I assume we all believe that bats have experience. After all, they are mammals, and there is no more doubt that they have experience than that mice or pigeons or whales have experience. I have chosen bats instead of wasps or flounders because if one travels too far down the phylogenetic tree, people gradually shed their faith that there is experience there at all…
…Now we know that most bats (the microchiroptera, to be precise) perceive the external world primarily by sonar, or echolocation, detecting the reflections, from objects within range, of their own rapid, subtly modulated, high-frequency shrieks. Their brains are designed to correlate the outgoing impulses with the subsequent echoes, and the information thus acquired enables bats to make precise discriminations of distance, size, shape, motion, and texture comparable to those we make by vision. But bat sonar, though clearly a form of perception, is not similar in its operation to any sense that we possess, and there is no reason to suppose that it is subjectively like anything we can experience or imagine….
Our own experience provides the basic material for our imagination, whose range is therefore limited. It will not help to try to imagine that one has webbing on one’s arms, which enables one to fly around at dusk and dawn catching insects in one’s mouth; that one has very poor vision, and perceives the surrounding world by a system of reflected high-frequency sound signals; and that one spends the day hanging upside down by one’s feet in an attic. In so far as I can imagine this (which is not very far), it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat…
…Even if I could by gradual degrees be transformed into a bat, nothing in my present constitution enables me to imagine what the experiences of such a future stage of myself thus metamorphosed would be like. The best evidence would come from the experiences of bats, if we only knew what they were like.
~from the essay “What is it like to be a bat?” by Thomas Nagel
Consciousness is a tricky idea. If you don’t believe me, read this article (if you are interested in more, check out the author’s scientific publications). One of the ideas that is discussed is the idea of the “easy problem” of consciousness versus the “hard problem” of consciousness. The “easy problems” aren’t necessarily all that easy, but they are problems with testable (and therefor scientific) answers–how do we see/hear/feel/taste/smell and integrate those senses, how do we explain our feelings or observations, how do we regulate behavior on the basis of sensory input and observation, how do we know if we are asleep or awake? The “hard problem”, on the other hand, is one that might not have an answer that can be given by science…how does the physical processes occurring in the brain–the firing of neurons, the flow of electrons, the transmission of neurotransmitters, transform into the subjective experiences of the person?
Consciousness: the having of perceptions, thoughts and feelings; awareness. The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means… Nothing worth reading has been written about it.
Consciousness is something that I think Pagans should spend some time thinking about. Probably lots of time, if they have the chance… Because I think it is here, in the place between the firing of neurons, the flow of electrons, the transmission of neurotransmitters, and the conceptualization of the experience that our experiences with the Divine occur, whether it be in the making of magic or the encountering of deity. What is actually going on in that moment, I have no idea. Nor do I think that it ultimately matters. What matters is what we do with it, what we create starting within ourselves, and what we create as we move outwards from ourselves, into the world and into the universe.
‘Consciousness’ is a word worn smooth by a million tongues. Depending upon the figure of speech chosen it is a state of being, a substance, a process, a place, an epiphenomenon, an emergent aspect of matter, or the only true reality.
~George Miller, ‘Psychology: the Science of Mental Life”, 1962
All of us, I think, are cauldrons of consciousness. Cauldrons for consciousness. What makes us who we are is the *something* that is between sensation and experience. And that *something* is where the magic happens, within the magical vessel of us. Our cauldrons are where our magic happens, regardless of how we choose to interpret and frame it for our own understanding. And what we brew in our cauldron, in our consciousness, matters.