Mind Body Consciousness

Mind Body Consciousness

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4586-8.ch004
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Humans also view themselves as not part of nature when they believe they are primarily nonphysical minds or souls or spirits, but we know that humans came to be on this planet through natural selection. Consciousness, although it is in some ways nonphysical, is still very much a part of nature. The work of two contemporary philosophers, Richard Taylor and John Rowlands, is used to explain the relation of consciousness to the natural world.
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How did we get into our false position of being in charge of the rest of the world?

Three partial answers are: Ego, consciousness, and intelligence. These are necessary conditions for the gap between us and the world to arise. But they are not sufficient. We could have egos, we could have consciousness, we could have intelligence without being estranged from the world we live in. Animals have egos and consciousness. Domestic cats have egos. If two cats are involved in an intense fight and you spray them with water, they will forget the fight and start furiously licking themselves to deal with the threat to their appearance. Elephants and primates such as chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans are some animals that have both egos and consciousness. They have selves and can recognize themselves in a mirror. Elephants are upset at the deaths of fellow elephants.

Intelligence is closer to an answer to the question of how we got to think of ourselves as in charge of the world. Chimpanzees that make tools are intelligent. However, their ability to make tools does not divorce them from the ecosystem. Other species with similar or possibly greater intelligence do not appropriate the world, for example dolphins. The 64,000 dollar question is what do dolphins use their intelligence for if not to appropriate the world? Our intelligence used as though we are separate from the rest of nature could lead to our extinction.

One major source of the disconnect between human beings and the rest of nature is the belief that human beings are special in having minds or souls which are not physical or material. One prime motivation for these beliefs is that the nonphysical self survives death. There is even more of a disconnect when our world is felt to be defective or inferior to some better immaterial world (heaven, in many religions) which humans will go to when they die. Many religious people who believe in an afterlife also believe that this world is a place of trial: If one is good, one goes to heaven. If one is bad, one goes to hell. Most Christian sects believe in an afterlife and reward or punishment after death. Such beliefs go back as far as we have any record of religions. Ancient Egyptians mummified their rulers so that their immaterial spirits could continue to have sustenance. Both Egyptians and Mayans built elaborate tombs for their rulers.

These doctrines were not so dangerous when humans had less control over the workings of the world. But they can easily lead people to discount the necessity of preserving and protecting the world we live in. Some fundamentalist American Christians in positions of power over what happens in this world have the view that we need not care about this material world. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, former chair of the Senate Environment Committee, said on national TV that those with environmental concerns were at risk of idolatry by worshipping “God's creation” rather than God. Inhofe belongs to a Christian sect described as End-Timers. End-Timers believe that Jesus will return in the near future and then the world will end. End-Time beliefs make such problems as global warming, the damaged ozone layer, and poisoning caused by industrial by-products inconsequential. Because the world will end soon, End-Timers are concerned only with short-term political-theological outcomes, not long-term solutions. Dealing with environmental issues such as the conservation of endangered species and curbing climate change require belief in an enduring earth1 (Scherer 2004).

The enduring earth with humans on it should not be abandoned because of beliefs not based on any evidence. In any case, whatever the nature of any afterlife, we each begin here and live in this world. Until recently it was common for human beings to believe that the universe as a three-storied place, with the living in the middle, the dead in the underground, and the gods and spirits in the heavens. These views continue to be advocated by many religions and believed by many people. Yet as soon as it turned out the earth was not a flat indefinite plane, such views can be at best figuratively true. It is a measure of the intelligence of most believers in Heaven and Hell and the afterlife that suicide is rarely committed to gain entry to a place that does not exist in physical reality. Yet the old beliefs persist in some form even when knowledge has advanced beyond them. The Heavens Gate group in San Diego combined both world views by committing mass suicide in 1975 to join aliens supposedly circling the earth in spaceships. Thus, they combined a nonphysical transition from life to “another plane” with a physical location their disembodied spirits would be moving to.2

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