Deus meus sine genitalibus
What is consciousness?
Merriam Webster defines consciousness as:
The quality or state of being aware, especially of something within oneself.
In 1644, French philosopher René Descartes proffered, via his Principia philosophiae:
Cogito ergo sum — I think, therefore I am.
Sure, later philosophers beefed over what was doing the thinking, who was doing the existing, and what the hell an "I" is anyway... but all that aside, the general idea is that thinking of any sort, kinda requires that you exist first.
"Holy shit" you might say, "Who the hell ever doubted that I existed in the first place? certainly not me! I'm totally secure with my existential preference."
Well Dorothy, have you considered the possibility that perhaps your entire worldview could be a sham? Maybe, just maybe, Kansas is bullshit, and you were just a figment of Mr Baum's imagination. Ok, sure its preposterous at first blush... but humor me for a moment; ask yourself the following question: ( It's ok, I'll wait )
"Do I exist? Or is this all just a dream?"
Now, according to Descartes and his pals: The fact that you're able to conceptualize that question at all means that yes, you probably exist. One could argue that the fact that you bothered to doubt your own existence even for a split-second, would imply fairly strongly that you're also self-aware in at least some limited fashion; That you have an ego, that you probably recognize yourself in the mirror, and generally think of yourself as being discretely separate from the rest of the universe.
"Ok, so we've established that I exist, and I'm self aware... Now what does that have to do with the price of garlic in Spain?"
Well, why do you even have a self to be aware of? What makes your self separate and distinct from the self of your mailman, your accountant, or your taxidermist?
Surely I, as a human, am one discrete being, Right? I have no conjoined twins to speak of, and my fleshy capsule (AKA meat-sack) moves about in the environment as it pleases. Given that this meat sack inexplicably has the wherewithal to recognize, and conceptualize it's own existence, it would seem fair under our working belief system, to say we can assign it one "self".
How about other meat sacks? do they have selves?
Imagine you could find some way to translate this and ask a dog the same question. Does a dog have a concept of a self? Who the hell knows really. It gets much less clear though, that's for certain. A dog is probably conscious; he recognizes when you call his name, and he poops on your favorite rug when he's lonely... but it's really kind of hard to tell from an outside perspective if he's truly self-aware. Maybe.
Ok wise-guy, how about a goldfish? Well, It's even harder still to discern whether a goldfish is aware of it's own existence... Though this could have something to do with the fact that Mr Goldfish (Carassius auratus auratus) is a lot stupider than Canis domesticus.
All of these things are meat sacks, all the way down, including (drumroll please) all of your own cells!
Is a human cell conscious of it's own existence? Can it think?
Hmm... What is thinking anyway? Well, it does respond to stimulus. It regulates it's internal structure and chemistry according to an elaborate molecular program. It eats, it excretes, it generate proteins and enzymes. It gives birth to baby cells; It can at times defend itself and its brethren from attack. So, does it think? Is it self-aware?
One thing is for sure: Your cells are dammed sure not aware that you have a self, and that you have thoughts, because you are on such a different scale. Of course, your cells are the things actually processing your thoughts, yet they cannot conceive of the whole picture, because a single thought is so much bigger than one cell. You are their their world, and unbeknownst to them individually, they are collaborating on a massive scale to make you exist; to make you think. They are on you, and in you ( as well as a host of other cooperative, yet "non-human" microbes. ) There is no part of your body which is not comprised of, or manufactured by your cells.
You came to be by a slow process of collective learning. A long time ago, by mutation or whatever, one bacterium to got together with another, and learned to cooperate. Over the course of billions of years, a swarm of cells learned collectively to become who you are today. By any reasonable definition, A human is a sack of cells. This human is arguably a meta-entity comprised of a collection of other entities.
Well, there's been a pretty good amount of research that would seem to indicate that humans also learn collectively. This is evidenced quite plainly by the fact that the sum of documented human knowledge is so much more than could ever fit in one person's head. Each generation, ( and with shocking rapidity ) we are able to build on the knowledge of our fore-bearers. How else would it be possible for you to be reading this configuration of glowing dots on your screen?
It is therefore arguable that humankind is a sort of meta-consciousness, much like your brain is a meta-consciousness built up of billions of thought-fragments within each of your neurons.
So, lets take a bit of a leap into the void, and ask:
Does this pattern recurse on a larger scale? Is the universe simply a meta-consciousness made up of the innumerable machinations of you and me, and our cells, and the orbits of innumerable suns, galaxies, and black holes? If the workings of a single cell are dictated by the sum of it's sub-cellular programs, the workings of a human dictated by the the workings of it's cells, the workings of a society dictated by the workings of it's humans, could it not be plausible that this pattern is bigger still than we can currently comprehend?
When we each "die", it could more accurately be said, that our constituent components are broken down into their constituent components, and so on... and the cycle begins anew. Those raw materials are converted into plants, fish, other people, and ultimately into the light of the stars from whence they came.
GOD - A Funny Meta-consciousness
As a society, we tend to think of an anthropomorphized god, if not consciously, then at least subconsciously. Even though a gender-specific pronoun could be dismissed solely as a linguistic device (and many still do ascribe the label "He") -- The attachment of any pronoun is an indicator of personification. Even the most dogmatic theologians would agree that god is not a person. God is love, God is light, God is everything, right?
I would posit for you, my dear metahuman-co-constituent, that an anthropomorphized (capital G) "God" is nothing more than a made up persona; created by man in the interest of political expedience. Whereas the non-anthropomorphized "god" is a word for the stunning machinations of a system in which we all participate; a system that is more beautiful than you could possibly ever imagine. "god" does not judge you any more than you would judge one of your own cells. "god" doesn't have an ego, and it doesn't have a penis either (or humans clamoring over it for political power.)