Q: I just had a very interesting discussion with my partner on love and the material world. I took the approach that all things have some level of consciousness, but she denies that any material object has consciousness, especially at the level of atoms and molecules. To her, that just seems ridiculous. But isn’t it true that we, the Earth, and the universe are all made up of the same atoms and molecules? Someone who denies that all matter has consciousness cannot show love for material creations. Right?
CdeQ: Well I’m not sure; it depends on what you mean by “love.” Lots of people “love” material possessions, indeed are addicted to them. Yet most of these would also deny that matter has consciousness. Perhaps your friend is someone who “loves” material possessions but doesn’t really love matter because she neither believes nor experiences the deep and innate sentience and sacredness of all matter—whether animals, plants, rocks, or minerals.
People who deny sentience in matter deny that atoms and molecules have any level of consciousness. That is the dominant paradigm of scientific materialism. But, as I point out in my books and lectures, it makes no sense—because it cannot account for the fact that we have consciousness and we are made of atoms and molecules.
If your friend denies that atoms have consciousness, then ask her how come she has consciousness—after all, she is made of atoms. Can she explain how mindless atoms could ever come together to produce her mind? Of course, she cannot. Nobody can. It would require a miracle.
Yes, you are quite right: We humans are made up of atoms and subatomic particles found elsewhere in the natural world. There are no special “human atoms” or “human molecules.”
Bottom line: If we have consciousness (we do) and if we are made of atoms and molecules (we are), then, unless some inexplicable miracle has happened, it follows that the atoms and molecules we are made of must also have some degree of consciousness, too. And, since there is nothing special about human atoms and molecules, if follows that all atoms and molecules must also have some degree of consciousness. The logic is plain and straightforward.
People who deny this either (a) do not think things through clearly enough or (b) believe in some inexplicable miraculous process that can produce minds from mindless matter. (Ironically, this option is not available to materialists because, by definition, they deny the possibility of anything supernatural like miracles.)
Generally, people who deny that matter has its own consciousness have just unthinkingly bought into the dogma of scientific materialism—which is based on the metaphysical assumption that the ultimate nature of reality is “dead” matter. However, that assumption is not in any way scientific or supported by scientific evidence. To put it bluntly: Science has absolutely nothing to say about consciousness one way or the other. Why? Because science restricts itself to studying the physical world, and consciousness is nonphysical.
If your friend is truly interested in clearly thinking things through then you might want to pursue this kind of conversation with her. If, however, she just unthinkingly adopts the “standard dogma,” then I’d say don’t even waste your time.
But be patient and compassionate: People in our culture have been educated (”brainwashed” is appropriate) to believe that only humans (or, at best, animals with complex brains) could possibly have minds or consciousness. There are long and complex reasons for this (I spell them out in Radical Nature). Essentially, it all comes down to the need to believe that humans are special. We’re not. We, like everything else in nature, are composed of matter and mind (or energy and consciousness).
Interestingly enough, people who truly love matter—let’s call them “radical materialists”—tend not to be in love with material consumption. They recognize that all of nature is sacred. Indigenous cultures recognized this a long, long time ago.