Let me just begin by stating that I was once one to subscribe to just about any belief system which claimed to have an esoteric model that could coincide with contemporary physical theory. However, as time has progressed and I grow gradually older and more skeptical, I’ve come to disregard nearly everything that mashes up buzzwords like “quantum” with any new age or occult idea. Where I once sought to justify my esoteric practices with at least some sort of reasonably functioning model of reality (perhaps due to my insecurity as a developing magician) I have come to realize that magick needs no apologetics to function within the world I exist in. While I see drawn out explanations for consciousness or paranormal occurrences such as the one seen in Peter Caroll’s “Apophenion” as useful to some who may have difficulty with the “suspension of disbelief” aspect of Chaos Magick, I feel that it detracts from the real core of the work, which to me is learning by experience. The old maxim “If it works, use it, if not, throw it out” tends to be a motto I try and base my life work upon.
That being said, I had a very thought provoking conversation with a friend of mine, who also happens to be a budding astrophysicist. The question, which remains unanswered, is a glaring remnant of philosophical solipsism. How can I be certain that I am actually a conscious being, making conscious decisions, when everything that occurs within me is the result of some physical process? How would we know if we are actually nothing more than passive observers, seated in the cockpit of the human body, led to believe that every decision made was our own, when it was in fact determined causally?
At first I was hesitant to go down this road, and tried to prompt him to maintain an empirically materialist perspective, but I also knew from past experience how this question could loom over one’s head and occupy the obsessive hours of restless sleep. How do we know that when we wake up each day, we’re not in a different body than we were the day before? Can consciousness make “quantum leaps” into various body’s? The only thing that can be said for certain is that there is still much ground to be covered in every aspect of the sciences, and that although many cosmologists believe we are in fact on the verge of obtaining a bonafide unified field theory, we are still ages away from realizing what that means with regard to consciousness.
The question is persistent, and is a lingering relic of a time when the only theory of consciousness was embedded deep within the spiritual dogma of the time. It is my belief that consciousness arises as a result of increasingly complex neurological processes, and that this is the reason we are seeing progressively more intelligent machines. To those unfamiliar with the “technological singularity”, it’s something of a grand ‘rapture’ for brainiacs; an almost religious hope that at some point in the near future, Moore’s Law, which indicates an exponentially increasing complexity of machine architecture, will somehow give way for machines to become entirely self conscious, and that we will be delivered unto an “ever accelerating progress of technology and change in the mode of human life, which [will] give the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue” to quote Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann.
If we do, in the years to come, come to witness an emergence of machine intelligence which parallels our own consciousness, it will provide us an understanding of the way in which our own consciousness came to exist. Many who still ascribe to the old model of soul-constituting-consciousness, as an entity independent of the physical body, likely would not submit belief into the idea that machines had become self-aware, as clearly, machines have no soul endowed within them by an external creator. But if the prediction of some scientists, transhumanists, and philosophers come to pass, it should say something about evolution and the development of consciousness.
Could it be that at a previous point in our species’ existence we operated more mechanistically? We’re we, as slaves to our baser instincts for survival, like the machine? Coded by our genetics to persist in an increasingly entropic development of human civilization? Only time will tell at this point, and until that day comes we are condemned to endlessly debate. But does not the fact that this question has risen in the first place indicate that we are in fact making the decisions which govern our behavior?