The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"


The view of the gene as a "ghost in the biological machine", as the set of instructions for building living beings, was criticized by the US philosopher Susan Oyama on the grounds that it perpetuates the misleading model of nature-nurture dualism (inherited versus acquired characters).

The western tradition assumes that form preexisted its appearance in bodies and minds (e.g., as a genome). Information is the modern source of form: ubiquitous in the environment as well as in the genome. The development of an organism is traditionally explained as a dual, parallel process: on one hand, translating information in the genome ("nature"); on the other hand, acquiring information from the environment ("nurture"). Both processes are dependent on information. Information therefore regulates development.  This view has deep cultural roots, but Oyama objects that it is nothing more than myth. Oyama's viewpoint is that information (e.g., from the genome) is itself generated, it develops. Information itself undergoes a developmental process.

Opposed to both nurture and nature, Oyama argues that the form of an organism cannot be transmitted in genes or contained in the environment, and cannot be partitioned by degrees of coding: it is constructed during the developmental processes. Information in the genes and information in the environment are not biologically relevant until they participate in the processes that actually build form. Form emerges through a history of interactions at many hierarchical levels, and genetic form is but one of the "interactants". Form is the result of interactive construction, not the outcome of a preexisting plan. The distinction between inherited and acquired characters should be replaced by the notion of development systems.

An organism inherits its environment, as much as it inherits its genotype.  It inherits some competence, but also the stimuli that make that competence significant.


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