Something that I’ve been struggling with for a while is the idea that consciousness is just a physical function. Like farting, but different. This is the logical conclusion of the ideas in “Reincarnation, a critical examination” a book I read on anticant’s recommendation. It’s a book I found to be cogent, coherent and all too probable.
For the sake of amicable discourse let us accept that I couldn’t find a logical flaw in the book’s argument that consciousness is a function of the brain and that there is no evidence for any part of us surviving after death. You are of course as entitled to your own views about the immortality of the soul as I am; I am not going to try to persuade you of anything one way or the other and I’d appreciate it if you’d show me the same courtesy in return.
Consciousness – our sense of self – isn’t an entity in its own right, it’s an effect, a result, it is ends rather than means. In fact, it’s less than that: it’s a side-effect, a by-product. As the DNA store puts it: DNA is life, the rest is just translation.
It is lurchingly disorientating to realise that consciousness is incidental. Dawkins of course is explicit that evolution is about survival on the level of individual patterns of genes not on the level of entire genomes, still less on the level of consciousness or any other abstract idea. I’ve been able to accept that we are Bede’s bird, flying though the firelit hall out of darkness and back into darkness, but I find it hard to hold on to the idea that the bird itself is, as I said, a side-effect. I’ve been like a dog trying to catch its own tail for weeks. I find it almost as hard to understand this idea (and not just the words it’s expressed with), as I’d find it to see the back of my own head without a mirror.
This is an idea as subversive, maybe even more subversive, than the heliocentric solar system, and it’s an idea of the same kind.