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"


The Origin of Order

When Darwin discovered evolution, he also indirectly created the premises for a momentous paradigm shift. Over the centuries, Science had always held that order can only be built by rational agents (e.g., us) who apply a set of fundamental laws of engineering (ultimately, Physics). Scientists such as Galileo and Newton simply refined that model by using more and more sophisticated mathematics. Throughout the theoretical developments of Physics, the fundamental idea remained that, in nature, order needs to be somehow created by external forces. Darwin, instead, showed that order can build itself spontaneously, without any help from a rational outside agent.  Evolution is such a process: it is capable of building higher and higher degrees of order starting from almost nothing. As far as Darwin was concerned, this paradigm only applied to Biology, but his idea of spontaneous "emergence" of order can be applied to any natural phenomenon.

More than a century later, Darwin caused a dramatic change in the idea of Physics itself: are splitting the atom and observing distant galaxies the right ways to explain the universe? or should we focus instead on the evolutionary process that gradually built the universe the way it is now? Should we study how things are modified when a force is applied (the vast majority of what Physics does today) or should we deal with how things modify themselves spontaneously? Can Physics ever explain how a tree grows, or how a cloud moves, by bombarding particles with radiation?

The macroscopic phenomena that we observe are more likely to be explained by laws about systems than by laws about particles.  The subject of Physics is still the origin of order, but the Darwinian perspective provided a new approach.

Furthermore, order is directly related to information, and Darwin’s theory has to do with the creation of information (a new species is a new pattern of information). From this new perspective, Physics may be as much a study of information as it is a study of gravitation or electricity.  And the creation of order is inevitably related to the destruction of entropy (or the creation of negative entropy). In the Darwinian view of things, entropy is therefore elevated to a higher rank among physical quantities.

Darwin’s laws (unlike the laws of nature claimed by physical sciences) cannot be written down in the form of differential equations. Darwin’s laws can only be stated in a “narrative” manner, and any attempt to formalize them resorts to algorithms rather than to equations. Algorithms are fundamentally different from equations in that they are discrete, rather than continuous, occur in steps rather than instantaneously, and can refer to themselves. A Physics based on algorithms would be inherently different from a Physics based on equations.

Finally, Darwin’s paradigm is one that is rooted in the concept of organization and that ultimately aims at explaining organization. Indirectly, Darwin helped us understand the elementary fact that the concept of organization is deeply rooted in the physical universe. 

Darwin’s treatise on the origin of species was indeed a treatise on the origin of order. There lies its monumental importance.


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