The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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


The Origin of Consciousness

Evolution has been at work for million of years through processes of trial and error that are widespread at all levels of organization, from the cells that form a body to societies of living beings. These processes of trial and error are embedded in every living organism. They are unconscious: they happen whether we want it or not. They are programs that run all the time. For example, our heartbeat and our breathing adapt to what we are doing. When we extend a hand to grab an object, that movement is controlled by a continuous process of recalibration. The life of plants and most animals might be driven purely by these kinds of processes. On the other hand, some living beings, and notably humans, have evolved the ability to be conscious of mental processes that are not (or, at least, appear not to be) purely made of trial and error. We can model a situation, think about it, and make a decision.

How does consciousness arise (in an individual) and how did it arise (in evolution)? It is a widespread belief that we, as individuals, are not born conscious, and life, as a natural phenomenon, was not originally conscious. If these beliefs are correct, when and how does and did consciousness arise?

One problem is to understand how consciousness is generated by brain processes.  This is the "ontogenetic" problem of how consciousness "grows" during the lifetime of an individual.  Another problem is to figure out what has consciousness and what does not have it.  This is the "phylogenetic" problem of how it was created in the first place: did it evolve from non-conscious matter over million of years or was it born abruptly in one species (whether by divine intervention or because of the advent of new brain structures)?

How and when and why did consciousness develop? Opinions vary.


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