Saturday, November 3

The evolution of consciousness

Usually, though not always, complex things develop out of simple things. Some branches of life developed a nervous system, then a brain, and at some point some brains were complex enough to develop the notion of an inner world. They were able to process more information than necessary for their survival. The increased chance of survival would have been the cause for their increased brain capacity. To be able to answer the question “How do I get my next meal?” in the best way possible is very useful in surviving. And surviving means that the genes responsible for those superb problem-solving skills have a chance to be passed on to the next generation.

But being able to ask yourself “Who am I?” and “What is this consciousness thing anyway?” does not increase your chance of survival. Seen from the perspective of evolution, this form of reflective thought is an utterly useless byproduct of the complex brain. Yet we cannot help but to seek answers to our questions. To solve problems is in our genes, it has always been rewarded. In need of answers, we developed our philosophies, religions, and indeed science. I am not trying to say that these, and many other products of the human mind - tradition, art, modern society - are meaningless or redundant. They are unique and valuable. What we tend to forget is that worth is a subjective, human notion.

Evolution is just simple logic; the organisms best fit for survival and reproduction pass on the genes that made them that way. There is nothing valuable about natural selection, no good or bad results, no direction. Just logic. Therefore, I will not assert that finding your next meal is more important than finding the answer to the question of what consciousness is all about. Just that the success rate is higher.

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