Philosophers tell us that we can’t define consciousness using consciousness, and physicists tell us we can’t have a theory of everything unless it includes consciousness. As with most of the paradoxical things in our lives, this is a problem with our perception rather than some malfunction in universal law. Our perception, of course, is part of consciousness, wherein this conundrum exists. After reading some of the proposed definitions for consciousness, it is obvious that this approach has failed, just as predicted.
We can’t get rid of our consciousness. What else do we have to use to get the job done? The best we can do is to pretend. We can imagine ourselves outside of our consciousness and become an independent observer. We can call the complex mental meandering of the mind, “awareness”, and pretend it is something different from what we possess. That should be easy, we think ours is fundamentally different from the rest of the mobile species on the planet, anyway.
Agents Within a System
Once we are outside our own consciousness we can see the overall picture. From here, all those subtle interactions of the mind are hidden. From out here we can’t tell the mental states of individuals, all we can do is observe what they do. From here we can see what the ability to be aware does for the system.
A system is made up of agents that function within it using system protocols. The existence of onboard awareness allows agents to navigate within the system. It allows agents to observe the local environment, set goals and make choices in order to achieve said goals.
A system manages its homeostasis by monitoring the cyclical variation of its elements. Past cycles set a standard of behavior that the system attempts to maintain. Past patterns are projected into the future as expectations. As long as those cycles continue to fluctuate within those expectations, homeostasis is maintained.
When cycles exceed those predicted limits, the system is confronted with uncertainty. Before any adjustments can be made in the system protocols, the situation must be understood and appropriate action initiated. That is no easy task when you consider that every element within the system is almost infinitely adjustable.
So, the system relies on its agents to define uncertainty. In any system worth mentioning there are a lot of agents, all feeding their observations into the holographic field generated by the system. This creates a composite image of the state of the field, constantly being updated and compared to all the images from the past.
You and i are natural cybernetic systems who are also agents within a larger system. We function according to the same system protocols as our neighbors. Our system uses the same protocols to read DNA as do all the rest. We use the same procedures to build tissue and learn behaviors as do all other living systems. We practice the same procedure for creating artifacts as do the others.
Within our neural pathways we generate a series of dynamic holograms related to an external situation. These are the thoughts that we collect on a subject. By focusing our attention on the external situation, we generate an internal virtual model of it. That virtual model is made up of interference patterns stored in holographic memory. As more attention is paid to the situation more interference patterns overlay the old, building better and better understanding of the observed situation.
The memory of this situation isn’t stored randomly, but in the part of the structure related to the situation. The memory of action is stored in the cells that will be used to perform the action. The structure determines the kinds of action the situation might require and the goal needed to deal with the situation. In the process, interference patterns develop that offer options for solving the problems presented by the situation.
So, a cybernetic system processes information about the external situation and reacts with a planned course of action, meant to achieve a goal. Before any action is taken, plans are made.
Regardless of the sophistication of the nervous system, from lowly flatworms to human beings, the basic function within the system is the same. Just as each cybernetic system must intake nutrients and expel waste, regardless of the complexity of the system or process, the nervous system of each agent processes information to make choices on how to behave. This is true for individual cells as well as organs, muscle groups, plants, animals, ecosystems and biospheres. The interference patterns they share shape their future.
In this view, tool making and social evolution are part of the content, part of the history of learned behavior, but have nothing to do with the origin of consciousness. Consciousness is fundamental to the System. Human consciousness has evolved in order to accomplish more complex tasks within the System, not because of them.