Saturday, 10 September 2011

The birth of human consciousness was a major information event.

Primary consciousness: Homo habilis used tools two millions years ago.

Consciousness and information

by Tom Thorne
Imagine the first time that human consciousness occurred. It may have been a eureka moment but I have a feeling that it came about much more slowly and probably was a result of millennia of evolution. 
What is consciousness? Are we the only species on this planet to be conscious? We are conscious in that we perceive not only ourselves in time, space and environments but we also can live in an anticipated future time and space. We see the potential for future change. We experience and then we innovate and alter nature.
Other animals can also perceive of themselves in the moment but can they anticipate future opportunities? In a limited way they can. A cheetah hunting gazelles will stampede the herd and focus on one victim until it is caught. It lives largely in the moment and hunts when it it is hungry. It follows the gazelle herd and is symbiotic to the herd's evolution by removing the weak.
Consciousness in other species is more debatable when some animals hunt in troops and guide prey to their final end. Humans did that for millennia much in the same way that a pack of wolves hunts to this day or as teams of velociraptors probably did in the age of dinosaurs.
Neanderthal planning and execution
The consciousness difference is when you learn from your experience and use that learning a year or season later to  achieve a known objective. There is a Neanderthal site in Spain that I visited in 1997 that demonstrates through its archeology that each year Neanderthals came to the site to take mammoths moving through the region on their annual migration. 
It was a kill site where these large mammals could be hemmed in by cliffs. This conscious act  takes information, knowledge organization of resources and planning skills that can only come with consciousness.  And this information was communicated effectively to each generation within the short 35 year lifespans of these early humans.
Neanderthals had to have had speech and language to achieve their hunting and also their gathering of food plans. They had to have language to create their weapons and hand axes and how to make them. Recent rethinking about their throat physiology shows that speech was likely in the Neanderthal world.
Consciousness is by its nature informational 
Consciousness is a state of our minds that we take for granted. We think it is very normal to think and plan ahead. Well it wasn't always normal. It developed in our species. But how? It is a kind of chicken and egg situation.
At what moment do you perceive a pebble as a tool? I suspect you pick up a pebble that had broken in nature and had a sharp edge. You accidentally cut yourself on the sharp edge. Then you realize (that's the key word) that the cut and the stone are related events. Consciousness is needed to make the links and see other uses for the sharp stone. It also helps to be bipedal and have a hand with with precision grip fingers and thumbs.
And so you look for other pebbles with naturally sharp edges and because they cut you accidentally you now know how to cut some meat you found or killed. You learned something new. You created a knowledge base because you are conscious of experience and you know relate your cut hand to a learning curve for cutting meat. Consciousness is information.
In the same moment you invented technology. The sharp pebble is now an extension of yourself. Yourself is also a concept of consciousness. At this moment there is probably not much language or very sophisticated speech but a thought goes through your newly conscious mind maybe as a slightly foggy or dim eureka moment.  
You call the sharp stone process "agh". Language has started because when you communicate the idea to others you say "agh".
Agh is now information. It is a short hand meme for finding sharp stones to cut things. Then one day someone else makes an improvement. They don't passively look for sharp stones they strike two together and make them. This new information is called Agh-tuh.
There is an archaeology that demonstrates that this process took place several million years ago so this isn't come construct of my consciousness or its cousin imagination.
High technology consciousness 
Imagine yet again our high technology times connected to this two million year old consciousness. Now the tool kit is electronic and controlled by  world wide cyber communication techniques. Millennia of technique laden feedback loops from that first sharp stone has created a series of and technologies that now almost mirrors human consciousness itself.
How is this environment interacting with our consciousness? Our brains are now surrounded by information techniques and our knowledge base probably doubles or triples each year. Learning in this environment is a highly prized skill and communicating new knowledge is a constant ongoing activity. Language extremely sophisticated to keep up with the developing techniques. 
Our species  homo sapien sapien could be renamed homo sapien technolensis because we are now routinely incorporating our high technologies into our bodies. I know of a patient who has two electronic implants in his brain to help control his medical condition. These implants can turned off and on and fine tuned with a remote device like a channel changer.
People are routinely getting new synthetic joints in their knees and other joints. The techniques we are developing in the Information Age are not just extensions of our bodies they are now incorporated inside our bodies. This is an important development of human conscious techniques. Certainly it may be a seminal as the sharp stone discovery.
Imagine a homo habilis chipping their pebbles to make the first tools and reflect on how that moment in time almost two million years ago has developed into high technologies we now use. What an information and knowledge base that early or maybe first conscious act has built up.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

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