Posts Tagged ‘consciousness’

Purpose is a consequence only of individual consciousness

February 16, 2019

There seems to be a revival of the 70s concept of Gaia (Mother Earth). The concept, in a haze of hallucinogenic visions, endowed the Earth with consciousness and purpose. It made a new God of the Earth’s biosphere and attained a form of cult status – especially among the mindless and the great unwashed. It seems the millennials too are searching for meaning and purpose and some have revived some of the virtuous and self-righteous cults of 40 -50 years ago.

It brings back the classic dilemma of group versus individual. There can often be conflict between a “group purpose” and an individual. Invoking the “common good” is often used to suppress the individual. Democracy is all about suppressing the minority. Is a group purpose (perceived by who? defined by who?) superior to that of an individual? This is just another manifestation of the same kind of conflict interface which appears between local/global, national/international, bilateral/multilateral and centralised/distributed.

A few months ago I observed:

No Higher Purpose

Consider the characteristics of purpose.

  1. Purpose is not confined only to conscious minds or only to all living things. Purpose, as an objective or a direction, can be attributed to anything. But the attribution and its articulation seems confined to the existence of a conscious mind.
  2. Having (or being attributed with) purpose implies the flow of time. It implies a current state and actions to reach some other desired state at a later time. A purpose can not and does not address a past state.
  3. A purpose as an objective may describe a future state outside the space of perceived causality (and therefore of an imaginary state). But observe that even an imaginary future state can provide a real direction for current actions.
  4. A consciousness does not need to have a purpose and all its actions may be merely reactive. It also follows that if a conscious mind perceives no desired direction (no purpose), then its actions are reactive and merely respond to the prevailing imbalances it experiences.
  5. When more than one conscious mind is involved, individual purposes and the actions they engender, are additive and combine as vectors giving a “net” purpose.

The purpose of purposes is to give direction to actions. If an individual perceives no “higher” group purpose, that individual’s actions are then directed by that individual’s own purposes (or lack of purpose). Even where a group purpose is discernible, it can only be effected by the actions of individuals who subordinate their own purposes to that of the group. “Higher” purpose is irrelevant unless – and until – it is adopted by the entity carrying out the action. A “higher” purpose is ineffective except as disseminated and adopted by the actors.

Ultimately there is no higher purpose than that set or adopted by an individual for himself or herself.

When a group purpose suppresses or overrules an individual purpose, a feedback loop from the individual to the group (registering protest or dissent) is possible. A pseudo group consciousness comes into play (even if that can only be effected through other individuals).

But no form of group consciousness can be ascribed in any way to any species or to life in general or to Evolution or to the Earth or to the Sun.

Ultimately there is no higher purpose than that set or adopted by an individual for himself or herself.

And Mother Earth does not care what humans do or don’t do.


No sentience without sapience

June 26, 2014

There was a great deal of publicity last week but I am not very convinced that the computer program Eugene Goostman actually passed the Turing test. But whether it did or not, I got to wondering how to distinguish sapience from sentience.

I find that I tend to use “sapience” to imply the capability for thought while I take “sentience” to be a quality of consciousness of self. Which of course leaves rather diffuse and undefined what precisely “thought” involves and what “consciousness of self” consists of. But is sapience linked to sentience? Can one have one without the other? Or does the quality of being conscious only become possible once thought exists?

Rene Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) should perhaps be modified to be Cogito ergo, ego ut sit (I think therefore I may be). “I think therefore I am” requires a pre-conception of individuality, of the “I”. To be aware of the “I”, to be conscious of oneself and to be able to articulate that consciousness would suggest that thought is already present before consciousness of self can come into play. Clearly my computer “thinks” in a fashion, as do many animals – in their fashion. But while some minimum capability for thought may be necessary for consciousness, it is also clearly not sufficient. A certain level of sapience may be necessary for sentience but sapience does not necessarily lead to sentience. Some other attribute or quality is required for a thinking entity to be said to have the level of consciousness necessary for sentience.

The Turing test is, I think, a test of reaching a particular level of sapience but it is not a test of sentience. But I also think that there is a scale of sapience. All  “artifical intelligences” show varying levels of applying “thought” and could be said to be sapient to some degree. Sapience would seem therefore to be on a continuous scale. Many animals and birds also exhibit some level of thought and clearly exhibit different degrees of sapience. But chimpanzees and gorillas and dolphins and even elephants seem to recognise themselves in a mirror while monkeys do not. They would seem to have different levels of self-consciousness and – it would seem – different levels of sentience. I take gorillas and chimpanzees and maybe elephants to be sentient – just – but not dogs or cats. Is there then a scale of sentience which is constrained (or enabled) by, and depends upon, an entity’s position on a scale of sapience?  I suspect that whatever it is I intuitively consider to be sentient depends upon a combination of sapience and the level of consciousness of self of an entity.

Therefore my tentative definitions / conclusions become

  1. Entities may be “alive” or “inert”.
  2. Only some entities are sapient to any significant degree but sapience is independent of being alive.
  3. There is no sentience without sapience.
  4. Only some “living”, sapient entities are sentient.
  5. Sentience is a composite quality and – I propose – depends on the level of sapience and the level of consciousness exhibited by an entity.


sapience and sentience

sapience and sentience

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