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What is consciousness and when did it evolve?

How is it that simple atom sized being’s like us can understand a massive stellar playground of reality? where and why did this evolve?

3 COMMENTS

  1. It evolved many many years before christ as to the exact estimate im not sure but i would say between 30000 and 10000 b.c. a little bit before homo eructus evolved

  2. This is really more a psychology than a biology question, but anyway …
    One theory (from psychologist Julian Jaynes) is that consciousness evolved in humans about 3000 years ago. Up until that time, people dealt with the world in basically behaviorist stimulus-response fasion, aided by internalized auditory hallucinations which conveyed learned knowledge and insights from one part of the brain to the other. At that time, humans basically had “dual brains” — the two hemispheres of the brain operated much more independently than today, and communicated through very restricted pathways. This mode of mental operation is referred to as “bicameral” (two-chambered).
    Consciousness evolved because this mode of cognition was no longer adequate to meet human needs. Collective living and increasingly organized societies placed demands upon the human mind that couldn’t be met through the old mental structure.
    I should add that in this theory, “consciousness” is a technical term with a specific meaning, and this theory is kind of hard to “get” because of confusion with the lay meaning. In this context, consciousness does not refer to being awake, responsive, etc. — instead, it refers to a mental process through which analogues of the outside world — people, places, things — can be manipulated in “what ifs”.
    To conceptualize what a non-conscious person would be like, imagine this situation. You’re driving a car on an interstate highway with little or no traffic around you. You and a friend are engaged in deep conversation — let’s say about a baseball game you both just watched. As an experienced driver, you’re “automatically” keeping the car in the lane, maintaining speed, etc., while your attention is focused on your friend and the baseball-related conversation. Now, take away the part of your mind that’s thinking about baseball in that situation, and what you have left is a non-conscious (pre-1000 BC) person.
    This mental shift didn’t occur all at once, and it didn’t happen at the same time in the same places. Rather, it occurred over a span of several centuries. During the latter part of the transition period, bicameral people were quite rare, and may have been regarded as prophets or seers (since they “heard voices,” they may have been assumed to be in touch with “God” or “the gods”).
    This theory is not widely accepted in whole by mainstream psychologists, but many acknowledge that parts of it are probably correct. Among other things, the evidence from pre-1000 BC literature and archaeology shows that the people of that era did have a radically different mentality than today — there’s really no doubt that *some* profound change in human mentality occurred around that time. Similarly, evidence from the transition era fits surprisingly well with this theory. Personally, I think Jaynes’ missed many of the specifics, but that he probably got the “big picture” more or less right.
    Anyway, that’s one possible answer to your question. If you’re interested in reading more, the 1986 Canadian symposium articles from this page give a good introduction — http://www.julianjaynes.org/articles.php

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