The coalescence of matter and the separation of consciousness

Two amazing facts about the world which I thought about as I lay in bed this morning.


Matter sticks together and forms coherent objects. Most of which are useful, some of which have a life of their own, at least for a while. This very obvious and self-evident fact enshrines endless mysteries.:-

Why is there something rather than nothing? In a random universe, why would there be anything at all?

And once we fill this infinite space with atoms – why would they form together to make slugs and hairbrushes, fountains and carpets, bricks and fingernails? Objects in their endless and infinite variety all containing miniscule particles which decide to glue together rather than drift apart? And yes I know all about ionic and covalent bonding and opposites attract and all that O-level physics and chemistry stuff. But why do neutrons and protons hold together in an atom, and why should negatives attract positives? It all seems very needy. But then we so easily attribute personalities to these tiny little particles, as if they have a consciousness of their own and decide to behave in certain ways. Do oxygen atoms really fall in love with Hydrogen atoms, in a mutually advantageous aqueous three-way relationship?

And then matter not only sticks together, it moves together. “A body in motion remains in motion” we are told by Mr Newton as if this explains everything. But why? Because it has an urgent appointment? Because it enjoys the sensation of speed? Can anyone really explain momentum? Can anyone conversely really explain inertia. And I’m the first to admit I have inertia – that this particular body likes to remain at rest – but I’m not convinced my bed does.

I am glad the plane I am booked on will conquer inertia and adopt momentum, pleased that the wings don’t decide to unravel and drift apart, reassured that the plane won’t just stop in mid-air of the engines fail. Although at least then it would not crash, and if the chute was long enough we could all slide to safety. Maybe the alternatives (a body at rest moves, a body in motion stops) would work. I’ll come back to you in that one, if I don’t seize up.

Where would we be without the basic fact that matter forms objects and moves together? That these objects persist – often for thousands of years. When we open that old suitcase in the attic, the atoms which formed the ink and were arranged on the page by the pen are still there, writing the same message on the postcard. Grandma is still having a lovely time in Eastbourne.


Consciousnesses, on the other hand, remain separate. I am me and you are you, and never the twain shall meet. We may meet in our chunks of matter, and even interact at a physical level. I was thinking handshakes – but In theory we could even exchange arms or legs. But we can never exchange or merge our souls or our minds.

In some mysterious way our ephemeral consciousnesses are contained in, and confined in, our thick skulls, somewhere behind these eyes and between these ears.

Science fiction would have us believe otherwise. That minds can reside in other minds (Mr Spock in Dr McCoy) that personalities can be exchanged – what was that film where a young woman and an older man swap consciousnesses? And who really got the best deal?

Science fiction would have us imagine that the mind can be kept in a jar, preserved for ever. Or can regenerate Dr Who style. Nope. Eleanor Rigby may have kept her face in a jar by the door, but her lonely mind was trapped in her body, until the day s died in the church and was buried along with her name. Until that day our minds will stay in our own heads, with a “no trespassing” sign.

Imagine if it were different. That science fiction replaced science fact. If our minds floated around like ghosts, occupying bodies as we felt fit. It would be carnage (or soul-age). We are bad enough when we are competing for tarmac space on the motorway, fighting for supremacy in Afghanistan, wrestling for the last loaf in Sainsbury’s. Imagine what we would be like if we were fighting for bodies every moment? (not that we could, as we would have no bodies to fight with, but you see what I mean!) . A new urgency to the song – need some body to love, can any body find me . .

No far better that we are kept apart. That there is no real meeting of minds. That we stay in our cages. Nice design there.


So I can deduce is that it is a good job science and did not make up its own rules. Nor design itself. That would have led to chaos, mayhem and anarchy, and a universe full of random particles and floating consciousnesses at best. Science can understand but not always explain. And not begin to explain why it is this way and not another way. So let’s keep it in its supporting role, keeping to what it is good at.

God, not science, designed, constructed and referees the universe, to sensible rules. With no need for video technology or an appeals system. It is a wonderful and amazing design and build, with a top quality maintenance contract and a perfect level of predictability.

And it looks fantastic and beautiful. I am looking at my toes and the trees through the window and my separately conscious wife who is brushing her persistent teeth with the momentum of her atomic toothbrush. Time to get up, if I can conquer this inertia and find something coherent to wear.

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