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RELATIVITY AND THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS KATE FLORES* That there is no absolute motion, all motion being relative to other motion, is a concept we are generally pleased to leave entirely to the province of physics. The principle of the relativity of motion, however, is applicable to living as well as nonliving things, and is particularly relevant to the problem of the origin and evolution of consciousness. For, because all motion is relative to other motion, nothing can be perceived to move except with relation to something having a different rate of movement . A perceiver thus cannot move concurrently with anything if it is to be perceived. There must be a discrepancy between their rates of movement . This is true not only of ourselves, but of every living thing, and has always been true. Now early in evolution living bodies were quite small and light. To such tiny organisms, most of the things we now perceive—light, sounds, gases, liquids, solids—were very powerful forces. And insofar as they were exposed to the movements of such things, they were generally forced by them to move, and move as bodily wholes. Nearly all microorganisms are unable to withstand the power of light, for example, to force bodily movement . Some bacteria, so frail they react to molecular bombardment, respond to the impingement of light as to mechanical shock; they are forced out of its path into shade. Light is a disturbance which compels the entire body to move until the disturbance ceases [1, p. 211]. What is true of the pressure of light is equally true of sound pressures. Small forms living within or close to the earth, for example, are relatively light, whereas sounds conducted through solids are rather heavy, traveling much faster than in water and very much faster than in air. Tiny bodies exposed to such pressures cannot withstand them; they are forced to move with them. And insofar as they move concurrently with sounds, they can have no awareness of them, just as microorganisms forced by light to move can have no awareness of light. Owing to the relativity of all motion, there can be awareness of external things only when the body is not forced to move with them. Even when we ourselves move with sounds (as we sometimes do when they are very * 163 Maiden Avenue, Palenville, New York 12463. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Autumn 1973 | 123 forceful), they seem like movements of the body itself rather than something external to the body. The sounds cannot be externalized or objectified. There is a reaction to the sound—actual physical movement —but the reaction is an unknowing or nonconscious reaction, with no awareness of what caused the movement, or whether it was an external movement or a movement of the body itself. Moving with external pressures precludes awareness of them. Awareness requires resistance, the ability not to yield, a disparity between the body's own movements and movements in the space around it. Thus, it was only as bodies became heavier and sound pressures relatively lighter that consciousness of sounds could even begin to develop. In short, only when the body is not forced to move by external pressures can there be conscious or voluntary reactions to them: a choice of whether the body will or will not move in response. It may seem tautological, but movements can be willed or conscious only when they are not forced. Thus, the trend of evolution toward conscious movement is of necessity a trend toward the requisite discrepancy between bodily and environmental movements. In this trend bodies had to become not only heavy enough to resist external movements as bodily wholes; they had to become complex enough to have specially sensitive parts that would react or yield to those pressures while the body as a whole did not. Only in bodies of such complexity can there be any awareness of a discrepancy between bodily and environmental movements. Essentially, this is the awareness provided by the sensory system. It is an area of sensitivity to environmental movements to which the bulk of the body is impervious and does not necessarily react with movement. The body as a whole may move...


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pp. 123-127
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