Saturday, April 05, 2008

Darwin and consciousness

Any theory of consciousness, if it is to be a successful one, needs to be embedded in the known facts about the world.

As far as we can tell, consciousness is prima facie a biological phenomenon. Therefore, any model of consciousness needs to have robust biological foundations. It becomes thus necessary, in order to understand the wherefroms and whys of consciousness, to really tackle the biological phenomenon.

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" (Theodosius Dobzhansky 1973). Charles Darwin's "On the origin of species" (1859) was a Magnum Opus aimed at explaining the origin of the multitudes of life forms to be found on the earth. It was the genius of Charles Darwin that he successfully accounted for the origin of the incredible variety of the life forms on earth from a universal, unifying principle of evolution through variations and natural selection.

In order for the universal principle to give rise to the multitude of life forms, a certain amount of the passage of time is necessary. The variety of life forms on earth has been nurtured by the long history of biology on this planet. Just like the tropical rainforest, consciousness is a rich culture developed over long years of human evolution. Within its phenomenology, many distinctive elements can be discerned. From this particular viewpoint, any naive form of protopsychism can be rejected, considering the long history of evolution that led to human consciousness.

Artificially building a system that possesses consciousness is a daunting problem, as it amounts to retracing the whole history of the evolution of the biological systems which finally lead to the human brain as we know it today (not necessarily implicating that it is at the "pinnacle" of biological evolution.)