Got it, forceOfHabit — thanks for clarifying. And yes, we’re on the same page — everyone’s full of half-baked ideas, feedback is always welcomed and useful (discussions like these help me, and hopefully you, flesh out what we actually mean).
Your response was full of great support (I’d never heard of the trees that kill overgrazing antelope). But, as you noted at the end, your conflation of “conscious” with “interested in consciousness”, seems crucial. You ask me: “why would you infer that it [a honeybee] wasn’t conscious?” But, nowhere in my essay, nor my responses, did I infer humans to be the only conscious things out there. You then spend the rest of your response refuting a claim I never made. This could have resulted because I was unclear in my writing, as I often am, though I’m really not sure where I suggested that only humans are conscious in the original essay. I, of course, completely agree that there is remarkable evidence suggesting the consciousness of all kinds of things.
The point I think your conflation glossed over, and one I could’ve been more clear on, is that “interested in consciousness” implies a degree of self-consciousness, an introspective capacity. This “self”, a subject of consciousness, is considered to be at a unique degree of development and complexity in humans (see, for example, Thomas Metzinger’s theory, self-model of subjectivity, which addresses the unique features of a human, first-person experience of consciousness). Animals have been found to have relatively primitive “self-models”, like here, but the gap between this self-model and the human one is enormous, and very likely indicative of a qualitative difference in experience.
This human varietal of consciousness is the one I’m mainly interested in as the focus of the original essay. Similar to your view that by focusing on the American relation to spirituality, I was implying that spirituality is a uniquely American thing, it seems that my focus on the self-model of consciousness, or the human experience of consciousness, gave you the impression that I was implying consciousness only exists in these human terms. However, back in my original essay I stated: “consciousness is not synonymous with I”, implying that its spectrum goes beyond the human experience (not that this was necessary, because I really can’t find anywhere that I implied it does not go beyond the human experience, which is the claim you’re addressing).
The only other place I saw where you might’ve drawn an anthropomorphic vibe from the essay was towards the end, where I say: “if we’re interested in a deeper source of enduring well-being, the uniquely human potential to ‘be happy before anything happens’…”.
True, animals, or even trees, may be happy “before” anything. Though it seems more likely that they have no concepts of happiness, nor well-being, nor really any concepts at all. We probably can’t know much about the qualitative experience of consciousness for non-humans (ever read Thomas Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat”?). But my assertion is that humans can experience a qualitatively unique type of wellbeing (and suffering…lots of suffering), precisely because we have this elaborate self-model to transcend.
I don’t remember where I read this, it pops up throughout the consciousness/spirituality scene, that you first need to have a self in order to transcend it, and that the experience of consciousness pre-self, or pre-rationality, is qualitatively different than the post-self, post-rationality one (the term “post-self” is really messy, and deserves explanation. But I’ll spare this response that novel). Ken Wilber developed a whole theory on this — the “pre/trans fallacy” — where he railed against people who idolize the boundless minds of babies before they’re indoctrinated and conditioned (this can similarly be applied to conscious animals/trees that’ve never had ideas of self or rational thought), accusing them of confusing it with boundless experience attributed to the “trans-rational” state. His theory states that the two are not the same, pre-rational consciousness and trans-rational consciousness. Thus, trees, animals, etc., are barred from experiencing this particular kind of consciousness until their self-models and rationality have sufficiently developed (where this threshold is, who knows. Good question.).
So in this sense, talking about the trans-rational, the selfless experience of consciousness, whatever, it seems appropriate to call it “uniquely human”. But, as was the case with the American/spirituality clarification, that there is a uniquely human experience of consciousness does not imply that consciousness, on the whole, is a uniquely human thing.
Does this make sense?