Yes indeed, Life is complicated. The complexities of Life cannot be explored without knowing the function of consciousness. The understanding of Consciousness demands the recognition of difference between mechanical performance (Transitive Action), and intelligent performance (Immanent Action). Consciousness cannot be explained by elementary Laws of Physics and Chemistry or by the use of mechanistic principles.
To make the fundamental distinction between the animate or living, and inanimate or non-living things, we may have to describe the nature of functions that can be observed in the actions performed by things.
There is a difference between mechanical performance and intelligent performance. In the actions performed by the living things, the agent is perfected by its own actions, and activities. Actions such as growing, sensing, and understanding are called “Immanent” actions because they are activities which affect the growing, sensing, or understanding agent called the living thing.
Action of one inert body upon another inert body is called “Transitive” action. For example, heating is a transitive action. In heating, the hot thing loses its own heat while heat is transferred to the cold thing.
In the “Mechanistic” view, continuity of nature is described in terms of universality of purely mechanical principles. The mechanistic concept asserts that the phenomena of life are merely processes and transformations obeying elementary chemical and physical laws. However, it should not be very difficult to make distinction between a forest fire and a bonfire, or a fire ignited in the kitchen in preparation of a meal. Both the actions represent a chemical reaction called combustion, or rapid oxidation. Both actions may generate light, heat, and warmth. But, the forest fire may lack the purposiveness of the bonfire, or the kitchen fire used in cooking. The understanding of the living and the non-living things involves the difference between vital operations and mechanical operations. There is a difference between the vital power of the living thing and the mechanical capacity of inert, non-living thing.
The Vital Power of Living Things:
The word “Animal” derives from the Latin (anima, animus) name for vital principle called “Soul” which is a life principle associated with functions like breathing, or the principle called animation. Breathing is a vital function as it is associated with the “Power” of self-nutrition. The power of self-nutrition is the originating power, possession of which leads us to speak of things as living, and non-living. Nutrition is a vital power as the action is not a mechanical performance. Nutrition is a function associated with a purpose and it is guided to achieve a future end and it involves the choice or selection of specific means to attain the desired goal of its action. A non-living thing like a stone gets heated on exposure to Sun’s radiation and the action is not goal-oriented; it is not guided action to attain a specific purpose of that non-living agent. A living thing like a plant can convert thermal energy from Sun to a new form of chemical energy that it can further use to perform a variety of its own living functions like growth, and reproduction. Living functions are intelligent functions that involve the use of knowledge or information to perform goal-oriented, sequential actions.
Soul and the Cellular Function of Consciousness:
Consciousness describes the ability to perform intelligent action. Consciousness describes the difference between vital operations and mechanical operations. Consciousness describes the difference between vital powers and the capacities of inert matter. Consciousness describes the difference between living things and non-living things. Consciousness is a biological, vital, or living (Immanent) function that characterizes the actions, and activities of living things. Consciousness can include psychological, and mental functions; but it is not a function that can only be performed by living matter of an anatomical structure, or organ called brain.
In literature, religion, and philosophy, the term Consciousness is often used meaning, “attention to the contents or workings of one’s own mind.” John Locke defined consciousness as a psychological condition; it is described as perception of what passes in a man’s own mind. In popular belief, consciousness is viewed as a form of relationship or act of the mind toward objects in nature. Consciousness is claimed to be a continuous field or stream of mental “sense-data.” Very often, neuroscientists describe consciousness as a neurophysiological mechanism that depends on the functions of the brain. It is true for the Brain Stem Reticular Formation represents an integrative focus of consciousness functioning through its widespread interconnections with the cerebral cortex and other regions of the brain.
Consciousness involves recognizing the existence, the fact of knowing something; it describes the fact of being aware of some information. What is that ‘something’ that is known or recognized by Consciousness? A living thing which has substance called living matter is conscious, or aware of the fact of its own existence in its given environment. There are two aspects of Consciousness that are subjectively registered by the living thing; 1. Consciousness is a state of knowing or awareness of what goes on around the individual living thing in its external environment, and 2. Consciousness is a state of knowing or awareness of what goes on within the individual living thing, its own internal environment.
Consciousness is not simple awareness. It is awareness that involves the ability called “Cognition” which involves knowing; the processing of information, the analysis of information, the storing of information, the retrieval of information, and application of information to perform a selected action. In other words, Consciousness represents presence of “Intelligence.” A living thing has Consciousness of its nature of existence that demands the supply of energy from its external environment. The living thing uses its cognitive ability, to recognize the substances, presence of both living, and non-living matter present in its external environment. It uses the power of self-nutrition to attract these substances to acquire energy, manipulate energy, transform energy, and exploit energy to perform its vital, living functions. Thus, Consciousness becomes an absolute attribute of life; it is the fundamental, biological characteristic of living matter or living substance.
For the reasons that I have stated, I define Consciousness as a function by which a living thing knows the fact of its own existence; it knows as to where it exists and knows as to how it is existing. Since Consciousness is a function that operates at a level of structural, and functional organization that is the characteristic of complex, organic molecules, this function cannot be observed, or measured by quantum physicists who study structures and functions of subatomic particles.
I define Consciousness as the ability to establish a connection, or a relationship between energy-demanding molecules, and energy-yielding molecules. A Fundamental Force like the force of Gravitation is very important for existence of man on planet Earth. Man recognizes the physical reality of his own existence with the help of gravitation which provides experience of his body mass or body weight. At the same time, it must be noted that man exists on the surface of a very fast spinning celestial object. Perception of this basic reality of Earth’s speed and velocity by the human organs of sense perception would endanger the ability to live. Man’s physical existence is defended, and is protected by the shielding effect of the force of gravitation. Gravitation helps to block the sensory awareness of the speed of Earth’s motions. This function of gravitational force must be distinguished from the intelligent function called Consciousness.