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February 11th, 2020
There’s no consensus on what consciousness is, nor how to define it. The only irrefutable and accurate thing we seem to be able to say is that:
something is going on.
If creatures or things other than humans are conscious, then it’s certainly possible to say that there is a range of results when it comes to diversity of action.
Whales dive, eat, mate, and repeat. But they also sing songs of apparent complexity and variety.
Bees pollinate flowers, build hives, and produce offspring and honey. But they’re clearly capable of navigating a large, complicated, and varied environment in many different ways as a team.
Leaving the entire morass of discussion revolving around intelligence aside,
We can identify limits of consciousness. For example, we have no reason to believe that whales contemplate the rotation of black holes. Nor do we have any reason to believe that bees might be capable of studying giant squid.
Humans, on the other hand can do all of these things, and much much more. Our consciousness seems equipped with a certain plasticity that has little equal in the rest of the animal world.
For other species, it seems as though knowledge, know how, and diversity of capability grows like a tree. Through evolution each generation of a species contributes to the shape of the next generation, adding and probably forgetting ways of doing things.
But the knowledge and know-how of humans seems to operate with a different framework. What we pass on is not necessarily cumulative, and not bound to vertical movement. For example, few people know how to hunt and gather like our ancestors before the rise of civilization. None of this is shared vertically or rather hardcoded into who we are, but despite this, any individual has the ability to learn through our network or knowledge. We seem to have taken the tree of knowledge and ability upon which all other animals seem to operate, and gone lateral. We replaced the tree with a net. One that is functionally impossible for one human to hold all at once, but a net nonetheless which we can travel across. A musician can drop his instrument and start learning how to woodwork, or dance, or code tomorrow. A singing whale on the other hand seems bound quite strictly by what it’s parents were capable of. Edge cases in animals seem to be just that: edge cases. Whereas with humans, all of us are edge cases.
Our abilities and knowledge are no doubt a result of memes, our ability to create them, and spread them. Individual words are perhaps the most enduring examples. They are constantly used, shuffled, shifting and on the whole as a system or language, they are fairly resilient through time.
Our variety of consciousness, unlike the majority of animals seems capable of hosting this vast network of memetic knowledge.
Narrowing in on this difference, we might define our consciousness as marked by an ability to draw new connections and associations between parts of greater and greater disparity.
We seem to have the ability to take two things that appear to have no relevance to one another and let them mingle in the fictional space of our mind in ways that often reveals surprising and potentially hidden connections.
We do this both as a group and we do it on an individual level.
Each individual net of knowledge and know how adds to the groups net.
The question boils down to:
How big is your net?
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