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Previous: 27.3 What awareness is not Up: 27. Consciousness Next: 27.5 Timing issues

27.4 Awareness in animals and plants

Because our theory of consciousness depends on the unified action of love and wisdom within the spiritual and mental degrees, the quality of the consciousness will depend on the details of which specific love and which specific wisdom are acting together and in which sub-degree or sub-sub-degree (etc.) the action is taking place. The quality of our wills and understandings (to receive love and wisdom, respectively) will influence the quality of our consciousness. This dependence of consciousness on the nature of our mental structures that receive life from God means that all living beings--those that receive divine life--have consciousness in all their varying mental and spiritual degrees.

This implies that animals and plants are all conscious, but with many varying degrees of consciousness. They will have varying degrees of awareness and many varieties of clarity in perception. Since it is difficult for us to directly examine the consciousness of animals and plants, let me begin by describing some general considerations to help us predict what those levels of consciousness are. These considerations will be based on examining the various roles of different parts of the human functional form (see Section 25.6 and related discussion), and ascribing different levels of awareness as necessary for the operations of these different parts.

Animals are primarily those creatures which ingest and digest food aerobically and have powers of locomotion. As a first approximation, we may say that all animals are aware of affections that derive from love. Hence they also have the necessary sensory awareness and cognitive discriminations that accompany these affections as many of these are necessary for the operation and delight of those affections. Animal powers of motion enable them to to move around to satisfy their desires. We predict that each individual species of animal corresponds to a particular kind of desire or affection. The enormous range of animals on earth demonstrates the great range of possible desires and affections. We may sometimes find many of those affections within ourselves.

Plants do not have locomotion, but they receive and retain the energy of light from the sun and grow into stable structures. Typically, they convert water from the earth and carbon dioxide from the air into plant body and oxygen with the help of sunlight. Correspondences to these processes were begun to be described in Section 25.3, and were found to be related to perceptions of truth of some kind. This implies that, on earth, plants have rather simple consciousnesses that are essentially kinds of perceptions but with hardly any consequential discrimination. Those awarenesses may be at most at sub-sub-degree 2.32 and 2.33, but at no higher degree. We can imagine plants being first aware of the sunlight, then of water, and then of some underlying impetus to bring these together to make a ‘body of awareness’ which is the growth of the plant itself. In the overall ecology (both spiritually and physically, in correspondence), this body of awareness becomes in turn the food for animals: for rational thought in humans and actual food on earth. The plant kind of consciousness presumably does not use perceptual constancies. Because plants do not move, they do not need to discern invariances under changes of perspective.

Biologists today may insist that they can perfectly well explain the reactions of plants to light by purely biochemical means, and that therefore no ‘plant awareness’ is needed to explain the phenomena. Theistic science will admit this may be true in large part, but it is not the whole story nor even the whole causal explanation. Naturalistic explanations may be largely true, because organized natural process are precisely needed in order to make a firm foundation or skin for interior mental processes, even in plants. Then, in order for those specific mental processes to be attached to this plant and not another, say, there must be causal influence from that mentality into the operation of the plant. This causal influence must occur to some extent, no matter how ‘low down’ is the sub-...-sub-degree of that mentality and no matter how limited is the range of effects that can be generated in the physical by generative dispositions from plant mentality. Again, we presume that the wide variety of plants portrays in part the even wider variety of possible structures of mental perception. We should not think that God is restricted to a small number of suitable organic forms.

Since the number of plants and of animals is finite in comparison to the infinite varieties of loves and truths within God, they are still practically nothing. We need not be upset that forms of organisms may be temporarily created, to live for an era but die out again. The number of new creatures fossilized in the Burgess Shale or the number of dinosaurs is still small compared with the much larger number of possible creatures that may yet represent distinct divine loves and truths. The overflowing nature of God’s love is more than sufficient to generate all the animals, plants, insects and bacteria that have ever existed.


Previous: 27.3 What awareness is not Up: 27. Consciousness Next: 27.5 Timing issues

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