What is consciousness? That which observes fields of information, matter and energy, and calls them reality. Need it be more complex than that? Fields of information, matter and energy comprise our environment. Our consciousness interprets the environment and acts within it. We watch.
If that isn’t enough of a definition for you, there are more involved version to be found almost everywhere you look. Everyone wants to take a shot at it; we all have one. There is Consciousness Online, Center for Consciousness Studies(U of A), as well as dozens of universities, new age retreats and thousands of blogs that tag themselves as relating to the subject. The variety of descriptions reflects the difficulty of the enterprise. Every individual is describing a unique view of “reality”, that has been learned within a unique context. Every field of study has its own unique viewpoint, (piece of the elephant) that influences their observations. On top of that, each discipline develops a unique jargon to describe what they “see”. I call it the Tower of Babel approach. The more you read, the worse it gets; agreement on this subject is rare.
What this discussion really needs is a common denominator. The inquiry needs to be scaled to a level of functionality, where language and terminology can be used in common.
Rather than looking at consciousness from our human perspective, we need to look at how reality and consciousness relate to biological systems in general. Rather than concentrating on the complex internal details, let’s look at how the process functions at this higher level. At this level, the functionality of mobile species is simple: they move, eat, grow, expel waste and reproduce. We don’t care what goes on in their heads, just that they function within the environmental system they inhabit. However, we can note that the ability of an agent to be aware of its surroundings, is essential to three out the five functions. In its simplest form, awareness involves the processing of information. Here we can find some common ground.
The studies of complex systems, quantum mechanics, cybernetics, cellular biology, single celled organisms, chaos theory, fractals, holography, bioelectrics and information technologies share some common conceptual underpinnings. They are all explorations into information processing. There are many rules and laws that are consistent across these fields of study. They share common formulae for the construction of networks, for example.
The language developed by information technologies is known and understood across all languages, national and cultural boundaries. It was developed with functionality as it’s goal, and information processing and distribution it’s primary functions. Biological systems exhibit nearly identical patterns of functionality.
We find the same patterns of process in action in cells where DNA finds, copies and transfers genetic information. The universal rules and laws governing robust digital networks, outlined by Information Technologies offers the foundation for a common language to discuss consciousness, biological life and the material universe, as well.
The second common denominator is that consciousness, cellular activity, quantum mechanics, atomic structure are characterized by fields. Just as our consciousness is the result of waves of firing neurons(fields), matter is the result of waves of atomic particles interacting through fields of force(energy).
From plasma experiments, to growing tips of plants, to firing neurons, it is fields, processing information, that guide interactions. Consciousness is just such a field, processing input and directing actions. Looking at it in this light, all biological processes cycle through a phase of pure information, on the way to a phase of pure matter. Once it is seen as a fundamental function of biological systems, rather than an exclusive attribute of human evolution, consciousness reveals itself.