Monday, August 8, 2011

Two Great Mysteries

In as much as we are conscious at all, we human beings, find ourselves in the centre of these two great mysteries. The first is our presence in a world which we did not create, we could not have expected, which is continually a surprise and a gift and a challenge. We are born into mystery. We exist. Why?
The second is our consciousness of all of this. It is not just that all of this is here, from the rings of Saturn, to the Hubble deep field pictures that we can see, to the living things that are all around us. It is not just that all of that is here but that we are aware of it. Consciousness is a greater mystery than the whole universe and as far as we know is unique to this part of the universe. It is a gift and a problem as scientists try to figure it out. -Loren Wilkinson (Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies and Philosophy at Regent College) in a lecture to a pastoral science cohort, 2011.
In as much as I am conscious at all? Am I conscious at all? I should be incredibly excited about the world in which I find myself. Most days the level of my consciousness is not that of astonishment and mystery. Why is it that I am so uninspired by existence and consciousness? There is evidence that the psalmist, David, caught glimpses of such awe and wonder when he says,
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth. Psalm 19:1-6
Much of the time I go through life without a thought of the miracle of being here as opposed to not being here. What did it take for me to be living here in this place at this time? The placement of the sun and earth had to be just such that life, as we know it, could exist on this planet. My ancestors had to thrive and escape death long enough to have children who in turn had children of their own. My own immune system had to defeat numerous viruses and cancer cells to keep me alive.
Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you'd think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise." — Lewis Thomas (The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher)
Most days I take all of this for granted. But there is great mystery and awe in being here and being conscious. Without consciousness I am little more than a self-propelled sac of biochemicals.
My mitochondria comprise a very large proportion of me. I cannot do the calculation, but I suppose there is almost as much of them in sheer dry bulk as there is the rest of me. Looked at in this way, I could be taken for a very large, motile colony of respiring bacteria, operating a complex system of nuclei, microtubules, and neurons for the pleasure and sustenance of their families, and running, at the moment, a typewriter. — Lewis Thomas (The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher)
But consciousness changes everything. The fact that my brain can rise out of the goo that is biochemistry long enough to realize that there might be something more to all of this is one clue that there just might be something more to all of this. And therein lie the two great mysteries. We are here and we are conscious. Because of this, before I get to work, I think that I shall allow myself a few minutes of "contented dazzlement of surprise."

No comments: