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History And Mystery

Retroactive prayer: a preposterous hypothesis?

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 18 December 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:1465

The souls of a zebra and its herd.

In her review of Baroness Greenfield's book Barbara Godlee wrote,
"the nature and seat of consciousness--[is] the faculty that..
distinguishes humans from other animals" (1). How might we know from the
sound of its hoofbeats and activities whether a zebra might be conscious
or not or whether it might even have a soul as some eastern religions

The late Sir Julian Huxley, a zoologist and brother of Aldous the
author of "Brave New World", wrote a well known book on, "The soul of the
white ant". The point he made was that a colony of ants behaves like a
single intelligent being in always keeping, for example, the proportions
of soldier and worker ants constant. Who or what dictates the composition
and conduct of a colony of ants? A consciousness or soul unique to the
colony or a collective consciousness of all the ants? Whatever it is
"swarm intelligence" , as it is called, is now being exploited by the
business world (2). It appears to be very real.

I had the opportunity of examining repeatedly the souls of ant
colonies as a boy in Africa when I used to make holes in antheaps to
watch them being repaired. Within seconds came the soldier ants who
formed a ring around the breech and within minutes the worker ants who
repaired the breeches from within. Within hours breeches some 10cm in
diameter were completely repaired abandoning the soldier ants who had
sacrificed their lives for the colony.

In many ways the human body behaves just like a colony of ants in its
homeostasis and control of its cellular functions, blood leukocytes
behaving just like the soldier ants and osteoclasts and osteoblasts like
the worker ants. This is a property of a collective unconsciousness or
even consciousness that has sensing and cognitive capabilties. These might
be attributed to purely mechanistic properties if it were no for the
evidence for the existence of Jungian archetypes, inherited memories and
unconsciousness strikingly revealed in the migrations of the Monarch
butterflies. These take several generations to occur to and from the same

Might that mean that man posesses an hierarchial set of
unconsciousnesses and consciousnesses, ones to govern bodily events, one
to govern family events, one to govern tribal events and one to govern
human events? That would imply that man has no control over his/he
existence which is surely untrue to some degree at least. In these
behavioural respects, however, it is difficult to distinguish man from a
pride of lions or a herd of zebras.

The existence of a collective consciousness was illustrated very
vividly to me when I followed a pride of ten young lion in a Landrover at
night at Londolozi game park in South Africa. The transformation from them
being ten individuals as different from each other as Snow White's dwarfs
into a single intelligent hunting team when they got the scent of a
waterbuck was truelly remarkable. Their conscious or unconscious division
of labour, which did not have any evidene of overt direction, was
particularly remarkable.

Anyone who has ever had a pet dog or even a cat or horse appreciates
that they have a consciousness and cognitive abilities which they are
able, on occassions, to exhibit and exploit remarkably effectively.
Animals and even birds have personalities just like people. The only
differences are man's ability to articulate his feelings and learn from
his and others' experiences be they heard, seen, or read.

Just look into a pidgen's or a European starling's eye in Green Park
and watch its reactions to one's eating. They are quite capable of making
the most remarkably intelligent assessments and, if a pieces of food are
thrown at them, anticipating one's actions and those of its competitors
and making intelligent decisons. The starlings watch one's hand and fly up
to catch the food before it falls to the ground and is covered in
pidgeons. They may not be able to talk or write but some birds are almost
as intelligent as dogs and other pets. The longer birds or animals live
the more intelligent they appear to become. Parrots, dolphins, and
elephants, which are said to have remarkable social abilities and
memories, are examples.

Watching a fetus grow to term, an infant grow into a child, and a
child into an educated adult it is clear that unconsciousness and
consciousness transform themselves from types indistiguishable from that
in pet animals to those to which Barara Godlee referred in her review of
Susan Greenberg's book. What is more in comparing a subnormal child or
adult with a normal one it is also clear that the capacity for
communication and memory are integral parts in intelligent consciousness
or cognitive functioning.

If it were possible to transplant a human larynx and hands onto a
baby chimp or gorilla and have them grow and function normally would they
be able to learn to talk and think like humans? I submit they would. What
is more I submit it might even be possible to discuss abstract subjects
with them if they were also able to be schooled and educated at university
like a human. One cannot, however, expect an animal that looks different
from its human peers, does not have the same physical attributes, and does
not live longer than ten years to ever acquire the intelligence of a

It is arrogant to presume that man is endowed with cognitive
qualities that are unique and distinct from animals or even birds and
insects. If the Alice hypothesis is valid, and individal and collective
consciousnesses and unconsciousnesses are hierarchical bosonic events,
then pantheism, reincarnation in particular [bosons/fermions] form rather
than a recognisable biological form, are credible beliefs. Indeed in most
ways these beliefs are more credible than any montheistic belief. In
terms of the Alice hypothesis, therefore, the alpha collective
unconsciousness and conciousness may be interpreted as one that includes
all bosons in the universe and their hierachical collective
unconsciousnesses and consciousnesses. The distinction between
consciousness and unconsciousness might simply be a consequence of
differentiation and delegation of responsibilities within each hierachical
unit. We could not finction if ee were conscious of every marcrophage's
and organs
actvities other tha knowing when it was not working by feeling pain or

Does that mean we should not perform animal experiments, eat meat or
kill flies and fleas? No, for if the Alice hypothesis is valid, then rocks
also have individual and collective unconsciousnesses and even
consciousnesses limited only by their inability to acquire memories and
the cognitive intelligence of living beings. Like rocks few animals have
acquired the cognitive abilities to recognise and therefore anticipate
human actions. There may exist, therefore, a hierarchical set of memories
and cognitive abilities ranging from those present in ananimate objects to
those present in educated and wise adults, wisdom clearly being a function
of age. In which case Barbara Godlee's claim, that "consciousness--[is]
the faculty that.. distinguishes humans from other animals", is simply a
pragmatic one akin to claiming marcophage's do not have an unconsciousness
or consciousness because we are not aware of them. The decisions to
perform animal experiments, kill flies and fleas are also pragmatic ones
without which human evolution, in so far as we can measure it, can be
seriously compromised.

A unique property of living cells is their co-operativity when
combined in collective groups with similar interests. It is a Darwinian
survial advantage of which altruism and sacrifice must be integral parts.
Conflicts arise only when the interests of one individual or collective
unconsciousness and consciousness conflicts with another. In which case
the evolution of a humanity in which there is one language, one spiritual
belief, and one collective goal should eliminate wars without eliminating
altruism or the need for individual sacrifices be they voluntary or
imposed. Viewed in this context altruism is an integral part of Nature
rather than one imposed upon individuals and communities by an ubermenche,
superman, Moses, Pope or god. Gods that are not human idols are also human
creations which, in terms of the Alice hypothesis, may simply not have
fermionic (ordinary matter) forms and be timeless.

Until we understand the nature of consciousness and concept of a god,
gods or even pantheism is hypothetical even if one is lead as I am to
conclude that there is a higher force of which we might all be fermionic
expressions. We may hear the hoofbeats of the hound of heaven but we
cannot see its form.

1. Barbara Godlee. The private life of the brain. Susan Greenfield.
A book review. BMJ 2001; April 14.
2. Meyer C. Swarm intelligence. Harvard Business Review. May, 2001.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

04 March 2004
Richard G Fiddian-Green