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Consciousness: Emergence and maturation through evolution Ryan Lariviere PSYC 713, Spring Semester April 16, 2010

The term consciousness describes the whole of subjective experience. As such, it is difficult for the individual, whose very considerations and analyses are made possible through consciousness, to achieve a complete and distinct idea of the concept through the conventional strategies of reduction and synthesis. Nonetheless, human understanding of the objective reality has flourished during the last century through the advancement of science and mathematics to the point where fields typically stratified as “hard” and “soft” sciences can now be reconciled, offering great insight into many of the as yet unexplained natural phenomena. In many ways this has been true in regards to our understanding of consciousness, enabling scientists and philosophers alike to approach old questions with new methods. This paper seeks to explore the origins of consciousness, the definition and manifestation of consciousness, and finally the future of consciousness in light of modern theories. Ultimately, it should become apparent that consciousness is an emergent abstraction of self that is simultaneously a psychological and sociological phenomenon and that the apparent future evolution of consciousness is a departure from biologic hosts into inorganic systems. I. EMERGENCE Theories on the origin of consciousness are analogous to theories on the origin of life itself in that there is no one, complete theory and the exact mechanism creation of the phenomena themselves remain largely unknown. However, it is worth understanding the specific intentions of these individual theories not only because they highlight similarities that in effect support the same basic principles but also because many argue valid points in their own

right. This section presents several studies with the intent to explore the origin of consciousness as the emergence of intricately layered system of symbols that relate self to reality. Primatologist Nicholas Humphrey developed a social intelligence theory that can be used to describe the societies of early hominids that precluded consciousness (Humphrey, 1976). The interactions between individuals in these societies would place a selective pressure on social behaviors and the ability for the individual to manipulate their peers advantageously. This translates to an evolutionary bias towards those individuals who were able to study and draw strategic inferences from the behavior of their peers. Humphrey refers to this ability as the practice of natural psychology (Humphrey, 1982). Suppose an individual in this society of “natural psychologists” were to gain the ability to monitor their own internal states and behavior. Humphrey states that this would confer the added benefit of being able to infer the behavior of one's peers based on one's own observed, or even predicted, behavior in comparable situations. Humphrey's theory provides a reasonable explanation for why introspection might evolve as a useful tool in social behavior. However, Humphrey makes two important oversights. First, there is no attempt made to suggest how early man would formalize an idea of self and internal states without symbolism or language. Second, the theory fails to consider the distinction between “the I and the me” of the truly conscious self as put forth in the symbolic-interactionism theory of George Herbert Mead. Mead proposes that the “I” is the part of self that experiences subjectively and while the “me” part is the objective self; how “I” thinks one's self is perceived by others (Mead, 1934). The function of the self as described by Humphrey is accounted for by the ability to feel empathy and does not necessitate an understanding of one's self as the subject of unique experiences or the product of external perceptions; the “I and me” of consciousness. Thus, while a degree of

limited introspection may likely have been one of the earliest vestiges of consciousness in so far is it encouraged the development of societies, further explanation is required for a true understanding of how the conscious self has come to pass. Social grooming is a practice especially important to primates, used to establish trust and strengthen relationships (Lawick-Goodall, 1968). Anthropologist Robin Dunbar contends that once the population of early hominid societies reached approximately 150, social cliques were too large to reasonably afford the time required by grooming to maintain social connections. Instead, the use of crude vocalizations was developed allowing social contact over distances (Dunbar, 1996). Nowak et al. (2000) demonstrates how given sufficient repetition and learning ability, variations in simple vocalizations, alarm calls in response to predators for example, could develop into a lexicon of arbitrary “event” calls. Furthermore, if the lexicon is larger than a given ratio between learning ability and probability of perceived relevance, the pairing of noun and verb vocalizations to form syntactic communication is selectively favored over the persistence of non-syntactic communication (Nowak, 2000). This presents a model for the emergence grammar through basic subject-predicate syntax, giving rise to the development of the first true languages. The primary function of this early language, and perhaps even of our modern manifestations, was to maintain social bonds, and yet, as the lexicon grew the language was able to adapt to describe a variety of novel experiences. It is important to note here that Nowak et al. (2000) concludes that the shift in the above mentioned ratio leading to a selective advantage for syntactic communication was most dependent on the probability that a given syntactic pairing of words in the lexicon would effectively communicate a relevant event. They go on to suggest that a period of dramatic social change would coincide with a significant increase in the number events relevant to the lexicon, thereby providing an opportunity for

selective advantage (Nowak, 2000). The formation of language gives rise to a complex model of objective understanding through the use of symbolism and marks an important step in the development of consciousness; however, it does not predicate the emergence of the complete conscious self. Psychologist Julian Jaynes (1976) posits that consciousness itself did not actually exist until as recently as 3000 years ago. Prior to this time, consciousness was divided between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The action of the right hemisphere is parallel and makes decisions on the basis of intuition while the left hemisphere processes serially and employs analysis in decision making. The Wernicke's region both hemispheres are known to produce language although the right Wernicke's region is only active in modern humans if the left Wernicke's region is damaged. Through rigorous analysis of ancient texts Jaynes (1976) asserts that that per-conscious man received audible instructions from the now dormant right Wernicke's region to which the left hemisphere willfully obliged, believing the intuitive advice to be the wisdom of a protective spirit. Jayne (1976) terms this the bicameral, or two chambered, mind. The bicameral man lived in a society where he was primarily a member of a group and only an individual in form. Emergent consciousness resulted from the breakdown of the bicameral mind with the rise of culturally integrated empires and the proliferation of the written word, which both changed the perception of time from cyclical to linear and diminished the need for intuitive knowledge. Jaynes (1976) attributes the rise of organized religion, the will to submit to authority and schizophrenic hallucinations to lingering sensations of the bicameral mind. While making some controversial and unorthodox suggestions, Julian Jaynes theory of the bicameral man makes several key points that are essential to the understanding of the emergent consciousness: first, that the development of language necessarily precluded the

development of consciousness, second, that consciousness is a social construct that emerges as an equilibrium between the subjective “I” and the objective “me,” and lastly, that likely as a result of dramatic changes in social structure. An alternative theory that supports many of the same tenants is Jay Early's (2002) social evolution theory which is based on the shifting balance of the respective qualities inherently expressed by participatory and reflexive consciousness. Early (2002) defines participatory consciousness as a relation to the world through intuition and in the immediate present. Reality is described as animate and spiritual, expressing what Early (2002) refers to as ground quality. Reflexive consciousness is based on ideas and conceptual analysis. Reality is mediated through images and is said to have emergent qualities. Early (2002) explains that over the course of five distinct historical stages the predominant form of consciousness shifted from participatory to reflexive as societies aggregated and the role of the individual became increasingly specialized. He closes by warning that the current stage has reached the limits of an emergent consciousness and that the transition to a new, sixth stage is imminent (Early, 2002). One of main themes expressed through all of these theories are that consciousness, and all of the accompanying phenomena including qualia, free will and the awareness of internal states, are the incidental results of the evolution of integrated societies that have progressively encouraged the coevolution of a consciousness through an awareness of the relationship between the “I and me” of self. Additionally, the development of consciousness has been catalyzed by two distinct yet vaguely defined periods of heavy selective pressure as a result of radical social change. The first of these two periods brought about the emergence of early grammar which would be able to gradually develop greater complexity and specialization in the time leading up to the second catalytic period. This second period of rapid development began with the advent

delocalized societies as a product of culturally diffuse empires and gave rise to novel concepts of self. The present situation reflects the struggle between the individual and society in resolving the dynamic equilibrium of subjective and objective realities. II. MATURATION The future of consciousness is likely to once again be reflected in radical social change. It would seem that our society has already begun to assume the characteristics of a transition state in light of major developments of the last century. Revolutionary advancements in almost all fields of science and technology have given humanity hope for salvation and prophecies of doom. By examining societal trends and the impact of technology on society it is possible to speculate as to the consequences in store for consciousness. It is the purpose of this section to establish a probable cause for the continued evolution of consciousness and to suggest a viable route for the expansion of consciousness through technology. Several major events of the last century have forcefully altered the ethical perceptions in regards to the roles and responsibilities of the individual and society. The outbreak of not one but two global wars provoked a new and profound sense of social responsibility on the part of the individual. The rise of autocratic and dictatorial regimes demonstrated the weaknesses of the individual psyche to be manipulated to think in terms of common group perceptions. In the decades following World War II a great deal of research in regards to this apparent will to conform was studied in the hopes of providing an explanation. The most famous Milgram studies demonstrated that an individual will use the perceived behavior of the group as a model when there is perceived lack of ability or expertise on the part of the individual. This is especially true in the face of stress or crisis. The second conclusion is that an obedient individual

will consider himself a tool of the instructor, thereby alleviating personal responsibility for their actions (Milgram, 1963). The effect of this study, and the World Wars even more so, was to empower the individual in deciding his role in society and to question the intentions and ethics of those in charge of society. With the end of World War II came the dawning of the nuclear age. The inception, use, and subsequent proliferation of nuclear arsenals had presented humanity with the first real threat of complete annihilation. This not only forced an entirely new approach to politics but has forced the global society to acknowledge its own mortality and with that, a new level of responsibility. The industrial revolution and American civil rights movements also reflects changing attitudes about what an individual is in relation to his society. Other contemporary issues including overpopulation and the possibility for global climate change have left society struggling to adapt to a series mounting troubles. However, perhaps the greatest agent for social change during the last century has in fact been the creation of artificial societies through the invention of the internet. The unrestricted access to nearly infinite stores of information has engendered a unique opportunity for the individual to not only educate oneself with minimal effort, but also to unabashedly explore the aspects of personality and self interest that define us as individuals while being exposed to a global culture, promoting acceptance and familiarity of diversity. While all of the above factors have either contributed to and/or been the result of an increasingly unified and global society, it is the internet alone enables individuals of one society to freely interact with individuals of another in an entirely novel context.

The overall effect of the events just described has been to ultimately affirm the importance of the concept of “I.” Following a continued trend of social conglomeration and integration, the individual is forced to create a unique identity from personal insight rather than simply referencing himself as part of a group based on race, nationality or ethnicity. While we are still far from the ideal of a completely integrated society where arbitrary differences of race and origin do no account for what defines a man, it is abundantly clear that we are on this path. While it is possible that humanity will reach this goal through decades if not centuries of cultural diffusion by means of global trade and immigration, suppose it were possible to circumvent the limitations imposed by life as we now know it. As mankind faces a multitude of problems as a result of the biological condition, the benefits and opportunities for transitioning from a carbon to a silicon based life form are both urgent and increasingly realistic. Currently there are two approaches being taken to model consciousness. The first is a bottom-up approach being pursued by cognitive neuroscientists who seek to explain consciousness by understanding the discreet function of the brain. This approach has proven successful in some ways, especially as it relates to the field of medical science; however this approach, testable largely through observed behavior, lacks the depth and specificity required to explain the intricacies of consciousness. The other way in which consciousness can be engineered uses a top-down approach and is employed by computational neuroscientists who seek to explain consciousness through algorithms that model data processing in the brain. The ability to reverse engineer an actually working model of the brain resides in the ability to unify these two approaches so that processing algorithms can be applied to functioning networks of physical circuitry. While such endeavors are in the making, they are in their early stages of development. One example is the Blue Brain Project at the Swiss Federal Institute of

Technology in Lausanne, where a wide variety of research is being done to reverse engineer the mammalian brain. This is being done using a software simulation called NEURON which models the physiological function of neurons, pairing their action to processors which simulate parallel processing (Hines et al., 2008). Knowledge of the circuitry of the brain is increasing daily and the processing capabilities of technology are growing in stride. It is seems inevitable that sooner rather than later scientists will develop a functional, dynamic model for the mammalian brain. While the first generation of such inorganic brains will likely possess only rudimentary function, it will be possible to refine the abilities of a true artificial intelligence through induced evolution if not by direct modification of the model itself. It would then follow that, by the assumptions laid out in Emergence portion of this paper, a sufficiently intelligent model of the mammalian brain will give rise to consciousness given the appropriate social cues leading to a symbolic representation of the world and, eventually, self. While this is a ground up approach to deriving artificial consciousness holds the promise of developing a de novo form of consciousness, we might also hope that the progress of science will one day yield a schematic of the brain so detailed that it may be used in conjunction with an incredibly robust processing algorithm to provide the ability to interface organic and inorganic constructs of the mind. However, the concept of a transferable interface remains largely the speculation of science fiction while the “big question” of what constitutes the properties of qualia remains a mystery. Perhaps through studying the development of formerly described inorganic models we will be able to say that qualia are just arbitrary discriminations between the effects of physical stimuli on our sensory organs that allow us to communicate the distinction between said stimuli. If this is so, perhaps a plural, intersubjective consciousness is possible for a given sensory input. The

most dramatic implication of this theory is that conscious self could then be expressed as a delocalized set of serially processed sensory data capable of existing entirely in the network interactions between hard disks. However, such exciting and sensational possibilities rest largely on the currently untestable hypothesis that qualia are incidental to consciousness and that their exact nature is entirely the product of interpretation. In conclusion the evolution of consciousness has been the story of the rise of the selfdeterministic individual from humble beginnings as the “natural psychologist” of the animal kingdom. While there is still a great deal of mystery surrounding the “when and how” of the emergence of consciousness, it is fair to assume that it came about as the result of the ability to use language to describe the realization that while the subjective experience of the individual is at the center of consciousness, it is the realization that self exists objectively that creates true conscious awareness. As the modern individual is able to gain a more complete and accurate perspective of the objective world, he is made aware of the solidarity that exists on the basis of common principles while maintaining his perspective as an individual. With the advent of functional models for human consciousness and the technological capabilities for delocalized consciousness, it may be possible for individuals to experience intersubjectively, sharing the same qualia of an experience while maintaining unique identities. In a way, photography acts as a predecessor to this hopeful future, allowing us to share a single frame of our memories with others. Still, science and technology have a long way to go before they are able to define consciousness let alone artificially mimic its biological construction. Yet if there is hope for a future it is in the fact that major societies of the world encourage the advancement of these essential ideals and that they continue respect the sovereignty of the individual while acknowledging that there can be no self without others.

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