The Collective Unconscious, Quantum Mechanics And PSI
The Terminology Of Consciousness
This appendix is largely copied from Agent Human: Consciousness At The Service Of The Group, so that when the word 'consciousness' is used, its intended meaning will be clear to readers of the current volume.
No word can carry a greater burden of preconception or more layers of differentiated meaning than the word consciousness. Here is a dictionary definition, taken more or less at random from the Internet (http://dictionary.reference.com):
Although the writer of that definition doesn't explicitly say so, there is an underlying assumption that the word refers to the mental states of a human individual or a group of them, and at least in its first line, the definition comes close to equating consciousness to self-consciousness. The definition also introduces the word 'awareness', to which one may add the word 'attention', both being closely related to but not identical with consciousness.
The belief of some evolutionary biologists that consciousness evolved along with human society (along with groupishness, if you like), doesn't sound particularly convincing unless heavily qualified. Most people would perhaps think that when a dog puts his head on one side and looks at you, deciding whether to bark or not, then he is going through some decision process which probably has some conscious element. It's true that a dog is a social animal, not only living in groups in the wild, but also with social awareness of human behaviour. But if the dog is conscious, then consciousness arose at a much earlier stage of evolution than the human kin-group, unless you want to believe that doggy consciousness was bred into them by humans. In fact, scientific consciousness studies have generally allowed that animals possess a degree of consciousness, although only higher primates are conventionally permitted to have self-consciousness.
This author contests that scheme of things to a certain extent, but right now the only concern is to deal with the very wide range of meanings that can be attributed to the C-word.
Addressing the terminology problem, different writers have adopted a menagerie of nomenclatures. Here are a few of them:
It may be the case that trained researchers, whether they be anthropologists, neurologists or cognitive scientists, are sufficiently aware of the ambiguity of the C-word to qualify their use of it appropriately, and to understand the senses in which their peers use it, but the same cannot be said of the general reader. We are all brought up to think that consciousness is the crowning glory of human sentience, and it is impossible for us to understand what it is like to be a bat, a dog or a cuttle-fish (one of James's examples). The use of the word 'consciousness' in connection with the mental state of a cuttle-fish – and it does have one – is simply unhelpful.
It's one thing to perceive the problem, quite another to resolve it. There is no chance of finding a solution which will be adopted in the language, so all one can do is to adopt a particular use of words in writing about mental phenomena which will be clear – unambiguous – for readers.
It was the purpose of Agent Human to describe consciousness as essentially a social phenomenon. As described in the text, the cognitive activity which supports the social self is much more extensive than is implied by the hackneyed term 'self-consciousness', so that Agent Human makes use of the term 'self-awareness', to allow a broader meaning. By more or less common consent, self-awareness is restricted to humans, higher primates, and possibly some birds. Before self-awareness came a more limited set of cognitive social skills, possessed by all mammals, and arguably, to a degree, by reptiles and even amphibians, which are called social awareness.
Self-awareness is not the final stage that humans have reached; we are also capable of higher-order reflection on our mental states, which has been given the high-flown term 'meta-cognition'. 'Introspective consciousness' might have been an alternative; but there is controversy over whether introspection is possible other than in a trivial sense, and an emerging preference for 'mind-reading' instead, which can apply to other people as much as to oneself. So meta-cognition it is, although the term 'introspective consciousness' is sometimes used in Agent Human.
It is less easy to deal with primary or core consciousness (Edelman and Damasio), which are paradoxically unconscious. Any new term sounds contrived or awkward; but better contrived than ambiguous. The ugly terms 'categorizing responsiveness' and 'social responsiveness' are used in Agent Human, although they are not needed in this book, the first indicating that an organism can categorize its exteroceptive and homeostatic inputs, has memory of these categories, and can respond to external stimuli in a way that combines remembered categories with affective (hedonic) states, and the second indicating that the organism has short-term memory, an unconscious and unreportable autobiographical self, and can moderate its actions according to an integrated (but unconscious) set of global mappings and concepts (Edelman). This term may have application to fishes, birds and amphibians.
For the next stage below 'categorizing responsiveness', the term 'somatic responsiveness' is used, indicating that an organism is able to assemble an integrated or partially integrated representation of its bodily state from moment to moment and behave appropriately in response to external and internal stimuli. This term may have application to such animals as worms, crustaceae, and insects.
The table below sums up the equivalences between the scheme described above and used in Agent Human, together with the schemes of Edelman and Damasio.
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