Without language, metaphor and analogy, would consciousness exist?

In between being dad, taxi driver, delivery guy and chef, I managed a bit of Mikey time for some googling on my Sunday quest for enlightenment.

The article below is just that and rather believable. Had to paste verbatim:

Piero Scaruffi
(These are excerpts from, or extensions to, the material published in my book “The Nature of Consciousness”)

The Origin of Consciousness
How does consciousness arise (in an individual) and how did it arise (in evolution)? It is a widespread belief that we, as individuals, are not born conscious, and life, as a natural phenomenon, was not originally conscious. If these beliefs are correct, when and how does and did consciousness arise?

One problem is to understand how consciousness is generated by brain processes. This is the “ontogenetic” problem of how consciousness “grows” during the lifetime of an individual. Another problem is to figure out what has it and what does not have it. This is the “phylogenetic” problem of how it was created in the first place: did it evolve from non-conscious matter over million of years or was it born abruptly in one species (whether by divine intervention or because of the advent of new brain structures)?

How and when and why did consciousness develop? Opinions vary. Julian Jaynes believes that it is a recent phenomenon, John Eccles thinks that it arose with the advent of mammalian neocortex, about 200 million years ago, the biologist Lynn Margulis thinks that it was a property of even simple unicellular organisms of several billion years ago, etc.

A Linguistic Origin
Several scientists believe that consciousness somehow owes its existence to the fact that humans evolved in a highly connected group, i.e. that it is related to the need to communicate with or differentiate from peers, i.e. it is closely related to language.

The Austrian philosopher Karl Popper thought that, phylogenetically speaking, consciousness emerged with the faculty of language, and, ontogenetically speaking, it emerges during growth with the faculty of language.

The USA biologist George Herbert Mead believed that consciousness is a product of socialization among biological organisms. Language provides the medium for its emergence. The mind is socially constructed, society constitutes an individual as much as the individual constitutes society. According to Mead, the mind emerges through a process of internalization of the social process of communication, for example by reflecting to oneself the reaction of other individuals to one’s gestures. The “minded” organism is capable of being an object of communication to itself. Gestures, which signal the existence of a symbol (and a meaning) that is being communicated (i.e., recalled in the other individual), constitute the building blocks of language. “A symbol is the stimulus whose response is given in advance”. Meaning is defined by the relation between the gesture and the subsequent behavior of an organism as indicated to another organism by that gesture. The mechanism of meaning is therefore present in the social act before the consciousness of it emerges. Mead thinks that consciousness is not in the brain, but in the world. It refers to both the organism and the environment, and cannot be located simply in either. What is in the brain is the process by which the self gains and loses consciousness (analogous to pulling down and raising a window shade).

The USA computer scientist Michael Arbib argued that first language developed, as a tool to communicate with other members of the group in order to coordinate group action; then communication evolved beyond the individual-to-individual sphere into the self sphere.

The British psychologist Nicholas Humphrey agrees that the function of consciousness is that of social interaction with other “consciousnesses”. Consciousness gives every human a privileged picture of her own self as a model for what it is like to be another human. Consciousness provides humans with an explanatory model of their own behavior, and this skill is useful for survival: in a sense, the best psychologists are the best survivors. Humphrey speculates that, by exploring their own selves, humans gained the ability to understand other humans; and, by understanding their own minds, they understood the minds of the individuals they shared their life with.

The USA anthropologist Terrence Deacon takes a “semiotic” approach to consciousness. He distinguishes three types of consciousness, based on the three types of signs: iconic, indexical and symbolic. The first two types of reference are supported by all nervous systems, therefore they may well be ubiquitous among animals. But symbolic reference is different because, in his view, it involves other individuals, it is a shared reference, it requires the capability to communicate with others. It is, therefore, exclusive to linguistic beings, i.e. to humans. Such symbolic reference includes the self: the self is a symbolic self. The symbolic self is not reducible to the iconic and indexical references. The self is not bounded within a body, it is one of those “shared” references.

A Practical Origin
Others see consciousness as useful to find solutions to practical problems. The Australian philosopher David Malet Armstrong, for example, argues that the biological function of consciousness is to “sophisticate” the mental processes so that they yield more interesting action.

Alas, today consciousness hardly contributes to survival. We often get depressed because we are conscious of what happens to us. We get depressed just thinking of future things, such as death. Consciousness often results in less determination and perseverance. Consciousness cannot be the ultimate product of Darwinian evolution towards more and more sophisticated survival systems, because it actually weakens our survival system.

Consciousness’ apparent uselessness for survival may be more easily explained if we tipped our reference frame. It is generally assumed that humans’ ancestors had no consciousness and consciousness slowly developed over evolutionary time. Maybe it goes the other way around: consciousness has always existed, and during evolution most species have lost part of it. Being too self-aware does hurt our chances of surviving and reproducing. Maybe evolution is indirectly improving species by reducing their self-awareness.

The Bicameral Mind
The studies conducted in the 1970’s by the USA psychologist Julian Jaynes (and, before him, by the German classicist Bruno Snell) gave credibility to the idea that consciousness may be a recent acquisition of our mental life, or at least that consciousness was not always what it is today, that it was and still is evolving.

By reviewing historical, archeological and biological documents from ancient civilizations, he concluded that until about 3000 years ago human beings were still devoid of consciousness. They still relied, like all other primates, on learned reactions. The people of even the most developed civilizations before 1000 B.C. (ancient Assyria, Babylonia, Mesopotamia, Egypt) were not “truly” conscious. Ancient books such as the Iliad and the Bible were composed by non-conscious minds that explains why they could not distinguish between real and imagined events. The characters of those books act unconsciously in making their decisions and always rely on “voices”. They tend to speak in hexameter rhythms, which are characteristic of the automatic processing of the right-hemisphere brain. Schizophrenics often tend to speak in the same rhythm. These stories are all action and no introspection.

Ancient people, because non-conscious, did not feel responsible for their actions. They had no concept of good and evil. They had no conscious memories. They had no interest in history (past). They had no interest in progress (future). They had no sense of themselves.

Human beings did already employ language to communicate with other human beings, and to cooperate and to build societies and civilizations, but, in each individual’s head, that language did not serve as conscious thought: it served as communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. Human beings were guided not by conscious reasoning, but by “hallucinations”. Hallucinations would form in the right hemisphere of the brain and would be communicated to the left hemisphere of the brain, which would then receive them as commands. This is what Jaynes refers to as the “bicameral mind”. Human beings were led by these voices in making their important decisions. “God” is one manifestation of the bicameral mind. God is the main voice that would drive individual and social behavior. With the emergence of oral languages, the hallucinating voices for performing fundamental actions became standardized and consequently societies became increasingly organized.

A conscious mind appears in the Odyssey and the most recent part of the Bible, about 3000 years ago. Those writings gradually shifted from non-conscious actions to conscious decisions. In the Odyssey characters are aware of the moral and physical consequences of their actions. In the West, moral issues started spreading in written languages around the sixth century B.C. Chinese literature moved from the bicameral mind to the conscious mind about 500 B.C. with the writings of Confucius. Indian literature shifted to consciousness around 400 B.C. with the Upanisad.

At that time, the bicameral mind began breaking down under the pressure caused by the complexity of the environment (mainly, society). The hallucinated voices became confused, contradictory, and ultimately counterproductive. They no longer provided automatic guidance for survival. At the same time, the development of writing, and the permanent recording of procedures, in 2,000 B.C., progressively reduced the need for guidance from the hallucinated voices and replaced them with a much more effective means of organization. Consciousness was therefore invented by human beings through a process that entailed the loss of belief in gods and natural selection itself, which started rewarding conscious individuals over non-conscious ones.

Jaynes thinks that, today, governments and religions, and psychological phenomena such as hypnosis and schizophrenia, and artistic practices such as poetry and music, are vestiges of that earlier stage of human consciousness, when action was guided by the bicameral mind, because these are all manifestations of an instinctive tendency towards seeking directions, or, in general, automatic guidance, from others.

Today, these two minds still coexist: the non-conscious bicameral mind that seeks guidance from “authorities” for important decisions in complex situations (such as those related to society); and the conscious mind that creates its own decisions in more local and manageable conditions.

Jaynes’ concept of consciousness was revolutionary. First of all, intelligence (or, more appropriately, cognitive faculties) and consciousness are not the same thing and they are only vaguely related. Consciousness is not necessary for concepts, learning, reason or even some elementary forms of thinking. Non-conscious beings can develop sophisticated civilizations.

Secondly, awareness of an action tends to follow, not precede, the action. Awareness of an action bears little or no influence on the outcome. Before one utters a sentence, one is not conscious of being about to utter those specific words.

Thirdly, consciousness is an operation rather than a thing. Consciousness requires metaphors to express one thing in terms of another. Consciousness is being able to construct one’s narrative in terms of metaphors. Consciousness requires analogy to transform things of the real world into meanings in a metaphorical space. The mental space is created through metaphors and analogies.

Metaphors and analogies map the functions of the right hemisphere into the left hemisphere and make the bicameral mind obsolete. Metaphors of “me” and analogies of “I” enabled a greater understanding of the world and of other individuals. In turn, consciousness expanded by creating more and more metaphors and analogies. Ultimately, consciousness is a metaphor-generated model of the world.

Jaynes thinks that consciousness could not have been invented if language had not evolved to the point of facilitating metaphorical thinking. And, while oral languages developed around 70,000 B.C. and written languages began about 3000 B.C., metaphorical structures did not appear until about 1,000 B.C. Early writings in hieroglyphic and cuneiform forms reflect a non-metaphoric and non-conscious attitude.

The Prehistory Of Brain
In the 1940s the British anthropologist Kenneth Oakley speculated that there may be three level of consciousness, corresponding to the three evolutionary layers of the brain: awareness, controlled by the older part of the brain and related only to conditioning; consciousness, controlled by the cortex and the hippocampus, and related to the internal representation of the world; and self-awareness, due to the most recent layer of the brain and related to the internal representation of one’s internal representation.

The USA paleo-neurologist Harry Jerison looked at the fossil record for clues on the selection pressures that led to increases in the size of the primate brain.

Mammals evolved about 200 million years ago as the “nocturnal” reptiles. Unlike reptiles (such as dinosaurs), whose cognitive life was based on stimulus-response, mammals were capable of using sound to create a cognitive map of their environment. When the big reptiles disappeared 70 million years ago, vision too became a major source of information for the mammal brain, which evolved accordingly. In particular, the size of the brain increased dramatically. The brain of mammals was flooded with sensory inputs, and had to develop the ability to recognize an object that could be defined by many (virtually infinitely many) different sets of inputs. The solution was to develop a way to represent the perceptual world and use that representation to recognize objects. Thus the mammalian brain developed the ability to process stimuli by means of a “conscious” perceptual world, as opposed to the reflexes of the reptilian brain.

The function of consciousness was therefore to create the perception of the object, regardless of what sets of inputs originated the recognition.

The reptilian brain was simply “reacting” to stimuli, without any awareness of what those stimuli “meant”. The mammalian brain was capable of transforming the stimuli into an “object” existing in time and space, and then “act” accordingly.

Jerison speculates that the human brain is, first and foremost, a marvel of integration. The brain is flooded with sensory data. If the brain had to analyze them one by one in isolation, it would be virtually impossible to cope with the number of sensory data. Jerison believes that the nervous system constructs a model of the world, and then uses that model to “understand” sensory data. The key to constructing the model of the world is to integrate all the sensory data themselves. As the model gets refined, it also gets easier to recognize sensory data for what they are. A sensory datum is not recognized in isolation, but it is recognized as part of a scene. That scene, in turn, represents the integration of all the data that have been perceived.

The implication is that we are conscious of something that is not necessarily the real world, but is simply the world that we created. The “world” that we perceive is nothing more than the model that we have created. That model is not necessarily the world as it is: it is a plausible model of the world, given what we have learned so far about it.

The Prehistory Of Mind
The British archeologist Steven Mithen found evidence in ancient history that “cognitive fluidity” caused the modern mind to arise.

First came social intelligence, the ability to deal with other humans; then came natural-history intelligence, the ability to deal with the environment, and tool-using intelligence; last, language. Once the ability to fully connect all these faculties developed, the modern mind was born. Crucial for the development of the human mind was language. In particular, metaphor and analogy are the fundamental features that allowed the human mind to develop as it is.

Homo Sapiens Sapiens appeared 100,000 years ago and initially behaved like Neanderthals, showing little intelligence. Two momentous transformations in human behavior occurred with art and technology (60,000 years ago) and with farming (10,000 years ago).

In order to explain these breakthroughs, Mithen resorts to Jerry Fodor’s modular model of the mind. Initially, human minds were dominated by a general-purpose form of intelligence. Then a module appeared that was specialized for socializing. The social-intelligence module was shared with other primates so it must have predated humans. Then other modules, each specific to one domain, were born around the main general-purpose module. The modules evolved separately. Eventually, Mithen admits four types of intelligence (four modules in the mind): social, technical (tool-making, house building), natural-history (e.g., animal behavior) and linguistic. These modules were not connected, these “intelligences” were not communicating.

Mithen can thus explain why there is no archeological evidence of social life when (judging from brain size) social intelligence must have been already quite developed: a cognitive barrier between social and technical intelligence made it impossible for humans to conceive of tools for social interaction. Originally, humans were hunters and gatherers (the transition to farming occurred in the Middle East only about 10,000 years ago). The hunter-gatherers of our pre-history were experts in many domains, but those different kinds of expertise did not mix, precisely because the minds of those humans could not mix different types of intelligence.

“Cognitive fluidity” (mixing different kinds of intelligence) changed that and caused the cultural explosion of art, technology, religion. Suddenly, humans acquired minds in which modules had been connected. For example, tools started being used to transform nature. Religion was a by-product of mixing these intelligences, because mixing intelligences one can produce supernatural beings.

Farming was also a product of cognitive fluidity and in turn caused a redefining of intelligences (emergence of new intelligences, disappearance of old ones).

The factor that contributed or caused cognitive fluidity may have been the dawning of consciousness. Self-awareness may have integrated intelligences that for thousands of years had been kept separate.

Mithen’s evolutionary theory mirrors in many ways the theory of child development advanced by British psychologist Annette Karmiloff-Smith.

Co-Evolution Of Language And Consciousness
The British psychologist Euan MacPhail believes that consciousness comes from language, and therefore it is unique to humans.

“Association formation” is ubiquitous in vertebrates, and it forms the basis for every form of learning. But humans differ from animals in that humans are capable of language, humans possess an innate ability for acquiring language.

MacPhail relates this fact to memory structures, and it does so by unifying two findings about memory.

On one hand, he thinks that humans are endowed with two parallel learning systems: a conscious (explicit) and an unconscious (implicit) system, corresponding to two memory systems, one unconscious and one conscious. The unconscious learning system is the human analogous of an animal’s associative learning system. While they are both present at all times, we cannot consciously recall episodes stored in unconscious memory, whereas we can consciously recall episodes stored in conscious memory. Conscious memory develops with language, and that explains why we cannot recall episodes of our early life.

On the other hand, conscious memory is an “autobiographical” memory in the sense that it develops as the concept of “self” develops. I can feel pain only after I have developed a concept of “I”, only after I have come to realize that I am myself. What feels the pain is the network of neurons that constitutes the self.

By merging the two aspects of conscious memory, MacPhail reaches the conclusion that other animals only have the implicit (unconscious) kind of memory and learning, whereas humans developed also the explicit (conscious) kind, and the latter requires the development of the self.

The origin of consciousness is therefore predicated on the origin of the self. The self, in turn, is a by-product of “aboutness”, which is a requirement and a by-product of language.

The association between a subject and a predicate in language is structurally different from the associations that animals are capable of. Animals can learn associations between stimuli, but cannot infer subject-predicate associations, and that is the prerequisite to acquiring a language. Language allows humans to think in terms of “representations”, of “aboutness”, of the philosophical “intentionality” (from “intendo”, i.e. being able to refer to something else). Animals, who are not endowed with language, cannot grasp this “aboutness”. The “aboutness” relationship is the fundamental grammatical requirement for language. It is the ability to deal with “aboutness” that enables the formation of a concept of self. It is the concept of self that enables consciousness. The ability to create relationships of “aboutness” mature in children and leads to a conception of the “non-self”, which in turn is reflected in a conception of the “self”. At this point conscious memory starts developing, and conscious recall is possible, and conscious life begins. Consciousness is the consequence of the evolution of “aboutness”.

Inasmuch as “aboutness” is the key to consciousness, Brentano was therefore correct: intentionality is the fundamental property of mind, that distinguishes it from matter.

MacPhail believes that language, the self and consciousness develop together in the infant, and this development somehow recapitulates the evolution of language in our species: we started to think when we acquired the ability to discriminate self and non-self, and we acquired that ability when we acquired the ability to learn languages.

What rests to be explain is what causes infants to diverge from other animals. If, as toddlers, we are no more conscious than puppies, what happens to toddlers than does not happen to cubs, so that after a few years a toddler is conscious and a cub will never be? Ultimately, MacPhail postulates that the answer lies in our ability to learn languages, i.e. that something unique in the human genome sets in motion a process to learn languages that is unique to humans.

MimesisThe USA linguist Merlin Donald argued that the modern mind of symbolic thought arose from a non-symbolic form of intelligence through gradual absorption of new representational systems. The human mind developed in four stages (which, incidentally, roughly correspond to stages of cognitive growth in modern humans).

Early hominids were limited to episodic representations of knowledge, which was useful for remembering repeating episodes (the “episodic” mind). The episodic memory was useful to learn stimulus-response associations, but it could not retrieve memories independent of environmental cues. In other words, it could not “think”. These “episodic beings” (still more apes than humans) lived their lives entirely in the present.

Homo Erectus developed a “mimetic” (pre-linguistic but roughly symbolic) system of motor-based representations. At this stage the mind was capable of retrieving memories independent of environmental cues, and was capable of “re-describing” experience based on the overall knowledge. This is what the British psychologist Annette Karmiloff-Smith refers to as “representational re-description” in the stages of child development. The mind has a representation of the world and it is capable of continuously adapting it to new knowledge. The mind has “understanding” of the world.

These representations also enabled the individual to communicate intentions and desires and, on a larger scale, enabled generations to pass on cultural artifacts. At this stage, there existed a sort of collective memory (a “culture”) founded on the ability to carry out collective motor-based re-constructions of earlier incidents. By “motor-based”, Donald means that early humans were able to use their bodies to learn, remember and teach. Tool-making and games originate at this stage.

In the third stage, Homo Sapiens acquired language and therefore the ability to construct narratives and build myths, and myths represent integrated models of the world by which individuals could generalize and predict (the “mythic” mind). This stage requires new anatomical (and, specifically, neuronal) additions to the human body. These humans were capable of telling stories, a quantum leap in communication. Thus, one of language’s fundamental functions is to express myths. “Language is about telling stories in a group”.

About 50,000 years ago humans began to store memories in the outside world instead of in their own brain (e.g., cave paintings, figurines, calendars, etc).

Finally, modern humans, helped by written language, achieved higher, symbolic representational capabilities such as logic (the “theoretic” mind).

According to the epistemological theories of the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, children follow a similar path to full-fledged thinking, from event to mimetic, from narrative to symbolic.

Donald’s fundamental insight is that language and thought are tightly related: some forms of thought require language, and language reflects what forms of thought are possible. Symbols per se did not cause a major revolution in thinking: the kind of mental models that the mind could build caused the revolution. And language (or symbols) was simply a means to represent those models. The purpose of language was to allow individuals to share a common model of the world. Narrative was the natural product of language. Narrative led to unified, collective models of reality, in particular those embodied by myths.

Cultural Origins
The USA psychologist Michael Tomasello believes that human civilization is so fundamentally different from the societies of other animals because human cognition, at some point in evolution, became a “collective”, not only individual, process. This was originally a small difference, but over time it has made a huge difference, because each generation hands down a “culture” to the next generation. Each generation can benefit from the experiences (e.g., discoveries and inventions) of previous generations. And this causes an acceleration of cognitive evolution.

The Three Stages of Brain Evolution
The USA developmental psychologist Stephen Porges characterized the evolution of consciousness as a transition from a state of being acted upon by the world to a state of acting upon the world. Consciousness originated when the brain evolved from the reptilian structure to the mammalian structure (using Paul MacLean’s model for the evolution of the brain).

The brain of a reptile (which de facto means the brainstem and the hypothalamus) is not active, but simply reactive: it reacts to food, light, temperature. The reptilian brain increases or decreases metabolism based on the body’s needs. Matter prevails over mind.

In a mammal, instead, the brainstem and the hypothalamus command adjustments so that body temperature and metabolism are kept stable. This phenomenon enables the brain to dedicate energies to other functions. The brain of a mammal is capable of acting: mammals explore their environment looking for what they need. Mind prevails over matter.

The same argument can be made from an energetic perspective, which is reflected in the differences between the reptilian and mammalian cardiac systems. In the highly competitive world of mammals, it is necessary for the body to increase the production of energy to deal with preys and predators (hunt or run). So it is no surprise that mammals have metabolic demands four to five times that of reptiles, which makes reptiles more prone to passive feeding strategies, whereas mammals can actively hunt and graze and adapt to changing environments.

The reptilian brain is designed to use food. The mammalian brain is designed to look for food.

The structures in mammals (i.e., facial muscles, larynx) that express emotion (facial expression, vocalization) were evolution of anatomical systems of the reptiles. The resulting organization of the brainstem in mammalians fostered brain functions of attention, motion, emotion, and communication.

The development of the cortex enabled the mammalian brain to communicate emotions. Then it was just a matter of time before language and conscious thought emerged.

The Evolution of Feeling
The British chemist Graham Cairns-Smith views consciousness as an evolution of elementary emotions.

First, a rudimentary system of feelings must have been born by accident. Then it must have proven to have evolutionary usefulness. Finally, from that rudimentary system, that was probably a very basic pain-pleasure system, more complex feelings evolved.

Initially, they may have been simple variations on the basic emotions of pain and pleasure (or a broad palette of feelings, from pleasant to unpleasant, as the subtlety of our five senses seem to imply). As they proved to be more and more useful for survival, more and more emotions may have popped up. Eventually the organism was flooded with emotions and something like a primitive “stream of consciousness” appeared. Verbal language simply put words to it. Language allowed us to express the stream of emotions in a more sophisticated way than the primitive facial language. Thought was born. With thought even more complex emotions were born. With language, thought and deep emotions, the conscious “I” was born.

Bottom line: consciousness originated from the evolution of feelings. Feelings begat consciousness, not the other way around.

Daniel Dennett thinks that the mind was created by the evolution of memes. Cairns-Smith thinks that the mind was created by the evolution of emotions. Where most thinkers see language as essential to the development of consciousness, Cairns-Smith views it as a mere tool to communicate emotions in a more complete way. Where most thinkers see emotion as a corollary to consciousness, Cairn-Smiths views it as the embryo of consciousness.

How Homo Became Sapiens
Likewise, the Swedish linguist Peter Gardenfors views language as the last (not first) stage in the process that led to today’s conscious humans. He believes that first came sensations, then attention, then emotions, then memory, then thoughts (by which he really means “internal representations of the world”), then planning, then the self, then free will and finally language.

Most of these faculties are not unique to humans. Most mammals have emotions and even thoughts. Chimpanzees exhibit all of these faculties up to planning. But he thinks that humans are the only animals that are truly conscious of themselves and can speak.

The cortex is the place where a representation of the world is created. That allows the brain to use the representation of an object (or a situation) rather than the object (or the situation) itself. It allows, in other words, to be somewhat “detached” from reality: the brain can work on something that is not an object/situation present “here and now”. Gardenfors believes that the large cortex of the human brain (i.e., its superior ability in representing the world) makes all the difference between human and animal behavior. Other animals have a cortex too, but it does not compare in size with the human cortex.

Gardenfors believes that first came sensations, then perceptions (the interpretation of those sensations, which are already representations but are directly related to the world) and then “detached” representations (which he also calls “imaginations”, and differ from perceptions which are “cued” representations, i.e. representations about something that is present here and now). Since all animals have sensations, Gardenfors assigns a degree of consciousness to all animals. But only mammals and birds have the cortex that allows for detached representations: they can “guess” and “plan”. E.g., a cat does not need to see a mouse to understand that it is hiding in a place where it cannot be seen, and the cat can make a plan (by guessing how the mouse will behave) in order to catch it.

Gardenfors explains the difference between sensations and perceptions as a difference in the referent: sensations are about what is happening to the body, whereas perceptions are about what is happening in the world (that is causing that change in the body). A perception is, in a sense, a step back to find out what caused the sensation. “We perceive the causes”.

Humans are better than any other animal at discovering the causes because they have better “simulators” in their cortex.

The next step up, the detached representations, are important because they can be used at any time, regardless of whether the object is present or not. They also provide an evolutionary advantage: the animal can play trial and error in its internal representation, without risking its life in the real world. The animal can simulate the consequences of acting before actually acting. An internal representation “allows our hypotheses to die instead of us”. Animals that are capable of internal representation (which are animals with a large cortex) share some behavioral traits: they play and they dream. Reptiles do not play and do not dream.

Thoughts (his nickname for “internal representations of the world”) allowed some animals to “become increasingly detached from the immediate vicinity”. Instead of reacting directly to stimuli from the environment, these animals can use “reason” to understand what is going on in the environment and to decide what to do next. An animal that can only react directly to a stimulus is limited to one course of action. An animal that can build an internal representation of the world is capable of creating more than one possible course of action.

The next step up is to actually “plan” an action. Many animals plan, but in an “immediate” fashion. Humans can plan in an “anticipatory” manner. The difference is about being ready for the same situation to occur again in the future. For example, animals make tools to be used immediately, but only humans carry their tools with them, knowing that they may need them again. Other animals would simply make the same tools again when required. Another example is how we communicate: animals do communicate, but their communication is about the “here and now”, whereas humans can discuss of our memories of the past and dreams for the future. In a sense, another proof of this difference is the fact than only humans seem to be aware of the full meaning of death: they not only fear it, but are devastated by the mere thought of it (note that humans bury their dead, and this custom seems to be relatively recent in the evolution of humans).

Another ladder of cognitive abilities has to do with the kind of things that one’s brain can represent: an internal representation of the world, which is necessary for immediate planning; “compassion” (an understanding of others’ emotions); a theory of attention (understanding what others are focusing on); a theory of intention (understanding why others are doing what they are doing); a theory of others’ minds (which is basically the ability to represent the internal representations of other minds); and finally self-consciousness (a representation of one’s internal representation, which is required for anticipatory planning). The jump from understanding intentions and having a theory of others’ minds may be the most difficult one: children acquire a theory of others at about the age of four; and it is still being debated whether apes ever do. Thus Gardenfors concludes that, in all likelihood, only humans are self-conscious.

The self, the last stage of human cognitive development, presupposes a “you”. Gardenfors assign a key role even to deceit and cooperation. These are phenomena that presuppose an understanding of others’ minds. The level of sophistication that the human race can achieve in matters of deceit and cooperation is due to the ability to work with the chain of nested beliefs: “I know”, “I know that you know”, “I know that you know that I know”, etc. When one can see one’s mind through the eyes of a competitor or a partner, one is seeing one’s own mind. One can see one’s own internal representation. Thus Gardenfors believes that an understanding of others’ minds came before an understanding of one’s own mind. I understand that you exist, act and have motives before I understand that I exist, act and have my own motives. First came the concept of “I and You”, then came the concept of “I” (the subject, which presupposes a non-subject), and finally the concept of “it” (the object of the subject, which presupposes a subject).

Gardenfors believes that the self is an “emergent” phenomenon, a property of the whole that was not a property of any of its constituents. The “I” emerges from a network of inter-related cognitive functions.

Gardenfors’ theory of cognitive steps is consistent with Daniel Dennett’s classification of “kinds of minds”: “Darwinian creatures”, which only live in the present; “Skinnerian creatures”, which are capable of learning from trial and error; “Popperian creatures”, which can play an action internally in a simulated environment before they perform it in the real environment; and “Gregorian creatures”, which can extend their cognitive functions outside their organism by using tools and language.

Gardenfors adds a fifth kind to Dennett’s kinds of minds: “Donaldian” beings, named after Merlin Donald’s third phase: Donald believes that about 50,000 years ago humans began to store memories in the outside world instead of in their own brain (e.g., cave paintings, figurines, calendars, etc). The invention of external memories (which does not imply any change in the structure of the brain) was fundamental for creating the kind of mind that we now have. Writing and science were simply further evolutions of that invention.

Ultimately, it is all about the internal representation, which in humans is “detached” enough to allow for thinking about the past and the future, and even for thinking about ourselves.

Gardenfors sees evidence that humans have better “simulators” of the environment (building better representations) in apparently unrelated facts such as the human ability to aim and to beat a rhythm. Apes cannot aim and cannot keep time.

The consequences of having good simulators are civilizations.

Thus Gardenfors concludes that language came last: not only was it unnecessary for the birth of consciousness, but consciousness is a primitive phenomenon and language is the last stage of cognitive evolution. Human language requires a kind of internal representation (the “detached” kind) that only humans have. Basically, it requires “symbols”. In a sense, human language is about which is not here and not now, whereas other animals can only communicate about here and now, because their representations are not “detached” enough from external reality (they “are” about external reality).

This limitation of other animals also translates in the sounds that they can produce. Humans are the only animals that can “choose” what sound to produce. Other animals have a repertory of sounds that they produce, and cannot control them. Humans can control them. Sometimes humans use the “instinctive” repertory of sounds (e.g., a scream or laughter). But humans can also articulate speech. Animals cannot literally talk. “They have no need to talk since they have nothing to talk about”. They have no detached representation. They have no need to “talk” about things that are not here now. Gardenfors believes that even self-consciousness is required to be capable of speaking, because human language is very much about the “I” and the “you”.

Gardenfors agrees with Robin Dunbar that, originally, language had a social function. Humans chatted for the same reason that apes groom each other: to cement social bonds. That helped humans create groups, and groups helped survive in a hostile environment. So language had an evolutionary advantage.

Noam Chomsky’s theory of an innate universal grammar is unnecessary because grammar could be (yet another) emergent phenomenon that arises after speech already existed. The brain basically organizes the speech acts that is performing. The result (not the cause) is the rules of grammar.

Language is not handled by a separate “module” in the brain, as Chomsky claims. Instead, it is a natural evolution of cognitive skills that preexisted it.

The USA psychologist Stuart Hameroff advanced a theory of consciousness rooted in Physics. One of the big mysteries of evolutionary Biology is the sudden explosion of species during the Cambrian period. According to fossil records, life on Earth originated about 4 billion years ago, but for about 3.5 billion years it evolved very slow, producing mainly single-celled organisms and a few simple multicellular organisms. Then, all of a sudden, in a rather brief period of 10 million years beginning about 540 million years ago (the Cambrian period), a huge number of different forms of life emerged. Biologists have always been puzzled by this sudden diversification of life.

One possible explanation would be the emergence of a feature that greatly enhanced adaptation and mutation. Hameroff thinks that it may have been the emergence of consciousness, that consciousness not only occurred early in the evolutionary path but it even altered the course of evolution. The idea is that behavior can indirectly alter genetic information, as already argued in 1958 by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schroedinger, by enabling organisms to survive and reproduce where non-intelligent organisms would simply die.

Cells contain a structure called “cytoskeleton”, which is made of a protein called “tibulin”, which forms cylinders called “microtubules”. According to the USA biologist Lynn Margulis, microtubules and the cytoskeleton were created by symbiotic mergers more than a billion years ago. Simple organisms actually had to rely on the cytoskeleton for purposeful behavior. Having no synapses or neural networks, they relied on their cytoskeleton for sensation, locomotion and information processing. Cytoskeletal structures provided several services, including internal organization of the neuron, processing of information, communication. In summary, the cytoskeleton organizes intelligent behavior in simple organisms.

The cytoskeleton seems to play a particularly relevant role in differentiation. A cell’s genes are activated and regulated by its cytoskeleton. Cytoskeletal cooperation among neighboring cells enabled differentiation and allowed different types of tissues to emerge. Then, higher order structures appearing with specific functions (organs) started appearing and these in turn enabled more purposeful behavior.

All of this depends on the cytoskeleton, which Hameroff thinks is the level at which consciousness is created. If that is the case, then rudimentary “conscious” events occurred the very moment the cytoskeleton became important for small organisms. Organisms began to experience feelings and make conscious choices.

The End of the Struggle and the Luxury of Consciousness
A modest proposal: I think that consciousness came with the end of danger.

The human mind (cognitive faculties plus consciousness) was just an organ of the body, useful like the others to survive in the environment. Where the hand was useful to grab things and the leg was useful for running, the mind was useful for deciding what to do in the face of danger. The mind was capable of organizing knowledge about the world and relating it to bodily needs (food, sex, shelter, etc). In a hostile and unpredictable environment, the mind was presumably busy all the time with practical chores. As humans became less and less vulnerable to natural selection, the mind became less and less “useful”. Nonetheless, the mind was still collecting and organizing knowledge about the world. Once survival got easy, the mind had “spare time” to spend with its knowledge. (We can expect that domestic animals will also go down the same path of increased awareness, as they become pets and are sheltered from their ecosystem’s selection).

The human mind works in two dimensions: 1. It uses whatever knowledge it has to determine behavior in the environment; 2. It uses whatever spare time it has to refine and increase its knowledge. From knowledge better and better knowledge can always be created. That is what the mind does when it needs not concern itself with survival. The more knowledge gets created, the more efficient the mind will be the next time it has to deal with a matter-of-life-or-death situation. That is why it takes advantage of every “break” to increase its knowledge. If the mind is “inactive” (as far as struggling for survival goes), then knowledge keeps increasing exponentially, in all directions. That includes knowledge about the mind itself. The mind becomes more and more aware of its own existence.

The mind was in origin just one of the body’s features, caused by one of the body’s organs (the brain), just like “walking” is a body’s feature caused by a body’s organ (the leg). As knowledge about itself increased, the mind became more and more independent of the environment’s conditions, more and more independent of the body’s needs, more and more a machine to acquire and process knowledge, more and more a feature about itself.

Consciousness comes with the end of the mind’s usefulness. As the mind becomes useless, while its brain processes are unstoppable, it turns into higher and higher degrees of self-awareness. Instead of using knowledge to analyze the world, recognize natural patterns, predict situations and mandate behavior, the mind uses knowledge to create more knowledge. Eventually, it also creates more and more knowledge about itself.

A Darwinian History of Consciousness
It is often the case that competing theories are all right to some extent, are all part of the solution, although neither is the “whole” solution.

If one applies Darwinian thinking to the origins of consciousness, one is led to believe that today’s consciousness must be a point in a continuum of consciousness that started a long time ago and underwent evolution. If we accept that the human mind is just one of the organs that evolved over millions of years, the origins of the mind must be found in 1. a primordial organ of “thinking” and 2. an evolutionary advantage of that organ that made it evolve into what it is now.

It is likely that a number of facets of our experience evolved together.

First of all, we are a tool-making species. And tools have always shaped the mind. We are not the only tool-making species, and we are not the only species whose “cognitive life” is shaped by tools. Even a spider, that has built a spider-web, will have a “mental” life that revolves around the spider-web. Each new tool, whether fire or television, has shaped the mind of the humans who used it. Tools contribute to create the mind as it is because they change the environment in which the mind must operate. As tools have evolved, from the wheel to the automobile, according to a Darwinian scenario of their own, our mind has evolved with them.

Secondly, the primordial “mind” that evolved from non-conscious matter ages ago is likely to have been very simple, possibly limited to a few emotions. For example, it may have only been capable of feeling pain and pleasure. Those emotions proved to have an evolutionary advantage, and therefore they reproduced and eventually evolved into more complex emotions, such as fear and desire. And so forth: as they proved more and more useful for survival and reproduction, eventually a whole spectrum of emotions began to emerge.

Emotions had an evolutionary value, as they helped bodies (and their genes) survive, and therefore were valuable, and therefore evolved. It is unlikely that humans are the only species with emotions, but it is likely that humans are the species in which emotions evolved in the most spectacular way. The reason for this spectacular evolution may very well be that at the same time we were developing ever more sophisticated tools than any other species. Tools relieved us from many daily chores. Our emotions had been invented to help cope with those chores, but, thanks to tools, our emotions gradually became less and less crucial to survival. The fear of tigers is important to survive in a tiger-rich environment, but once we build fences around our dwelling that emotion becomes less crucial; at least, we don’t need to fear tigers all the time.

Our mind was nonetheless still producing emotions, because once an organ is created that does something it will continue to do that something. We can’t just turn off our immune system because this morning there are no viruses around. Just like the immune system is producing antibodies all the time, the mind is producing emotions all the time. That flow of “free” emotions eventually led to what we call “thought”. Thought eventually yielded a continuous flow of emotions and a concept of the self: consciousness was born. Consciousness was born because our mind had nothing to do most of the day. We became conscious because we had nothing better to do with our emotions.

At the same time, communication was also evolving. Language evolved from primitive sounds and gestures because, again, it provided an evolutionary advantage. Language shaped the mind as much as the mind shaped language. The very idea of the “self” may have originated from the ability to think in a structured manner about our experience, the ability to form narratives.

Finally, memes evolved. Ideas, slogans, religions, ideologies evolved from the early, very basic, concepts of the world. And, again, memes shaped the mind as much as the mind shaped memes.

Today’s mind is the result of the co-evolution of brains, tools, emotions, language, memes.

It was evolution on several parallel tracks.


The truth is out there (or in there)…

Everything we know, see, touch, experience could be an illusion. What we are may not be what we think we are. We may all be bound together infinitely and forever to a singularity, a singularity of consciousness…

The question for me to seek out (not even the answer at this stage) is becoming clearer. The ultimate question is (or always has been) what is the meaning of life, and it is one we have always sought out the answer to since gaining that level of consciousness, awareness.

The likes of Prof Brian Cox and Charles Darwin can respectively explain the physical composition of everything that exists (and coexists) and how things have metamorphosised over time, through their theories on the wonders of the universe and of evolution. 

What they fail to do (unless I am ignorant of fact which is more than likely given the little I have read to date) is to accompany their theories with a series of much more fundamental questions. 1. What is consciousness? 2. When did consciousness first evolve? 3. Where did consciousness first come from? 4. Who has consciousness? 5. How does consciousness manifest itself within us? Then and only then can will we have the evidence to answer the ultimate question 6. Why are we here?

To try to understand the definition and history of what consciousness is, one need look no further than wiki for inspirational nuggets. Once the word and metaphysical concept of consciousness has been defined and understood (which is not easy, probably impossible given the lack of evidence and experience), only then can we begin to look at answering that ultimate question…

What is consciousness?
Consciousness is the quality or state of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. It has been defined as sentience, awareness, subjectivity, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind.

Despite the difficulty in definition, many philosophers believe that there is a broadly shared underlying intuition about what consciousness is. As Max Velmans and Susan Schneider wrote in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness: “Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives”.

Philosophers since the time of Descartes and Locke have struggled to comprehend the nature of consciousness and pin down its essential properties. Issues of concern in the philosophy of consciousness include whether the concept is fundamentally valid; whether consciousness can ever be explained mechanistically; whether non-human consciousness exists and if so how it can be recognized; how consciousness relates to language; whether consciousness can be understood in a way that does not require a dualistic distinction between mental and physical states or properties; and whether it may ever be possible for computing machines like computers or robots to be conscious.

At one time consciousness was viewed with skepticism by many scientists, but in recent years it has become a significant topic of research in psychology and neuroscience. The primary focus is on understanding what it means biologically and psychologically for information to be present in consciousness, that is, on determining the neural and psychological correlates of consciousness. The majority of experimental studies assess consciousness by asking human subjects for a verbal report of their experiences (e.g., “tell me if you notice anything when I do this”). Issues of interest include phenomena such as subliminal perception, blindsight, denial of impairment, and altered states of consciousness produced by psychoactive drugs or spiritual or meditative techniques.

In medicine, consciousness is assessed by observing a patient’s arousal and responsiveness, and can be seen as a continuum of states ranging from full alertness and comprehension, through disorientation, delirium, loss of meaningful communication, and finally loss of movement in response to painful stimuli. Issues of practical concern include how the presence of consciousness can be assessed in severely ill, comatose, or anesthetized people, and how to treat conditions in which consciousness is impaired or disrupted.

The origin of the modern concept of consciousness is often attributed to John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, published in 1690. Locke defined consciousness as “the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind”.

The philosophy of mind has given rise to many stances regarding consciousness. Any attempt to impose an organization on them is bound to be somewhat arbitrary.

Stuart Sutherland exemplified the difficulty in the entry he wrote for the 1989 version of the Macmillan Dictionary of Psychology: Consciousness – The having of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings; awareness. The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means. Many fall into the trap of equating consciousness with self-consciousness—to be conscious it is only necessary to be aware of the external world. Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it has evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it.

Most writers on the philosophy of consciousness have been concerned to defend a particular point of view, and have organized their material accordingly.

The validity of the concept
Philosophers and non-philosophers differ in their intuitions about what consciousness is. While most people have a strong intuition for the existence of what they refer to as consciousness, skeptics argue that this intuition is false, either because the concept of consciousness is intrinsically incoherent, or because our intuitions about it are based in illusions.

Gilbert Ryle, for example, argued that traditional understanding of consciousness depends on a Cartesian dualist outlook that improperly distinguishes between mind and body, or between mind and world. He proposed that we speak not of minds, bodies, and the world, but of individuals, or persons, acting in the world. Thus, by speaking of “consciousness” we end up misleading ourselves by thinking that there is any sort of thing as consciousness separated from behavioral and linguistic understandings.

More generally, many philosophers and scientists have been unhappy about the difficulty of producing a definition that does not involve circularity or fuzziness.

Types of consciousness
Many philosophers have argued that consciousness is a unitary concept that is understood intuitively by the majority of people in spite of the difficulty in defining it. Others, though, have argued that the level of disagreement about the meaning of the word indicates that it either means different things to different people (for instance, the objective versus subjective aspects of consciousness), or else is an umbrella term encompassing a variety of distinct meanings with no simple element in common.

Ned Block proposed a distinction between two types of consciousness that he called phenomenal (P-consciousness) and access (A-consciousness). P-consciousness, according to Block, is simply raw experience: it is moving, colored forms, sounds, sensations, emotions and feelings with our bodies and responses at the center. These experiences, considered independently of any impact on behavior, are called qualia. A-consciousness, on the other hand, is the phenomenon whereby information in our minds is accessible for verbal report, reasoning, and the control of behavior. So, when we perceive, information about what we perceive is access conscious; when we introspect, information about our thoughts is access conscious; when we remember, information about the past is access conscious, and so on. A-consciousness can in principle be understood in mechanistic terms, but that understanding P-consciousness is much more challenging (the hard problem of consciousness).

Some philosophers believe that Block’s two types of consciousness are not the end of the story. William Lycan, for example, argued in his book Consciousness and Experience that at least eight clearly distinct types of consciousness can be identified (organism consciousness; control consciousness; consciousness of; state/event consciousness; reportability; introspective consciousness; subjective consciousness; self-consciousness)—and that even this list omits several more obscure forms.


Inputs are passed by the sensory organs to the pineal gland and from there to the immaterial spirit.

The first influential philosopher to discuss this question specifically was Descartes and the answer he gave is known as Cartesian dualism. Descartes proposed that consciousness resides within an immaterial domain he called res cogitans (the realm of thought), in contrast to the domain of material things which he called res extensa (the realm of extension). He suggested that the interaction between these two domains occurs inside the brain, perhaps in a small midline structure called the pineal gland.

Although it is widely accepted that Descartes explained the problem cogently, few later philosophers have been happy with his solution, and his ideas about the pineal gland have especially been ridiculed.

Alternative solutions, however, have been very diverse. They can be divided broadly into two categories: dualist solutions that maintain Descartes’ rigid distinction between the realm of consciousness and the realm of matter but give different answers for how the two realms relate to each other; and monist solutions that maintain that there is really only one realm of being, of which consciousness and matter are both aspects. Each of these categories itself contains numerous variants. The two main types of dualism are substance dualism (which holds that the mind is formed of a distinct type of substance not governed by the laws of physics) and property dualism (which holds that the laws of physics are universally valid but cannot be used to explain the mind). The three main types of monism are physicalism (which holds that the mind consists of matter organized in a particular way), idealism (which holds that only thought truly exists and matter is merely an illusion), and neutral monism (which holds that both mind and matter are aspects of a distinct essence that is itself identical to neither of them). There are also, however, a large number of idiosyncratic theories that cannot cleanly be assigned to any of these camps.

Since the dawn of Newtonian science with its vision of simple mechanical principles governing the entire universe, some philosophers have been tempted by the idea that consciousness could be explained in purely physical terms. The first influential writer to propose such an idea explicitly was Julien Offray de La Mettrie, in his book Man a Machine (L’homme machine). His arguments, however, were very abstract. The most influential modern physical theories of consciousness are based on psychology and neuroscience. Theories proposed by neuroscientists such as Gerald Edelman and Antonio Damasio, and by philosophers such as Daniel Dennett, seek to explain consciousness in terms of neural events occurring within the brain. Many other neuroscientists, such as Christof Koch, have explored the neural basis of consciousness without attempting to frame all-encompassing global theories. At the same time, computer scientists working in the field of Artificial Intelligence have pursued the goal of creating digital computer programs that can simulate or embody consciousness.

A few theoretical physicists have argued that classical physics is intrinsically incapable of explaining the holistic aspects of consciousness, but that quantum theory provides the missing ingredients. Several theorists have therefore proposed quantum mind (QM) theories of consciousness. None of the quantum mechanical theories has been confirmed by experiment. At the present time many scientists and philosophers consider the arguments for an important role of quantum phenomena to be unconvincing.

Apart from the general question of the “hard problem” of consciousness, roughly speaking, the question of how mental experience arises from a physical basis, a more specialized question is how to square the subjective notion that we are in control of our decisions (at least in some small measure) with the customary view of causality that subsequent events are caused by prior events. The topic of free will is the philosophical and scientific examination of this conundrum.

Problem of other minds
Many philosophers consider experience to be the essence of consciousness, and believe that experience can only fully be known from the inside, subjectively. But if consciousness is subjective and not visible from the outside, why do the vast majority of people believe that other people are conscious, but rocks and trees are not? This is called the problem of other minds. It is particularly acute for people who believe in the possibility of philosophical zombies, that is, people who think it is possible in principle to have an entity that is physically indistinguishable from a human being and behaves like a human being in every way but nevertheless lacks consciousness.

The most commonly given answer is that we attribute consciousness to other people because we see that they resemble us in appearance and behavior: we reason that if they look like us and act like us, they must be like us in other ways, including having experiences of the sort that we do. There are, however, a variety of problems with that explanation. For one thing, it seems to violate the principle of parsimony, by postulating an invisible entity that is not necessary to explain what we observe.

Animal consciousness
The topic of animal consciousness is beset by a number of difficulties. It poses the problem of other minds in an especially severe form, because animals, lacking the ability to express human language, cannot tell us about their experiences. Also, it is difficult to reason objectively about the question, because a denial that an animal is conscious is often taken to imply that it does not feel, its life has no value, and that harming it is not morally wrong. Descartes, for example, has sometimes been blamed for mistreatment of animals due to the fact that he believed only humans have a non-physical mind. Most people have a strong intuition that some animals, such as cats and dogs, are conscious, while others, such as insects, are not; but the sources of this intuition are not obvious, and are often based on personal interactions with pets and other animals they have observed.

Philosophers who consider subjective experience the essence of consciousness also generally believe, as a correlate, that the existence and nature of animal consciousness can never rigorously be known. Thomas Nagel spelled out this point of view in an influential essay titled What Is it Like to Be a Bat?. He said that an organism is conscious “if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism – something it is like for the organism”; and he argued that no matter how much we know about an animal’s brain and behavior, we can never really put ourselves into the mind of the animal and experience its world in the way it does itself.

Artificial consciousness
The idea of an artifact made conscious is an ancient theme of mythology, appearing for example in the Greek myth of Pygmalion, who carved a statue that was magically brought to life, and in medieval Jewish stories of the Golem, a magically animated homunculus built of clay. However, the possibility of actually constructing a conscious machine was probably first discussed by Ada Lovelace, in a set of notes written in 1842 about the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage, a precursor (never built) to modern electronic computers. Lovelace was essentially dismissive of the idea that a machine such as the Analytical Engine could think in a humanlike way.

One of the most influential contributions to this question was an essay written in 1950 by pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing, titled Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Turing disavowed any interest in terminology, saying that even “Can machines think?” is too loaded with spurious connotations to be meaningful; but he proposed to replace all such questions with a specific operational test, which has become known as the Turing test. To pass the test a computer must imitate a human well enough to fool interrogators. In his essay Turing discussed a variety of possible objections, and presented a counterargument to each of them. The Turing test is commonly cited in discussions of artificial intelligence as a proposed criterion for machine consciousness; it has provoked a great deal of philosophical debate.

Scientific study
For many decades, consciousness as a research topic was avoided by the majority of mainstream scientists, because of a general feeling that a phenomenon defined in subjective terms could not properly be studied using objective experimental methods. In 1975 George Mandler published an influential psychological study which distinguished between slow, serial, and limited conscious processes and fast, parallel and extensive unconscious ones. Starting in the 1980s, an expanding community of neuroscientists and psychologists have associated themselves with a field called Consciousness Studies, giving rise to a stream of experimental work published in books.

Modern scientific investigations into consciousness are based on psychological experiments (including, for example, the investigation of priming effects using subliminal stimuli), and on case studies of alterations in consciousness produced by trauma, illness, or drugs. Broadly viewed, scientific approaches are based on two core concepts. The first identifies the content of consciousness with the experiences that are reported by human subjects; the second makes use of the concept of consciousness that has been developed by neurologists and other medical professionals who deal with patients whose behavior is impaired. In either case, the ultimate goals are to develop techniques for assessing consciousness objectively in humans as well as other animals, and to understand the neural and psychological mechanisms that underlie it


States of consciousness
There are some states in which consciousness seems to be abolished, including sleep, coma, and death. There are also a variety of circumstances that can change the relationship between the mind and the world in less drastic ways, producing what are known as altered states of consciousness. Some altered states occur naturally; others can be produced by drugs or brain damage. Altered states can be accompanied by changes in thinking, disturbances in the sense of time, feelings of loss of control, changes in emotional expression, alternations in body image and changes in meaning or significance.

The two most widely accepted altered states are sleep and dreaming. Although dream sleep and non-dream sleep appear very similar to an outside observer, each is associated with a distinct pattern of brain activity, metabolic activity, and eye movement; each is also associated with a distinct pattern of experience and cognition. During ordinary non-dream sleep, people who are awakened report only vague and sketchy thoughts, and their experiences do not cohere into a continuous narrative. During dream sleep, in contrast, people who are awakened report rich and detailed experiences in which events form a continuous progression, which may however be interrupted by bizarre or fantastic intrusions. Thought processes during the dream state frequently show a high level of irrationality. Both dream and non-dream states are associated with severe disruption of memory: it usually disappears in seconds during the non-dream state, and in minutes after awakening from a dream unless actively refreshed.

A variety of psychoactive drugs have notable effects on consciousness. These range from a simple dulling of awareness produced by sedatives, to increases in the intensity of sensory qualities produced by stimulants, cannabis, or most notably by the class of drugs known as psychedelics. LSD, DMT, mescaline, psilocybin, and others in this group can produce major distortions of perception, including hallucinations; some users even describe their drug-induced experiences as mystical or spiritual in quality. The brain mechanisms underlying these effects are not well understood, but there is substantial evidence that alterations in the brain system that uses the chemical neurotransmitter serotonin play an essential role.

There has been some research into physiological changes in yogis and people who practise various techniques of meditation. Some research with brain waves during meditation has reported differences between those corresponding to ordinary relaxation and those corresponding to meditation. It has been disputed, however, whether there is enough evidence to count these as physiologically distinct states of consciousness.

The most extensive study of the characteristics of altered states of consciousness was made by psychologist Charles Tart in the 1960s and 1970s. Tart analyzed a state of consciousness as made up of a number of component processes, including exteroception (sensing the external world); interoception (sensing the body); input-processing (seeing meaning); emotions; memory; time sense; sense of identity; evaluation and cognitive processing; motor output; and interaction with the environment. Each of these, in his view, could be altered in multiple ways by drugs or other manipulations. The components that Tart identified have not, however, been validated by empirical studies. Research in this area has not yet reached firm conclusions, but a recent questionnaire-based study identified eleven significant factors contributing to drug-induced states of consciousness: experience of unity; spiritual experience; blissful state; insightfulness; disembodiment; impaired control and cognition; anxiety; complex imagery; elementary imagery; audio-visual synesthesia; and changed meaning of percepts.

Phenomenology is a method of inquiry that attempts to examine the structure of consciousness in its own right, putting aside problems regarding the relationship of consciousness to the physical world. This approach was first proposed by the philosopher Edmund Husserl, and later elaborated by other philosophers and scientists. Husserl’s original concept gave rise to two distinct lines of inquiry, in philosophy and psychology. In philosophy, phenomenology has largely been devoted to fundamental metaphysical questions, such as the nature of intentionality (“aboutness”). In psychology, phenomenology largely has meant attempting to investigate consciousness using the method of introspection, which means looking into one’s own mind and reporting what one observes. This method fell into disrepute in the early twentieth century because of grave doubts about its reliability, but has been rehabilitated to some degree, especially when used in combination with techniques for examining brain activity.

Square version of the neon spread illusion
Introspectively, the world of conscious experience seems to have considerable structure. Immanuel Kant asserted that the world as we perceive it is organized according to a set of fundamental “intuitions”, which include object (we perceive the world as a set of distinct things); shape; quality (color, warmth, etc.); space (distance, direction, and location); and time. Some of these constructs, such as space and time, correspond to the way the world is structured by the laws of physics; for others the correspondence is not as clear. Understanding the physical basis of qualities, such as redness or pain, has been particularly challenging.

David Chalmers has called this the hard problem of consciousness. Some philosophers have argued that it is intrinsically unsolvable, because qualities (“qualia”) are ineffable; that is, they are “raw feels”, incapable of being analyzed into component processes. Most psychologists and neuroscientists reject these arguments – nevertheless it is clear that the relationship between a physical entity such as light and a perceptual quality such as color is extraordinarily complex and indirect, as demonstrated by a variety of optical illusions such as neon color spreading.

In neuroscience, a great deal of effort has gone into investigating how the perceived world of conscious awareness is constructed inside the brain. The process is generally thought to involve two primary mechanisms: (1) hierarchical processing of sensory inputs, and (2) memory. Signals arising from sensory organs are transmitted to the brain and then processed in a series of stages, which extract multiple types of information from the raw input. In the visual system, for example, sensory signals from the eyes are transmitted to the thalamus and then to the primary visual cortex; inside the cerebral cortex they are sent to areas that extract features such as three-dimensional structure, shape, color, and motion. Memory comes into play in at least two ways. First, it allows sensory information to be evaluated in the context of previous experience. Second, and even more importantly, working memory allows information to be integrated over time so that it can generate a stable representation of the world.

Despite the large amount of information available, the most important aspects of perception remain mysterious. A great deal is known about low-level signal processing in sensory systems, but the ways by which sensory systems interact with each other, with “executive” systems in the frontal cortex, and with the language system are very incompletely understood. At a deeper level, there are still basic conceptual issues that remain unresolved. Many scientists have found it difficult to reconcile the fact that information is distributed across multiple brain areas with the apparent unity of consciousness: this is one aspect of the so-called binding problem.

The medical approach to consciousness is practically oriented. It derives from a need to treat people whose brain function has been impaired as a result of disease, brain damage, toxins, or drugs. In medicine, conceptual distinctions are considered useful to the degree that they can help to guide treatments. Whereas the philosophical approach to consciousness focuses on its fundamental nature and its contents, the medical approach focuses on the amount of consciousness a person has: in medicine, consciousness is assessed as a “level” ranging from coma and brain death at the low end, to full alertness and purposeful responsiveness at the high end.

Consciousness is of concern to patients and physicians, especially neurologists and anesthesiologists. Patients may suffer from disorders of consciousness, or may need to be anesthetized for a surgical procedure. Physicians may perform consciousness-related interventions such as instructing the patient to sleep, administering general anesthesia, or inducing medical coma. Also, bioethicists may be concerned with the ethical implications of consciousness in medical cases of patients such as Karen Ann Quinlan, while neuroscientists may study patients with impaired consciousness in hopes of gaining information about how the brain works.

Stream of consciousness
William James is usually credited with popularizing the idea that human consciousness flows like a stream, in his Principles of Psychology of 1890. According to James, the “stream of thought” is governed by five characteristics: “(1) Every thought tends to be part of a personal consciousness. (2) Within each personal consciousness thought is always changing. (3) Within each personal consciousness thought is sensibly continuous. (4) It always appears to deal with objects independent of itself. (5) It is interested in some parts of these objects to the exclusion of others”.

A similar concept appears in Buddhist philosophy, expressed by the Sanskrit term Citta-saṃtāna, which is usually translated as mindstream or “mental continuum”. In the Buddhist view, though, the “mindstream” is viewed primarily as a source of noise that distracts attention from a changeless underlying reality.

Level of consciousness (esotericism) and Higher consciousness
To most philosophers, the word “consciousness” connotes the relationship between the mind and the world. To writers on spiritual or religious topics, it frequently connotes the relationship between the mind and God, or the relationship between the mind and deeper truths that are thought to be more fundamental than the physical world. Krishna consciousness, for example, is a term used to mean an intimate linkage between the mind of a worshipper and the god Krishna.

The mystical psychiatrist Richard Maurice Bucke distinguished between three types of consciousness: Simple Consciousness, awareness of the body, possessed by many animals; Self Consciousness, awareness of being aware, possessed only by humans; and Cosmic Consciousness, awareness of the life and order of the universe, possessed only by humans who are enlightened.

Many more examples could be given. The most thorough account of the spiritual approach may be Ken Wilber’s book The Spectrum of Consciousness, a comparison of western and eastern ways of thinking about the mind. Wilber described consciousness as a spectrum with ordinary awareness at one end, and more profound types of awareness at higher levels.

Cloudy with a chance of randomness

The opening line of last post was “Has it really been almost a month since my last update, time sure does fly past these days”. That was two months. Keeping with the same approach, if I could sum up the last 8 weeks in 3 words it would be ‘Busy’ and ‘Cloudy’ and ‘Random’.

9th September was the day the kids went back to school, and also the day that yoga restarted after the summer hiatus. Pam being ensconced in a Shaolin Temple deep in the China provinces for a month was always going to result in the first lesson back to yoga being full of hurt, it wouldn’t take Confucius to work that one out. It did, very much. I didn’t really have any intentions of keeping up the yoga whilst Pam was of wrapping her 73 year old legs around her head.

In a way it was a welcome break, in other ways not. The period did allow me to take up running again and get my aerobic fitness levels and weight levels to their optimum (not bad for an ageing old scrote such as I). During August I began to clock in fastest ever times for my training runs (5km in just over 22 minutes / 10km in just over 45 minutes). Combined with eating healthier and not drinking booze as much, I felt good going into the 2013 Wirral 10K. There are a great many things yoga, meditation and reiki can teach the mid/long distance runner. Yoga postures certainly help stretch out the hamstrings and glutes. Meditation certainly helps to focus the mind out on a run and brings that level of calm that puts the body into that automation zone which is required on long distance runs. Reiki certainly inspires to take in the wonders of nature and the universe when out on a run, and during my training runs on/near the beach I had several ‘reiki type energy moments’ when clouds parted to reveal the burning ball of plasma ninety three million miles away.

It was after the first yoga session back that I came back to the house and gave Nicky a ‘reiki sleep’ session due to a headache she had, to help her drift off into the abyss. It was in that session that I had realised that I actually got more from giving reiki than receiving it. That is the beauty about it, reiki is not a one way street. The practitioner can sometimes get more out of a session than the recipient. I compiled a Spotify playlist with my favourite meditation tunes on and cast my non-corporeal energy net over her, which worked a treat for me at least (and her too maybe to a lesser extent).

I was also in London that week which added to the calendar chaos. Naveena and I had been talking for quite some time about ‘The Secret’, yoga and the likes, and I finally got down to telling her about my reiki experiences so far, and as a result she went and booked herself into yoga (which she continues to do and enjoy). I have really started to forge a love/hate relationship with London and I must try to change that. Every time I get on the train every 4th Tuesday of the month, I get a glimpse of the past, the stress of working away and all the serious troubles that brought last year, the stress of working in the city, the stress of working for ‘the man’. There are times when its good (mostly when I surround myself with friendly familiar faces and spend a bit of R&R time outside the office), and other times where I detest the attitudes and sheer existence of some long standing colleagues as well as the general busyness of the capital.

My good friend Mick relayed the great news that he had had a new bonny lass to add to the family tree, and brought her around to our house so we could have first looks and a cuddle. Such a cutie, even with hair like Johnny Marr from The Smiths!

Sunday so us all going to the beach. Even though it was a little cold, we met up with Janek and Laura who were doing stand up paddle boarding in the sea. It didn’t really take Nicky and I long to see that it looked like a lot of fun and that at some point it would be us out there, but with the weather on the turn, it would more likely be the spring (not that it stopped me instantly googling all of the gear you can get and coming up with a new list for my next pet project). We were surprised to see Laura in a cast, and she had explained that she had pulled some ligaments in a training session. We got to talking about how good the reiki share session was and rather randomly got on to the subject of tinnitus. Laura said that she got a ringing in her ears from time to time during reiki sessions as the energy flows, and that if I had it on a permanent basis, then I should look to use it to my advantage to help channel the energies both inside and outside me. It certainly is one way of looking at it, using the curse as a way to improve my technique.

The next yoga session was great, in fact one of the best ones to date, ironic really that on that day I got my over 40’s health check letter from the doctors. I decided to take up the challenge and also book myself into the gym at work who were doing a free fitness assessment. The fitness assessment went really well, al key statistics being on the money. The only downside was my ability stretch forward. One of the main reasons I took up yoga was my back which pained me from time to time. So it came as no surprise that during the assessment the only negative points was my hamstrings and glutes were very tight, which also had an effect on my current height! The guys at the gym were great and came up with a stretch plan with cool little stick men drawings to get me more flexible.

Nicky also started college during September, training to be a holistic therapist and I must say I am a lucky man. She purchased a portable massage bed and turned me into her guinea pig, and the early signs are that she has a real talent for it, so much so a friend of hers who owns a salon has already offered her a room once she has qualified, much to Nicky’s delight.

With yoga, meditation, reiki and now free massages, I should be the most chilled bloke on the planet. The only problem is my priority list, and things at work have got really busy of late. Trying to fit in the kids, the wife, the job and the new age techniques is all rather difficult, and as a result my tinnitus has been quite bad of late, especially getting off to sleep.

I know what I have to do, and I have the best intentions of doing it. Starting today. Or perhaps tomorrow…

PS – My Wirral 10k performance broke my personal best by 2 minutes (45m23s)