When I was a kid on the farm in Kentucky I made a habit of hiding in the chicken-feed bin, spying on the old hens who laid our eggs. With my own eyes I learned that chickens had distinct personalities, that there were matronly lady types and others that were raunchy sluts, some were bashful and some aggressive, on and on. Later I saw that cows, pigs and goats had even more complex and vivid personalities.

As an adult I've never doubted that animals other than humans have feelings and their own senses of identity. As soon as I left the farm and got beyond human-centered religious teachings, it was easy to start seeing that we Homo sapiens are just other animals, our main adaptation being our complex brains. Moreover, I couldn't see how these other animals, behaving as they did, could not have feelings and senses of identity like our own, just different, and in different measure.

In terms of that different measure, I visualize that on Earth humans possess the most intense feelings and vivid senses of identity -- though sometimes I wonder about dolphins -- with apes having less, then on down through pigs and the like, past frogs and turtles to insects, and below them I suspect that the average landscape shimmers with all kinds of incipient, tentative glimmerings of many kinds of awareness and insight, wherever there's fungi, trees, weeds, mosses, algae -- maybe even crystals and sand grains.

Feelings and senses of identity arise in the brain, so it's insightful to think about this: Many times it's been demonstrated that any small part of the human brain can be removed without too much change in the brain owner's personality. Therefore, these feelings and senses of identity don't arise from any single, physical point inside our brains, but rather they seem to come about spontaneously wherever a brain has been wired in a certain very sophisticated manner, and the impulses along the brain's neural pathways interact in certain ways. So, why shouldn't all complex systems configured in sophisticated manners with information and energy flowing in complex patterns also result in some kind of feeling and sense of awareness? When we enter a forest, or approach the ocean, sensing something there with a greater presence, wisdom and awareness than ourselves, maybe that's really the way it is.

To top all this off, the other day Eric in New York sent a Quanta Magazine interview with cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman, who uses the math of quantum mechanics to explore "reality." With regard to the above matters, an interesting offshoot of Hoffman's math has been the discovery that if two "conscious agents" -- two awarenesses -- interact, the math says that instead of two conscious agents ending up next to one another, there continues to be just one thing. 1 + 1 = 1. Hoffman offered this example of how right now this math might be expressing itself in our own everyday world:

Human brains are divided into two hemispheres, the left side specializing in analytic thought, language, and such, the right side dealing with holistic thought, intuition, art and the like. When a human loses an entire hemisphere -- usually because of cancer or a physical injury to one side of the head -- the individual's memories are retained, and the basic personality remains. It's clear, then, that each hemisphere of a human brain is itself a brain. Extrapolating the findings in the other direction by combing brains to form, again, one brain, Hoffman writes "... it's not implausible that there is a single conscious agent."

I believe he's talking about one single conscious agent in the whole Universe, to which all the Universe's various conscious agents contribute.

There's something else: When someone loses one of his or her brain hemispheres, that person does indeed remain a functioning human capable of complex thoughts and emotions, but people around them often report a certain change in their personalities. Often it's said that the person has become a little "flat." They've lost some of their spontaneity, their creativity and humor. Let's call that spontaneity, creativity and humor the X Quality.

The X Quality deserves a name because maybe that's exactly what the Universe is evolving toward -- just a purer, more effervescent and rambunctious form than we can imagine.

You can freely read the Hoffman interview, entitled "The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality," here.