The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Mental Darwinism

These ideas all point in the same direction, towards a Darwinian picture of consciousness.

The US neurophysiologist William Calvin has put forth a theory called "mental Darwinism" that neatly abstracts this view.

Just like the immune system and the evolution of species are driven by natural selection, mental life too is driven by natural selection. A Darwinian process in the brain finds the best thought from the many that are produced continuously. Thoughts evolve subconsciously. As Carl Jung said, dreaming occurs all the time but we can't see them when we are awake.

Calvin's emphasis is on movement: ultimately, what we think is for the sake of action. We need to move in the world and the mind is one tool to determine the most efficient way to do that. Far from being merely combinations of sensations and memories, thoughts are movements that haven't happened yet.

To explain how this works, Calvin has introduced the concept of a "cerebral code". Cerebral code is the equivalent of the genetic code: it allows for reproduction and selection of thoughts. A cerebral code copies itself repeatedly around a region of the brain, in a manner similar to Donald Hebb's cell assemblies. Thought arises from the copying and competition of cerebral codes. Our actual thought is simply the dominant pattern in the copying competition. The brain is an evolutionary system. The brain is what Calvin calls a "Darwin Machine".

He has shown that circuits in the cerebral cortex act as copying machines, but they copy in a Darwinian fashion, introducing mistakes that continuously create variants. Such variants then compete for cortex space. Calvin claims to have found in the brain all Darwinian algorithms for evolution, and even the catalysts that speed up evolution, i.e. the equivalents of sex, island settings and climate change.

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