Topic. In this page we'll treat the phenomenon of consciousness from a phenomenological point of view, i.e. seen as an observable aspect of evolution. We'll not discuss here about its subjective, psychological nor about possible philosophical or even religious implications.
The nature of organization. In its evolution towards ever more complex systems, universe needed a steering system for the organization of those systems. Such a system can be considered as a kind of regulating code or programme, that enables certain situations and avoids some other. In this programme, we could say that experience is added, so the evolving system don't have to restart each time from scratch.
Up to now, nature used three methods of organization:(1) the structure of the system itself, enabling and preventing some possible moves and combinations, thus enhancing and limiting coincidence, and elevating evolution from chaos. This steering principle regulated evolution during the dead matter levels 1 trough 5.DEFINITION
(2) a structuring code (DNA), in which the experience of the past is recorded. This code guides the development and behaviour of the systems during the biological stages 6 trough 8.
(3) with man (level 8 through 9), biological evolution stops because the universe switches to another steering tool: consciousness or intelligence. Insight becomes the organizing principle. Complementary to the instincts, a learning ability is developed, and the development of intelligence is further stimulated by interaction possibilities (communication) starting with spoken language, enhanced by written communication (that got a boost with Gutenberg's printing tool, books and press), electric communication (telegraph, phone, radio, TV) and, eventually, at least up till now, by Internet.
Consciousness is an evolved organization tool used by nature to coordinate the activities of the highest metazoa, and allowing them to build layer 9 of the evolution of the universe --i.e. socialization and the Noosphere. It functions by the possibility to build an internal "image" of external reality.
This "image" can not be compared with a photograph (neither is a camera "conscious" of its image, nor is the text editor "understanding" its text). Comparing with a computer, there are several differences:1. most of brain data are linked (associated) with experience: emotions and/or possible actions. In computer terms brain contains rather subroutines than "neutral" data. Purely "neutral" information is very difficult to keep and to use, as every student knows.This brings us to a more precise definition of consciousness:
2. thanks to our faculty of abstraction we constantly induce mental generalizations from our sensory observations. This enables us to induce general "laws", and to react rather successfully in situations we never experienced before, but that are analogous to some of our former experiences.
3. as our brain is mainly soft-ware, unlike insects' brains, learning new behaviours becomes very simple.
4. by recombining our memorized experiences and the general rules we induced from them, we can project parts of reality we never observed: as a tourist who has a fairly good image of a country before he visits it.
5. and, most important, we can imagine parts of reality that not yet exist. These suppositions can be partly wrong, but can be corrected in imagination and of course also by tentative experience. This is creativity. This enables us to make things that never existed, and to change existing reality: evolution has been freed from coincidence, necessity and blind trial, and takes an ever accelerating speed, eventually leading to a singulartiy.
6. all these faculties are highly enhanced and accelerated by communication, from verbal speech to internet.
Consciousness is the faculty of humans (and, partially, of higher animals/I should exclude primitive animals, plants and minerals) to develop an internal image of external reality (including of course their own body and mind). This internal image consists of (1) a multitude of memorized experiences depicting some external aspects of (parts of) reality, but includes (2) general laws (hypotheses) that rule those phenomena, (3) suppositions about parts of reality never observed (neither observable, e.g. electrons, the past), and (4) suggestions for things yet to "create".
Some other essential characteristics of consciousness- It is never complete. It keeps developing during life, and is partially transmitted to next generations.This makes clear that the "objective" part of the brain, i.e. the memories of observations and real experiences, is perhaps the least important part of the brain contents. The most important -and greatest- part is created by associations: induction and deduction, leading to abstract rules and categories, suppositions about unobserved reality, and new ideas.
- Most elements of consciousness are "partial": mental images consist of some aspects, but not (yet) of all aspects of objects. By integration they get a chance to become more complete.
- At any moment we are only conscious of a part of what our brain contents: our actual conscious views fluctuate with emotions, mood, fatigue, recent experiences, attention, etc.
- Only a little part of our consciousness can be verbalized: the "conscious" part. The most important part remains "unconscious", i.e. can only be "felt" or indicated by images, symbols, poetic language, art, etc. Usually, general "rules" only come to surface as vague "intuitions". Inventive people, including EInstein, usually aren't able to explain how and why they found something new.
In their mental activities, human beings tend to evolve from simple, egotistic and direct preoccupations as food, sleep and sex, and fighting the ennemy, passing through earning money, looking for social success and amusement, towards less mundane preoccupations as happiness, beauty, art, the meaning of life and existence, and the sense of evolution and how to influence it.
Wilber stresses much this progressive development. At a separate page we discuss these levels of consciousness.
"Noosphere" can be defined as the part of consciousness preoccupated with "higher" and more fundamental phenomena in life and universe, and shared by a number of people.
Hagerty, in his The Spirit of Internet, depicts this global conscioussness as the very contents of the emerging Internet.
In an older page, we report a discussion with R. Thompson about consciousness.
Est. 1/02 - Latest Update 2/3/02