Which Came First?

For years now, the old conundrum of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” has dangled the mystery of the universe before my eyes. That in itself is a bit strange, since the question can so easily be dismissed as an arbitrary breaking apart of a unitary process. Since every living being is in a stream of becoming, each of us is always flowing somewhere from somewhere else. We might as well ask if our mother was a child or a parent. If she wasn’t both, we wouldn’t be here to ask the question.

But the conundrum of the chicken and egg evokes another dimension that is not so easily dismissed. Finding ourselves alive, we sometimes relate to our environment as material and sometimes as a realm of consciousness. So, we have reason to wonder which came first: consciousness or the material manifestations our consciousness encounters?

Without the mystery of mind-body coordination, the consciousness and knowing that shape our fundamental being could never arise.” Knowledge of Time and Space, Tarthang Tulku.

Our own experience is always a good place to start. So, let’s start there. We don’t need to be intimidated by the fact that the world’s religions resoundingly come down in favor of consciousness–be it a divine creator or the timeless realization of enlightenment. Neither do we have to scoff at the fact that science has unambiguously sided with physical phenomena, about which experiments are conducted to demonstrate that everything is physical in nature and to discover the laws that govern that nature.

The ‘divine order” of religion, and science’s order of cause and effect are themselves like the chicken and egg. We’re free to start with either and will then discover that the other is implied in the mysterious flow in which we find ourselves.

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a link about a new scientific approach, which places biology above physics as the area of study that can create a “unified theory of everything”, which has long been sought by physicists such as Einstein.

Biocentrism is scientific in how it explores a premise that has always been the province of religion:

Consciousness comes before matter.

Among the evidence for this theory is the fact that the physical realm, in hundreds of ways, reveals precisely the characteristics life needs to exist. The author of Biocentrism, Robert Lanza, points out that traditional science has ignored this unlikely consonance between life and the fact that the cosmos is–within exquisite allowances for variation–precisely what life needs to arise and survive. He points out as well that this consonance between the environment needed for life and the existence of life in it, is most simply accounted for in a cosmos that is itself the abode of consciousness. Otherwise, how could such an intimate relationship—between life and its material conditions—arise?

Another piece of evidence cited in Biocentrism is the experiments of quantum theory which demonstrate that it is only when observed that probabilities become particular outcomes. Until observed, the subatomic world flows by as waves of probability. However, once those probabilities are observed in action, they transform into particles with specific characteristics. The conclusion: that which is observed and that which is observing are emersed in a shared consciousness.

Since I don’t feel any need to side with either science or religion on matters that touch on the great mysteries, let me share an early introduction in my own life that revealed how phenomena can be differently explained. I was in my 20’s when I read books by the philosopher, George Santayana. In one of them he makes a surprising diagnosis: he asserts Plato’s theory (that this world is a murky rendition of an ideal which preexists and animates it) to be an inversion of the way things actually are. In contrast to Plato’s idea, that the reality we inhabit has a deeper reality behind it, Santayana presents the birth of rationality as something that has evolved out of inanimate matter–through stages of brute, instinctual reactivity–to the tipping point when a rational mind became able to include an awareness of its own functioning in its explorations. Santayana seemed to express genuine appreciation for the fact that Plato places the existence of rational consciousness at the beginning of this journey, instead of with the antecedents of an animal kingdom untouched by rationality. Santayana assigned to Plato’s inversion of the dialectical materialism he himself espoused, the perfection of a piece of music; perhaps one that could be played forward or backwards; in either case evoking the beauty of universal harmony.

Meanwhile, these days I hold my own counsel when it comes to the eggs and chickens that continue to endlessly cavort amid the flowing streams of time.

Leave a Reply