Consciousness of Stream

No, the title is not a horrible typo. True, this is writing-wise a stream of consciousness, but for this post, I wanted specifically to inquire the meanings and values of inanimate objects. A stream first came to mind. Hence, consciousness of stream.

Imagine a stream flowing into the ocean. What is a stream? The definition certainly matters. If choose a definition that includes not only the water but also all the living organisms swimming or floating within it, then the stream deserves to be called a biosphere by itself. Then how is it different from us? Our own living bodies are composed of a combination of organic and inorganic matter. If the definition of a stream includes organic parts, then it would appear that a stream is also living.

If a stream is living, then does it have a consciousness? Of course, no brain or neuron network can be found for a stream, but then again, consciousness may not even require a nervous system. It depends on definitions again. Let us loosely define consciousness to be the awareness of external stimuli. For example, if I look up in the sky at daytime, I would be aware of the sun. In this way, a plant is also somewhat conscious, in that a plant can grow towards the sun (the scientific term is “phototropism”). To a galactic observer, it may seem that the plant is consciously growing this way. Hence, the plant gives the appearance of consciousness, or, if we take the looser definition, the plant is conscious.

Now, what about a stream? Does it possess at least the appearance of consciousness? Surely one could say so. I would agree that a stream is conscious. It responds to changes in the outside environment. It adapts over time. It is even composed of conscious entities; does this qualify the whole system as conscious? Certainly, for even if only part of the stream is conscious, then the whole system may at times act like the individual consciousness. This seems to go into the concept of a collective consciousness, a topic of which may volumes may be written.

This train of thought is somewhat harder to follow in reverse. It is due to the nature of emergent properties, properties which appear due to increased complexity. What I am saying is that a collection of inanimate objects, because of emergent properties, may appear to be conscious. This is actually the case with the plant. The plant is chemically and biologically programmed to grow towards the light, even if it lacks a brain directing it to grow lightwards. Dive further down. These biochemical processes are ultimately determined by the individual molecules and atoms, and at the fundamental level, ruled by the laws of physics. Now, it would be silly to suggest that the laws of physics are conscious, or that the laws of chemistry are conscious. Therefore, the source of consciousness is the emergent properties that arise from increasing complexity.

One thought on “Consciousness of Stream

  1. I define consciousness somewhat more narrowly than you do. Living things tend to have goals and values (or “Quality”, as defined by Pirsig) that roughly follow from the grand directive of evolution. Goals force things to change their environment and to manipulate information, and thus they act . What distinguishes humans is that we are able to fundamentally modify our goals based on our goals. We learn and change our personal values accordingly, possibly in drastic and revolutionary ways.

    A stream may be considered to have goals if one accept the proposition that it is governed by evolutionary processes. However, the stream merely follows them without producing any major changes. On the other hand, when evolution produced humans, we twisted evolutionary values and caused a cosmic revolution, at least here on Earth. That is the source of our energy and if you will, our soul.

    Of course, the corollary to this interpretation is that the universe as a whole, driven by evolution, is conscious. I’m not yet sure what to make of that.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s