The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

The Unity of Cognition

Perception, memory, learning, reasoning, understanding and action are simply different aspects of the same process. This is the opinion implicitly stated by all schema-based models of cognition.  All mental faculties are simply different descriptions of the same process, different ways of talking about the same thing: one, whole process of cognition. There is never perception without memory, never memory without learning, never learning without reasoning, never reasoning without understanding, and so forth. One happens because all happen at the same time.

The mind contains this powerful algorithm that operates on cognitive structures. That algorithm has been refined by natural selection to be capable of responding in optimal time. This might be the case partly because that algorithm operates on structures that already reflect the nature of our experience. Our experience occurs in situations, each situation being a complex aggregate of factors. The actions that we perform in a given situation are rather stereotyped. The main processing of the algorithm goes into recognizing the situation. Once the situation is recognized, somehow it is reduced to past experience and that helps figure out quite rapidly the appropriate action.

Needless to say, various levels of cognition can be identified in other animals, and even in plants. Even in crystals and rocks. Everything in nature can be said to remember and to learn, everything can be said to be about something else.

Cognition is not “all” there is in the mind: this is the utilitarian, pragmatic, mechanical part of the mind. The mind also has awareness. But consciousness does not seem to contribute much to the algorithm, does not seem to significantly affect the structure of past experience, does not seem to have much to do with our ability to deal with situations. A being with no consciousness, but with the same cognitive algorithm and the same cognitive structures (i.e., with the same cognitive architecture), would probably behave pretty much like us in pretty much all of our daily actions, without the emotions.

Cognition does not seem to require consciousness. Ultimately, it is simply a material process of self-organization. It seems possible to simulate this process by an algorithm, which means that cognition is not exclusive to conscious beings. It may well be possible to build machines that are cognitive systems. Cognition may actually turn out to be a general property of matter, of all matter, living and nonliving.


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