The presence of consciousness isn’t determined by someone/somethings ability or inability to have thoughts and feelings, its simply determined by their existence. How so? Because consciousness is the force that governs everything. Present in every particle and all physical matter in our ever-evolving world, including the atoms of, not only us human beings, but also the most random objects you can think of, from bath plugs to books, it is the foundation of the entire universe. In simple terms, consciousness is life, having always existed, even prior to form (form is just an alternative manifestation of consciousness, with it being recycled from form to form over several lifetimes, via a continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.) It therefore doesn’t take something to think or feel to possess consciousness, it just takes them to be. It is for this reason then, why everything and everyone, whether animate or inanimate, sentient or insentient, is consciousness itself (albeit on a hugely varying level of sophistication depending on their level of intelligence…)
In terms of the ‘hierarchy’ of consciousness, from what we know, human beings come out ‘on top’, with us holding the most complex form of consciousness there is. This is because we possess the greatest level of intelligence compared to any other species we know of. Unlike rocks for example, human beings have an advanced brain and central nervous system which allow us to feel things that other, less developed ‘things’ just can’t feel. This is where the famous spiritual quote, ‘God sleeps in the rock, dreams in the plant, stirs in the animal, and awakens in man’ comes from. Whilst rocks and plants do possess some consciousness, what they possess is consciousness is in its very simplest form, a result of them lacking a brain and a central nervous system that enables them to be conscious of their consciousness (hence why their consciousness is said to be ‘asleep’, or ‘dreaming.’) Human beings do have these things though (a brain and a central nervous system), which is why our consciousness is so sophisticated (it is why we are ‘awakened.’) It is also why other species in the animal kingdom that have a brain and a nervous system show high levels of sometimes unexplainable intelligence, too. Take the salmon fish, for example, an animal that, despite leaving its birthplace and travelling thousands of miles to explore the wider depths of the ocean, can find its way back to the very same stream in which it was born many years later when it decides its time to spawn (lay eggs.) Salmon can do this fascinating thing by using the earths magnetic field like a sort of internal compass. With such small brains, the fact that salmon demonstrate such an indisputably high level of intelligence suggests, at least to me, that there must be some ‘greater force’ out there that is responsible for allowing them to do the seemingly impossible, with this greater force, in my opinion, being consciousness.
Plants also, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, show fairly high levels of intelligence, too. Despite them not possessing a brain, they know to turn to the sun for energy, and to open and close in correspondence with the sunrise and sunset. This is proof that it is not the brain that allows us to perform actions such as these, it is our consciousness, something that is otherworldly, and something that only the ‘creator’ can understand, for it is far too big and ‘out there’ for us to even begin to comprehend.
As I’m writing this, I realise that the deeper we explore consciousness and its deep roots in spirituality, the messier and more confusing and overwhelming things get, however what I also realise is that things get more grounding, enlightening, and hopeful, too. For, as we come to acknowledge how life as we know it on the surface is, ultimately, nothing more than a social construct, we can feel the true extent of what it means to realise freedom- to realise that we are all at one with the universe. Let this newfound knowledge bring you comfort, comfort in knowing that we are all on this crazy old journey together, as one united consciousness.