A THEORY FOR CONSCIOUSNESS: IS IT OUR SIXTH SENSE?

consciousness

I’m writing this article- you’re reading it. Thanks to something called consciousness.

Some postulate that consciousness is fundamental, like gravity. (credit: David Chalmers)

In that case, is consciousness older than language? Lets examine what experts have said.

No discussion on consciousness, can be complete without a mention of Julian Jaynes, who said that that the human brain, until very recently (~3000 years ago) was truly split into very distinct hemispheres: the left half allowed a person to function in day-to-day routine matters; the right side came into play under stress, providing guidance through hallucinated voices, usually those of authority figures, alive or dead leaders, or gods.

People were not self-conscious, and operated almost as automatons in responding to the hallucinated voices. This phenomenon provided social stability, order, and safety in ancient societies.

Many experts argue against this today.

For instance, did homo habilis, who created tools, gesture to a fellow homo habilis to pass it to him?

And if yes, did that act demand consciousness? Possibly.

Considering that consciousness goes to sleep when we go to sleep, and awakens when we get up, isn’t consciousness much older than 3000 years? Walker and Stickold (2004) postulated that there is strong evidence that that sleep enhances or assists learning. Hence, sleep was an important part of evolution itself.

In that case, what went to sleep, when early homo went to sleep? Surely, it was their consciousness that went to sleep (even if it was not as evolved as we understand it today)

Earlier in this blog, we have surmised that somewhere between 90000 years ago and 40000 years ago, speech made its first appearance. Modern language is a much more evolved phenomenon, while sound and sign language could date 4mn years ago.

We needed consciousness to speak and gesture coherently.

Much of archaeological evidence has emerged after Jaynes published his theory. Hence, probably in relative terms, we can describe consciousness more accurately today. Chances are, logically, that more evidence will create better understanding in the future.

Our brains have a lot of similarities with those of our ancestors going back 40,000 years. It seems highly probable that consciousness co-evolved with brains as a successful survival strategy.

For instance, consciousness and communication would’ve been be critical to helping groups of homo sapiens to coordinate and survive great climactic changes.

My theory of consciousness is, that as each sense evolved, sight, touch, smell, hearing and speech, consciousness evolved in tandem with it, gradually, as a combination of all of the above. Consciousness is the glue that connects the meaning of all the other senses.

I also believe that consciousness evolves at a faster pace than the other senses. Ironically, it’s the other senses, that are helping consciousness evolve faster.

We adapt, accept and conceive things that do not exist, not because of sight, smell, taste, touch or speech alone, but thanks to our imagination.

I am sure everyone would agree that imagination definitely falls into the realm of what we call “conscious understanding of current surroundings and future possibilities.”

So I argue, further that consciousness, like energy, cannot be seen. This is logical. Borrowing some lines from David Christians brilliant Ted talk, “history of the world in 18 minutes”, we know that

  1. The universe began 13.7 billions ago. There was no time and no space.
  2. First energy congealed to form matter.
  3. Floating hydrogen and helium atoms, compacted by gravity, gave us stars.
  4. The solar system was formed 4.5 billion years ago. The universe gained chemical complexity. Then there were planets, with water in it.
  5. We definitely have carbon, and other exotic combinations between elements, to thank for all the living beings we have today.

So far, so good. Energy was the starting point. So is consciousness, like energy, also 13.7 billion years old?

Unlikely. Consciousness has been described as the state of being awake and aware of what is happening around you, and of having a sense of self.

This could be more easily applied to living beings- and perhaps modern day machines too?

So perhaps, we need to put a date to the first “conscious” act. Is “motion” the first conscious act? Moving towards something- food for instance?

If yes, then consciousness is definitely much older than we think it is today.

More thoughts soon!

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Can you introduce yourself without words?

 

Home sapiens owe our sense of self to language- and vice versa. Try introducing yourself without using words- only actions and gestures.

Go on, try it.

The human experience of self, a phenomenon we owe to language- and several scholars argue thus- at least in part.

These arguments are within the ambit of cognitive science & suggest that the human sense of self is largely an outgrowth of our linguistic abilities. 

Comments, thoughts welcome on the subject- a detailed post follows.