Intelligence and Consciousness

This post sits at the intersection of a few things I have seen lately. The first one is this interview over at National Geographic with Richard Mabey, the fellow who coined the term ‘wood wide web.’ The second is this post over on the Blog of Baphomet about the nature of DMT entities.

First, the NatGeo interview has this little gem:

I think that seventies generation believed plants were not only intelligent but conscious, which is a dramatically different thing. What the new botany is suggesting is that plants are sensitive and problem-solving but bypass the need for self-consciousness and brain activity that we assume is necessary for intelligence. People who think this are often accused of being anthropocentric, believing that plants are behaving like humans. The philosopher Daniel Dennett marvelously riposted that critics of this theory are “cerebrocentric,” believing intelligent behavior is not possible without the infinitely superior human brain. What the new work shows is that plants, by means we do not yet fully understand, are capable of behaving like intelligent beings. They are capable of storing—and learning from—memories of what happens to them.

Intelligent but not conscious. As long as we are using consciousness to refer to reflexive self-consciousness, a capacity to represent to ourselves our environment and include within that representation our sense of being within it. Most animal intelligence seems to comanifest with consciousness, but if plants don’t? Why stop with plants?

Which is where I want to pick up the thread from the Blog of Baphomet. I was excited to see someone else talking about the fictional-but-real ghost experiments, but I wonder if we can go further than this:

“DMT entities are real but they live not in a different dimension but instead emerge when human brains meet this molecule. For me this is a much more satisfying (though admittedly more subtle) answer to the perennial question of real/not real. This approach places magic and spirit realm within the universe we inhabit and chimes in more closely with many animist and panpsychic views of reality both ancient and modern.”

There is a way to talk about these encounters with DMT entities as well as our less exotic workaday spiritual compatriots that doesn’t require us to presume that real equates to conscious agency, that we could talk about these beings as intelligences in a manner akin to the way that we talk about plant intelligences. Which is where the comparison to DMT becomes especially interesting to me. How do ayahuasceros, as opposed to entheogen experimenters, talk about ayahuasca? They talk about it as a plant that is good at making introductions to other plants, as an intelligence capable of assisting in our consciousness interacting with other plant intelligences.

In a similar fashion, we can talk about a whole range of magical techniques as tools for interfacing our intelligence with other intelligences through the medium of our consciousness. And, moreover, we can talk about those experiences when our consciousness is suppressed for more direct encounters between our intelligences and the intelligences of the world.

Let’s bracket that intelligence to intelligence encounter for this post and return to the medium of consciousness. What happens in those occasions in those hyperconscious moments? It seems like we are extruding our consciousness outward, or withdrawing or intelligence inward, in such a way that another intelligence is able to become conscious.

I know I have talked about the Popol Vuh before, especially in the context of what it counts as especially estimable about human beings. It joins being a great knower closely to being a great praiser. Think about praise in this sense of bringing consciousness to the world, to the intelligences that animate it, and you can see how praise and knowledge can arise together. It provides some model for the layer within layers experiences that come with doing this work, too, as we learn to engage with different sorts of intelligences, more encompassing intelligences, whose ability to become conscious is decidedly limited, at least if they have to rely on our humble meatbrains.

While these beings become conscious through us, because we can anchor their becoming consciousness in their own intelligence, we don’t have to suggest that they become real just in the encounter with the molecule and our brain. Rather, they are enlivened by that encounter, but like us their consciousness may stretch across and join disparate moments.

Pleasantly, it offers some sense for how we might revisit the unconscious in an analytic and psychoanalytic sense, as a dense knot of intelligence which is not necessarily conscious. That joins, too, the psychoanalytic work to older notions like those endorsed by Aristotle which posits a vegetal soul within our being.

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4 thoughts on “Intelligence and Consciousness

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