Over the past few decades, there’s been a creeping invasion that has tremendous repercussions for all of us. Strangely, it is the invasion of consciousness. I say strangely because for millennia human beings claimed total possession of consciousness. We think, invent, solve problems, show curiosity, and make conscious decisions. Even the cleverest of our near relations among the primates might or might not have minds—expert opinion remains sharply divided on the issue.
A chimpanzee or gorilla displays only a limited range of skills compared with human skills. A chimp might learn to dig grubs out from a hole using a stick, but toolmaking basically stops there or using a rock to smash hard nuts, which some monkeys can do. A gorilla might learn to understand language and even use hand signs to communicate, but it can’t teach this skill to another gorilla.
You’d never suspect on the evidence that consciousness was creeping in everywhere, but now there are books on the conscious universe, and a band of physicists believes in panpsychism, the theory that consciousness is inherent in creation, permeating even subatomic particles. Almost a hundred years ago the astronomer Sir James Jeans declared that the universe “begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.”