Chapter 2. About the formation of consciousness
2. About the formation of consciousness
Species are an assemblage of a mass of individual particles that live in groups which are also called societies. The particles have a very short lifespan while their societies last the life of many generations of individual particles. Societies themselves are also mortal and collapse from time to time to be annexed by, or annexing, other societies and forming a larger unit or splitting in smaller units. Societies, or groupings, are the natural form of organization of all species for the good reason that an individual on his own soon dies without reproducing. Preservation of the individual integrity and his reproduction are thus the reasons why individuals are assembling in groups. From the dawn of the principle of life, when life emerged, immediately appeared the necessity to reproduce individual life over the generations in order to ensure the continuity of the species. This principle is the essence of human groupings or societies and societies are natural instruments that ensure the reproduction of species.
We are speaking here about the emergence of the principle of life from organic matter which can be understood as an animation of matter by energy. Something like that happens extremely rarely when, for whatever reason, an ensemble of conditions are coming together and coalescing to assemble simple carbon-based molecules after destabilizing the link between existing carbon and oxygen atoms. Those new carbon-based molecules then open the path to increasingly complex carbon-based chemistry that eventually conclude in self-replicating molecules and single living cells or prokaryotic organisms. Much larger size eukaryotic organisms followed. To put things in real life perspective human body cells are multicellular eukaryotes that are outnumbered ten to one by bacteria (prokaryotes) mostly in the gut. So we find again the principle of cooperation in action: prokaryotes and eukaryotes collaborate to ensure their own reproduction and by doing so they allow the life of their macrocosm (us) to thrive. The same is at work with the collaboration of all species in the environment of our mother earth but I'm afraid that the actions of one particular species is acting contrarily to this natural principle of collaboration. I'm referring to the human species that lost its collective mind in the mechanics of individualism and the reason at work within capital and, as a consequence, is destroying the context of life on earth.
Single cell organisms, like bacteria, live together in a colony but to survive they have to carry out all life processes by themselves which contrasts with multicellular eukaryotes whose cells depend on each other to survive. So to ensure the reproduction of the species the individual eukaryote will rely on a collaboration between its cells which points to a general state of cooperation.
First principles of life
As we have seen life eventually emerges over the span of geological history and once emerged it immediately tasks the individual particles of the species to ensure their reproduction over the generations. Reproduction implies the preservation of the individual particles own life so that they can possibly reproduce. We'll see a little further that life preservation is ensured by the brain that acts at the level of the individual particle in order to gain his reproduction. Reproduction is the first among the first principles of life. Without the reproduction of the individuals the species disappears and life ceases to exist and so reproduction, also called conservation, is the first among first principles. The second first principle of life is the increase in individual complexity that gives rise to more complex and larger groupings which allow for further increases in individual consciousness that hopefully in the end of the process transfers to societal consciousness or sapience.
These first principles of life are embodied in the physical and bio-chemical constructs of the individuals. What I mean to say is that the physical bodies of the individuals of all living species contain the principles that will allow their species to reproduce and strive in ever more complexity. These principles are encoded in particular in the biological code (DNA-RNA), but certainly not exclusively there, they are somehow participating in the bio-chemistry and energetic flow of the entire body.
So, for each species, we have individual living particles that behave like programmed automatons. Their program is the principle of life of their species and its code is included in the individual's bio-chemistry and energetic field. That program is furthermore modulated by the context where their individual lives unfold: the societal context, the environmental context (mother earth for living species on earth) and finally the whole universe. Scientists refer to epigenetics as an actuator mechanism that switches genes on and off but the notion of context that I want to introduce here is larger than the notion of epigenetics. Note that each living particle is an integral part of these contexts and that the larger the context the smaller its own relative size and importance becomes. What this means is that the context is giving the range of the possible for all it contains. The universe gives the context of what is possible in the environment of its local sub-ensembles, and on earth for example, the environmental context of the earth is then giving the context of what is possible for groupings of individuals of whatever species (societies) and finally those societies are shaping the realm of what is possible for the individuals. All these informations are encoded in the evolving biological code of the individuals. An evolving biology is furthermore accompanied by evolving societies in the form of evolving shared worldviews and culture.
Let's visualize this to get a better grasp of what these abstractions are all about.
Life in its context
This graph 1 illustrates the idea that the context defines what is possible and what is not possible in terms of life. Life is possible on earth not because we individuals want it to be so. Life on earth is possible first and foremost because the earth's carbon chemistry and abundance of water allowed for the principle of life to emerge in the first place. Then the earth atmosphere and its climate offer a given bandwidth of life sustainability. To its chagrin my species is starting to discover that its bandwidth of life sustainability is quite narrow indeed. Variations in average temperatures of a few degrees up or a few degrees down are sufficient to wreck havoc with life on earth. The bandwidth of life sustainability is narrow but the effects of variations from the mean are not uniform. The effects of variations in earth average temperatures are indeed progressive. That means that the nearer we approach to the limits of the bandwidth of life sustainability the more intense are their effects. Climate change had to become a threat to our survivability as a specie for us to get the meaning of the bandwidth of life sustainability. Still, notwithstanding the the large insurance disbursements for freak weather events, many continue to be under the influence of "hopeium" derived from their mental navigation in scientific, or technological, or religious delusions.
The fact is that the context is what defines the limits of the possible and the impossible for life. Life did not emerge out of nothing. It emerged out of a given context and it pursues its path in a given bandwidth of sustainability within that same context. But power societies, and more particularly Modernity, have distracted humanity from what really matters to the principle of life and in consequence humanity's attention has finally been taken captive by individualism. The ego of individuals has taken over their decision making and the satisfaction of their short-sighted illusions, being their priority, has blinded them to their contextual belonging and so reality completely vanished from their attention span. But reality always comes back to reassert itself when approaching the limits of the bandwidth of life sustainability. That's when the illusions shatter just like glass under the impact of a stone and so more and more people in Late-Modernity experience the feeling of being at a loss to make sense of their lives and what is going on in their contextual setting.
Knowledge and consciousness through history
Now, in Late-Modernity when the sense of life has vanished from “advanced societies”, is the right time to revisit the old notion of consciousness. But first let's remember that consciousness is the integration by the individual mind of the approximations about what reality is all about, made by society's men of knowledge, that are being shared by all. Late-Modernity's cult of individualism has nevertheless reached such egotic proportions that it will be difficult for most to accept and understand the reality of such a conception. But the fact remains that out of the domain of his society no individual particle, human or other, can possibly reach anything else than death. So the sharing by all must come from somewhere else than the individual. Society is what conveys the approximations of reality shared by the individuals for the good reason that societies span over the generations and their long timespan sheds an air of naturalness on their approximations or worldviews that overwhelms the individuals. So lets review again the societal approximations, worldviews, that shaped human history:
- animism treated knowledge formation as if it was the result of matter being poured into the mind of the man of knowledge by the universal spirit or its arch-spirit representative (during Modernity this has also been interpreted as the pouring of the subconscious in the conscious). The ensuing vision of reality animates all species and their particles as the result of a systemic inter-connectedness of all particles in their contextual environment. Such a holistic, systemic, vision favored empathy and cooperation among particles of all species that were understood as being equals. This resulted in an attitude of respect for all species, plants and animals, that gave way to the idea that everything should be in balance. This does not mean that tribal societies were perfect. This is indeed not my point. It simply means that continuity established itself as the primary concern and as such the damages unknowingly inflicted to the environmental context remained within the realm of the manageable for the natural processes. Yes tribal societies impacted nature. But their footprint on nature remained always limited which allowed natural processes to adopt viable responses before a bottleneck could provoke a rupture. And the limitation of their footprint was contained in their principle of the societal golden number (see part 1: 05. From Modernity to After-Modernity and part 2: 1.2. non-power societies = tribes & animism).
- religion treated the subject from a power perspective. So the narrative shared by its followers did not address daily life pragmatism but concentrated instead on a story built upon some unverified axioms all based on the central idea of dualism. The religious rule was to use force to instill fear and obedience in the creed so as to avoid individual deviances. Large scale societal action was thus most often the result of the desire by the men of power (emperors, kings) and the men of knowledge (popes, imams,...) to satisfy the whims of their ego. The proof of their surreal whims is for all to see in their surviving monuments and big works. How many died building the pyramids and what did the pyramids offer as improvement to the people's daily life? The same could be said from the Chinese great wall, the Moai or Easter Island statues and so on. All around the world power societies spent incredible quantities of human energy for not much of a return in term of communal daily life satisfaction. Moreover those surreal whims had often the nagging effect to brutally destroy the environment leaving open scars in the earth that reduced the surface of croplands leading often to famines that provoked the demise of their civilizations.
- Modernity started when the long distance merchants of Middle-Eastern luxuries, at the attention of the European aristocracy, converted to the blind belief in the mechanical reason contained in the capital they invested in their commercial ventures. To satisfy their ego they spent a good deal of their returns on investments building castles and mansions that incited envy and/or further enterprises. The whole mechanism expanded the reign of individualism to societies at large and this was the catalyst for the emergence of philosophic rationalism and science and technology in the 17th century. The generation of profits is the reason for investing capital and science and technology soon appeared as the most potent of all instruments to generate fabulous returns. The capitalistic industrial revolution was generated by investments in science and technology that pushed all kinds of graphs into paths of Exponential growth and this was viewed as the sign of the ultimate truth of the reason of capital, industrial production processes and science and technology. The most extraordinary of those graphs is the one relating to population growth. See for yourself.
Knowing that we live in a physical context that is limited by what mother earth has to offer it should be evident that such a graph suggests trouble for life on earth. In Late-Modernity trouble on a massive scale has definitely already entered the door of humanity's environmental context...
A tentative general theory about the principle of life
Graph 1 here above gives the contextual realities as the background of life while the principle of life is shown inserting itself at the center of the action. All this implies that the emergence of life was programmed as possible in the context of the universe in the first place. If we follow that line of reasoning it is evident that life, in turn, should be seen as having some responsibilities towards the whole or what could also be called life's burden of wisdom.
The responsibilities towards the whole are cast in their sub-ensemble containers. I mean that life is contained in the earthly environment and the earth is a very small particle of the universal ballet. Deviating from this reality would mean extinction as surely as air is the substance of breathing. Once our minds grab the true meaning of the containment of life we start to discover the other side of the coin. Life represents the active principle of the whole and as such, in its eyes, it is responsible for its actions in the here and now. In other words life's actions at the societal level have to be coherent with the working of the whole and its sub-ensembles. Any societal action going against the grain of what is made possible by the context will unmistakably boomerang and inflict pain to the particles or species that initiated such action. So the necessity for responsibility in life's actions at the societal level generates a counterpart quantity of pleasure or pain. The understanding of this principle of societal responsibility and its counterpart is what unleashes the search for knowledge which in other words is to maximize societal pleasure and minimize societal pain. Now the more refined this societal knowledge appears to be the higher is the wisdom of those men of knowledge who carry it and thus the easier their task will be to spread the message further to all. Let's now come back to that central part of graph 1 (insertion of graph 3 in graph 1) that relates the first principles of life to what is going on in the body-mind of the individual. Life's burden of wisdom towards the whole universe is inscribed in graph 3 that follows. That graph illustrates the dynamic interactions between “the polarities of the principle of life” and “the polarities of the body-mind principle”. This, in turn, implies that all living species do necessarily carry the same burden which also means that they have a burden of responsibility towards each other. The fact that humanity does not understand the thinking of the other species around it should not blind us to the fact that the other species are pointing a finger at us humans for our responsibility in inviting trouble in our common environmental context. The dynamic interactions between “the polarities of the principle of life” and “the polarities of the body-mind principle” are animating the cycle of life. These interactions are the substance of life and they invalidate the individualistic and egotistic values and ideas that power societies have gradually imposed on humanity and Modernity has consecrated so thoroughly to the level of religious principles.
The vertical interactions in graph 3 relate to the dynamic interrelations between the components of “the body-mind principle” on the left side and of “the principle of life” on the right side. When the body-mind principle is balanced we have what we call a state of 'health' and when the body-mind principle is out of balance we have what is called a state of 'sickness'. In the case of the body-mind principle health and sickness relate to the body as well as the mind of the individuals. The same mechanism is at work with the principle of life. When the first principles of life (reproduction / increased complexity) are in balance we have what we call a state of 'health' and when the first principles of life are out of balance we have what we call a state of 'sickness'. In the case of the principle of life health and sickness relate to the body as well as the mind of societies or the species itself.
The general theory of the principle of life that I just laid out very schematically is based on the a-priori of pragmatism that I developed earlier. For the sake of clarity let's remember that pragmatism is the logical conclusion of the principle of polarities which is the axiom upon which rested the systemic approach of reality under animism that the Chinese civilization adopted as its own. Wikipedia gives the following definition of what an axiom is all about: “An axiom or postulate is a premise or starting point of reasoning. As classically conceived, an axiom is a premise so evident as to be accepted as true without controversy. The word comes from the Greek axíōma 'that which is thought worthy or fit' or 'that which commends itself as evident.' As used in modern logic, an axiom is simply a premise or starting point for reasoning.”
The animist axiom of polarities, that ancient Chinese sages have refined into an abstract model of how change operates, has been put to the test over such a long span of time that it solidified into a rock solid truth in people's minds. That rock solid truth was indeed observed to be empirically valid for the good reason that it explains the working of reality and the successive changes that it build as the arrow of time. Science might have a negative a-priori about empiricism. But lets look at the facts. Has science such a certainty that what has been observed, to generate the expected outcome, over tens of thousands of years is really inferior to its own conclusions?
I should argue that over only a few centuries science has collaborated in unleashing what might well be observed soon to be the demise of humanity as a species. The least we can say is that by throwing overboard the principle of prudence science has abdicated the responsibility that is attached to life. I'm not anti-science but my patience is growing very thin with scientism and the illusion that it spreads about its own invincibility and the religious belief that it will solve all problems that might arise in the future. The fact of the matter is that, in the end, the only valid proof of the validity of a knowledge does not reside in its methodology nor in its reasoning but in how the long haul history will judge the outcome of its postulates. History has judged empiricism as being a valid method to gauge the working or non-working of a belief. Its proof is confirmed by the survival of humanity until this very day. Science on the other hand appears more and more likely to be judged by history as having abdicated its responsibilities toward the principle of life which causes the destruction of the habitat of the principle of life. Let's be clear here. I believe that the scientific method, or the verifiability of an hypothesis, is the greatest gift Modernity has made to humanity. But that gift was poisoned from the start by the reason that is active within capital. Capital invests in science and commissions the scientists to execute certain missions. But the scientists have failed to act responsibly. It is too late today to invoke regrets over one's past actions as Oppenheimer or Einstein have done over their involvement with nuclear research. Time has come for scientists to take stock of the necessity to act responsibly toward the principle of life. In the end the principle of life is the only thing that matters and vanity appears so small and so off-putting in light of this ultimate truth.
Having clarified the method of reasoning I will now analyze the content of this general theory of life as it is contained in graph 3 here above by following the order of the arrows. But first let's observe that graph 3 contains 2 sets of arrows. One set, the 2 vertical arrows visualizes the inter-relationships or the dance between the polarities of the principle of life (on the right side) and the body-mind polarities of the individual particles. The other set of 2 horizontal arrows visualizes the interactions between one polarity of the principle of life and one polarity of the individual particle; one of these arrows relates to the strong principle of survival (brain-conservation) while the other arrow relates to the weak principle of change (mind-complexity).
2.1. Conservation - Reproduction and the brain
Since the down of time life conservation and its reproduction were made the first amongst “the first principles of life” and if one species of life emerged it felt dutifully compelled to reproduce. It felt compelled because it instinctively felt that without conservation and reproduction its emergence would have been in vain indeed. The nature of the universe is not incoherent nor random. There is an order at work that impulses a direction to the evolution of the universe. Time and evolution indicate the direction of its unfolding. The universe is unfolding as the materialization of what is possible in its context. This also means that what is not contextually possible is being rejected by evolution and does not materialize on the arrow of time. Now as a painter, in my vision, this selection or rejection corresponds to the notions of beauty and ugliness that are so prevalent in all societies historically and geographically. What is being selected by evolution is beautiful for no other reason that it figures on the arrow of time and represents the life of the universe. What is being rejected by evolution as not workable in the context of the universe is ugly for the only reason that it fell out as being unworkable in that context. This forms the essence of my personal aesthetic understanding. I'll come back to this idea more systematically in chapter 4 about the arts.
Having said all that there is no need to posit that the universe's unfolding has a starting point nor an end point. It simply unfolds, for no other reason that it unfolds in further forms and this should satisfy us. This is what is called evolution. Evolution is how the universe unfolds and conservation - reproduction are a universal necessity for the good reason that without conservation and reproduction evolution would come to a standstill which is like saying that its clock could eventually stop. The principle of polarities indicates that the clock of the universe does not stop. Changes take place as a result of cycles: from young yin to old yin, to young yang to old yang, and back to young yin and so forth… Cycles can be short and fall in the realm of human vision or can be long, very long and fall out of the realm of human vision.
The arrow of time does not bear interruption because change is the rule and the scientifically non-proven theory of the big-bang could not even be invoked to deny the continuity of the arrow of time. If there has indeed been a big-bang, as cosmology pretends has been the case, it has to be understood as the end phase of a cycle of contraction exploding into a new cycle of expansion. In other words old contraction gives way to young expansion that grows into old expansion that, in turn, grows into young contraction that grows in old contraction and so on… The forms of the contraction or the expansion eventually change but there is continuity in their dance along the arrow of time. This cycle will, in all probability, always stay out of the human realm of visibility and perhaps even of comprehensibility.
Coming back to the principle of life, force is to observe that, the instinct of each species is to prioritize conservation and reproduction. But how does this work?
Since the down of life on earth each individual particle of each species that ever emerged was equipped with a predictive or probabilistic computation device that was connected to bodily sensors feeding it inputs of information about what is going on in its near environment. This device eventually takes different forms from one specie to another but the outcome is the same: computation of the information gathered and orders to the body in order to ensure its integrity. The strategy at work here is to maximize the chances that the individual particle will effectively prolong its life and eventually have a chance to further reproduce. In other words sensors inform the brain about potential dangers in the near environment. The brain computes the potential outcome of that information and orders the body to take eventual actions. All this takes place in a fraction of a second and this mechanism is still at work in human beings in the twenty first century. The fact is that our minds are no match for the speed at which the brain calculates and orders actions to the body.
The brain gets its information about what happens in the environment from sensors. The major sensor of the human being is the eye that transmits live uninterrupted visual signs to the brain. Our other sensors complement the eye: or they inform the eye where to watch or they inform the brain of more refined informations not contained in the visuals supplied by the eye.
The information gathered by the brain is analyzed and thoroughly processed to predict the potential outcomes of what is going on in the environment. From these potential outcomes the brain computes the most likely, or most probable, scenario that will ensure the protection of the body and avoid any damages. If the probability is high that damages are unavoidable the brain will order a path of action that will minimize the damages and ensure the survival of the body. This process of life preservation is the first principle among the principles of life; it could also be called the strong principle of life. As evolved or conscious our minds may be the brain takes precedence. In situations of urgency the brain simply does not let the time for an intervention by our mind. The order to act has already been transmitted to the body before our minds realize the nature of the encountered situation. The processing speed of the brain is what causes us to be surprised so often by our own actions.
This whole 'sensor-brain-body' process is primal in every species. The fact that visual information is the primary source of information of the human brain has instilled an habituation of the brain to visual signs as being the source of meaning. This explains the recourse to visual signs by the men of knowledge to share meaning to the minds of all citizens in human societies that has made visual arts so central to human activity. How exactly and when the animistic men of knowledge came to realize the centrality of this biological mechanism will always remain an enigma. But it makes no doubt that the observation of nature was always their preferred method of knowledge acquisition and so it should not be a mystery that, everywhere on earth, they eventually discovered the human attraction to the visual and its relation to meaning.
This was true one hundred thousand years ago and remains as true today. The only difference between then and now is that the shaman then used this observation to ensure the survival and continuity of his society while today the most successful image makers, I mean the advertisers artists have indeed fallen out of the loop of societal significance, use the principle to generate short term gains for the capital holders of their company's stock without any concerns whatsoever for the well-being of their customers or the sustainability of their societies. In other words yesterday the visual principle was at the service of the principal of life and by extension of humanity while today it serves a mechanical principal that could possibly end up wiping humanity from the surface of the earth. What was the smartest way? Then or now? You tell me…
It was only a small step, from observing the human attraction to the visual and its relation to meaning, to imagine the potential of this mechanism for strengthening societal cohesion. The shaman were in charge of all aspects relating to knowledge acquisition at the service of the tribe and their learning was undertaken in tandem with their soul-spirit (part 2: 1.2. non-power societies = tribes & animism). The mission of the spirit was being conceived of as acting as an intermediary between the whole and all species in order to instill in them the consciousness of the universe. Something like this could only be interpreted as being a process spreading over a very long line of generations which suggests that societal continuity must have been a constant preoccupation for all men of knowledge under non-power tribal societies and animism. And so visual signs became naturally the prime instruments in the hands of the animist men of knowledge to increase societal cohesion which is what ensures societal reproduction. I dwelled at length earlier on the cycles of concentration and collapse of early kingdoms and the ending of this era with empires reproducing over the generations. It was the union of men of power with men of knowledge that allowed empires to glue the minds of their citizens in a common foundational narrative or worldview and it was the sharing of a worldview that permitted empires to reproduce over the generations. Visual arts played a leading role in these operations by instilling meaning in the minds through visual signs. But by the time of empire, in the West, the image makers were no longer the men of knowledge but low social status specialized craftsmen who were illustrating the creed of the religious or philosophic men of knowledge. In other words, in the West, power split knowledge and the making of its visual signs. China experienced a radically different set of circumstances. The men of knowledge converted into scholars who practiced writing, painting and music and they were de facto the musicians, painters, writers. So the approach to the arts was quite different between the West and China along the whole of the history of power societies. I'll come back in detail on this subject in chapter 4 about the arts. This state of affairs continued unquestioned till the eruption of Modernism, in Europe, that the avant-garde posited as being a radical rejection of past representations in favor of a search for deeper dimensions of reality. Unfortunately within the span of half a century the adventure concluded in total confusion.
In summary the human brain uses visual signs to compute meaning and then order decisions at the attention of the body so that it can take the necessary actions to ensure its preservation. The men of knowledge then used this same visual strategy to share with all their narrative about the working of reality in order to help strengthen societal cohesion which in turn ensures the conservation and reproduction of their societies.
2.2. The brain and the mind
Along the arrow of time, in the individual's life, his brain stores in its memory all the computations and actions that resulted in positive outcomes as well as in negative outcomes. The resulting database of computation outcomes, and corresponding decisions, later serve as reference material in new computations and decisions. In this sense much of all future computations and decision making can possibly become automatic re-use of formulas that worked in the past. Such an automatism will become instinctual because decision making is an extremely energy hungry process. “Glucose is the obligatory energy substrate for the brain. … Although the brain represents only 2% of the body weight, it receives 15% of the cardiac output, 20% of total body oxygen consumption, and 25% of total body glucose utilization. ” (1)
So to save on the amount of energy it uses the brain will encourage a kind of instinctual computation that we call the action of the mind. We know for a fact that we are largely unconscious of the computations carried out by the brain. What we seem to be conscious of, at least in an impressionistic fashion, are the results and decisions derived from those computations that are stored in the brain's memory database. The mind should not necessarily be conceived as a property of the brain itself but rather as an emergent property of our nervous system that is tasked by the brain to save it energy.
This emergence of the mind is different from the way life emerges from organic matter when it satisfies a set of chemical conditions while encountering a particular environmental energy setup. Life emerges out of the way organic matter is organized as the result of a kind of accidental energetical context. The mind emerges as an instrument out of the way the computation organ tries to preserve life. In other words the mind does not feel like emerging from an accidental combination of factors but more like it is being conceived as a functional extension of the brain. And as a consequence the mind puts into action the intentions of the brain by reaching out to the nervous system as if it contained an instinctual memory of the brain's imprinted set of identical and repeated computations outcomes and their corresponding decisions. This idea is reverberated in popular expressions such as “a gut feeling” or “an intuition” that make believe that we know kind of automatically the outcome of a sequence of coming events.
2.2.1. The primitive instinct
The emergence of the mind as the nervous system's memory has thus to be seen as the result of repetitions by the brain that, past a certain threshold, become like instinctual in the nervous system.
At the stage of its emergence the mind is indeed no more than an instinct of the nervous system. In other words when the eye sees a phenomenon, that in the past repeatedly led the brain to compute a certain outcome and order a given set of decisions to the body, the brain orders the nervous system to take over. In that sense the instinct of the nervous system is activated by the brain which means that if the information collected by the body's sensors is slightly different from what was computed in the past the brain will keep the command of events and in consequence risks are truly minimized.
In sum the emerging mind is the instinct of the nervous system in the form of a stack of memory awaiting to be activated by the brain. So to save energy the brain creates the mind as an automatism that it can shift into action at will. But how does the mind become aware of its activity or at least a portion of it? This is the thousand dollar question that has still not found any valid scientific answer. In other words how do we get a feeling of self from this instinctual something called the mind? The question could be reformulated as follows: what drives us individual particles to discover ourselves and our actions as if they were reflected in a mirror? Could water have played a role as our initial mirror?
As we saw we are consciously aware of only a small portion of what is going on in our brain while being unaware of the bulk of its activity but we nevertheless fully well know instinctively that it influences our perceptions, our thoughts feelings, and our behaviors. We have also seen that what we are conscious of is what is stored in the instinctual memory of the mind. That means that our brain's computation and its responses at best stay in the subconscious.
Discovering ourselves in a mirror
What awakens the awareness of the mind is attention and observation. So the question moves from 'how does the mind become aware of its activity' to how our attention and observation are being activated. But this brings back our attention to the mirror... Water?
Plato's “tripartite structure of the soul” has influenced most every Western thinker interested in the human mind. Among the most influential:
Kant wrote “...all faculties of the soul, or capacities, are reducible to three, which do not admit of any further derivation from a common ground: the faculty of knowledge, the feeling of pleasure or displeasure, and the faculty of desire”.
the American psychologist Ernest R. Hilgard whose book “The trilogy of mind: Cognition, affection, and conation” continues to exerts a huge influence.
Kant's abstract idea of “the faculty of knowledge” would gain in strength by referring to knowledge as the extension of the brain in the primitive instinct. At least knowledge would find an origination that could be complemented by the idea of its possible development. What Kant names “the feeling of pleasure and displeasure” would also gain to be transformed into the notion of pleasure and pain. The dance engaged between pain and pleasure brings us indeed to envisage the possibility that it acts as a motor driving the individual particles to favor the outcome of pleasure over pain. To possibly reach such an outcome the individual particles would necessarily need to recourse to knowledge production. The desire for pleasure, it appears to me, is an elegant explanation of the thirst for knowledge acquisition. And in this way we close the loop of knowledge acquisition with the mirror where emerges the idea of the self. Once knowledge acquisition is put in motion there is no stopping the movement forward. The desire for more pleasure will marginalize anything that stays in the way and this movement forward becomes an automatism that, in one way or another, will encounter the mirror projecting the idea of self. Water comes to mind as a metaphor for the mirror.
2.2.2. The emergence of awareness
I feel that 'how our attention and observation were activated initially' has a better chance to find an answer at the intersection where biological evolution meets societal evolution as was the case with the explanation of the emergence of tribal societies by “the social brain hypothesis” that verified that there is a relation between group size and brain size. In short an expansion of the brain to the frontal cortex opened the possibility for a richer language communication that in turn allowed for grooming larger quantities of individuals which allowed for an increased membership of the group that concluded as a natural selection of the tribal golden number. Both “the social brain hypothesis” and the Golden number, also called “Dunbar number” are attributed to British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. But the “social brain hypothesis” is just a metaphor for what I have in mind concerning 'how our attention and observation were activated initially' as an answer at the intersection of biological evolution and societal evolution.
Observations about brain-mind:
- the brain as a life preserving 'predictive and probabilistic computation machine' is a principle that is at work in one way or another in all living species. It satisfies the first among first principles of life which is its preservation and it is active in all individual particles of all living species.
- the brain creates the primitive mind as an automatism that it can shift into action at will. This principle is also seen in application in all species.
- the brain evolves in complexity in order to adapt to more complex contexts. The way the brain does this is by adding a layer of computational power to its existing state. When a new layer is evolved as an adaptive answer to a more complex context it uses computation principles that will solve unanswered contextual stimuli.
- the computation principles to solve unanswered contextual stimuli are woven in a framework and that framework contains the potential to address a lot more than what is asked for to answer these initial contextual stimuli. That means that the computation power is exceeding demand which will encourage new experiments to use that available power. This is where we see how “the social brain hypothesis” was set in motion. There was unused computation power in the newly evolved frontal cortex that was put to use by innovation. In this case it was put to use to increase the average size of societal groups from bands of a few tens to tribes of 150 on average by enriching the communication abilities through language and thus enlarging the circle of grooming.
- this adaptation mechanism of the brain to new contextual stimuli unleashes corresponding adaptation mechanisms of the mind. The fact that we still don't know how the mind evolved awareness does not contradict that principle. On the contrary it opens our field of vision to pinpoint when and how awareness emerged. This line of thought is further reinforced by the trilogy that I unwounded from Kant's “tripartite structure of the soul” - pleasure and pain, - the desire for pleasure and avoidance of pain, - the thirst for knowledge acquisition to gain pleasure.
Life-brain-mind: a summary
- life emerges at the intersection of a given set of organic matter and a given energetic context. That intersecting drives a particular re-arrangement of organic matter out of which life emerges.
- life emerges driven by the two first principles of preservation (conservation) and complexification (change) which are the polarities of life.
- The necessity of preservation unfolds a technique or an instrument that will take care of the execution of the principle. That instrument is the brain and the technique is predictive or probabilistic computation. Note that this instrument and its execution technique are equipping all living species in order to preserve their existence.
- to spare precious and limited available energy the brain delegates to the mind the execution of orders to the body that were earlier confirmed probabilistically and were stored in the memory of the nervous system. This is the primitive mind that equips all living species to preserve their existence.
- a certain threshold of new contextual stimuli demands a new evolved brain layer using computation principles that will solve the unanswered contextual stimuli.
- the unused computation power contained in the newly evolved brain layer will be put to use to increase societal complexity by instilling in the individual a mechanism that will drive him on the path to self awareness.
- in 5 and 6 societal evolution encounters biological evolution which now becomes part of the pack of new stimuli demanding computational answers - societal evolution will also use any unused computation power to experiment new paths such as evolving societal complexity and knowledge acquisition.
- at the intersection of biological evolution and societal evolution when the brain reaches a certain threshold of computational power awareness transforms into an arising consciousness. How this operates is still unknown in its detailed operation but I feel confident that the eventual answer will be found and that it will fit this description.
- consciousness then unleashes the search for more knowledge as a means to procure more societal pleasure. The thirst for knowledge acquisition to satisfy the desire for more pleasure is the process that sets the men of knowledge on a path toward ever increasing consciousness.
I'm no scientist. As stated earlier I'm a thinker by necessity and as a thinker I feel personally satisfied by the explication power contained in this 'life-brain-mind' chain of 9 principles. It answers all the questions I had about life and awareness. Points 1 to 7 have already been verified by science. Point 8 and 9 are still being debated by scientists but as I just wrote I feel confident that the eventual answer will be found and that it will fit the description “At the intersection of biological evolution and societal evolution when the brain reaches a certain threshold of computational power awareness arises and after reaching a certain threshold it transforms into an arising consciousness that engages the man of knowledge in a process of learning increasingly higher levels of understanding.”
This description also opens our field of vision to the true nature of consciousness or a ladder starting with:
- the primitive mind as an automatism that the brain can shift in action at will
- increased societal complexity instilled self awareness in the individual
- self awareness unleashes the desire for more pleasure that is satisfied by the search for better knowledge will leads to ever higher level of consciousness.
- “Speciense” represents a species that becomes aware and conscious about its context and the necessity to protect it.
- the highest ever possible level of consciousness, is the universal consciousness that animism defined as seeing with the eyes of the universal spirit and reading the mind of the universe.
1. “Brain Energy Metabolism. An Integrated Cellular Perspective” by Pierre J. Magistretti, Luc Pellerin, and Jean-Luc Martin in American College of Neuropsychopharmacology “Psychopharmacology – The Fourth Generation of Progress”