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"

Goal-driven Evolution

In his “teleo-evolutionary” theory, the Romanian philosopher Radu Bogdan summarized things this way: organisms are systems that are genetically programmed to maintain and replicate themselves, therefore they must guide themselves to their goals, therefore they need to obtain relevant information about their environment, therefore they need to be cognitive.  It makes evolutionary sense that cognition should appear. But what “guides” the organism, and its cognition, is the environment. It could not be anything else. Cognitive systems are guided by the environment in their goal-driven behavior. Cognitive systems are actually the very product of the evolutionary pressure of that guiding behavior.

Central to his thinking is the concept of "goal-directedness”: natural selection presupposes goal-directedness. Goal-directedness arises from the genes themselves, which operate “goal-directedly”.  Organisms manage to survive and multiply in a hostile world by organizing themselves to achieve specific, limited goals in an ecological niche. To pursue their goals, organisms evolve ways to identify and track those goals. Such ways determine which knowledge is necessary. To obtain such knowledge, organisms learn to exploit pervasive and recurrent patterns of information in the world. The information tasks necessary to manipulate such information "select" the appropriate type of cognitive faculties that the organism must be capable of.

Imagine an organism that cannot recognize recurring situations: in every single moment of its life, it must improvise how to deal with the current situation. An organism that can recognize recurring situations can develop ways  to best react to those types of situations. These “ways” make up its cognition. The organisms that survived are those whose cognition matched the situations that recur in their ecological niche.

The mind is not only controlled by the environment: it was created (or at least “selected”) by the environment.


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