Are We Conscious Beings? Not Yet.
Pavel B. Ivanov
2 Apr 2001
When asked how humans differ from animals, few people will give a sound answer, and some
would even ask back: "And do they really differ?" This lack of determinacy must have
objective roots, and there is something in the world, which hinders proper distinction between
humans and animals. Probably, many will say that people possess consciousness, and animals
don't; however, there is yet no general consent on what consciousness is, and how one could
check its presence in humans and its absence in animals. This vagueness of such a
fundamental notion is also due to the real situation, which, objectively, does not distinguish us
from those whom we so often considered as inferior creatures.
Still, the very existence of the idea of difference indicates that there must be something
supporting it in the world, and, if not now, in the perceptible future, humans may develop into
an essentially different kind of beings, who will be able not only to consciously behave, but
also to understand how their behavior differs from that of the other creatures on the Earth or
elsewhere in the Universe.
Freedom must be listed among the indispensable features of conscious behavior. An animal is
driven by necessity, struggle for life; the availability of choice in animals is always associated
with a state of being protected from the world by an external force. As long as humans have to
struggle for life, work for money, prove anything to anybody, compete with the others—they
demonstrate animal behavior, and hence cannot be called conscious enough.
If we want to differ from animals, we have to also overcome the animal dependence on the
body. Conscious being use their physiology to achieve definite goals, supplementing it with
other tools, whenever necessary, and they should never be slaves of their flesh. Putting aside
smokers, alcoholics or drug addicts, we could point at the very process of physiological birth
as a stigma of our animal nature. The humanity has yet a long way to go to full birth control
and birth planning, including both genetic self-construction and the controllable birth
environment. We have already made the process of insemination independent of sexual
intercourse; as a next step, we have to deliver women from the pains of childbearing and
bringing forth a baby, passing this function to special incubators. We have already made the
familial relations a purely juridical matter; we have to support it with eliminating biological
kinship as such, and transition to conscious (industrial) production of new humans, including
both physiology and education.
Accordingly, all other production and product distribution processes are to become socially
controlled, since chaotic economy and free market are utterly incompatible with
consciousness. A conscious being knows what should be done, and does that, rather than
merely adapts to what has been done incidentally by somebody else.
There is another side of consciousness, that of responsibility. If we act consciously, we are
responsible for what we do, and we should not push responsibility to somebody else. An
animal is not responsible for its acts, since it has no choice. Today, humans also have very
limited choice and do not feel responsible for anything, observing that everything goes
beyond their will. Religion is a clear manifestation of this fear of responsibility, the necessity
for somebody to judge by oneself; any religion tries to ascribe the ultimate judgment to an
incomprehensible entity (god, spirit, fate, tradition, etc.), which is nothing but an abstraction
of the very process of human decision making. People are still apt to believe in magic, or a
lucky strike, rather than conscious concentration on the problem and its rational solution. As a
complement to religion, alcohol and drugs provide similar illusory salvation, in reality being
deliverance from the reason itself.
The humanity has gone a long way from the animal to the conscious being. The earliest stage
of this development knew the general phases of savageness, barbarity and the primitive
communal system; on the level of civilization, with its phases of slavery, feudalism and
capitalism, humans have learned to re-create the world on their will, but the will itself yet
remains enslaved; now, time is coming to master our own existence, and replace civilization
with a much better organized society. We have a chance to become conscious. But we are not
conscious now—not yet.