I recently did a bit of thinking about the relation between consciousness and evolution and how both of them are certainly the main causes of the human self-importance syndrome, or a necessary bias towards what favors us. I got this idea from this TED talk, which is very well worth taking 15 minutes to listen to for it is a very good lesson in humility.
We all pride ourselves of being conscious creatures. It is what seems to differentiate us the most from other animals and is pretty much the only advantage we have over them; a human without his intelligence is defenseless against nature and certainly near the bottom end of the food chain. Some may think this mental capacity was a gift of some higher being but this is entirely debatable and completely biased since as sole owners of consciousness, we find ourselves incapable of making an objective statement about it. If it wasn’t the case, then anything could claim consciousness but thanks to reason and logic, we know the answer cannot come from us but from observation so we should try adopting an outsider’s perspective if we wish to find a reasonable explanation.
If we look in other living beings to find an explanation for consciousness, we will undoubtedly be let down because we are again the sole creature that seem to possess it. However, humans have not been constant in time and have only existed as such for a very short while, which means there must be a point in our biological history where we or our ancestors acquired this trait through evolution; between you and me, it makes a lot of sense to be conscious. While it has been a blessing of nature in terms of providing us with a definitive intellectual advantage against other species, it has also, by definition, tricked us into thinking we are different and unique when consciousness is most likely just another trait acquired trough natural selection like gills or lungs.
Consciousness has given us the notion of individuality as beings, this is well known, but I would postulate that it has duped us into compromising our very own existence just for the sake of perpetrating this impression of individuality. Individuality as we all conceive it is inevitably tied to Others as explained by Existentialism; with consciousness being the mechanism enabling the separation between ouselves and others. In other words, this sentiment of individuality, subsequent to us being conscious agents, can then only occur trough interaction with others we can relate to in terms of mental capacities and apperance. We see them as equal to us and capable of filling the role of Others. However, when we compare ourselves with other living organisms, we find it very hard to consider them as equivalents because they lack so many of the aforementionned characteristics, thereby limiting individuality and all it implies (equality, free-will, rights, etc.) to the human race.
Considering all that is not us as a separate class (amplified by our mastering of nature and increasing intelligence) can only lead to a sentiment of self-importance ( the human self-importance syndrome) and incidently the unconscious realization of the destructive but evolutionary advantage of consciousness. It might be our doom as blinded by egocentrism, we fail to see the impact we have on this environment we rely on. Nature will get rid of us in no time if we fail to adapt to the consequences of our own intellect and greed; just like the people that used to inhabit Easter Island.
Once this simple principle is accepted, it becomes a lot easier to reason racism, the invention of theories that like intelligent design (based by a gross misunderstanding of complexity), geocentrism, but also the need for the scientific method and why more primitive communities tend not to be so disrespectful to nature. Consciousness, both from an evolutionary and human point of view, is mainly exacerbated favoritism; favoritism for oneself and then for our own kind. That feeling of specialness is consciousness and so is the difficulty most of us have of accepting theories or facts that do not favor us while inventing some that do.
4 Replies to “Tricked by consciousness”
As most Atheists do, you confuse intelligence with consciousness. For example, a machine can be intelligent, but it cannot be conscious. On the other hand, I do not know if a consciousness could exist with intelligence?
You speak of the necessity of observation. But do you even understand the essence of human observation? The essence of consciousness, is human observation, i.e. our ability to apprehend ideas. Take a machine for example. It does not observe. The closest it can get to that is by being fitted with a sensor (ex: a webcam) and a processor to process what is sensed. You can put as much sensors, and hardware and software in it, as intelligent as it may be, it will never apprehend. It will only sense and process. The human body senses and process’ not so different than a machine could hope to do. But the body does not apprehend anything, it senses and process’. The apprehension is done at another level, a conscious level. No one knows for sure what happens at that conscious level from a reductionist perspective because the conscious level is purely subjective; (continued)
thier is no objective processing. Whatever processing takes place at the conscious level is somehow determined by the will of the conscious being and what is apprehended. To the body, this conscious level’s output is sensed and another input into the system, although with more powerfull rules I suppose. To the conscious level, the body is an input that is somehow consolidated into what it is you and I are apprehending right now. What makes this consciousness so special? It can only exist in the present, at one time. You see yourself see when you should see your conscious self apprehending.
Consciousness is not an material element. It is not a string, a particule, an electron, an atom, a wave, a molecule, a protein, a dna strand or anything material. Consciousness is a feeling, an observation, an apprehension, an acknowledgement, a sentiment, etc. Such a thing is not a result of evolution, just like a particule is not the result of evolution.
Consciousness is not determined by an arrangement of matter in the body. It is the arrangement matter in the body that is determined by consciousness.
Apprehension is defined as acceptance of or receptivity to information without passing judgment on its validity, often without complete comprehension. [Dictionary.com]
Apprehension in psychologoy is a term applied to a model of consciousness in which nothing is affirmed or denied of the object in question, but the mind is merely aware of (“seizes”) it. [Wikipedia]
Accoding to those two definitions, a machine can apprehend its environement. You must have meant understanding.
Then again, understanding has a few definitions and many of those are applicable to computers except of course for the religious one.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_gifts_of_the_Holy_Spirit) However, this religious definition presupposes Creation or a similar event and this comes at odds with the premise this post is based on.
Your right, apprehension is the wrong term. As a philosopher, one spends much time trying to find the Perfect Terms. The more correct term for this concecpt would be “immediate experience”.
A machine does not have the ability, and nothing material ever will, to immediatly experience anything. The thing with experience, is that it must flow through you. But by definition, nothing flows through particules of matter.
But the ego of scientism is too great isn`t it?
Thoughts and feelings are the result of interaction of matter in the brain. Just like the execution of a program is the result of computation of instructions on data sets. Ultimately, consciousness must arise from thoughts, as seen from infants to toddlers when they acquire a sense of self and a sense of permanence. Humans do not begin with consciousness but develop it in childhood.