The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

Teleological Evolution

From the beginning Darwin was criticized for his idea that animals are simply objects in the hands of nature's random will.

The British biologist Samuel Butler, a contemporary and fierce enemy of Darwin, countered Darwin's mechanical, Newtonian view of evolutionary laws operating on inert living matter with the idea that life, far from being inert, has "free will" and has used it to influence its own evolution.  It is not only humans who can affect their environment to direct their own evolution: the whole environment is doing the same. Living beings make decisions all the time, which, no matter how small, have an impact on the environment, and are thus responsible in part for their own evolution.  Life is not inert, powerless in the hands of evolutionary laws similar to Newtonian laws of gravitation: life contributes to shape the environment in which those laws apply; or, equivalently, life is part of the laws of its own evolution.  Butler believed that each living being is sentient: it is conscious, it has memory and it can learn. Butler believed that all life is "teleological": it pursues a goal. Darwin had neglected the fact that life contributes to its own evolution. 

Butler realized that living beings are even capable of memorizing their behavior as species. A striking fact gives phylogeny (the development of a species) a kind of supremacy over ontogeny (the growth of the individual): the difference between two newborn infants of two different generations is minimal, whereas the difference between the same individual as a newborn and an adult is much greater. Living beings memorize their behavior at the phylogenetic level. You are more similar to me at the same age than to the way you were twenty years ago.

Butler was convinced that the phylogenetic memory was crucial to evolution.  He thought that every living being is conscious of doing something the first time, but repeated performance leads to unconscious habits (just like we drive a car without any conscious effort after years of driving) and, more importantly, that unconscious habits eventually find their way into the physiology of the species (an idea akin to Lamarck's acquired character).

Butler believed that evolution was to a large extent controlled by its object, whereas Darwin believed that evolution was a blind force (and even random) operating on its object.

Darwin believed in design without a designer, Butler believed in design through distributed goal-driven behavior, through (indirect) cooperation. Butler believed in the free will of life.


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