So what is consciousness? Self-awareness? Sapience? We sure as hell don’t have the scientific definition down for this/these things. Were’ not even in the neighborhood because we can’t even come up with a practical (practice) definition. One that just gets the gist of what it is that we’re trying to figure out.
“Self Awareness” might be about the best term to explore. After all it was the particularly cited fulcrum on which human history was turned by SkyNet on Aug 29th 1997.
Is self-awareness what separates us from animals, vegetables, and minerals? I’ve recently come across a couple hypotheses on this quintessential conundrum that really struck me as profoundly plausible.
The first comes from Steven Johnson in his short, enlightening, natural exploration Emergence.
One portion contemplates our pattern recognition and inductive abilities with regards to estimating the behavior of our fellow human creatures. We use our ability to read and interpret body language and facial expressions, the verbal language itself, and our own personal knowledge of the world to determine what other people are thinking, what they’re going to do about it, and what they will expect US to do about it. This is an amazingly helpful survival ability! And I’ve personally never experienced it being discussed much at all. It facilitates us engaging in productive behavior since it gives us more information about the situation and it especially facilitates both collaborative and competitive behavior with our fellows. Of course… Together Everyone Achieves More! We’re not the only animals that do this. Dogs and wolves do this famously and to great effect, apes and dolphins as well of course.
It’s not he blind, dumb (but effective) cooperation of an ant colony or a flock of starlings. It’s higher order and cognitive and arguably it’s what we’re best at. After all, we’ve taken it beyond simply family or pack dynamics and built whole cities and nations in a deliberate act of special collaboration.
We did it deliberately but did we necessarily do it consciously? Were we ourselves aware of what we were doing? Well we didn’t see all ends when we started but it’d say the answer’s still a definite “yes”. So why don’t dogs and apes have cities? The dogs might have the opposable thumb excuse but the apes don’t. So, oh yes, let’s do remember that there is still a difference between man and animal. We are self-aware. Is this come divine quantum leave of consciousness between the species? At first gland of course it seems so. But yet inspection of our powerful pattern recognition abilities and our great capability to create a working model of each other creature we meet in our own minds, it becomes easy (as Mr. Johnson, suggests) to view our own self-aware consciousness as a logical evolution of this highly developed skill.