Alternate Perceptions Magazine, August 2021
Does all Matter Have Consciousness?
by: Dr. Greg Little
It was the year 2000 when I became really fascinated by the mitochondria, which are found by the trillions inside the cells of plants and all animals. Back then I was coauthoring a book on obesity (“It Can Break Your Heart”) with a physician. I knew about mitochondria decades before the year 2000, but I had not yet really comprehended their significance. I also wrote about the mitochondria in several other books, especially focusing on how their DNA was being used to trace the movements and lineage of ancient inhabitants of virtually every continent.
The mitochondria (singular = mitochondrion) are referred to as “organelles” in biology, and they represent a vestigial form of bacteria that long ago formed a symbiotic relationship with multi-celled organisms. In humans, they convert glucose (sugar) into a usable form of energy (ATP). Without the mitochondria we would die and multi-celled animals would not exist; at least not in their present form.
Is Mitochondrial DNA Human DNA? No.
Back in 2019 a masters level archaeologist posted a review of the book “Denisovan Origins” (coauthored by Andrew Colins and me) where he vehemently claimed that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was actually human DNA. (So much for the training of low-level archaeologists.) As bacteria, the mitochondria duplicate themselves through their own DNA. When they duplicate themselves, their simple DNA structure sometimes makes errors in replication by substituting different amino acids at various points, and that is called a “mutation.” That mutation is then passed on to the next generation of mtDNA. It is by examining the mutations in mtDNA that geneticists are able to trace the movements of ancient people. The reason is that mtDNA is found in the bones and teeth of ancient remains and mtDNA is both simple to sequence and long-lasting, even after being buried for long, long periods of time. But none of this is the main point.
I have known and have been colleagues with lots of professionals from medicine, genetics, psychology, archaeology, and other disciplines. We have had many conversations over the decades, and one discussion I recall having many times concerned this question: Do single celled bacteria like mitochondria have some form of primitive consciousness? The question is easy to dismiss as ludicrous, but it isn’t really all that far-fetched.
Animism & Native American Beliefs
I know that ancient Native Americans and many modern shamen believe that all things—all objects—animate and inanimate, are imbued with “spirit,” a primordial energy that does have a rudimentary form of consciousness. That belief has been derided as “animism” for hundreds of years. Animism implies that all objects are “alive,” but that’s not what the Native American belief implies. To them, all things are comprised of spirit, the fundamental substance of creation. In essence, the idea is that the energy comprising “spirit” has consciousness linked to the whole of creation.
Science Starts to Lean Toward Panpsychism
I know that within the scientific community there are some who believe that everything that exists may have some sort of consciousness. But I was surprised when in July 2021 an article appeared in neuroscience journals that asserted the mitochondria do, indeed, show a form of consciousness. Even more surprising was that follow-up articles asserted that all matter may have consciousness: “Of course, if mitochondria are conscious beings, that would mean we have trillions and trillions of these brainless beings chilling throughout literally every cell of our bodies. That idea may seem absurd until you consider a scientific concept which could explain it: Panpsychism, or the idea that consciousness is inextricably linked to all matter and simply grows stronger as a physical object become more complex.”
The general consensus has long been that consciousness is a by-product of brain processes, but research on the relationship between consciousness and brain processes has been inconclusive:
"’It has not been successful,’ Skrbina pointed out. This has been one of the major frustrations, I think, in the scientific community, is to actually find the physical correlate of the various states of consciousness. As far as I can tell, and the latest research I've seen, they have been unable to do this, which suggests that consciousness is either a deeper or a more complex phenomenon than most of our scientists have thought and maybe are willing to admit. This is where panpsychism fills in the void. It offers an explanation for consciousness that doesn't try to do an end run around the known laws of the physical world, but assumes consciousness is an intrinsic part of it.
You can read one article (quoted above) here and within it are links to the scientific papers: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/panpsychism-the-idea-that-inanimate-objects-have-consciousness-gains-steam-in-science-communities/ar-AAMuwMV?ocid=msedgdhp&pc=U531&fbclid=IwAR1W1_X--qE2nsALScQThUI9PJYhEkrNS-sLYwZe-jS-QGu3Af8-os_feig