The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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


Why do living things do what they do?

The purposefulness of living organisms is simply a consequence of evolution driven by variation and natural selection. Living organisms have a fundamental goal, survival, and have inherited a repertory of behaviors to achieve that goal. Survival ultimately depends on self-regulation.

The 19th-century French psychologist Claude Bernard "discovered" the self-regulating nature of living organisms. Bernard realized that each living organism is a system built to maintain a constant internal state in the face of changing external conditions. The regulation of this "milieu interieur" is life itself, because it is this stable state that gives the organism its independence from the environment, i.e. its identity. This is the dividing line that separates animate and inanimate matter: inanimate matter obeys Newton's laws of cause and effect, animate matter tends to maintain its state no matter what external forces are applied. Unlike objects, whose state is changed when a force is applied, the state of a living organism is not changed by an external force. The living organism, as long as it is alive, maintains its state constant.

The "purposeful" behavior of a living organism is the reaction to environmental forces: the organism needs to act in order to continuously restore its state. A body seems to "want", "intend", "desire" to maintain its internal state (either by eating, moving, sleeping, etc), a state that, ultimately, is a combination of chemical content and temperature. Living bodies appear to act purposefully, but they are simply reacting to the environment.

For Bernard "freedom" is independence from the environment. Control of the internal state allows a living organism to live in many different environments. The living organism is "free" in that is not a slave of its environment.

Bernard's idea of self-regulation extended to all living organisms. Humans are not the only ones to have "goals". Animate behavior "is" control of perception.


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