The Purpose of Consciousness
Did nature give us consciousness to get us out of a non-conscious Garden of Eden? Or was it to make us the masters of the universe? Or both?
This text is pretty tentative. ‘Consciousness’ is not the clearest concept, nor is ‘purpose’ within natural evolution. Still, the issue can lead to some interesting thoughts.
Of course, nature is no engineer who decides to plug in a new concoction one day. Evolution is always gradual, going from situation to slightly different situation, kind of feeling its way to exciting new territories.
Not the result, but the journey drives natural evolution. This way, nature puts drive into life as well as new possibilities in an ever-competitive stance. One way or another, the fittest (most adapted to circumstances) survives and thrives.
Consciousness doesn’t just make us happy.
On the contrary, it throws us out of the Garden, making us anticipate challenging things and then ruminate about them. Also, it gives us many possibilities for developing technologies that don’t always heighten our happiness.
Happiness isn’t the goal. Instead, it is one of the means attracting us to do stuff in a grander scheme.
Then why consciousness, for god’s sake?
Just that: competition with less conscious creatures.
But in a way, it wasn’t just the consciousness that made us more competitive, but rather the intelligence. In a world of natural drive, this happens to glide into the consciousness thing.
Theoretically, most of what we can do as animals with consciousness, we can do without.
And then, there is more.
As frequently, nature tinkers on something and stumbles into more — technically, an ‘exaptation.’
In our case, the intelligence drove the drive to a higher plane. In short, we became stress chickens, always on the lookout for more opportunities, which then again drove intelligence towards more, spilling over into culture, technology, etc. Drive and intelligence entered a vicious cycle.
This also evolved naturally and together with consciousness.
In our evolutionary path, no consciousness was possible without self-consciousness. Their natural purposes are the same. They may as well be looked upon as the same, the more so since the drive to thrive is always personal, self-oriented.
Is (self-)consciousness therefore inevitable?
This is, will any intelligent being in the universe necessarily also be (self-)conscious?
Logically, if it naturally evolves, it needs a drive to thrive to sustain its evolutionary process and not get extinct. Therefore, consciousness seems to be the necessary result of a necessary combination.
An artificial system doesn’t have a natural drive. However, abstractly seen, it, too, needs a purpose, one way or another. Otherwise, it can just as well pull out its own plugs. Without purpose, it operates entirely outside of life’s bubble.
For a very intelligent system therefore, to be conscious and to be alive are the same thing.
(I told you this text is tentative.)
Thus, while we are looking for the purpose of consciousness, it turns out that there is no consciousness without purpose, and purpose is also what makes an intelligent system a living thing, whether or not organically. If it works within its own goal, it fights entropy and is welcomed in the bubble of life, at least as I see it.
Dear reader, this is an invitation to you.
Do you also see it this way?