On Being Us

After reading Anil Seth’s brilliant yet surprisingly accessible book, “Being You, A New Science of Consciousness”, I gleaned the following important take-aways. This is not a book report or book review; for that, I would refer you to Anil Seth’s theory of consciousness by SelfAwarePatterns.

My take-aways are as follows:

  1. That evolution populates our genes to look after our bodies first and foremost. Our survival depends on maintaining our body’s respiration, temperature, integrity, food, hydration, reproduction, energy, material, and all the other critical parameters required by life. If we don’t respect the upper and lower bounds of the conditions of our existence, we will cease to exist.
  • Following close behind #1, evolution loads our genetic dice with awareness of our world, filled with enemies and friends. We don’t seem to be equipped with an ability to perceive reality as it really is, but we appear to be able to build more-or-less useful models of reality that we can tweak to minimize dissonances between our models and what really is or is not. Enemies are people, animals, or things that might harm or kill us. Friends are people, animals, or things that might help or save us. The rest of the world consists of people, animals, or things that might be enemies or friends. We must be wary of the rest of the world. We shouldn’t trust them because they might be enemies and we shouldn’t harm or kill them because they might be friends.
  • Those who resist or lack their genetic lessons run the risk of losing their gene pool privileges and memberships.


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6 responses to “On Being Us

  1. Thanks for the link!

    I sometimes wonder if a decent definition of consciousness wouldn’t be intelligence + life. Here I mean “life” in the sense of an evolved system optimized for its genes.

  2. Hi Mike and James. If we include AI in the consciousness game, then life can’t be a necessary condition for consciousness. Life may not even be a sufficient condition. If we include non-human animals (and plants?) in the game, then intelligence may (to some degree) or may not be necessary for consciousness and it’s not even a sufficient condition. We already have very intelligent AI and machine learning, but as far as we know, none of them have achieved consciousness yet. Also, I don’t believe it would be moral or ethical for terminating someone’s or something’s life just because we can’t detect any intelligence, under the assumption that if there’s no intelligence then there can’t be consciousness, if he/she/it happens to be comatose, vegetative, or a couch potato. I think consciousness includes some degree of awareness, discernment, expectation, intention, and control. Any one of those ingredients could be missing but not all of them. I think it might simplify our understanding of consciousness to take a more modest approach to the subject. Consider the minimum conditions for consciousness.

    • Hi Mike,
      For purposes of this discussion, I think we have to make a distinction between intelligence we’re conscious of, that is, intelligence we have to make a conscious effort at, like mathematics, articulation, social strategies, etc, and the intelligence our consciousness is built on top of, such as building predictive models of the environment in service of control (which I think covers awareness, discernment, etc). Consider that if we had a technological system with the latter set of capabilities, we’d call it artificial intelligence, even though it would be functionally similar to the underpinnings of our own consciousness.

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