Consciousness is defined as the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings. Given this definition, can we say that things have consciousness?

Often we ascribe consciousness to living, breathing, beings: humans, animals, even plants. Rarely do we extend that consciousness to things. Though we would be mistaken to believe that things lacked consciousness, however rudimentary, especially those things that were once living. Indeed, consciousness reflects an intrinsic property of complexity of both beings and things within the universe.

Not too long ago, we inhabited a world where everything was conscious by this definition, where everything that we used in our everyday lives was once part of the earth or derived from some former life form.

The shea butter that soothes our skin—the chemical reaction that takes place from heat waves produced from the friction of rubbing one’s palms—attains its healing powers from its consciousness, once having been a shea tree.

Or consider the leather of a chair or purse or jacket that originated on the body of a horse or a cow. Even after the animal perished, that skin which we use as a covering for an everyday item still remains conscious.

How the leather ages and becomes soft with time. How it responds to its environment. How leathers and woods and metals expand and contract depending upon the temperature. When we polish leather with ointment, it regains its luster and assumes a new life. It is responsive to our care.

A copper pot requires the same attentiveness, for it is conscious as well. Rust and discoloration are signs of neglect. Its well-being depends upon treatment and care that is required of conscious beings and things. The care with which we provide for it is the energy that resounds in the universe.

A wooden table is no different, if in fact the wood’s former self stood stately as a tree. Now it assumes a new form of consciousness inside the home (or perhaps outdoors), static and on four legs but still retaining its verve. Its nicks and scrapes reveal its character.

Now why would we use a word like character to describe things, if they were merely things and had no relations at all to the qualities of a person, qualities like consciousness? Unmistakably, when we talk of homes built with character, we are referring to this consciousness of timeless elements that offers far more than mere structure but also tells a story about the life of things.

When we speak of the breathability of fabrics—how much air they allow through to our skin, how they absorb and manage heat, how they protect us from the elements—aren’t we also assessing their levels of consciousness? Maybe this is why we will not get rid of our beloved jacket to which we attach such favorable human sentiments.

Not too long ago, we always ate eggs or beef or okra that was created by living beings and not concocted in some hidden laboratory. We only used materials that had consciousness through life experience or through their connections to the earth.

On the contrary, the manmade goods of today have no consciousness. You cannot repolish plastic to take care of it and give it extra life. Styrofoam cannot be salvaged into a greater good, nor can it biodegrade when compressed, combined, or otherwise transformed. It cannot find peace with other materials to reside in harmony with the earth and regain consciousness in some other form. There is no overlap between conscious and unconscious things; the earth has no use for the latter.

Still some insist upon desecration of these sacred grounds of universal consciousness.

The transatlantic slave trade was the worst display of brutality on the human consciousness that the world has ever witnessed. Globalist neocolonialism and the excavation and extraction of the earth’s treasures is the worst display of brutality on the consciousness of things that the world has ever seen. The same ideology that brings rapid extinction to the world’s animal species and plant life is the worst display of brutality on the consciousness of non-human beings that the world has ever seen.

We are making superlatives across the destruction of consciousness, though not in the direction that would make our Mother Earth proud.

Contemporary globalization, industrialization, mass production, and overconsumption are in direct opposition to respecting the consciousness of things and beings. Far from balance, the world today holds no esteem for the consciousness of beings, much less of things. Conscious beings and things are disposed of without an instance of thought. The destruction of the living, end of entire species for no other purpose than the façade of dominion.

Dominion and civilization are not to be confused. A society can be close to reaching one but far from the other, which is what we are experiencing in this modern world.

If we have reached the highest levels of comprehension and civilization, we would understand that a wooden table or leather chair is not to be constructed without an immediate purpose. We would understand that a tree or animal gave its life to assume a new life as that object, which still retains its sentience and whose spirit still looms over that object eternally.

Civilized people, reaching a higher self, can experience this consciousness with things and aspire to higher forms of life and relations with their environments. Civilization can elude even the most dominant of orders.

As civilized peoples, our ancestors and their traditions cherished the consciousness of things. There was a time not too long ago (and some of us still remember) when we actually took care of things when we recognized their consciousness, creating a synergy that soothed our souls and pacified the environment. As a result, the world was near equilibrium in far greater balance than the world today.

The recent push to use natural materials (and natural materials only) is actually a drive for the revival of the consciousness of things. The push to use them sparingly is actually a call to respect, preserve, and venerate conscious life.

This consciousness of things is uniquely tied to ideas about what we could today call conservation, preservation, and environmentalism, what our ancestors simply referred to as Ma’at.

Yet, we are foolish to think that environmentalism has anything to do with recycling, which is truly nothing more than waste plus the use of more waste in the burning of energy to foster additional superfluous consumption. If we are being honest with ourselves, environmentalism has everything to do with being in harmony with one’s own consciousness while recognizing and respecting the consciousness of other beings and things.

When we disrespect consciousness, the earth responds in ways we consider to be unpleasant, in what we call natural disasters like sinkholes. Not to be misled however, the true natural disasters are the everyday acts we commit in violation of the laws of universal consciousness.

The cycle of life and its perpetuation depends upon us taking care of conscious selves. In revering the consciousness of things, we are paying respect to the dead, preserving the living, and giving life to the future—so that we do not disturb the dead as their consciousness lives on in the things we use, so that consciousness can continue onward, so that we do not disrupt the course of the universe.

However the world aches in pain from the damage, no matter how much we physically destroy, the universal consciousness will not disappear. Though to stop the profuse bleeding of the earth, we need a return to the understanding of the consciousness of things and beings.

We need to understand that that consciousness of beings and things is intrinsic to the universe, to Ma’at. It is what keeps this planet, this galaxy, and beyond in balance.

9 COMMENTS

  1. “We need to understand that that consciousness of beings and things is intrinsic to the universe, to Ma’at. It is what keeps this planet, this galaxy, and beyond in balance.” Brilliant, Sister Nefertiti! Further to understanding and ‘overstanding’, we must act with the greatest urgency: add our ‘Positive Action’ to initiatives like the “Operation ECODECOLODUCATION” set in practical motion by members of the Planet Repairs Youth Positive Action Campaign – Green Star Clubs (PRYPAC-GSC), including those in Ghana! Check PRYPAC!

  2. Nefetiti expatiates on our discussions of the consciousness of things and beings. She argues that our current inability to understand or use things — our monstrous apraxia — which was ever ubiquitous in our capitalistic inclinations of yesteryear and ever so pervasive in our [neoliberal] doctrines of today contributes to the incongruity, the lack of harmony, that associates our massive and limitless levels of consumption with the impending calamity – a dwindling finite Mother Earth. By sowing together ideas about the basic consciousness of things, perhaps where the quantum wave function collapses for things (Atiga Jonas Atingdui), together with the calamitous order that industrialization and urbanization wreaks on our shared environment (Narmer Amenuti), Nefetiti achieves a splendent synergy of ideas necessary for grasping the underlying reasons for preserving what we may yet have left of the planet Earth. In short, all this talk about environmentalism will get us nowhere unless African scholars can rise up and re-teach and re-tool the rest of the world with the instrument for civilizational change — consciousness.
    But, of course, the more I continue, the more I spoil it for you.
    Enjoy. By all means!

  3. Thanks for the add. Nefetiti’s essay folds well into the earlier theses discussed. If the consciousness of things and beings can be appreciated, the planet might be redeemed. Or we will continue at the current rate of consumption, with the dangerous idea that the planet is for the taking, that the planet is a resource, and forever bring Mother Earth to her knees. Asase Yaa is in peril, no doubt. A worthy read.

  4. Modern man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creature is amusing in itself. How much more for an “inanimate object.” By invoking “inanimate” humans proscribe a category to which all else belong but themselves. Even more that these things are essentially for their amusement. The strongest motive for the care of natural things is not self interest, but reverence. This is captured so beautifully in Nefetiti’s prose.

  5. The pitiless, hardhearted, obdurate plundering of the Earth has everything to do we the formations of ideology. Ideology does matter! And even if it is not ideology in the strictest of senses, even if it is science or maths, the assumptions matter. Because assumptions can sometimes lead to dangerous ideas although the assumptions themselves cannot be falsified. Now, some would usually ascribe to an idea or hypothesis that has yet to be falsified a “truth value,” which literally means, if you cannot disprove my hypothesis then it is “true”.

    That Popper-ish inheritance of the understanding of science and how we perceive the world is dangerous. Implications of ideas matter. Results matter. Effects matter. Capitalism, at least the way that it has been practiced with the ideas of compound rates of growth of gross domestic products or gross national products is dangerous for mother Earth. The assumptions underlying the postulation of capitalistic economic principles need to be re-examined or we will have no Earth to leave to our grandchildren. Some adults need to rise up of course and change the tune. To change the tune, one must change the beat.

    The beat produces mass consumption, industrialization and urbanization which are collectively just ruining the Earth. The beat needs changing and it starts with admitting it. It starts with being brave and saying to other people’s dangerous ideas, “NO MORE!” Thanks Nefetiti.

  6. Thank you Nefetiti for appealing to my consciousness and bringing me to further consciousness of all that adds up to make me conscious. I shall pass it on. Can consciousness then be transferred from one being to another and from one thing to another or is consciousness only awakened from within its source and that its growth or degeneration stays only in the bound of its source?

  7. One mistake we made as Black people was to take the knowledge of the youngest people (race) on the planet as the wisdom of God himself. If we observe carefully you will notice that everything that western civilization discarded as primitive cultures of aboriginal people are gradually being recognized as the right course. We abandoned our foods for corn flakes, burgers, soft drinks, pizza etc only to find out we were purchasing diabetes and high blood pressure. Today the ‘health conscious’ industry is re-emerging as people are finding out that the artificial foods and diet of western society is killing us.

    In the same way we were told that our ancestors were primitive and unscientific when they surmised that we are one with everything; no dichotomies between us and the rest of the stuff in nature. Western science said no, we are different. Today, they recognize that at the atomic and sub-atomic level we are all the same; electrons around a nucleus separated yet held together by ‘space’ or ‘vacuum’ or ‘energy’ or ‘spirit’. Consciousness is not an emergent property of complexity. How else could we explain the ‘livingness’ of simple rudimentary organisms such as sperm and the paramecium? How do atoms join one another to form molecules that just happen to support life for us? How do the form our bodies? What directs them? What blue print are they working from? These are questions that won’t go away just because a White guy in a lab coat doesn’t want to answer them.

  8. In fact, it seems to me that the complexity of a single-celled organism is even miles head of the most sophisticated machines we have ever built. The C-Value paradox comes to mind. You might expect more complex organisms to have progressively larger genomes, but eukaryotic genome size fails to correlate well with apparent complexity, and instead varies wildly over more than a 100,000-fold range. Single-celled Amoeba have some of the largest genomes, up to 100-fold larger than the human genome. This variation suggested that genomes can contain a substantial fraction of DNA other than for genes and their regulatory sequences. C.A. Thomas Jr dubbed it the ‘C-value paradox’ in 1971.

    This is why scientists who tried to replicate simple organic life failed beyond recognition. This is why all efforts in science is now geared towards genetic manipulation. At the core, Atiga, it seems more to me that the generation of life/consciousness lies at the heart of the information encoded at the DNA level. If every part of the organism is defined by the combination of DNA (and genes) why can we not accept that Consciousness too might be the expression of a particular set of interacting nucleotide sequence of DNA.

    In that sense, to say that a piece of Stone is Conscious is not in itself unfathomable, but it seems to me that this consciousness is realized and is made aware differently. Perhaps, at the nucleotide level is where the wave function collapses. Perhaps at this DNA is where the interactions of conscious atoms, subatomic particles, molecules and molecular interactions “emerge” to trigger the collapse of the wave function. This is a thought.

    Hence it is difficult when Nefetiti claims that we might actually share the same consciousness as a piece of stone. Sure, I get the picture, in that from the subatomic to the atomic and to the molecular levels do interactions large enough to generate wave functions even occur. There lies the basic building blocks of consciousness. But building blocks do not make the house. It becomes then a tad bit problematic to speak of consciousness of non-living things.

  9. True that Dade Afre Akufu. All living organisms store genetic information using the same molecules — DNA and RNA. Written in the genetic code of these molecules it seems to me lay the compelling evidence of the shared ancestry of all living things. This is an interesting thought, one that I think Atiga and Nefetiti might elaborate on. If we are encoded in the same way as all living things are encoded, there’s something to be said about our shared Consciousness. The fact that four different nucleotides interacting with themselves have this ability to imbue “life” or consciousness into living things remains fascinating.

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