Consciousness: awareness and metacognition (General)

by dhw, Saturday, September 23, 2017, 12:41 (366 days ago) @ David Turell

DAVID: You forget that being conscious is not the same as consciousness. Of course, the brainless receive stimuli and have responses which are generally automatic.

dhw: Unless you're talking about syntax, I don't know what you mean. Being conscious is the same as having consciousness. But being conscious is not the same as having the same degree of consciousness as a human. I like your "generally". I’m interested in the responses that are not automatic.

DAVID: Do any organisms but humans have consciousness? Not proven. We do not know where in the progression of evolved organisms, being conscious appeared. You and I debate this all the time.

The debate goes nowhere unless you explain what you mean by consciousness. Some people say that not even humans are conscious. Definitions mean translating words into other words, so one can play an endless game of asking for definitions of definitions, but I would hope for a more productive approach. By consciousness I mean an organism’s awareness of things inside and outside itself. The degree of consciousness will correspond to the quantity and nature of things the organism is aware of. I would assume – perhaps wrongly – that the simplest organisms are only aware of things in their immediate environment. Humans are aware not only of things that exist outside their immediate environment, but also of things that may not exist at all and even of their own awareness of being aware. However, awareness on its own would be pretty useless unless the organism used it to some purpose. That is where intelligence comes in. If consciousness is awareness, intelligence is the ability to use awareness. I can only define intelligence by its attributes, the most basic of which I would suggest are sentience (awareness of the environment), the ability to process information, to communicate, to take decisions. Every organism we know of possesses these basic attributes, but not to anything like the same degree as humans.

I regard it as feasible that the basic attributes listed above appeared when life began, i.e. that the first living cells possessed them. The only way we can gauge whether this is true is by studying the behaviour of single cells, and there seems little doubt that they conform to my definition. If, however, you have a different definition of consciousness and of intelligence, then perhaps you would share it with us.


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