Bruce in the Packet

105. An Expatriate Trying Not To Think About Politics

I wish to devote less time to thinking about the politics of my homeland, but they obsess me until I am sick of heart and sick to my stomach. I am feeling guilty because maybe I should return to my homeland to join the resistance to Mr. Trump, rather than enjoy the comfort and safety of this haven I have found in Wales.

There was a speck in the bathroom sink, not far from the sink’s edge. I could not tell if it was an insect or a piece of grime because it didn’t move. I was watching it while I stood over the toilet urinating. Once I was finished, I moved closer and the speck raced to the sink’s edge. I quickly swatted it, but it was even quicker. It possessed wings I could not see and shot from the sink disappearing into the air. Do such creatures have consciousness? Do they need consciousness to survive?

I suspect such tiny creatures might not form memories. Have they been tested in a maze? Bees must have memories because they need to relate where they have been to other bees. Ants must have memories. Outside of their nests they can leave scent trails, but in their nests they must learn the routes with new tunnels being built as the nest grows. Still, flies and mosquitoes are probably better off without memory. If they remembered nearly getting killed by their intended target, they wouldn’t try again. Ah, but they must forget and this makes them persistent and annoying.

My sink speck was likely born with all the behavior it needed hardwired into place and nothing left to learn. When I contemplate the number and quality of its senses to detect food, threats, or a mate, and the long list of hardwired options for reactions, I am struck with wonder. Think about it, all that information stored and operating in the miniscule space of the speck’s head. Then consider the number of functions a bacterium “knows”? Perhaps it doesn’t “know” it knows. Still, it holds a script of behavior fixed in its – in its what? They don’t have a single neuron. Even so, each component of the single cell knows what it needs to do. And what about the virus?

The virus is no creature at all, so how did it come into being? I will speculate that it did not evolve from a less complicated something or other; rather, it devolved from a more complicated creature. There might have been a former lifeform that took on a minimalist philosophy, eliminating all nonessential components for existence. It doesn’t even require binary fission, the ability to split into two duplicate selves, cloning like bacteria. Instead, it hijacks other cells for its reproduction. Considering all the sophisticated machinery in the possession of a virus allowing it to persist without memory or self-awareness, it leaves me bewildered. To compare this machinery in an infinitesimal virus or even the intentional motion of a microscopic bacterium and what unfathomable capabilities must the human species possess with its gigantic brain, its 86 billion neurons.

At what level does consciousness begin? When does life become self-aware? I can recognize the manifestation of consciousness, but I cannot define it. Is this the kind of thing that occupies my mind? Well, yes and no. Some of the time I contemplate such things. I do not grasp consciousness. Even trying to read Daniel Dennett hasn’t helped. Nor can I grasp infinity. I know enough of reality to appreciate that something very important, some major component is missing from my understanding, and the reality I perceive is a small element of a larger truth. What is most infuriating is no matter how much time I devote to contemplating such things, I make little to no advancement. I am left frustrated with the awareness of my own limitations, my own ignorance. Nevertheless, I wish to devote more time to these thoughts than politics.

Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions,
he would be pleased to hear from you. 

You can find his several books at Enshrined Inside Me, his second collection of essays, is now available to purchase.