The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

Mind or Matter

It used to be a simple question: what is the soul? "Mind" complicated the question because it related the soul to a specific place, the brain, without being as specific. Is mind the soul? Is mind more than the soul? Is mind less than the soul?

The author of this book thinks that the problem is simply formulated in a nonscientific way. “Mind” is a generic term that refers to the set of cognitive faculties we humans have and sometimes (depending on the speaker) it also encompasses consciousness.

It would be more appropriate to focus on cognition itself. While some may be reluctant to credit animals with a mind, most will have no problem crediting them with some degree of cognitive faculties, such as memory, learning and even reasoning. Cognition can safely be assumed as a property of at least all living organisms, but a property that comes in (continuous) degrees: humans have “more” of it than, say, snails. 

Furthermore, there are striking similarities between the behavior of cognitive (living) matter and the behavior of non-cognitive (inanimate) matter. Even a piece of paper exhibits a form of memory that resembles the way our memory works: if you bend it many times in the same direction, it will progressively “learn” to bend in that direction; if you stop bending it, it will slowly resume its flat position. Any piece of matter “remembers” what has happened to it in its shape, and sometimes in its chemical composition (that laboratory scientists can sometimes trace back in time). Far from being unique to the mind, cognitive faculties appear to be ubiquitous in nature.

Memory and learning can therefore be said to be ubiquitous in nature, as long as we assume that they come in degrees. Cognition may not necessarily be an exclusive property of living matter. Cognition may be a general property of matter, that the human brain simply amplifies to perform very interesting actions. At least that part of the mind, the one that has to do with cognitive faculties, may be “reduced” to material processes after all. The other part, consciousness, is a vastly more difficult topic.


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