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In my youth, on dark clear nights far away from all city lights,
I loved standing beneath the starry clouds of the Milky Way,
trying to grasp the awesome size of our galaxy; turning around
and dreaming myself away... getting lost among the lightyears.

The sheer size of our galaxy overwhelmed me. But - I didn't see just a bunch of dots shining with their cold white light. I felt the presence of something more... a greater reality, a higher truth, something or someone which couldn't be seen. It was almost like that feeling when you're a little kid busy playing, subtly feeling the presence of some grown-up watching you nearby - but without consciously observing him or her with your eyes.

So what was that about? Some people would surely describe this as a religious experience: they suddenly feel the presence of God. That's how many get into religion. But science-minded as I have always been, I rather looked at other explanations. And one possibility was that this is simply how you can feel, when you get overwhelmed or awed by something. This is how our brains work.

Yet another idea I wondered about, was that if I - perhaps in some subtle yet-to-be-discovered "quantum telepathic" way - sensed the joint energies of myriads of life forms around billions of suns, life forms scientists today actually think might exist out there.

Perhaps, I also thought, the sum of all the Life & Consciousness in our cosmos amounts to what some people call God? Perhaps, Nature itself has a sort of inherited intelligence or awareness?

As a matter of fact, collective intelligence is a real possibility. Just think of the behaviors of some flocks of birds, flying in formation across the sky. Or of ants and bees and other insects. Of course, their movements are based on instincts, not a collective thought.

But the border between "intelligence" and "instincts" are hazy at best, as with most things in our universe. And it also depends on how you define Intelligence, Life & Consciousness. There is a strict scientific definition based on our current knowledge of biological life - but also other, broader and more subtle ones.

For one thing, we now know that life & intelligence doesn't need to be biological. We are developing Artificial Intelligence in our laboratories right now, and we predict it may be more intelligent than us in only a century. Other research - like the Blue Brain project - seems to indicate that neural webs which grows complex enough, automatically will give rise to some form of free will or consciousness. Call it a soul, if you wish. (cont)






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