The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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


Charles Peirce, the founder of pragmatism, once proposed a unifying view of matter and mind, although it was disguised as a theory of “habits”. Peirce believed that there was no absolute definition of things, including truth itself. An object is defined by the effects of its use: a definition that works well is a good definition. An object “is” its behavior. The meaning of a concept consists in its practical effects on our daily lives: if two ideas have the same practical effects on us, they have the same meaning. The meaning of a concept is a function of the relations among many concepts: a concept refers to an object only through the mediation of other concepts.

Truth is usefulness and validity: something is true if it can be used and validated. In practice, truth is defined by consensus of the society. Truth is not agreement with reality, it is agreement among humans (reached after a process of scientific investigation). Truth is “true enough”, not necessarily an absolute, unchanging truth.  Truth is a process, a process of self-verification.

What is relevant is not the concept of “true”, but the “belief”. We use beliefs in our daily lives, not theorems that prove what is true and what is false. Beliefs become fixed over a lifetime through experience and verification. I believe something if that belief has proven useful over the course of my life. Beliefs lead to the formation of habits that, in turn, get reinforced through experience. The more useful that belief turns out to be, the stronger it becomes in my mind. Ditto for habits: the better they work for me, the more “habitual” they become.

Peirce noted that the process of habit creation is pervasive in nature. All matter acquires habits. Matter is mind whose “beliefs” have been fixed to the extent that they can’t be changed anymore. Habit is what makes objects what they are. An object is defined by the set of all its possible behaviors, i.e. by its “habits”. I am my habits. It makes no sense to talk of something or someone who does not have habits: randomness is absence of an identity.

The laws of Physics describe the habits of matter, because what physicists observe is the habits of nature. For example, heavenly bodies have the habit of attracting each other, thus the laws of gravitation.

Systems evolve because of chance, which is inherent to the universe (“tychism”). Habits progressively remove chance from the universe. The universe is evolving from absolute chaos (chance and no habits) towards absolute order (all habits are fixed). One can see Darwinian evolution at work on systems towards stronger and stronger habits. Human beliefs are a particular case of habits, that also get fixed through experience.


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