Thursday, November 12, 2009


I was able to attend a lecture by Richard Dawkins, possibly the preeminent biologist on Earth, and I was surprised to hear during a question/answer session that he had apparently not considered the role of evolutionary biology in bringing forth intelligence, awareness... consciousness.

All manner of people use this term without thinking about it. Does it lend itself to thought? Yes, of course. Only a small effort is required. You can actually sneak up on knowing what it is.

But you have to set aside your ego. See, you’re not the only one who has one, this consciousness. It’s not only your neighbors, too. You can see it in anything, any creature which has senses. It’s easiest to see in creatures which have high-enough powers of observation and intelligence to make choices about what they do. But that’s not strictly necessary.

Your cat. Your dog. Look carefully, and you’ll sneak up on the idea that every creature with the ability to tell the difference between “there” and “here” is aware.

Hmm. Aware of their position, relative to what they are watching, hearing, feeling.

And they use these senses to compete. Here comes natural selection: if you can’t compete, you’re just not going to be around long if things get tough. Gee, I bet any kids you have would be wimpy, too. I can see that all around me. People make bad choices. So do dogs, cats, birds. Some of them die from those mistakes.

Of course, people at leisure can make bad choices for a looong time and not be immediately affected. There isn’t any immediate enforcement for some mistakes. Eventually, some of them think that patently stupid ideas are OK. It's hard to pass up instant gratification for anything in the future, no matter how horrible.

I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what those things might be. I get mad pointing those things out.

But the point here is that things like intelligence and awareness are matters of degree, and that breeding changes those things in populations large and small.

Don’t get mad that you’re not the exclusive owner of consciousness. You’ve already seen your dog or cat dreaming. They have it. It was bred into them by Nature’s relentless culling of the stupid.

Don’t be next.