I was asked the following question in an email:
What are your thoughts on the collective consciousness? Because I am sort of, of the belief that nothing is created just discovered. So nothing is really learned so much as remembered… I dunno, seems to account for people having both a knack for something or like a knack for being bad at something.
Musings on Consciousness
I would say those are two different notions. Plato had the idea that nothing is learned, only “recalled”, implying that we were omniscient in a past life or existence. I’m more of the bent that your genetics represent a decision tree of dispositions. And different life experiences/circumstances take you down different paths on that tree. So your tree may have more paths were you develop a love for painting. And that makes you more likely to be a painter. But it’s not guaranteed. New experiences expose you to more paths, more chances to find your natural inclinations.
As a side note Pythagoras believed in metempsychosis. He remembered being a cucumber in a past life.
As far as collective consciousness goes, the atman, brahma, whatever you want to call it. I like the Taoist line of reasoning. There’s a way the universe has to be (that’s almost saying nothing). And it seems to be logically consistent (science works well enough). So the consciousness we as human beings and animals experience is an exploration of the possible consciousness-space. Like a vector space in linear algebra. I think individuality is an illusion, there’s a part of your brain that tells you what you are and what you aren’t. You aren’t distinct from the rest of the energy or the matter in the universe. And the line between where “you” end and “other” begins is fuzzy.
Conscious experience is also entirely virtual. Anything you experience is by definition a simulation your brain made. Actual reality isn’t something you have any direct contact with.
Interestingly, certain kinds of meditation downregulate activity in the “that’s me, that’s not me” part of the brain. Which is why it can give you a sense of great oneness. Oxytocin and Serotonin can too, hence something similar happens on MDMA. Schopenhauer believed you were a noble soul to the degree you look at others and say “I, I, I” and ignoble to the degree you say “Not I, Not I, Not I”.
There’s also the idea of consciousness at different time scales. Could you communicate with a conscious being that thought on a timescale exponentially faster or slower than yours? Are you “conscious” at small enough time intervals? Would that make consciousness discrete like most of your other perceptions e.g. vision? Remember how films work with frames. Light bulbs work the same way, they use AC/DC. They’re always flickering, but too fast for you to perceive.
If the internet somehow became a conscious being, the same way our cells did, could we communicate with it? Directly? Probably not.
My own take is that consciousness is discrete. And each frame is the progeny of the previous one. You are both parent and child. But more intimate than a familial relationship could ever be. You can see yourself across time as a dynasty, much like the Habsburgs. I do what I can to further my dynasty and secure the best for my progeny.