Can the Light of Consciousness Go Out?

I have to leave in the early morning, and it’s a very long drive.  But I’ll leave you with a question to ponder, if you will.

Supposing that the specific form and expression of consciousness called “human” is little more than a flickering candle flame in a wind; and supposing that this “wind” is time; and supposing that time is a measure of entropy; — Is it then conceivable that this flickering flame called “human consciousness” can burn out or become extinguished?  Is consciousness itself vulnerable to entropy? The measure of entropy, here, would be a gradual degeneracy from a condition of thoughtlessness (or unreason) into mindlessness and finally into obliviousness and catatonia.

A kind of devolution, in other words, that can affect the entire species, and not just specimens of the species. Few seem to have asked the question whether human consciousness, too,  might become subject to entropy and decay.  Why have they not asked this question? Might the deterioration of the quality of consciousness pose an even greater threat of extinction for the human species than an asteroid impact or any of the other popular scenarios of worldwide cataclysm?

Perhaps extinction will creep up on us from behind — and from within — while we are looking for the danger outwards and ahead of us? A kind of misplaced vigilance.


38 responses to “Can the Light of Consciousness Go Out?”

  1. srosesmith says :

    I think of Seth’s words, that “mind is another threshold” ! I love that thought!

  2. srosesmith says :

    Scott, are you familiar with the work of Stanley Cavell? I’ve been reading him the last 2 or 3 years after finding his writings on Thoreau (especially THE SENSES OF WALDEN) to be the best (in my view) on that great subject. Here he is on the subject of Wittgenstein and what I’d call the cynical form of skepticism : “…the skeptic as craving the emptiness of language, as ridding himself of the responsibilites of meaning, and as being drawn to annhilate externality or otherness, projects I occasionally summarize as seeking to escape the conditions of humanity, which I call the chronic human desire to achieve the inhuman, the monstrous, from above or from below.”
    I recommend very highly the collection of his essays titled MUST WE MEAN WHAT WE SAY?

    • srosesmith says :

      I want to correct a wrong impression I gave above. Cavell made that statement in an essay on Wittgenstein and Walter Benjamin, but he was not (nor would I) identifying Wittgenstein as a cynic.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks. Interesting quote from Cavell. I’m not familiar with him, but I’ll look into him.

      On Wed, 24 Jul 2013 14:09:14 +0000, The Chrysalis

  3. abdul monem says :

    Uncertainty is the abode of the human. Certainty in not his abode. Restlessness is his vehicle for progress. Uncertainty is an attribute of everything in life and language is one of its most representation. This is not an imperfect quality but a sign of perfection, to accommodate the uniqueness of the human, since we do not see in the same way, this means we require a language that incorporate all definitions to fit that uniqueness. Divine consciousness never fade or change, human consciousness that fades and deteriorate. We are living in this cycle of deterioration as a result of the separation of the human consciousness from its divine source , that is why most thinkers are crying for this reconnection.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Appears to be the case, for even the quest for a “Theory of Everything” or Integral Theory in Physics attests to this need.

      On Thu, 25 Jul 2013 17:05:33 +0000, The Chrysalis

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    “Can the light of consciousness go out?”

    Well, based on my own experiences and thoughts and what I’ve been able to gather from the revelations of Seth, don Juan, and the work of Robert Monroe, it seems to me it’s not in the nature of consciousness to die out completely. Nevertheless, I put forward these two scenarios:

    1. Not all human consciousness is the same. I mean to say that there are gradations of consciousness from which each embodied individual comes into being. This can clearly and easily be observed when we often see individuals who go through similar experiences develop differently. The same is true, it seems to me, about consciousness. Not every consciousness develops the same way through its multi-dimensional and multi-verse experiences. Much of what don Juan talked about in relation to attaining “personal power” is about this diverse development of consciousness. Even Robert Monroe spoke about a realm just beyond the physical reality where “disturbed personalities” are trapped and linger on with their existence, indefinitely. That, in itself, is evidence for levels of consciousness that remain underdeveloped.

    2. Consciousness is recyclable. I don’t know how this exactly works, but judging by the work of Robert Monroe and his mention of “disturbed personalities” somewhere in the structure of consciousness or within the universal force that guides its development there ought to be a “re-set” button that would allow the human consciousness to either restart or redirect its path of development.

    To be sure, consciousness does not contain waste material.

    • Scott Preston says :

      To be sure… Seth states that there is no such thing as “nothingness” per se, but a resumption of a condition of potentiality. But such a state or condition would be non-actuality and therefore, in our terms, non-existence.   Nietzsche, of course, failed to notice something perhaps about his own “stare into the abyss” — he was still conscious of the abyss or Great Nothingness.

      On Fri, 26 Jul 2013 01:42:45 +0000, The Chrysalis

      • LittleBigMan says :

        “[A] resumption of a condition of potentiality” is a very illuminating way of saying it.

        And also, I forgot to mention one of the most important things Seth said about the nature of consciousness, which is that consciousness is free; free to choose whatever path for development.

  5. LittleBigMan says :

    I just listened to a fascinated program on the KQED public radio station in the Bay Area which is pretty much relevant to the discussions we have had on The Chrysalis in the recent past. It is relevant to our discussion about the biology and also the evolution of species. This is where anyone interested can listen to the program:

    I hope the link is functional for everyone.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Can’t access that from where I am. Is that the segment about microbes and evolution?

      On Sun, 28 Jul 2013 00:05:56 +0000, The Chrysalis

      • LittleBigMan says :

        Yes. I’m sorry to hear the program is inaccessible from where you are. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I’m going to try to copy and paste the transcript of the program below. Let’s see if it works:

        The bacterial fauna on our bodies and in our guts can do more than regulate digestion. A new study in the journal Science says microbes can influence evolution. Host Steve Curwood talks to Seth Bordenstein, co-author of the research that some evolutionary biologists are calling groundbreaking.


        CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. There is a major breakthrough in research into evolution and genetics. It seems that our own genes tell only part of the story of how our bodies work. Now research funded by the National Science Foundation shows that the microbiome is also key to speciation, the process by which new species evolve. Seth Bordenstein is an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University, and co-author of this new study. Welcome to the show.

        BORDENSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

        CURWOOD: Now this is pretty complicated science. Can you just walk us through briefly what you did in this experiment?

        BORDENSTEIN: Sure. Every animal has a gut, and within that gut is a large population of bacterial cells that scientists called the microbiome. And we appreciate how important it is today in health and disease. We know far less about whether the microbiome is essentially important to the evolution of animals, and plants for that matter. And what we set out to do was test the hypothesis that new species of animals can arise through changes in their gut bacteria or gut microbiome.

        CURWOOD: How do you do that?

        The hologenome theory suggests that not just individual organisms, but their collective microbial communities as well, are the object of evolution. (

        BORDENSTEIN: Well you do that with an excellent system to examine speciation, and so we have selected a parasitic wasp. And this wasp has four very closely related species in it. Essentially they’re undergoing speciation right now, and it allows biologists to capture the key events that contribute to the origin of new species. And we realized that when these species interbreed and they can make what’s called a hybrid, that the hybrids sometimes die. They don’t survive to adulthood. And for a while people had asked why is it that these hybrids are dying. People ask this question in many systems: why do hybrids die between closely related species.

        CURWOOD: And I’m guessing that what you found is changes or differences in their gut bacteria make the difference.

        Co-authors Robert Brucker (left) and Seth Bordenstein (right) of Vanderbilt University (Seth Bordenstein)

        BORDENSTEIN: That’s correct. And it’s not just changes in the gut bacteria, but changes in the genes, and that it really takes two to tango. It takes both the gut bacteria and the genes inside the animal cells to drive the origin of these new species.

        CURWOOD: Now how did you find the effects of evolution along with microbiome by looking at the hybrids of these wasps?

        Nasonia vitripennis, one of the parasitic jewel wasps used in this study (M.E. Clark)

        BORDENSTEIN: So these wasp hybrids showed a very interesting trait in which their gut microbiome looked different than the parental species, the non-hybrids. And we decided to eliminate the microbiome from the hybrids and see what effect that would have on their death. And remarkably, we found that the hybrids lived when we took the microbiome away, indicating that the bacteria are essential to causing hybrid fatality.

        CURWOOD: And meaning then that bacteria are essential in this process of evolution?

        BORDENSTEIN: Correct. Because speciation is the process by which two organisms can’t interbreed anymore, and we showed that the microbiome is essential to that process.

        CURWOOD: Now your research touches on a controversial idea in evolutionary biology called the hologenome. What is that?

        One of the first proponents of the hologenome theory of evolution worked with fruit flies (

        BORDENSTEIN: So the hologenome is basically the aggregate genome of an organism. That is, if we consider the microbiome and the cell’s mitochondria and the cell’s DNA together, and we sum this information…this genetic information up. Some folks consider this a hologenome, the total genetic information of an animal or a plant, and that the object of evolution is not just one of these genomes, but all of them together. And that’s what changes through the origin of new species.

        CURWOOD: Well wait a second here. Us humans, we have 10 times as many microbial cells as our own selves. So we’re only 10 percent of the genetic game for being human?

        BORDENSTEIN: I’m sorry, but we are. We’re all walking bags of microorganisms, and we should be proud of that because without the microorganisms we would simply die and they would live on. And so they’re essential to our fitness and our health.

        CURWOOD: So what other studies have there been to support this hologenome theory?

        Micrograph of one of the Nasonia wasps (Robert M. Brucker)

        BORDENSTEIN: So the hologenome theory is in its early days, and it’s arguably something that will have a lot of questions around it. Conceptually, the two founders of the hologenome theory, Richard Jefferson and Eugene Rosenberg, have come up with the description of the theory. And Eugene Rosenberg’s lab from Israel has found that if you take a single species of fly, the same species, and you split that species and cultivate it on two different diets, and then you bring these flies back in contact with each other and ask, “do they mate?” , they stunningly found that these flies didn’t mate when they were reared on different diets, but yet they were considered the same species. They were able to find that it was the bacteria in their guts that changed that helped contribute to this mating discrimination that they saw in this one species.

        CURWOOD: I mean, at the end of the day, does that mean somebody who eats big Macs wouldn’t get along with somebody who is a vegan?

        BORDENSTEIN: Well, probably not, but we do know that microbes affect the way we smell, and if individuals choose to date or find the partners based on their smell, then that is a form of discrimination that is occurring. And if it happens at the population or species level then new species will be arising, and so while anything is possible in biology, I doubt that humans will be splitting into different species.

        CURWOOD: Now sometimes in the process of heredity genes become more or less active, or sometimes can work in different ways. What role do you think microbes might play in turning genes off and on?

        BORDENSTEIN: That’s a great question. So microbes will clearly turn on immune genes when they are present. The immune genes serve as essentially the guardians of the host defense system. But there may be many biological processes as we learn about the microbiome that could be turned on, for example brain development, digestion, the way we smell. These are things that increasingly the microbiome is shown to have a role in.

        Researchers Robert Brucker (left) and Seth Bordenstein (right) in the Bordenstein Lab (Seth Bordenstein)

        CURWOOD: Wait a second. You’re saying that bacteria govern how well we might develop our brains?

        BORDENSTEIN: Indeed. So there is an excellent experiment done where they observed brain development in germ-free mice. Germ-free are simply mice that don’t have microbes in them. And they showed some severe deformities in their brain structure indicating that perhaps the brain and the nervous system is dependent upon a proper gut microbiome to be present in that mouse, and perhaps this is common phenomena in other animals.

        CURWOOD: So what’s been the response of the scientific community so far to your findings?

        BORDENSTEIN: The response has been quite nice. We seen quotes of calling this work ‘groundbreaking’, and it is early days for this work. So we’ve also seen some people say we really don’t know how common this phenomenon will be yet, but I think that the most exciting research happens at the frontier, the edge of science where we know the least. And if we don’t take the risks to confront these exciting ideas, we’ll never know if they’re correct or not.

        CURWOOD: What’s next for hologenome research?

        BORDENSTEIN: The next phase is hopefully this paper excites people to go into their own systems to examine how common speciation by microbes are, how common the hologenome theory is. So it’s not just us, but it’s going to be hopefully many labs that start to confront this question were we could have a unified framework under a hologenome theory or not, depending on what the evidence is.

        CURWOOD: Seth Bordenstein is an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University. Thank you so much. This is truly fascinating research.

        BORDENSTEIN: Thank you, again.

        • LittleBigMan says :

          Yeah!!!!!! It workeeeeeed 🙂

          • Scott Preston says :

            The body is an ecology. The principle that maintains the ecological integrity of the organism is called “homeostasis”. Homeostasis is connected with what don Juan calls “the agglutinating force”, and this is the principle of integrity

            “One of the astounding findings of those shamans, according to what don Juan taught, was the existence in the universe of an agglutinating force that binds energy fields together into concrete, functional units. The sorcerers who discovered the existence of this force described it as a vibration, or a vibratory condition, that permeates groups of energy fields and glues them together. “

            • LittleBigMan says :

              “Homeostasis is connected with what don Juan calls “the agglutinating force”, and this is the principle of integrity”

              Yes, absolutely. It seems to me that this “agglutinating force,” which is the source of “vibratory condition” functioning in the way of gluing energy fields together, is that same “intent” of the universe translated.

              In other words, it seems to me “vibratory condition” is the translation of the universal intent at the quanta level of “energy fields.” Whereas, “homeostasis” is the translation of the universal intent at the level of organic matter.

              P.S. Some nights ago, before the crack of dawn I woke up from a dream, where the revelation in the dream was that prose is actually a corruption of the “speech.” It is poetry that is genuine speech.

            • Scott Preston says :

              Some nights ago, before the crack of dawn I woke up from a dream, where the revelation in the dream was that prose is actually a corruption of the “speech.” It is poetry that is genuine speech.   Poetry was the original speech form. Prose came much later, although I wouldn’t call it a corruption. The two books of relevance to this development are Snell’s The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought and Rosenstock-Huessy’s The Origin of Speech — both very similar, in some ways. Both very important contributions towards an integral theory and history of psycho-social development. Both see a fourfold phasic development of mind or consciousness passing through lyrical, epical, imperatival, and indicatival forms of speech. Greece was unique in having passed through, or articulated, all four, but never integrally. They do correspond to the four elements — earth,air, fire, water– in some ways, but no one  could agree  on what was the true “archon” or first element or the quintessence  or “fifth element” — the aether. This would be consciousness or what Heraclitus called the Logos.

              On Thu, 1 Aug 2013 06:40:30 +0000, The Chrysalis

        • srosesmith says :

          CURWOOD: Well wait a second here. Us humans, we have 10 times as many microbial cells as our own selves. So we’re only 10 percent of the genetic game for being human?

          BORDENSTEIN: I’m sorry, but we are. We’re all walking bags of microorganisms, and we should be proud of that because without the microorganisms we would simply die and they would live on. And so they’re essential to our fitness and our health.

          Thank you for posting this, LittleBigMan!

  6. abdul monem says :

    Thank you LBM, Hologram on the macro level and hologenome on the micro level. this recall to my mind a verse which says ,you assume yourself as a small germ and in you incorporated the whole universe.

  7. alex jay says :

    Perhaps this article by Dr. Lanza can add some additional insight on the subject? You may be required to enter your name and e-mail to access … still, well worth it!

    • Scott Preston says :

      That is a very good article by Lanza. I see he quotes Loren Eiseley at the start. Coincidentally, I purchased, just a couple of days ago, a book of lectures given by Eiseley called The Firmament of Time.   Still, Lanza gets a couple of things wrong, and it is surprising for a biologist. He wants to locate consciousness in the head. Lanza surely knows that every cell in the body is conscious in its degree of consciousness, so that consciousness actually extends throughout and even beyond the body. The intuitive (or feeling-and-desire mind a la Percival) and the intellect (or body-mind) are this, with the feeling-and-desire mind now being (improperly) described as “the unconscious” and the body mind (also improperly) being called the “ego consciousness”.   I’ll have to mark this article for another go-through once I return home. Thanks for posting.

      On Mon, 29 Jul 2013 08:07:03 +0000, The Chrysalis

      • alex jay says :

        ” Lanza surely knows that every cell in the body is conscious in its degree of consciousness, so that consciousness actually extends throughout and even beyond the body …”


        What comes to mind specifically, is the “gut brain”. You may recall, I pointed out somewhile back on TDAB the Jungian, Remo Roth making a big issue of the independent though connected importance of the gut in the consciousness dynamic. He developed his ideas from Dr. Michael Gershon. Below is an abridged synopsis of his work.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Yes. Interesting. That could correspond to “the feeling-and-desire mind” of Percival.

          On Tue, 30 Jul 2013 09:45:42 +0000, The Chrysalis

  8. Scott Preston says :

    I brought Kahler’s The Tower and the Abyss with me to Vancouver, as I hadn’t yet finished it. In any case, I started to read it again from the start (and could probably read it many times over still). So far, it is the most thorough book I’ve read documenting the disintegration of the psyche of Late Modern Man.

    But I just came across one passage the implications of which are profound and which I must have overlooked in my first reading — why, I don’t know because it has been raised before in the Chrysalis about the significance for our experience of “time” by the irruption of the so-called “unconscious”.

    Here it is. Here Kahler is discussing the implications of psychoanalysis poking around in the “unconscious”

    “These new techniques effected something most important: they have broken through the bottom of our consciousness — on which the psyche had hitherto rested with confidence — and have likewise cracked the supposedly solid foundation of chronological time. A new time began to germinate within time, the time of inner experience within the time of outer happenings. This new kind of time has no definite limits — the depths into which it expands are practically infinite. It cannot be measured by means of chronological time. As we all know, a dream of a few minutes may span or encompass long stretches of our life; and once we become attentive to the full contents of our continuous inner experience, a dimension is added which escapes all logical and chronological sequence. With this feeling of the boundlessness of experience there emerges a peculiar anxiety, or dizziness, a feeling — as Virginia Wolff’s Clarissa put it — “that it is very, very dangerous to live even one day””

    Those familiar with Jean Gebser’s work will probably recognise the echo here of his own thinking on time and the unconscious, and the implications of the “irruption” of the “unconscious”, as we discussed earlier. That Kahler and Gebser are in such close agreement, in this issue as well as others, is quite remarkable.

  9. LittleBigMan says :

    “The two books of relevance to this development are Snell’s The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought and Rosenstock-Huessy’s The Origin of Speech — both very similar, in some ways.”

    Thank you for those citations; I now have both 🙂 All I have to do is finally get to reading them.

    Ah, yes, the all too mysterious consciousness (a.k.a. aether)…. I love it when the universe taps you on the shoulder and wants to speak with you. It’s a wonderful feeling to experience, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we are far more than what meets the eyes. It’s an awesome feeling to feel connected to the universe. In this lifetime, so far, I have found no greater joy than that.

    Some time ago, I listened to a talk given by photographer and artist Camille Seaman on the radio. I believe she was speaking in the Bay Area. After listening to the words she used in her talk, I was surprised to hear how closely her words and sentiments mimic my own words and sentiments about life. I said to myself that if I was born a female, I would be her. That was the first time I heard her speak, and it has been a joy listening to her ever since. Here’s a short TED Talk by her. I hope the link is accessible:

    • srosesmith says :

      Coincidence, LittleBigMan : Re: Some time ago, I listened to a talk given by photographer and artist Camille Seaman on the radio. :
      A couple of days ago I photocopied a wonderful piece by her (including some photographs) in the current issue of PARABOLA to give to my daughter. I’m glad to have discovered Camille Seaman!

      • LittleBigMan says :

        Glad to hear that you are already familiar with her thoughts and work, Sharon. She’s a very soulful person. Thanks for sharing.

  10. alex jay says :

    Off topic, however …

    Don’t know if you still have a hand in farming, still you might find this of interest?

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes indeed. A man after my own heart.

      On Tue, 6 Aug 2013 08:58:38 +0000, The Chrysalis

      • alex jay says :

        Here’s something else to ponder on the effects of intent …

        • LittleBigMan says :

          I think the excerpt from 5:42 – 6:15 summarizes the point of it all very well. As Robert Monroe concisely put it: “Like attracts like.” And at the deepest level.

          • Scott Preston says :

            I have heard of this scientist’s experiments with water — or, rather intent as it were, for that is the crux of the matter. To me, the most significant aspect of this is the distinction it reveals between what we call “will” and “intent” or intentionality. That distinction demonstrates the two levels of functioning that Percival calls, on the one hand, “feeling-and-desire mind” (intent) and the “body-mind” (ego consciousness or will). For example, I may not will misfortune for myself, but my “intent”, as it were, creates the circumstances which generates the misfortunes. It is this distinction between will and intent that lies at the root of our tendency to split the psyche into conscious and unconscious aspects. The alignment of will with intent is the issue of “submission”, which is, ironically, not a submission in the larger sense. “Not my will but thine” is, finally, the issue of the ego-consciousness regaining contact with its roots, as Seth put it.   I noticed some of the same people in the clip as are interviewed in the Holographic Universe posted earlier.

            On Mon, 12 Aug 2013 05:09:22 +0000, The Chrysalis

            • LittleBigMan says :

              I think Shakespeare’s “All’s well that ends well,” may in fact be that point in one’s life’s journey where will and intent latch onto each other and become inseparable. A point of coveted wisdom and unity of purpose.

            • srosesmith says :

              The lead article in yesterday’s New York Times ScienceTimes section discusses the current big debate among physicists about “a paradox that tests the limits of physics.” It includes these sentences: “The distant particle and the particle inside the black hole could be the same particle.” “But if space and time and gravity are not fundamental, what is?”
              Two or three of their physicist elders, and countless metaphysicians have already (somewhat anyway) answered this question : consciousness.

            • Scott Preston says :

              Here is another article in much the same vein by one of my favourite historians of science, Margaret Wertheim.


              Lengthy, but worth the read.

  11. alex jay says :

    Yes, good article. Reminds me of the “information paradox” espoused by Hawking on the black hole debate with Susskind (spelling?) – very interesting and a comical demonstration of scientists venturing into the realms of metaphysics when the maths don’t work out : ). Margaret Wertheim would chuckle as well. Meanwhile … you might want to spend an hour and a half viewing this little gem (though I have a slight problem with the bloodline section???), nevertheless some thought provoking observations …

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