THERE IS NOTHING MORE PALPABLE AND DEMOCRATIC THAN CONSCIOUS experience. All of us have it and all of us recognize that others share in the richness and wonder of being conscious. To respect and love one another is to recognize that the "other," no matter how different from oneself, is also conscious, and thus subject to the same range of possibilities for joy and suffering.
At the same time, because of our nature- our having circumscribed individual consciousnesses- we are unable to empirically prove that anyone other than ourselves is actually conscious in the same way that we are. It behooves us as loving, sharing eco-citizens to agree to hold and cultivate the lived assumption that all other humans are created equal by virtue of their sharing consciousness. This is in fact the foundational assumption behind our notion of universal human rights: we are all conscious, and thus we all have needs and we all suffer.
An exploration of consciousness confirms that no matter how different the trappings of culture, language, costume, or beliefs, we are the same sort of beings, we want the same things, and we are subject to the same disappointments and joys.
In short, an exploration of consciousness has great power to illuminate and inform efforts at tikkun olam- the healing and transformation of the world. I am pleased to offer this essay as an introduction to a new section of Tikkun devoted to the exploration and understanding of consciousness. This new endeavor, for which I am serving as editor, will focus on these questions: Why should an exploration of consciousness be included in a broad-based nonsecular magazine devoted to spiritual, social, and political progressivism? Why does consciousness matter, and why does it matter in this context?
To situate our project in relation to the academic field of consciousness studies, I asked Christopher Holvenstot to write a piece for this issue of Tikkun. Holvenstot is in the vanguard of those creating a holistic understanding of the interweave of life and consciousness/cognition that commences from the inception of life itself and evolves in complexity and ever-growing sophistication over its 3.2 billion years. His piece introduces this growing force within consciousness studies and provides a critique of the field from that perspective.
Consciousness and Claims of Human Superiority
WHILE MORE AND MORE OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC, AS WELL AS SOME BEHAVIORAL and cognitive scientists, are increasingly recognizing that animals possess various degrees of consciousness, historically, human culture has expropriated consciousness from other animals, claiming it as the particular and exclusive human attribute that sets us above and apart from all others. This serves to legitimate the destructive view that we have rights over other living things. And that expropriation has taken the form of domineering theological, cultural, and political hegemonies that have forced individual and group consciousnesses into formats that constrain behavior and mind and make other humans and groups seem inferior. This exclusionary stance in support of special privileges is now widely known to be unsustainable. By continuing to hold these beliefs, we threaten the very continuity and resilience of earth's ecosystems. This occurs through the power structures' self-serving assertion of their economic "rights" to all the ecosystem's resources, no matter the consequences for other living things. We participate too often in this discourse without clarity about how consciousness is being viewed- in truth, the idea behind the assertion is, "My consciousness is more important, smarter, and more privileged than yours." Thus, manipulating our beliefs about consciousness can have the most dire and consequential of implications- the death of the planet as we know it. In fact, we are witnessing the largest extinction episode in 64 million years, and it is the first time such devastation has been …