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Consciousness and the Probability of Being
The Origin of the Particular "I"
by Wister Cordell Wright
At the urging of Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543 and then Galileo Galilei in 1609, Homo sapiens reluctantly gave up the idea that he was the center of the universe. But he was not completely exposed to the ultimate, unsavory truths behind his existence until Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1863. This (quite literally) soul shattering event knocked the species out of the trees and left it crouched awkwardly on all fours, looking frantically about for hungry leopards. The all-fours posture was a bit awkward and uncomfortable, but at least Homo sapiens no longer entertained flamboyant ideas about how he appeared on earth, and who he was as a species.
In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick grabbed the luckless creature by the scuff of his neck and yanked him up bolt upright to stand on his hindmost limbs—alone and shivering in a cold wind off the African savannah. Working at Cavendish Labs at Cambridge University, the two had deduced the molecular structure of DNA, the epochal discovery that subsequently permitted the cryptic, genetic code of life to be understood. Standing perpendicular to the ground was surreal—and not a little nauseating. But there was recompense: The creature now knew that genes and not divinities were responsible for making people and that no Úlan vital was necessary to make a heart beat or a cell divide. (Moreover, he could spot leopards and cheetas a hundred yards off!)
Then, in 1976, the English biologist Sir Richard Dawkins put together some ideas floating about in scientific circles and penned The Selfish Gene. This dramatic treatise snapped our hero around again and proceeded to cudgel his battered ego down yet another notch: Now he was merely a "container" for his genes.
Over the last five hundred years Homo sapiens has taken a mental drubbing. The two books, On the Origin of Species and The Selfish Gene, plus the work of Watson and Crick, have left the species stone cold sober, humbled, and standing far off center of any ontological spotlight. (Did the English never forgive us the Revolution?) But as bad as it seems, for the first time in ten million years of evolution, mankind is erect and is now in a position to face his future with zero illusions about why his species is here. We have a gleam in our eye. We are ready to turn loose the handrail, walk into the twenty-first century, and build starships.
Well, some Homo sapiens are. Not everyone is ready to build a starship. But if you are, and if you are ready for the final piece of the puzzle—why your particular "I" exists—then this is the book for which you have been searching.
Consciousness and the Probability of Being is completely secular in content. It outlines the different roles that deterministic and random forces play in creating individual consciousness—your "I". In addition to examining what consciousness is and why it exists generically in certain species, the work spends an equal amount of time addressing the question of why ones own particular subjective view exists. Rather than taking the usual, near contemptuous look at the role of chance in whether we exist or not, the manuscript holds to the empirical evidence cited and ungrudgingly accords this impartial operative the etiological merits it deserves in creating our "I".
The consequences are then examined. One parenthetical, but not insignificant, consequence is that your first-person view apparently has a probabilistic basis for recurring—for purely materialistic reasons.
Professionals in philosophy and the sciences, college students, teachers, and the intelligent layman will find the book a delight to read. Completely scholarly behind the scenes, the treatise is well documented and contains a wealth of reference material relevant to the origin of the particular "I". Lightened by humor and metaphor, the book is a "fun read"—even if the subject did not concern one of the most important topics in our lives.