The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

Design Without a Designer

Why do children grow up? Why aren't we born adults? Why do all living things (from organs to ecosystems) have to grow, rather than being born directly in their final configuration?

Darwin's principle was that given a population and fairly elementary rules of how the population can evolve (mainly, variation and natural selection), the population will evolve, and get better and better (adapted) over time.  Whether natural selection is really the correct rule is a secondary issue. Darwin’s powerful idea was that the target object can be reached not by designing it and then building it, but by taking a primitive object and letting it evolve.  The target object will not be built: it will emerge.  Trees are not built, they grow. Societies are not built, they form over centuries. Most of the interesting things that we observe in the world are not built, they developed slowly over time. How they happen to be the way they are depends to some extent on the advantages of being the way they are and to some extent on mere chance. 

When engineers build a bridge, they don't let chance play with the design and they don't assume that the bridge will grow by itself. They know exactly what the bridge is going to look like and they decide on which day construction will be completed. They know that the bridge is going to work because they can use mathematical formulas. Nature seems to use a different system, in which things use chance to vary, and then variation leads to evolution because of the need for adaptation. By using this system, Nature seems to be able to obtain far bigger and more complex structures than humans can ever dream of building. 

It is ironic that, in the process, Nature uses much simpler mathematics. Engineers need to deal with derivatives and cosines. Nature's mathematics (i.e., the mathematics involved in genetic variation) is limited to Arithmetic.  Humans have developed a system that is much more complex than anything Nature has ever dreamed of using!

It is stunning that such simple algorithms as used by Nature can produce the complexity of living organisms. Each algorithm can be reduced to even simpler steps. And still the repeated application of those steps eventually yields the complex order of life. 

The same theme occurs inside the brain. Neurons exchange simple messages, but the network of those messages over time can produce the very complex behavior of the human mind. That is another simple algorithm that creates complexity. 

In both cases the algorithm is simple, but there is a catch. The algorithm is such that every time it ends it somehow remembers the result of its computation and will use it as the starting point for the next run. Species are selected out of the most recently selected species. Neural connections are modified out of the connections already established. 


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