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Self-awareness

by Derek Rush (Submitted: 09/28/2002)

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SELF-AWARENESS is for human beings that feeling of existing, it is the stuff of survival, it has an evolutionary advantage. When spiced with emotion, meaning is added giving 'I', the subject of much philosophical and scientific debate; but how common is self-awareness and is it a simple property of
conscious brain activity. This model will examine how self-awareness can be expected to arise in
a conscious brain.
BACKGROUND

Creatures have a brain that provides automatic responses for several important requirements of its body, including body regulation, mobility plus survival actions and the initial processing of sensor inputs.
This limited brain is without consciousness and is sometimes called the reptilian brain. Mammals have
the reptilian brain providing the automatic responses but with some additions. First improved general abilities, then consciousness with anything from tiny to vast information processing power. After a
learning phase, a mammalian brain is able to deal with matters tolerant of some time delay and requiring individual consideration. A conscious brain gains greatly from language and communication with other
brains, but without these, offers much less evolutionary advantage. Self-awareness is easily made
evident through language but it should be detectable from other forms of communication. To display intentionally is to be self-aware. A creature will have a reason for deliberately communicating and to
have a reason is to be self-aware. Therefore if creatures with a mammalian brain communicate what is
clearly not a reflex, automatic gesture or display by the unconscious brain, it is very likely that the creatures are being self-aware.
THE ANIMATION

[Disclaimer: Turtles as reptiles have the unconscious reptilian brain, but the author felt
obliged to choose them for the animation because of the origins of Logo turtles,
that is from studies of the brain, see FR 1 & 2 below]
Press OPEN for an introduction, then SETUP ROCK, then SETUP NEST, then RUN. The model opens on a sandy beach, with the outline of a turtles nest adjacent to a rock, which is making
a shadow. Seven of eight turtles hatch but a predator appears, a silver-wing gull, and takes a hatchling.
Five make for the water but turtle 6 (T6) has noticed that things are less distinct in shadow and moves
to the shadow of the nearby rock. Two more hatchlings are lost and three continue to the sea; also the
last turtle hatches and makes for the water. T6 watches them all and in particular the last to hatch.
>From this T6 concludes that the walk to the sea will be shortest if started when the sea is at its
furthest from its position. The ('I' made it!) label is what T6 might have said given the power of
speech; alternatively, emotion might have wagged its tail. Finally CONCLUSIONS appear on the display.

CONCLUSIONS

On two occasions T6 observed, deliberated, decided and acted. That should qualify as conscious action,
but could self-awareness have been detected? Yes, if there was an interpretable act of communication,
even if it was as little as an emotional wag of the tail. In the absence of language self-awareness can
be so easily missed, it has no physical manifestation but it can be detected in other communications
as described in BACKGROUND. There have been attempts to explain the source of self-awareness with
inventions such as mind separate from the brain, or a homunculus or a single point of awareness or a
special section or special activity, within the brain. Whereas, given that the brain is the creature,
human or otherwise and the brain is aware of its own activity, like seeing, like preparing something
to be communicated, no more should be needed to explain self-awareness. Self-awareness can be under-
stood without recourse to special effects. It can be seen as the inevitable result of evolution giving
creatures the combination of some processing power together with a drive to communicate and the means
to communicate. This drive to communicate is probably recognisable in all creatures with the mammalian
brain, especially in those that form social groups. The evolving brain of humans provided a lot of
processing power and a drive to communicate as strong as that for procreation, also the physiology for
spoken language, the latter providing the brain with outstanding opportunities for shared experience
and knowledge. When creatures communicate there is a need for identification and for those forming
social groups identities are evident even when the means of communication are limited. So it must have
been for early human beings but, when spoken language arrived, identification by 'I' would have become
essential to the communication process.
Thus everything was in place:
*the processing power coming from a huge number of neurons and an even larger number of interconnections
*the cleverness coming from a genetic program and through nurture and culture
for a brain to imagine 'I' and SELF-AWARENESS as transcendental phenomena; but, that can now be considered
an illusion.
Yes, but what is it "to imagine"?........Good question, that requires another model.

FURTHER READING

FR. 1 http://lcs.www.media.mit.edu/groups/el/projects/circles/turtles.html
FR. 2 The Living Brain by W.Grey Walter. Duckworth, London, 1953.
FR. 3 Mapping The Mind by Rita Carter. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1998. ISBN 0 297 62330 2
FR. 4 Conciousness-How Matter Becomes Imagination by Gerald M. Edelman and Giulio Tononi.
Penguin, London, 2000, also in the USA as A Universe of Conciousness, Perseus Books, 2000.
FR. 5 Phantoms In The Brain-Human Nature And The Architecture Of The Mind by V.S. Ramachandran
and Sandra Blakeslee. Fourth Estate, London 1998. ISBN 1 85702 895 3
FR. 6 The Human Computer by Mark Jeffery. Little, Brown and Company, London, 1999. ISBN 0 7515 2847 1

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