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Consciousness and society

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Old 12-25-2017, 09:08 PM
eripiomundus (Offline)
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Default Consciousness and society


Won't go into too much detail here in the introductory post (I'd rather see where it goes after some responses).

I'm beginning to believe social pressures had a near-exclusive role to play in the evolution of consciousness. There's no accepted definition for consciousness, but for me (for the sake of clarifying what I'm talking about) it is something like "an awareness of the self".

It seems like no coincidence that all those higher organisms we call "intelligent" and "conscious" are also the most complex in their social associations: dolphins, dogs, chimpanzees... They also have the most advanced brains.

I'm supposing that consciousness is an evolution that facilitates the social process by giving an organism the capacity to "look" at itself, and thereby police it's own instincts/emotions in the interest of maintaining group harmony, which in turn affords the organism the ongoing benefit of group participation (instead of being ejected from the group for bad behaviour).

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Old 12-26-2017, 05:23 AM
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um, well a child needs an attentive environment in order to thrive. Social deprivation causes lasting damage to their emotional wellbeing, intelligence and physical stature. So to develop consciousness one needs to be nurtured within a complex caring society, indeed a child doesnít seek attention - it seeks existence. We conceive ourselves through the eyes of others.
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Old 12-26-2017, 02:57 PM
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Im gonna parse hairs here because I mostly agree with you and we do need something to argue about

I would say that self-awareness isnt indicative of consciousness. So while grooming has a social function and methods of hygiene are inherently social I think theyre more akin to the building of nests that you see in ants or the grooming of plumage in birds. Bees know geometry but we certainly wouldnt argue they have mathematical abilities. Its all unconscious chemical reactions, at least so far as we can tell.

To my mind consciousness is the ability to reflect upon the self. Not in the manner of physical appearances but the interiority of the psychic self and this is interesting because I dont see any real evolutionary benefit of it. You dont need self-reflection for art or tool usage or making or building or social interactions or really anything at all.

We see fish make art on the seabed to attract mates. We see termites creating intricate mounds that are comparable in size (relatively speaking) as that between a skyscraper and a man. Spiders are able to make traps. Whales sing songs, dolphins name each other, and apes appear to engage in very primitive funeral services as well as engage in war.

Now with the exception of dolphins naming each other there doesnt appear to be any conscious guidance to any of these behaviors.

Imagine if youre trying to do something and you become self-conscious in the attempt. Its very likely that that self-consciousness is going to impede your ability. Likewise if youre consciously thinking of word theres a good chance you wont remember it until you stop trying to think of it.

In that way Id argue that consciousness is less an evolution of social pressures as it is a disjointed leap into self-preservation. And I use the word leap because even though consciousness is predicated upon the unconscious it nevertheless is limited and very easily overridden. It seems to me that consciousness is a method by which we self-abstract and which would make it at least in part unrelated to social dependence.
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Old 12-26-2017, 04:44 PM
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Originally Posted by anna View Post
indeed a child doesnít seek attention - it seeks existence.


This struck me hard. Thank you.




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Old 12-26-2017, 06:23 PM
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Originally Posted by bluewpc View Post
Im gonna parse hairs here because I mostly agree with you and we do need something to argue about

I would say that self-awareness isnt indicative of consciousness. So while grooming has a social function and methods of hygiene are inherently social I think theyre more akin to the building of nests that you see in ants or the grooming of plumage in birds. Bees know geometry but we certainly wouldnt argue they have mathematical abilities. Its all unconscious chemical reactions, at least so far as we can tell.
Ants and bees are definitely a setback to my hypothesis that consciousness serves group dynamics, which is why in the initial post I specifically mentioned "higher order" organisms to exclude them. It might yet turn out that ants and bees (and such) function as a single unit: if the queen dies worker ants are said to fall into disorder even when they're far from the site of the death and have no way of knowing it occurred except by participation in some form of meta-consciousness... or something.

I still contend that consciousness is self awareness though: a bee builds complex geometric shapes by instinct, but the only thing that stops the bee being mathematically conscious is the awareness it is building mathematical constructs. If it was building a piece of hive and suddenly said "Hey! I'm building a hexagon here! I'm doing maths!" It would be mathematically conscious, but it needed self-awareness to get there.

This entails the secondary computation of information previously dealt with in another brain region: instead of a physical reaction being the output of a given brain region the output is sent to another region for secondary processing, and forms part of its input: the second region is therefore "looking" at the output of the first region - meaning it is "aware" of another part of the brain's activity.

To my mind consciousness is the ability to reflect upon the self. Not in the manner of physical appearances but the interiority of the psychic self and this is interesting because I dont see any real evolutionary benefit of it. You dont need self-reflection for art or tool usage or making or building or social interactions or really anything at all.
Happy to change my definition of consciousness to yours above - I think they're exactly the same: the ability to reflect upon the self requires some kind of awareness of the self, else there's no reflection.

In an unconscious brain a sensory impetus takes a one-way path from input to output, with no eddies of self-reflection whatsoever. The signal may have flowed through several brain regions before it became a reaction, but the path is one-directional. This is instinct, automatic and absolute.

I think the birth of consciousness began by a chance reassignment of neurons so they processed information already processed via the instinctive route - an eddy in the path from input to output such that there was another part of the brain whose experience wasn't merely the one-way flow of input to output, but was the experience of having that experience. It was one brain region "looking" at another, having an experience that was not derived from the senses (including internal sensors for pain and the like), but was an experience of having sensory experience. Consciousness took off from there.

I disagree that consciousness has no use: our instincts are "hard-wired", so without consciousness when we have a sensory input we'll generate an automatic reactive output. Without being able to step outside this process to a vantage point of reflection we could never do anything other than what we're instinctively programmed to do. With consciousness we have the opportunity to look at the process of instinct and then the process of looking at the process of instinct, and the process of looking at the process of looking at the... you get what I mean. We compound our experience such that in a given timeframe a highly conscious animal can generate many times that much experience, and it's all different:

Since neural processing is not exact, and associations between neurons (built by historical experience) "colour" the processing that goes on in a region, when a region parses information already processed by another region the secondary experience will differ from the first. In this way a single external experience can generate a relative mountain of internal experiences with endless diversions not entirely the same as what provoked it. With consciousness we gain alternatives to the one-way path of instinct, and this allows us the creativity to build tools and use them, to engage in social dynamics in more harmonious ways than our instincts might allow, and so on.

We see fish make art on the seabed to attract mates. We see termites creating intricate mounds that are comparable in size (relatively speaking) as that between a skyscraper and a man. Spiders are able to make traps. Whales sing songs, dolphins name each other, and apes appear to engage in very primitive funeral services as well as engage in war.

Now with the exception of dolphins naming each other there doesnt appear to be any conscious guidance to any of these behaviors.
Fish and termites and spiders I would say instinct. Wales and dolphins and apes are social in the sense I'm talking about: social at an emotional level. When you introduce emotion into a social dynamic you have the capacity to be excluded from a group due to bad behaviour (that triggers negative emotion in the respondents, and since we are programmed to avoid negative emotion you will be avoided to the extent that you cause it in others), or to be accepted into a group via amicable behaviour, and so on. At the point where emotion enters into social interaction it is beneficial to have the capacity to look at yourself prior to acting to ascertain whether what you are emotionally or instinctively compelled to do would be conducive to the harmony of the group. If you get mad, for instance, and emotionally you want to punch someone, you will benefit from taking a mental step back and saying "if I punch this guy that might be an unnecessary over-reaction that will cause all kinds of social tension amongst interested parties, like his wife, who is friends with mine, and with Bob, who's also a good friend of mine..."

I'm not saying we're as calculating as that in how we respond to a social situation. We're not. It's more a process of testing variables to find the best result. With my example above the process would go something like:

Emotion - anger, want to punch him. Sends emotion, along with the data that triggered it, to the thoughts.

Thought - "What will happen if I punch him?" Runs scenario through consciousness to find a possible outcome. Sends this scenario to the emotions.

Emotion - negative, don't want to lose friends. Sends emotion to thoughts.

Thought - "Ok, so we don't want to lose our friends over something stupid like this. We'll let it be" Produces an imagined experience in which the anger is dropped and sends the scenario to the emotions.

Emotion - positive, good outcome. Sends to thoughts.

Thought - "Good, we have an accord. Lets act"

Imagine if youre trying to do something and you become self-conscious in the attempt. Its very likely that that self-consciousness is going to impede your ability. Likewise if youre consciously thinking of word theres a good chance you wont remember it until you stop trying to think of it.
Very true. It's a tricky point to address because it draws upon a wide range of diverse ideas and it will take me some time in idle rumination to find a way to condense it all. I'll leave this for now and reply when I get my head around it.

In that way Id argue that consciousness is less an evolution of social pressures as it is a disjointed leap into self-preservation. And I use the word leap because even though consciousness is predicated upon the unconscious it nevertheless is limited and very easily overridden. It seems to me that consciousness is a method by which we self-abstract and which would make it at least in part unrelated to social dependence.
For a social animal, ensuring continued participation in a group massively increases the chances of self preservation. Imagine how long a lone gazelle would survive compared to one in the middle of a herd. For social animals being alone is so stressful it is actually detrimental to physical health, and disastrous to mental wellbeing. Therefore a self-awareness of those internal responses that might get you excluded from a group can benefit your survival by allowing you to avoid reactions that might get you excluded (and pursue reactions that will get you included, etc).
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Old 12-26-2017, 07:08 PM
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I think some of the posters contend that evolutionary advances and cooperative, healthy behavior are positively correlated:

"I'm supposing that consciousness is an evolution that facilitates the social process by giving an organism the capacity to "look" at itself, and thereby police it's own instincts/emotions in the interest of maintaining group harmony, which in turn affords the organism the ongoing benefit of group participation (instead of being ejected from the group for bad behaviour)."

I am not so sure. Man is the most advanced animal on earth and man has seen fit to build concentration camps, kill people with poisen gas, etc. Lower forms of animal life only kill to fill their bellies.

As a species advances, it becomes more adept at discerning differences. Man, the most advanced, sees and gets hung up on differences in every facet of life, drawing divisions between Jews and Christians, straights and gays, etc. And as soon as we glimpse a difference we see a pretext for war or liquidation.
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Old 12-26-2017, 08:07 PM
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Originally Posted by DoggedDavid View Post
I think some of the posters contend that evolutionary advances and cooperative, healthy behavior are positively correlated:

"I'm supposing that consciousness is an evolution that facilitates the social process by giving an organism the capacity to "look" at itself, and thereby police it's own instincts/emotions in the interest of maintaining group harmony, which in turn affords the organism the ongoing benefit of group participation (instead of being ejected from the group for bad behaviour)."

I am not so sure. Man is the most advanced animal on earth and man has seen fit to build concentration camps, kill people with poisen gas, etc. Lower forms of animal life only kill to fill their bellies.

As a species advances, it becomes more adept at discerning differences. Man, the most advanced, sees and gets hung up on differences in every facet of life, drawing divisions between Jews and Christians, straights and gays, etc. And as soon as we glimpse a difference we see a pretext for war or liquidation.
What you've outlined is the expression of in-group mentality: what is different, ie not in-group, is bad. In-group mentality is a necessary part of social interaction. Well, necessary in terms of the pressures exerted during the process of our evolution, but perhaps becoming redundant in the present. Any group that did not treat their own kind preferentially were at a disadvantage relative to groups that did, and evolution selected against.

The process of discerning differences is a process of consciousness: An external phenomenon exists, as far as a subjective observer is concerned, as part of a seamless unity until the instance of conscious apprehension - the instant wherein the mind divides it from the remainder of experience and gives rise to an internal category. I agree that the ability to discern differences is intimately correlated with consciousness, but if you go back one step and ask "what faculty affords an organism a greater capacity to discern" the answer ties back to social dynamics:

Emotion is the primary means by which we divide. Memory, imagination, and sensory information are tools that assist the process, but emotion is the key. Without emotion we would not be able to tell imagination from reality: the reason we can tell a day-dream from real life is because real life is generally more stimulating. Sensation is (in general but not all the time) qualitatively and quantitatively more emotionally stimulative, and when we compare reality with imagination we can tell which is real by which is emotionally more profound.

If you remove all emotion from life the only motivations you are left with are instinct. Thoughts cannot produce action. Thoughts can't make decisions - even when we follow logic we do so because we have an emotional investment in being logical. Without emotion we would not be able to tell imagination from memory, or memory from reality.

There is an important distinction to make here though: learning something by observation or rote etc is not the same as discerning it. We have mirror neurons that allow us to subconsciously copy what we see/hear, so I can, for instance, copy someone doing some dance steps without consciously discerning all the facets of the act. The same goes for learning abstract things: If I learn it I haven't necessarily discerned it. I've only taken a set of associations and planted them in my head. So I can act and think as if I have discerned things without having actually discerned them, which can give the subjective experience of discernment without the use of emotion.

Hopefully I've sufficiently illustrated that emotion is the primary means of discernment. Now I'll attempt to show that emotion is a tool largely, but by no means exclusively, employed for the benefit of social interaction.

As mentioned in another post, the most socially complex animals are also the most intelligent. Intelligence is, in essence, the capacity to discern. If you look at the face of a dog you can see its emotions. If you look at the face of a cat it's still there, but not as plainly evident. Dogs are more intelligent than cats - I'm not being opinionative here, they scientifically are, having a greater neocortical surface area together with a ready capacity to learn compared with cats. Dogs are also highly social.

Cats, on the other hand, are not as social, are harder to read in terms of emotion (you can read them, but not to the extent you can with a dog - they don't as readily convey concern or happiness, guilt or remorse, for instance).

Having nuanced emotions is the cornerstone of discernment, but having nuanced emotions isn't necessary for solitary animals. Why do you need to have guilt or remorse if there's no one around? Why shame? Why love? The degree of emotional nuance is proportional to the level of social complexity.

PS. I noticed on another post of yours that you don't know how to quote someone: under the post you are reading there is a button that says "Quote". If you click on that it will open up a reply window and place the entire post inside two sets of parentheses containing the words QUOTE and /QUOTE. You can also do this manually, by writing (QUOTE)whatever you want to quote goes here(/QUOTE). Pease note you have to use these brackets: [...] instead of the ones I used, but if I use the proper ones it will perform the function and you won't be able to see what I'm talking about.
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Old 12-27-2017, 01:09 AM
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ah, but consciousness could be considered none existent, simply the observable outcome of the subconscious workings. As a female one is primed to observe in this context because the subconscious workings are indeed of great evolutionary benefit. Boys, us girls create life. Gestation, labour and child rearing take time, effort, love and social context. We are a vulnerable creature and interdependent for our survival.

The survival of our species is dependent on this observational awareness that extends beyond the reflection of the preservation of self and ones own agenda to the ultimate benefit of the group at large. Likewise emotional investment through art, tool usage, making, building and social interactions are all manners of observable reflections of the subconscious workings of humankind.

Last edited by anna; 12-27-2017 at 02:10 AM..
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Old 12-27-2017, 12:34 PM
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Originally Posted by anna View Post
ah, but consciousness could be considered none existent, simply the observable outcome of the subconscious workings. As a female one is primed to observe in this context because the subconscious workings are indeed of great evolutionary benefit. Boys, us girls create life. Gestation, labour and child rearing take time, effort, love and social context. We are a vulnerable creature and interdependent for our survival.

The survival of our species is dependent on this observational awareness that extends beyond the reflection of the preservation of self and ones own agenda to the ultimate benefit of the group at large. Likewise emotional investment through art, tool usage, making, building and social interactions are all manners of observable reflections of the subconscious workings of humankind.


So, from an evolutionary perspective, assuming this is true (and I have no reason to doubt it), why would men be conscious? To please women? Im fine with it if that is the answer. I do exist to please my wife. Or at least it seems that way to me mostly. And Iím not at all bitter or resentful about this arrangement either. In fact, itís kind of a good arrangement for me. Makes things simple, and men do like simple things.

Her list is miles long and wonít ever get finished. Mine is one sentence and ends at about 8pm everyday.






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Old 12-27-2017, 01:34 PM
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...


um, for the benefit of their genitalia perhaps ...


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Old 12-27-2017, 06:08 PM
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Originally Posted by anna View Post
...





um, for the benefit of their genitalia perhaps ...







As funny as this is, I think youíre right. I suddenly feel very shallow.

But I guess somebody has to kill the mammoth and plant the seed.


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Old 12-28-2017, 12:20 AM
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itís early in the morning here brianpatrick, thought anna and a busy day ahead too, but on the grand scheme of things - if one was to sit down around this beautifully crafted camp fire with a full belly and a happy tribe, practicalities of the moment all sorted then - just another rendition of Lou Reedís Perfect Day between us here and if we were to share a thought or two together then this was what she would tell him ... that the bigger idea as introduced by hippo remains and she opined to the existence of remarkable souls across the entire gender spectrum, really inspirational people, trail blazers for this exotic tribe and anna held a feeling in her bones, call it intuition if you will, that such folk as these spoke with clarity through the observation of their subconscious workings, from the heart of the matter, and the main thrust of their message was utilitarian - in the interest of humanity, society. She gathered her wits together hastily and gave brianpatrick, his wife and family a group hug wishing them well for the coming year. Slipping away from the throng as the sun rose across the hoar frosted landscape anna danced on to the beat of her own heart. ĎSuch folk will eventually take the species forward post apocalypse flea, muddle through and hopefully try to maintain that middle ground with perhaps the dawning of a new world order to replace the old crumbling empiresí but anna couldnít be sure, never too certain then.
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