ESSE EST PERCIPI

The continuing complacency by world governments to apply the systemic changes needed to combat climate change is making the idea of a mass extinction on this planet in the foreseeable future, more and more feasible, and the predicted year of total climate collapse grows ever nearer. The greatest concern is that this unfolding scenario is still only considered a marginal problem, perhaps because the forecast of the tipping point that situates it some 30 to 60 years from now[i], still seems far away and, probably the major reason for our lethargic reaction, is that there is still a lot of money to be made in fossil fuels for those who have got so, so rich by exploiting them.

For those of us with humanistic sensibilities, however, this steady and persistent procession towards our total extinction is maddening for the madness it is. For a humanist, despite the seemingly mass-suicidal death-wish, humanity is something which is inherently beautiful and profoundly meaningful in the Universe. But what is it that will really be lost if a mass extinction of all biological life forms should occur on this planet, as may very well have taken place on our neighbouring planet Mars?

To get our mind around the tremendous consequences of such a loss, we merely need to contemplate reality in an idealistic fashion as Berkeley did with the concept of esse est percipi (aut percipere), Being is to be perceived (or to perceive).

In this idea, Being and Perception are mutually dependent if we consider existence from a qualitative point of view. A Universe of mostly empty space, with an occasional ball of hot gas or frozen rock, is, qualitatively void of Being because there is no consciousness of it, and it itself is not conscious of its own existence. In short, without any passive or active consciousness of it, a thing does not qualitatively exist. To be, a thing needs to be perceived, and to be perceived, a thing needs to be.

This kind of metaphysical thinking may seem trivial at first, but if we associate all percipi with organisms threatened with extinction (i.e., all life on Earth in the age of the Climate Emergency), then it becomes clear that the extinction of life on Earth could very well mean the extinction of everything. With the end of biological entities capable of consciousness, the entire Universe, in a qualitative way, will cease to exist as well. The result would be a state of absolute non-Being, an absolute void of perception is tantamount to an absolute void, in which there is nothing to perceive anything and because of that nothing can be perceived.

Esse est percipi should now therefore be taken as a moral statement, demanding an ethical response to preserve and develop consciousness, and this demand for consciousness is one that must affect the whole of humanity as the perceived and perceivers par excellence.      


[i] ‘Collapse of Civilisation is the Most Likely Outcome’: Top Climate Scientists – Resilience

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