Nobody is exactly certain what Consciousness ‘is’, or if it even exists. Consciousness is the subject of much obscurity and ambiguity; particularly, Human Consciousness, as some ideas surrounding it have even posited it as being exclusive to humans.
It — has been ceremoniously riddled by vague interpretation, danced alongside the Ego, flirted with the Intellect, it is has been the target of the spiritual and mystical, connected to religious themes of the spirit and soul, identified as the chief attribute separating humans from animals, along with a vast number of other baseless assumptions; all of which, only makes understanding what exactly the term ‘Consciousness’ even means more difficult.
But one of the leading, published Scientific Theories, Integrated Information Theory, has some pretty good ideas… Unconventionally, unlike most other Scientific Theories, that start from the bottom-up, where Scientists conduct experiments and tests in order to prove or disprove something; Integrated Information Theory works from the top-down, as it starts with the assumption that Consciousness does exist, and then sets out to explain it; which is a good thing, because it clears up all the confusion presented by semantics, by more precisely distinguishing the term.
Consciousness for purposes of this theory is defined as ‘self-awareness’ or the Central-Identity; the inner-voice that allows your brain to talk to itself, an awareness that ‘you’ exist, the rationalization of your own relevance to that existence, and an awareness of the cause and effect of your actions in regard to yourself and your environment.
Integrated Information Theory is based on mathematical and concepts such as the Golden Ratio (or the irrational number Phi Ф), which because of its prevalence in the geometry of the natural world, from the formation of flower petals to hurricanes, is sometimes called the divine proportion; in its most basic explanation, the Golden Ratio, is derived from a sequence of numbers that follows a pattern where each successive number is a sum of the two numbers preceding it; in the visual example above you can see: 1+2=3, and 2+3=5, and 5+8=13, and 8+13=21, and 13+21=34…
And so, with this in mind, Integrated Information Theory doesn’t attempt to pinpoint the root of Consciousness as originating from a specific, tangible and/or physical part of the brain; its formulas and basis conclude that Consciousness is an ‘Emergent’ property of the brain. That is, not an individual part of, or existing function, within a system (the brain), but rather, an emerging property of all the parts and functions of the system as a whole.
Let’s provide an analogy, what is a Nation really? Is it its population? Is it its institutions? Its Government? Its military? Or is it its Flag? Or Anthem? Constitution? Or Borders?
A Nation has no physical form, you cannot touch a Nation, or truly define a Nation, only its parts. Yet ‘Nations’ interact with their environment and the world, often having a considerable impact- so they certainly exist. Thus, a ‘Nation’ is the Emergent Property of all of its parts — populations, borders, flags, anthems, institutions and governments — rather than existing as its own individual entity.
Emergence is happening all over in Nature, Ant Colonies, WolfPacks, and Lion Prides are all Emergent Properties; but it doesn’t just apply to things that have no form; its more simply, when a bunch of smaller, simpler things make up much more complex, larger things — Water is an Emergent Property of Hydrogen and Oxygen, or on an even more elaborate scale, Human beings are but an Emergent Property of all of their parts, all of the multitudes of atoms and molecules that have come together to form them.
The most straightforward explanation of this would be that a Book doesn’t constitute a Library, but to form a Library, requires a collection of Books. It’s as if Aristotle was right all along, “The whole IS greater than the sum of its parts.”
Integrated Information Theory also suggests that Consciousness is not exclusively a Human Property. The general idea is: the more information and integration a lifeform (or brain) has the capacity and opportunity to experience and/or process, compounded by the complexity of that information and integration, the more Consciousness emerges in them. Thus, Consciousness exists on a Continuum; as in some things have more Consciousness than others.
For example, a Human has a higher level of Consciousness than a Cat. But an outdoor Cat also has a higher level of Consciousness than an indoor Cat. Because the outdoor Cat is able to develop this higher level of Consciousness being exposed to a higher amount of stimuli and information from being subjected to the outside world, and thus its brain would have to integrate and process all of that information; whereas an indoor Cat wouldn’t have such an experience or luxury.
In a short generalization, the higher quantity and complexity of — environmental (societal), behavioral and/or mental — information and integration an organisms’ daily life requires, determines the level of Consciousness they will develop. The caveat to that, of course, is Capacity for the Integration of Information; no matter how many times you put a book in front of your cat, it will do little to raise its Consciousness, because a Cat lacks the capacity to read.
Besides why would it listen to you? You are just a giant, unsophisticated and unpredictable ape in your cats mind; but Cats don’t have nearly as much storage capacity as humans.
The capacity to retain, remember and comprehend all the many intricate complexities it requires to read; that stories are an emergent property of sentences, and sentences of words, and words of letters. These are things that Cats haven’t had to experience or do, to get on, or excel, in their evolutionary history, or everyday life.
Capacity is something that has been increasing in Humans for millennia. Reading is a skill that has developed and evolved as well, from the bestselling novels of today, all the way back to the very first cave paintings. Recent studies and measures have estimated that the human brain currently has a storage capacity of around 2.5 petabytes (about a million gigabytes, or a thousand terabytes) or more, pretty impressive…
For hundreds of thousands of years Humans (or more accurately, Homo Sapiens) have gone through this evolution and rise in Consciousness, as a result of the capacity of our brains; outsmarting, dominating and outlasting all of our Homo Genus cousins in the great evolutionary struggle of survival-of-the-fittest and DNA replication; all the while developing increasingly more and more complex social structures and lives as time went on; with the inception of countless significant and noteworthy achievements along the way, requiring more information integration among us — like the invention of Language and Math, Agriculture and Community, Law and Order, Art and Science, Industry and Technology — rapidly increasing our level of Consciousness as a species in the process.
Author: Mike Hogan. Amateur Writer, Astronomer, Philosopher, Intellectual and Critical Thinker.