Metaconsciousness: Mythology for a Post-Civilized World
I.2 | Contents | I.4
It is interesting to note that the metaconsciousness of a group can be of decisively greater survival value than the individual intelligence of its members. Chimpanzees are considered by most biologists who study them to be significantly more intelligent individually than are baboons. Yet chimps are dying out as a species, while baboons are expanding into increasingly diverse ecological niches, and are the most widely dispersed non-human primates in Africa. Why? The intelligent chimps typically congregate in groups of around 40, while baboons cluster at night in congregations numbering 120 to 250 or more, and are much more adept than chimps are at sharing information. Individual chimpanzees may be more conscious than individual baboons; yet a baboon troupe is significantly more metaconscious than a troupe of chimps; and their prolific success in the "real world" demonstrates what a formidable advantage this can be.1
As mentioned in the previous section, Bloom demonstrates that an extraordinarily powerful, adaptable, and versatile metaconsciousness has been present and steadily evolving on this planet practically from the moment conditions began to exist in which biological life could survive and thrive. The distributed agents of this metaconscious entity are, individually, vastly less conscious than baboons, chimps, people, or even worms; yet they occur in numbers that totally overwhelm in magnitude the populations of all multi-cellular species combined. I refer, of course to the single-celled organisms known collectively as microbes.
Not only do microbes proliferate in vast numbers, they maintain vast, and vastly complex, networks amongst themselves, by means of which they swiftly and efficiently share information on a global scale.2 Residing in the intestinal tracts of migratory birds, for example, they are able to share select samples of genetic code around the world. They have demonstrated the ability literally to engineer, duplicate, and proliferate genetic information in effective response to challenges they encounter in the global environment. An example is the swift evolution of microbial strains resistant to formerly lethal antibiotics developed by human biologists. Bloom suggests in effect that microbial metaconsciousness may be the most advanced on the planet, and by implication, that human metaconsciousness may lag far behind – the promise of the Internet and global jet air travel notwithstanding. Indeed, global jet air travel is doubtless one of the many components in the global microbial network – and far more effectively so for "them" than for "us." After all, no transoceanic microbe making landfall on a distant continent has ever had to bother with such artificial absurdities as clearing customs – even when smuggling in lethal strains of DNA!
We civilized humans routinely erect a bewildering array of such obstacles to the free exercise of human metaconsciousness. It is no wonder, therefore, we are outflanked at every turn by the microbial metaconsciousness of the first biological inhabitants of this planet. This may also be a "secondary," or even a "primary" reason for the pandemic mentioned in the preceding section.
So why do we do this? Why do we so deliberately, and so unnecessarily, handicap ourselves? Is it not obvious that obstructing metaconsciousness is an inherent function of dominator civilizations? Obstructing the human metaconsciousness is something civilized humans do all the time, in countless different ways, because of the fear of losing control of something that lies by nature entirely outside our province of "control." Like it or not, the "control" civilized humans so desperately seek lies properly, if anywhere, in the hands of the gods; which is to say, it lies in the province of the universal metaconsciousness. By preempting the universal metaconsciousness, we put ourselves literally at war with the very gods, and at war with everything. How else but in catastrophe can such a posture end?
The final devolution of civilization is one in which the conformity enforcers are making a final decisive bid for ultimate and irrevocable control over the diversity generators, and indeed the entire world – a bid which tolls the knell for dominator civilization, and concludes the civilized war upon metaconsciousness, and the very gods; because it stifles richness, diversity, variety, complexity, and liberty, thereby disabling Life and making impossible the endless spiral of evolution. This "final act" in the civilized drama has been building for five thousand years, ever since the first warlord took it upon himself to "rule" his neighboring tribes and nascent partnership civilizations by force – culminating in the tragic catastrophe in which we are participating today.
The typical civilized response to a visionary diversity generator is neurotic and perverse, and was given poetic expression about two centuries ago:
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.3
Isn't that the civilized way though? When a distributed agent of a functional metaconscious entity "on honey-dew hath fed, And drunk the milk of Paradise," the natural response, one would think, is for all his peers to gather round, heap the fortunate fellow with rewards and praise, and generally cash in on a Good Thing. But no; not when the conformity enforcers have got the bit in their teeth: "Beware! Beware! His flashing eyes, his floating hair! Weave a circle round him thrice, And close your eyes with holy dread!"
It is the formula for the shutting-down of human metaconsciousness; and there is no reason it has to be this way. We could just as easily, and far more naturally, expand our human metaconsciousness, open our eyes in holy anticipation, and just for instance, treat the microbes as metaconscious allies, instead of adversaries. Nothing, besides our hallucinatory notions of "right" and "wrong," constrain us to wage war with the gods, or with anyone or anything. Nothing, that is to say, besides our fatal civilization, and our compulsive embrace of the fatal premises upon which it rests:
It is ironic that our contemporary civilization makes so much about the search for "intelligent life in the universe," when we fail to recognize the "intelligent life" swarming constantly all around us. "Intelligence" – or more generally, metaconsciousness – appears to be a fundamental property of Life itself;4 and those who do not exercise it eventually forfeit their participation in the adventure of being alive. This seems to be the destiny toward which human civilization is headed – perhaps because being oblivious to the metaconsciousness present everywhere, civilization is effectively dead already.
Although Howard Bloom suggests in effect that the microbes may combine in the most highly evolved metaconsciousness on the planet, there is nothing about metaconsciousness that requires it to be hosted by exclusively biological entities. Metaconsciousness may exhibit its presence anywhere there exists in sufficient richness, diversity, variety, complexity, and liberty a matrix of information-sharing agents; which means, virtually anywhere at all. Indeed, as we shall see, speaking of metaconsciousness as being "hosted" by an "entity" may be a typically civilized way of "getting the cart before the horse" – as if metaconsciousness were a "property" of physical entities. Rather, it may be much more "truthful" to say that physicality is one of the many possible "costumes" in which metaconsciousness clothes herself.
1. Bloom, 2000, p. 52.
2. See On Networks in section II.6 for an extended discussion of spontaneously emergent and self-organizing networks.
3. From Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772-1834, emphasis added.
4. See The Molecular Microworld of the Cell, and Inconclusion, section II.6, for a startling description of the "nuts & bolts" of how this is so.
Metaconsciousness: Mythology for a Post-Civilized World
I.2 | Contents | I.4