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The evolution of consciousness



 

The structure of matter-consciousness  evolves both physically and biologically. At first glance Gödel 's incompleteness theorem seems to present a problem for the view that human consciousness evolved as a deterministic physical process. How can the human mind understand so much mathematics if it is the result of a process subject to the limitations of Gödel 's theorem? There is a deterministic process that can transcend the limits of Gödel 's theorem and this is the process through which the human mind has evolved. If one tries to create a single formal system in a deterministic process then one will run head up against the limits of Gödel 's theorem. Any single path mechanistic process  for enumerating mathematical truth will stagnate at a fixed level in what we might call the hierarchy of mathematical truth. However a divergent process  that follows many paths without ever declaring one to be the path suffers no such restrictions. There may be some path in such a process that ultimately comes to understand and decide any meaningful mathematical question. We may regard the human animal as the highest product of evolution but the rest of nature may not concur.

The `Gödel hierarchy of mathematical truth' is related to the level of feedback  or iteration  expressible in a formal system. Mathematically this is expressed as the ordinal number of the formal system but that approach glosses over the combinatorial structure 

that characterizes the level of feedback  . We discuss the detailed structure of this hierarchy in Chapter gif. Higher levels of biological structures correspond to more complex and subtle feedback mechanisms and these in turn are higher levels of consciousness. This evolution of structure is a creative process in the deepest sense of that term. Gödel 's result insures us that there is no limit to this process and that however much we have obtained it is only an infinitesimal fragment of what is left to obtain.

Of course level of feedback does little to characterize the richness of human consciousness. It is a measure of the potential and limits that are possible at a given evolutionary stage. To understand how these levels may evolve in the future it is instructive to see how they have evolved in the past. There have been major shifts in the central focal point of evolution and each of these has lead to a new range of possibilities in evolution. At some point the complexity of reproducing molecules in the primal broth was exceeded by the complexity of communities of molecules that reproduced as a unit. Later the complexity of individual cells was exceeded by that of an organism. The result was an array of new possibilities. We seem to be at the earliest stages of the next level. In that level the structure that connect individuals in a society will come to exceed the complexity of the structure of the human brain and nervous system. The focal point of evolution  will shift from the individual animal to the society or culture. Of course for that to happen cultures must be able to reproduce. That can only happen through space travel  . It will probably involve unmanned probes equipped with all of our cultural knowledge and enough physical and biological material to start civilization  from scratch on a distant planet.

The specialization of structures within a cell, organs within a body and individuals in a society each open immense new possibilities. The occurrence of a new level does not obsolete the old. The old is built upon the new and the new continues to coexist independently as an essential thread in the fabric of life. If an attempt at a new level fails the old structures are still there to evolve in other directions or try again. The levels do not form a strict hierarchy. Insect societies are less complex than an individual mammal is. There is no final winner or absolute highest level although those at a particular level may have their personal prejudices. Nature is neutral on the matter and nourishes all who learn how to deal with her effectively.

Each new level requires more resources for an individual. This means less diversity is possible and is a constraint on evolution. There is always a tradeoff between the advantages that come with more complexity of individuals and those that come with more diversity through more individuals.

New version of this book


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Next: Evolution beyond earth Up: Existence consciousness Previous: What exists
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