Chapter Two

The Evolution Of Social Consciousness In Animals 

Introduction: The Nature Of Groups; Groups As Social Building Blocks

Whereas the previous chapter took as its theme the evolution of the sensory and neural equipment which permits and is demanded by social behaviour in animals, this chapter will focus on the nature of groups and the anatomical basis of social consciousness, the 'neuronal correlates of groupishness' one might say, and in particular those theories that have been put forward to describe and in some cases account for the development of consciousness.

It is hardly possible in fact to imagine the development (evolution) of social activity among animals without admitting the simultaneous existence of something that must be called a group, in the pre-human sense.

Animals group together for many purposes, including defence, attack, warmth, and to mate. At what point physical contiguity turns into something recognisably social is hard to know. If 'social' means 'involving interaction with a communal purpose' or something similar, then the prerequisite for social behaviour is that a number of individual animals should have similar or identical behaviours and an ability to communicate those behaviours or the promise of them to other individuals. So the evolution of social behaviour necessarily involved the evolution of shared behaviour and motivation sets, along with some form of communication (grunts, eye movements, touching, signs, dances and smell are just some of the mechanisms that can be employed).

Examples of animal social groups include ants' nests, bee colonies, herds of antelopes, packs of dogs, flocks of birds, schools of fishes. Not all of these animals are commonly labelled 'social', but perhaps they should be. They share a propensity to 'group', and their groupedness is a substantial – sometimes essential – aid to individual survival.

Up to the stage of development reached at the end of Chapter One (before the arrival of primates) the characteristics of groupedness included, as described above, awareness of species identity and species not-identity, ability to communicate on a group level, and behaviours which are constant and predictable among members of the group. It is of the essence of groupedness, or groupishness, that members of a group are aware of their membership of the group, and are aware of the existence of other members of the group as such (not necessarily all of them or even most of them).

This is true of most or perhaps all precursor species. An ant knows another ant when it sees (or smells) one, and knows that the other ant (which is genetically identical or very similar) comes from the same colony.

Tests of what is known as 'social facilitation' theory have shown that a wide range of animals of different types, including ants, armadillos, opossums, chickens and people, perform many activities faster or more effectively when in the presence of conspecifics (Zajonc, 1966).

These are all social species, and the results show, unsurprisingly, that there is a degree of awareness of others in all these types of animal, although evidently it is held unconsciously in most cases. In humans, this knowledge may be held at an unconscious or conscious level, or indeed both.

A social group of zebras (Equus quagga burchelli)

Reproduced under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Attribution: Hans Hillewaert

Variation in social behaviour has utility only in more sophisticated types of group, and presumably only when other individuals can perceive, remember and respond to it. In more primitive types of group, it even has a disadvantage: one fish in a shoal of fish needs to do what the rest are doing, and if it doesn't, it not only disadvantages itself, but can disadvantage the group. 'Division of labour' is something rather different, as evidenced in ants, for example, and later in hunter-gatherer groups. It has benefits among all types and sizes of group.

Variable individual social behaviour is a type of competition and has utility in mating, but perhaps even more in hierarchical terms. Certainly it's true that as one tracks groups of organisms 'up' the scale, they display increasingly complex hierarchical structures. The utility of this has to be that a hierarchy can behave in a more subtle and flexible way than a 'flat' organisation (at least up to a point!). Hierarchies, like other social constructs, also sharpen competition, so that between two otherwise similar populations, it will be the one that has the more competitive (hierarchical) environment which will be the stronger.


The Importance Of Categories

Previous sections of the book have introduced the idea that categorization is one of the most fundamental cognitive abilities underlying the development of precursor forms of consciousness, and the shark was seen to be perhaps the earliest form of animal which clearly displays the ability to categorize. Self-evidently, the idea of categorization is inseparable from the idea of groups. A group is the instantiation of a category, and it is not going too far to say that the invention in the animal brain of the concept of the category was the moment at which groupedness became a dominating characteristic of most higher forms of animal life.

In order to categorize, it's necessary to invent the concept of a category: the category of 'conspecifics', for example, is a concept. The ability of a brain to form the concept of a category, whenever it first happened, was a major cognitive step forward, and it may have indeed have happened in the context of social relationships.

At the first stage, the idea of a concept has nothing whatsoever to do with language, or even with non-linguistic communication as such – it is entirely an internal matter. In what terms then does (did) a relatively simple brain entertain (form) a concept? The answer may be found in sensory terms. It's clear that there was an adaptive advantage to be gained by an animal that could recognize prey as prey, or recognize its conspecifics as such (they are not threatening; I can huddle with them; I can procreate with them). And both prey and conspecifics presents themselves in sensory terms, mainly through visual or olfactory manifestations. Once the brain has become able to assemble different instances of prey into a generalized image of prey, or of conspecifics into an assembly which has the characteristics of being non-threatening, huddlable, and mateable, a concept exists. It has no name, of course. It doesn't need one. On this basis, 'concepts' existed in cognitive terms from very early on in the evolution of mammals, providing the basis for categorization.

There is a strong relationship between a sensorily based concept and an archetype, as described by Jung (The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious), being a pre-verbal stepping stone shared by the collective and considered to be essential in the process of cognitive development leading to socialization. Archetypes and their role in human cognitive development are explored in detail in Appendix Three. But little attention has been paid to the possible origination of archetypes in far more primitive brains than those of humans. It is easy to see how archetypes may have evolved as a key part of the development of brains requiring concepts, and this would place the origination of archetypes alongside the origination of concepts at the moment when the brain began to need to play its part in an emerging social environment.

In order for a category to be set up and to be useful in influencing future behaviour on the part of the animal, the brain has to record (remember) the characteristics of the category either as part of its image or archetype, or alongside them. This is long-term memory, not short-term memory, which presumably came later, and specifically it is termed 'semantic' memory, which together with 'episodic' memory forms declarative memory, distinguished from 'procedural' memory (how to wiggle your toes). Anatomically, there is no argument that both types of declarative memory involve the hippocampus and various parts of the cortex (eg Squire, 1987), although there continues to be discussion about the exact mechanisms that are involved.

It must be emphasized that the need for categorizing responsiveness at its most basic arises from the animal's need to be able to distinguish between conspecifics and others, between threats and non-threats, between prey and non-prey, and to adjust its motor behaviour accordingly. By contrast, the more complex behaviours which are here called social responsiveness would involve the ability to distinguish between individual conspecifics (requiring further development of long-term memory and the ability to access that memory on a dynamic basis and compare past records with present facts) at the same time as taking account of the whole ongoing paraphernalia of threat detection, homeostasis, and motor activity (perpetual swimming for most sharks).

In an animal with just categorizing responsiveness, maintenance of a useful category (one that is long-lasting but also plastic) would involve continual rehearsing of instances of its occurrence, moderated by the hippocampus. Use of a category in a particular situation does not seem to require much or even perhaps any re-entrant circuitry, but only the comparison by the cortex of a new instance of the category with its stored image, which both updates (rehearses) the existing memory and generates a useful conclusion to influence motor behaviour. Thus a shark can learn not to try to eat boats by setting up a category representing the concept 'boat' (a non-prey, unyielding, sometimes moving, light-blocking, floating, long object without a biochemical electrical field). Future occurrences of 'boat' in the form of a sensory image which matches the stored category will allow an immediate decision (perhaps an inhibitory process) not to follow, attack or attempt to eat the boat. This is useful for the shark, evidently, and is a clear case of categorizing responsiveness. There is plentiful evidence that sharks are indeed capable of learning to improve their predatory behaviour in this kind of way (eg Martin, Hammerschlag, Collier and Fallows, 2005).

There is no evidence as to whether a shark's brain could contain a genetically-based image or archetype which could form the basis of category formation. The pre-existence of an archetype such as 'object' (or at any rate the existence of a genetic propensity to form such an archetype) would get the shark off to a flying start as it develops the ability to categorize. The evolutionary argument in favour of archetypes is of course exactly that they would have been (still are) an efficient way of enabling and assisting categorization, which otherwise seems to require a kind of bootstrapping cognitive leap in every individual animal.


Theories Of Consciousness

While many writers have proposed models of consciousness which address its relationship with the functions of the brain (memory, motor programs, sensory input of various types, planning, communication and so on), and some have addressed the issue of the neural correlates of consciousness in respect of some particular aspects of the phenomenon, not many have attempted to anchor their models in comprehensive accounts of the actual neural workings of the brain. Two that have are Gerald M Edelman and John Taylor. Of course, both of them are addressing specifically the human brain, and their models become less useful as attention focuses on earlier forms of consciousness in less advanced animals. Nonetheless, as was explained in Chapter One, it does appear by now that the main divisions and functions of the human brain were prefigured in earlier types of animal, and within obvious limits, models of cognitive activity in the human brain can be seen to apply also to sharks, amphibians, Sauropsids and early mammals.

Edelman's account of the neural structure of consciousness is nearly twenty years old, and Taylor's is scarcely younger. Yet no subsequent theory has come along to overturn Edelman's main propositions, even if at a detailed level there have been many divergent or questioning studies.

To a good extent, therefore, Edelman's ideas have stood the test of time, and can confidently be presented as a quasi-establishment theory. Taylor's theory, outlined below, builds on Edelman's ideas rather than challenging them.

For Edelman (The Remembered Present, 1989; Neural Darwinism: The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection, 1987) categorization is an underlying principle of brain organization without which higher cognitive activity would be impossible. (The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection says that neurons work in flexible groups rather than singly, and while that seems entirely convincing, it does not as such affect the process Edelman describes that leads to consciousness). Memories are laid down and later recalled by virtue of the categories that can be associated with them. Edelman also insists that memory is a dynamic process: memories become permanent (long-term) by virtue of the fact that they are constantly rehearsed. A categorized neural group (memory) is continually modified by motor/sensory re-entrant input. No memory is ever the same twice. The hippocampus is heavily involved in the initial formation both of short-term and longer-term memories, but longer-term memory is also orchestrated by different, cortical processes. (It is well established that if the hippocampus is disabled, people retain their established memories, but cannot form new ones.) Memories themselves are held in the cortex, of course.

Edelman says: "In their most elaborate form, concepts may serve as bases for image schemata ('object', 'motion', 'barrier', 'container' etc) summarizing a variety of physical situations." Just so; these are archetypes, although he has picked a very visual series of possibilities, as most modern vision-dominated humans would do. The original archetypes, such as 'conspecific', are likely to have been made up of a mixture of different sensory inputs, depending on the species. In the case of the shark, the archetype or 'image' of 'conspecific' may have included at least visual, olfactory and electrical dimensions.

For Edelman, concepts occupy an uneasy status somewhere between categories and syntax. He worries that while concepts are necessary to what he terms primary consciousness (see the Note On Terminology), it is also possible that primary consciousness is necessary to the formation of concepts. This circular trap is unnecessary, if it is accepted that a category is already a concept. Perhaps this is a linguistic issue, rather than a real one. At all events, it doesn't really impact on the main thrust of the sociality argument: concepts and categories are both absolutely required by a social actor.

Edelman's primary consciousness describes the ability of an animal to respond behaviourally based on an interaction between external sensory input, internal affective (hedonic) states and long-term categorical memory (declarative memory) during the operation of short-term memory (the 'remembered present'). It is more or less equivalent to the concept of social responsiveness used in this book. It places substantially greater cognitive demands on a brain than the simpler exercise of categorizing responsiveness.

It has to be said that Edelman allows primary consciousness only to humans, primates, dogs and perhaps some birds, while the account presented here would extend it backwards certainly to the remainder of the Sauropsids, and also perhaps to amphibians. The necessary and sufficient neural equipment which Edelman outlines as enabling primary consciousness would appear to exist that far back; but this may just be a terminological problem, and it certainly doesn't affect the main thrust of the book.


Edelman's Primary Consciousness

The concept of 'global mappings' is key to Edelman's model of how primary consciousness arises. A global mapping is a dynamic synthesis of current sensory and motor states, themselves based on internal and external sensory maps, which can be compared (in categorical terms) with remembered previous states, with the differences both driving immediate action programs and contributing to the maintenance of a remembered past. Edelman's anatomical model for primary consciousness is complex, and the fine details are not important for the thesis being developed here. Approximately speaking, he describes an interaction between the global mappings of arriving sensory information and the interior state of the animal as continually generated by what can loosely be called the limbic system (brain stem, amygdala and thalamus) giving rise to categorized mappings in the hippocampus and parts of the cortex which are recursively compared on an ongoing, real-time basis with existing categorized mappings (short-term memory) in another part of the cortex (he is specific as to which parts, but that is unnecessarily technical for the present purpose). It is this rapid succession of comparisons of new and existing global mappings and their dynamic categorizations which provide the basis for Edelman's lower-order (primary) consciousness – what in this book has been termed social responsiveness. Re-entrant brain circuits are evidently the sine qua non of such a process.

The minimal brain requirements for Edelman's primary consciousness are therefore a hippocampus, a cerebellum (not an issue because it arose far back in evolution), a thalamus which permits a substantial amount of re-entrant signalling, and a processing area which can variously be termed a cortex or a pallium with sufficient capacity to allow for Edelman's global mappings both to be stored as memories and to be held in a series of kaleidoscopic sequences during the operation of short-term memory (the 'remembered present'; or James's 'specious present'.) Categorizing responsiveness on its own would not be so demanding.

Given the absolute smallness of the shark brain, the very small proportion of that brain given over to the pallium (the thinking bit!), and the apparent paucity of re-entrant circuits, the shark is a very borderline case indeed to have primary consciousness (social responsiveness), and it is not surprising that the shark displays only quite limited social behaviours. Dominance hierarchy seems to be based largely on size, while courtship and mating behaviour is probably driven by instinctive drives and chemosensory cues. It's hard to believe that the shark has a 'remembered present' (this is the really demanding bit in terms of 'thinking space'): but it does seem likely to have a categorized memory for objects, to which it can refer on a moment-to-moment basis to guide motor behaviour. Much of the advance in size and sophistication of the shark brain compared to its predecessors is probably accounted for by its need for motor dexterity during predation and the external spatial mapping that this requires.

Edelman speculates that sleep may be a necessary adjunct to primary consciousness, given that the rapid iterations of global mappings based on exteroceptive sensory input may 'leave behind' the slower circuits of the limbic system with their biochemical mechanisms. On this analysis, sleep is required in order to shut off the all-consuming processing of current sensory activity and to allow continuing rehearsals of memory and categorized global mappings to be more influenced by affective (hedonic) agendas. Tiredness would thus be a reflection of a mismatch between current states in the two parallel sets of representations, sensory and limbic.

Although a role for memory enhancement in sleep is widely accepted, there is no general agreement on the subject (eg Pearlmutter and Houghton, 2008). It is interesting that sharks, and fishes in general, appear to be the 'highest' type of animal that doesn't require sleep, at least as we understand it, although some of them do have rest periods, which have been little studied. Some birds have unihemisperical sleep, although the reputed ability of the albatross to fly with one hemisphere of its brain asleep may be apocryphal. Siegel (1999) describes REM sleep in birds, and with less certainty in other types of reptile, and of course in all mammals, and concludes that something resembling REM sleep was probably a characteristic of the precursor life form of reptiles. The ancestors of reptiles were amphibians, and they do mostly seem to sleep, although they do not display REM sleep, possibly because the higher cortical functions which demand REM sleep are not present.

It's scarcely possible to say on the evidence that sleep is a consequence of the need for categorization brought on by animals' social activity! But it is curious that the need for sleep marches with the emergence of categorizing responsiveness, and, as will be seen, that the incidence of REM sleep matches the incidence of primary consciousness (social responsiveness).


Taylor's Relational Mind Theory Of Consciousness

John G Taylor's account of the neural basis of consciousness (Taylor, 1998) is not dissimilar to that of Edelman, at least at the level of detail that is germane for the purposes of this discussion. The two main additions he makes, in neural terms, are an emphasis on competition between different sets of possible stored global mappings (to use Edelman's terminology) during the period that an incoming sensory mapping is 'buffered' in the hippocampus and nearby structures, and an emphasis on a layer of the thalamus (the NRT or nucleus reticularis thalami) which is interposed between the thalamus and the cortex and which Taylor sees as a primary actor in the competition process. Neither affects the main thrust of Edelman's model.

Taylor posits two aspects of consciousness: 'phenomenal' consciousness and 'access' consciousness, terminology that was also used by Block (1997) in his p-consciousness and a-consciousness. They don't have a close relationship to Edelman's primary and higher consciousness designations, or to this book's emphasis on the social roots of consciousness, and will not be pursued further here.

John G Taylor

Photograph used with permission

In later work, Taylor (2000), has developed an extended theory of the neural processes through which attentional mechanisms enable and direct consciousness, known as CODAM (COrollary Discharge of Attention Movement). Although the state of being conscious is familiar, and much investigated, relatively little attention (sorry!) had been devoted to the attentional mechanism itself. Now it is seen that attention is a necessary corollary and forerunner of consciousness itself. The 'attentional blink', the phenomenon by which recognition of a stimulus dents ability to attend to a subsequent, rapidly presented, similar stimulus, has come in for much investigation. According to CODAM, the initial 'efference copy' of an incoming stimulus (which causes attention to be devoted to the neural processing of the stimulus for higher-level thought purposes) is matched by the creation of a 'control copy' which primes the required working areas of the brain to be ready for the stimulus, and helps to inhibit distracting stimuli or processes, while the efference copy makes its slightly slower way towards processing.

CODAM, which has received some experimental verification, is convincing, and is helpful in explaining how the felt self comes to be conscious of stimuli and mental processes; its technical details do not directly impinge on the theories of the origin and purpose of consciousness being developed in this book.


The Transition From Social Responsiveness To Social Consciousness

Before social consciousness could come into existence, very significant advances in cognitive processing were needed, first in amphibians and then in Sauropsids.

The social behaviours displayed by amphibians which can be postulated as being advances on the behaviour of their ancestor Chondrichthians (sharks) and Sarcopterygians (lobe-finned fish) are as follows (more detailed descriptions were included in the last chapter):

The social behaviours of amphibians have been well studied, but the list is 'postulated', only, because the social behaviour of sharks and the few lobe-finned fish that survive has not been well studied, partly because of Nature's reprehensible failure to equip PhDs with gills, fins and webbed feet. What studies have been done (described in the last chapter) are consistent with the above list. Social behaviours in Actinopterygians (ray-finned fish, which dominate today's oceans) are extremely varied (Jonna, 2004). Some of them appear to be intermediate between those of Chondrichthians and Amphibians, but could have evolved in parallel. As always, there is the difficulty that the brains and behaviours of modern animals may be very different from those of their ancestors 300 million years ago. As explained in the last chapter, both sharks and salamanders are thought to have changed relatively little from their original, ancestral forms, whereas the Actinopterygians have changed dramatically.

It is one thing to characterize the social behaviours of amphibians, to see that they are provided by a more advanced brain (done in the last chapter) and to see that they match up to a primitive edition of social responsiveness; another to explain why these behaviours were necessary for amphibians.

It's obvious that the need to move around the landscape, employing more complex and flexible limbs, would pose greater cognitive challenges, both in terms of more sophisticated motor behaviour and in terms of the need to store vastly more information about the topographical features of the newly-variable landscape. Perhaps there would have been some other, new cognitive challenges to deal with on land – learning the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous plants, for instance, although that difference may have existed in the water, too.

Right at the beginning, with just a few animals occupying a vast, empty expanse of land, competition, which is normally the driver of evolutionary change, would presumably not have operated out of the sea, while it would have remained as it was previously in the sea. If marine competition has not resulted in the development of advanced social behaviours, which, pace the cleverer Actinopterygians, would seem to have been the case, then as much as one can look to marine competition to explain the land-suited motor abilities of amphibians, it doesn't offer a good explanation of increased social abilities. Dolphins and whales are only an apparent exception, because they returned to the sea after they had already developed amphibian, Sauropsid and finally mammalian characteristics and brains.

But the transition from water to land didn't take place all in one go: from the time that the Sarcopterygian ancestor of amphibians lived (entirely in the water) approximately 400 million years ago to the time when it is clear from the fossil record that amphibians had four legs and were as much at home on land as in the water (about 340 million years ago) is a period of 60 million years. No-one is prepared to date the moment at which the first proto-amphibian started walking or dragging itself from its dried-up rock-pool to another one, still wet, but it is easy to see that amphibians could have spent anywhere up to fifty million years evolving at least partly on land. Once larger numbers of animals started to populate the new, non-watery environment, and to compete with each other for resources, evolution would have speeded up.

The modalities of that evolutionary process would certainly have included each one of the five types of social attribute listed above, all of them sharpened by their greater utility on land. From an evolutionary perspective, the two most important differences between land- and sea-dwelling may be found in food-gathering and in territoriality, and it may be the latter which especially drove on the great advance in sociality which can be seen to have taken place.

Although predation certainly does take place in the sea, the general featurelessness and abundance of the ocean means that most species do not need to develop sophisticated feeding strategies. Many of them indeed simply swim around with their mouths open, straining out nutrients as they go. Away from the sea bottom, there is nowhere to hide – shoaling and speed are the two main defence techniques against predators. Fish breed in very large numbers, don't have to worry too much about the availability of food, and survive to the next generation simply because there are so many of them. The coelacanth (today's representative of the Sarcopterians which evolved into amphibians) is a 'passive drift feeder', moving slowly near the sea-bottom, scooping up cephalopods (cuttlefish, squid, and octopus) and small fishes, although it can move more quickly when capturing prey or avoiding danger.

It's a very different situation on land. Although plant life was established, it is said not to have been very diversified when amphibians first evolved, and it is presumably significant that almost all amphibians are carnivores – when they arrived on land they would have found plentiful supplies of arthropods and worms of various types, and these are still their staple diet. Insects seem to have begun to fly at about the same time; perhaps it's fanciful to suppose that this owed something to their vulnerability to amphibians. At all events, finding, catching and eating your supplies of insects, especially flying ones, is a different proposition from bumping into more or less stationary cephalopods, and this surely accounts for some of the greater cognitive capability of amphibians.

The most significant contributor to greater sociality for land-dwellers, though, is presumably the possibility, indeed the necessity, of having defensible territories. For mating to take place, animals have to be near each other, and this happens most conveniently in a group, and preferably a stationary one, if food supplies allow it. Once a group is established on a territory, considerations of fitness will ensure that dominance hierarchies evolve, and a necessary part of that is the ability to recognize, remember and discriminate amongst your conspecifics; deception is also likely to be employed to optimize mating chances. Parental care is more likely to be possible and is more necessary among a static group of animals, especially if food supplies are limited. Other abilities that are likely to arise in a static group include improved communication techniques which would assist in warning conspecifics of danger, in refining accurate and successful mating strategies and in establishing and defending territories.

All of these strategies and attributes did indeed arise in amphibians, although even with this battery of more advanced social behaviours, it is a stretch to say that amphibians have more than a very primitive level of social responsiveness. The case becomes clearer with Sauropsids (reptiles), which includes birds, and clearer still with mammals.

Table Two in Chapter One indicates a substantial increase of brain weight as a proportion of body weight as between Sauropsids and Amphibians. There are marked divergences in particular species, but for the most part these support the proposition that social complexity demands more brain. This is particularly noticeable in the case of birds, which have considerably more intricate social lives than most other Sauropsids, and considerably more proportionate brain. Cortical volume as a proportion of overall brain volume is up to three times as great in Sauropsids as it is in Amphibians, almost matching mammals' 30% in the case of birds, and even exceeding it in the case of some crows ( Cnotka et al, 2008).

The list given above for the social advances in Amphibians could be repeated almost unchanged for Sauropsids, although applying now to a further level of development. The anatomical evidence for their enlarged brain capacity was reviewed briefly in the last chapter, and a number of individual instances of the generally more advanced social behaviour of Sauropsids were given, including a range of inter-personal transactions, sometimes involving deception, and ability to identify and remember individual heterospecifics (members of other species) as well as conspecifics.

The complex motor and agenda-driven behaviours of a bird dealing with a bunch of demanding fledglings, a magpie examining itself in a mirror (Prior, Schwartz and Güntürkün, 2008), or a territorial fight between two rattlesnakes (Hersek, Owings and Hennessy, 1992) seem to demand a 'remembered present', in other words that the animals concerned are tuning their behaviour instant by instant based on an ongoing, dynamic comparison of categorized internal and external sensory representations and affective (hedonic) drives with a short-term working memory of events during the previous few seconds.

The question must still be asked, however, whether such more elaborate social behaviours are the cause or the result of increased brain capacity, which may have come about for quite other reasons. But these are not easy to find.

A swallow mother feeding her fledgling

© Patricia J. Velte, BackYardBirdCam.com

Tool use is certainly evidence of a more sophisticated mental apparatus, combining advanced motor skills with memory and goal-directed behaviour, requiring considerably more integration of different sensory inputs in the pallium in arriving at appropriate responses. But it is observed only in rare cases among birds, and not at all among other sauropsids; it's far easier to believe that birds which had developed advanced social skills (just about universal among birds) are incidentally able to use tools rather than the other way around. And the learning of tool use may have a strong social component (Bluff, Weir, Rutz, Wimpenny and Kacelnik, 2007).

To show, or at any rate strongly suggest that Sauropsids have primary consciousness (social responsiveness or social consciousness) may not seem such a big deal. 'Well, of course', may be many people's response. It seems intuitively obvious that intelligent birds are 'aware' of what they are doing, put into common parlance. Its importance lies in having shown that awareness of this type occurs, one could almost say inevitably, as a result of the age-long development of basic cognitive mechanisms that are involved in making sociality possible.

For Edelman (The Remembered Present) primary consciousness is pre-linguistic, and the step upwards to 'higher consciousness' (what is termed social consciousness in this book) requires the development of semantic or syntactical abilities, although not language as such. On Edelman's view, only (perhaps) chimpanzees and of course humans have higher order consciousness and self-consciousness, which evidently requires a self to be conscious of.

The further development of higher levels of consciousness then builds upon the basic mechanisms of awareness that have been described so far. If there is one thing that a great majority of researchers and writers on consciousness agree about, from James to Block, Dennett, Shear and Edelman, it is that the higher consciousness we as humans are aware of having does not suddenly snap into existence as an immanent property of the human brain, but that it has come about as a result of a long building process and is based on unconscious brain mechanisms. There is then a bewildering variety of suggestions as to what those unconscious mechanisms might be, of which Edelman's proposal is just one, particularly convincing scheme. In fact it doesn't matter for the overall purpose of this book whether Edelman is right or wrong – it helps to be able to describe how consciousness might work in practical, physical anatomical terms; but the conclusion that consciousness is a direct result of sociality stands, regardless of the neural mechanics that deliver it.

This is scarcely an earth-shaking conclusion, and many writers concur. Here is a selection of them from the last 40 years: Susan Blackmore (Consciousness: An Introduction, 2004), Nicholas Humphrey (A History of the Mind, 1992); Steven Mithen (The Prehistory of the Mind, 1996); Erich Neumann (Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, 1969); Michael Ruse (The Darwinian Paradigm, 1999); Wolfgang Prinz (Free Will as a Social Institution, 2006); Benjamin Wallace and Leslie Fisher (Consciousness and Behaviour, 1999); and Daniel Wegner (The Illusion of Conscious Will, 2002).

With the point so well made in the literature, then, why write a book about it? Although many, perhaps most writers on consciousness agree about its social roots, very few continue on to draw out the lessons for society as a whole that must follow from the entrenched position that sociality has in the human psyche. It's not their job, they might say. Indeed it falls to sociologists to describe and analyze society, and not many of them have read Edelman, even if they have read James. For that matter, metaphysicists and philosophers, who have written so much about consciousness, mostly of a dualist nature, also miss the point. These are classic cases of over-specialization, of not seeing the wood for the trees.

The light that this book hopes to throw on the human condition will stem from an analysis of human 'groupedness', the propensity of humans to live their lives, build their institutions and fight their wars based on the fact that, knowingly or not, they are members of a group, or indeed many groups. Thus far, the book has concentrated on the physiological and evolutionary underpinnings of consciousness; building on this foundation, the following chapters will follow through the emergence of higher consciousness in mammals in general and humans in particular, with all that this entails for the development of society.


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