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"

Mind As An Evolution Of Emotions

If emotions are the basic constituent of consciousness and they have "evolved" over the millennia, a possible and plausible explanation of where our mind comes from goes like this.

The earliest unicellular organisms were capable of irritability and excitability. That is the basic survival tool: look for what is good and avoid what is bad. The basic sensors of those organisms may have evolved into more sophisticated sensors, capable of more than just binary "good/bad" discrimination: a range of "emotions" was born. If consciousness (to some degree) is ubiquitous in nature, then one can assume that those "emotions" were associated with feelings, even if they were very limited.

Emotions existed from the very beginnings of life, and then they evolved with life. They became more and more complex as organisms became more and more complex.

Emotion detects and identifies meaning in the outside world and directs attention to that meaning. That represented a great evolutionary advantage.

Early hominids had feelings, although their feelings, while much more sophisticated than the ones of bacteria, were still rather basic, probably limited to fear, pain, pleasure, etc. In mammals and birds emotions were related to sounds (eg, fear to screaming). Early hominids had a way to express through sounds their emotions of fear and pain and pleasure and so forth.

Emotions were a skill that helped in natural selection. Minds were always busy thinking in very basic terms about survival, about how to avoid danger and how to create opportunities for food.

What set hominids apart from other mammals was the ability to manufacture tools. We can walk and we can use our hands in ways that no other animal can. The use of tools (weapons, clothes, houses, fire) relieved us from a lot of the daily processing that animals use their minds for. Our minds could afford to be "lazy". Instead of constantly monitoring the environment for preys and predators, our minds could afford to "relax". Out of that laziness modern consciousness was born. As mind had fewer and fewer practical chores, it could afford to do its own "gymnastics", rehearsing emotions and constructing more and more complex ones. As more complex emotions helped cope with life, individuals who could generate and deal with them were rewarded by natural selection. Emotions followed a Darwinian evolution of their own. That process is still occurring today.

Most animals cannot afford to spend much time philosophizing: their minds are constantly working to help them survive in their environment. Since tools were doing most of the job for us, our minds could afford the luxury of philosophizing, which is really mental gymnastics (to keep the mind in good shape).

In turn, this led to more and more efficient tools, to more and more mental gymnastics. As emotions grew more complex, sounds to express them grew more complex. It is not true that other animals cannot produce complex sounds. They cannot produce "our" set of complex sounds, but they could potentially develop sound systems based on their sounds. They don't need sound systems because they don't produce complex emotions. They have the sounds that express the emotions they feel. Human language developed to express more and more complex emotions. The quantity and quality of sounds kept increasing. Language trailed consciousness.

This process continues today, and will continue for as long as better tools allow more time for our minds to think. The software engineer who is the daughter of a miner is "more" conscious than her father. And his father was more conscious than his ancestor who was a medieval slave.

Consciousness is a product of having nothing better to do with our brain.


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