interesting. If those bacteria are living inside us,
and we are their environment, then we are their conscious
environment too. They live inside a conscious environment
even though they could never know it. They’re not aware of our higher
holistic consciousness. What about things that we don’t
typically regard as living things? Things I’ve mentioned already, like electrons
that orbit an atomic nucleus? Or planets that orbit a sun? Well, we know that electrons
are negatively charged particles that seem to orbit at relatively
high speeds around a nucleus without ever crashing into each other. They don’t crash into each other because two negatively
charged atomic particles will magnetically detect and repel
from each other when they get too close. If you’re an electron, it’s not relevant to be able to smell
a freshly baked croissant. Your world is about electromagnetism. So magnetically detecting other charges
is what’s relevant to an electron. What about planets in orbit? We know that planets also occupy
specific orbital patterns around a sun and don’t crash into each other. And yes, I do know that with planets,
it’s the attracting force of gravity that holds them in their orbital paths and not the attracting force
of electromagnetism as in the case of electrons. But philosophically speaking, the similarities are striking
across such vast scales and such different
forces that are at play. And it tends to support the hypothesis
of everything being part of a transcending, enveloping
understanding of everything. There’s no doubt that the smaller system
occurs many, many times over within the larger system. Now when you came to this event today, you hopefully didn’t
crash into anyone on the way. And that’s because you used your senses to detect things that are physical
in the way that you are, and to avoid them, and hopefully, everybody else
was using their senses to do the same thing. But if you’d lost consciousness
for a few moments, or if you’d simply
been driving much too fast, it might have been unavoidable that you were going
to collide with someone. And it’s the same
with subatomic particles. We can make them collide by accelerating their speeds
to such an extent that it’s impossible
for them to avoid a collision. And that’s what particle accelerators
like the Large Hadron Collider do. They accelerate particles,
they make them collide, and then scientists
get to watch and observe what smaller components
those particles break down into. So it seems that under certain conditions,
a form’s innate ability to respond to what’s going on
in its environment in a way that is appropriate
to sustain itself is insufficient. And when that happens,
whether as a sudden collision event, or as a result of imbalances
gradually accumulated over time, that form will begin to break down
to its component states. Viewed this way, life and death
are both processes. Life is the organization
of energy into form. And death is the liberation
of energy from form and the reduction of a form
back to its component states. We know that to endure, any form first needs
an awareness of its environment, internal and external, in order to compensate
for the changes taking place. The tendency of a form
to compensate for change can be observed across
a vast range of natural phenomena, and it’s evidenced by the interplay
between the second law of thermodynamics and what we call self-organizing
dissipative systems. The second law of thermodynamics holds that for every process
of energy transfer in a system, there is an increase
in entropy in the system. That means that for every
random event that takes place, the disorder of the system will increase. In other words, systems, or forms, need to be able
to respond to this disorder in such a way that preserves
their relative stability. Spiral shapes such as can be seen
on a number of things from a simple hermit crab shell to the shape of the Milky Way
or Andromeda galaxies, are examples of the complex
patterns and structures that can emerge during
a process of dissipation to retain stability over periods,
in particular, of rapid expansion. Now, organisms are,
by definition, organized. And if we can see the organized properties
of even very large systems, then it’s only really culture
that stops us from referring to very large
systems as organisms. I believe that consciousness will emerge wherever and whenever complex
organizing systems and forms emerge. But it will be a consciousness of a type that is relevant
to that complex system or form. If consciousness plays a role
in ensuring survival, then we should begin to question: What role does consciousness play
in the process of evolution? Darwin argued that seemingly random genetic mutations
that took place in genetic codes resulted in beneficial
adaptations that thrived. But there is growing evidence
to support the view that genetic mutations
are environmentally responsive. For example, experiments
by scientists such as Barry Hall have observed that the genetic rate
of mutation in bacteria increases under environmentally
stressful conditions. So, if genetic mutation
is environmentally responsive, then it’s not a very distinct process
from what we regard as innovation, because in both processes, it is the processing
and feedback of information, that results in the formation
of something new. Enter social media and wearable tech. Something we should expect to arise if the promotion
of information networks in a system is going to enhance
the ability of a system to communicate across
different components of itself. Your social media stream
might eventually evolve to become your externalized
stream of consciousness that you choose
to share with other people. This belief, that we are all
part of one thing, is perfectly encapsulated
by the Zulu word ‘simunye,’ which means ‘we are one.’ And this simunye hypothesis
is one that is as old as philosophy. It suggests that humans should
understand ourselves within this organism to be semiautonomous,
conscious, measuring agents of a complex adaptive system that is constantly adjusting
and responding and adapting. If the universe itself is,
as science might ultimately prove, a complex dissipative system, then not only would the universe
have consciousness, but that consciousness
would be as old as time, and it would envelope all other
forms of consciousness within it, including yours and mine. Thank you. (Applause)

16 thoughts on “The emergence of universal consciousness: Brendan Hughes at TEDxPretoria

  1. My consciousness is knowing that I know. A plant may follow the sun, but it doesn't know that it follows the sun. Consciousness needs information and Cannot "exist" without it, but information does not need consciousness. Hope you're well Brendan. Chris Cochrane

  2. The Higgs boson is a terrible example. It has been expressed in maths for decades! We just didn't have the technology required in order to actually find it. We knew for decades that there were some particles we had yet to identify not because we didnt know about them but because we hadn't seen them. Requiring a burden of evidence is why people trust science. In the 60's someone could've simply said "well the math works out, it must exist" and then left it, but that isnt how science works. We developed the technology, spent the money, and built the machine in order to prove a hypothesis. And science will continue to do that for every problem no matter how big or small.

  3. How does it all support universal consciousness? I'm conscious. Any of my cells live inside me. Perhaps each of them is conscious. So they live "inside" the broader consciousness. Does it make my consciousness universal for my cells? Suppose the universe is conscious. Relation of my consciousness to its consciousness is the same as of consciousness of a cell to the consciousness of the body it lives inside. Try better.

  4. This is what I have known intuitively for yrs, but could not put into words. Thank you for posting this! There is a god and it’s Universal Consciousness. My first grade teacher at Catholic school explained this concept by using grapes on a grapevine as our being one with God. She didn’t realize her religion lesson started my agnostic belief system.

  5. I believe that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come, and that the universe is unfolding in mysterious ways, way beyond our limited comprehension.

  6. I believe that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come, and that the universe is unfolding in mysterious ways, way beyond our limited comprehension.

  7. I like how Brendan Hughes describes his view…very, very much like my own view. Even his definition of consciousness is actually quite similar to my own. I define it as the ability to interact with the environment in a complex manner. Everything from rocks, to trees, to bacteria, to plants, to animals, to brains and even solar systems are interactive in varying levels of complexity.

    The only thing that would make more sense is if he just completely dropped the word consciousness because everything he describes are in essence interactions…some simple…some very complex. We do not live in a "conscious" universe, we live in an interactive universe.

    You know what the really hard problem of consciousness is? It's getting humans to stop dwelling on the silly word "consciousness". We are interactive like everything else, that is all.

  8. This is exactly where my thoughts have been going lately. However I'll go even further to suggest that our consciousnesses are "born" within our quantum minds. Our biology is a life support system for that mind specifically so it can give rise to a self aware consciousness.

  9. i agree but i still ask myself, if this is the case then how does synchronicity happen? is collective consciousness self-aware and if it is then is it aware that it is made up of self aware humans and then if so can it react to us and our cries and feelings and emotions and then in turn send us signs and miracles?

  10. when John wrote the book of Revelation he knew that the collective conscious would emerge. people have been preaching this idea since before ancient egypt. it looks like our generation has front row tickets to the next phase of human evolution and it seems that it will be a conscious evolution and very "spiritual"

  11. So the LHC essentially smashes people apart to prove that things like hearts, livers, lungs and kidneys exist. It is interesting that the bits that result from the smashing seem to decay like dead bodies do.

  12. Big assumptions in this story. it may well be that "consciousness" creates the physical vessels in which it plays, rather than that they create a ground for it to "arise". No proof it isn't this way or that way. Just assumptions.

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