Julian Jaynes' book The Bicameral Mind and the Origin of Consciousness argues that language is consciousness. His arguments met considerable criticism from many scientists. Physicist Roger Penrose, in particular, argues against language being consciousness. He quotes Albert Einstein,
"The words of the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements of thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be voluntarily reproduced and combined... The above mentioned elementa are, in my case, of visual and some muscular type. Conventional words or other signs have to be sought for laboriously only in a second stage, when the mentioned associative play is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will."
Mozart, when alone and in a good humor, received musical inspirations.
"Whence and how do they come? I do not know and I have nothing to do with it."
His mind worked on the musical themes until he had the entire composition finished in his head.
"My mind seizes it as a glance of my eye a beautiful picture of a handsome youth. It does not come to me successively, with various parts worked out in detail, as they will later on, but in its entirety that my imagination lets me hear it."
Nicholi Telsa discovered alternating current - the foundation of today's electrical power - in a vision appearing to him all at once, fully formed, complete with an internal visual model of a working alternator. He knew instantly what the vision meant and that it would work. Other machines appeared in his mind and he could even operate the machines, determine what they did, and later take these mental images apart and inspect the parts for wear! Communication of these findings followed his visions.
Penrose considered instantaneous judgements of inspiration to be the hallmark of conscious thinking. He believed there was not, couldn't be, an algorithmic process to describe this sort of aesthetic process. It is especially important to him that the language center of the brain is located in the left cerebral hemisphere. If language is consciousness, he argued, then only the left cerebral hemisphere could be conscious. This can't be so, since the other hemisphere plays vital roles in thinking - especially in musical and mathematical thought. The inspiration comes first and is followed by the arduous process of hammering the discovery into language or symbols or notes that result in the communication of the thought to other people. In any event, Penrose would have us believe language played no part in many of mankind's most brilliant scientific or philosophical breakthroughs.
I dwell on Dr. Penrose's argument precisely because it illustrates so well the problems we experience when thinking about thinking.
Inspiration is not the same process as consciousness. Observation is not the same process as consciousness. The experiences of Mozart, Einstein, and Telsa are but three notable examples of a phenomenon common to almost everyone.
Inspirations - creative insights - are observations, often coming all at once the way we observe a mountain or a cloud in one glance. Inspiration is a good word for this, meaning the creative insights are breathed in - as one takes a single breath - from some deeper level of perception. And that is exactly what they are; perceptions.
Perceptions are not the same as consciousness. Furthermore, the perceptions would not have happened if the minds doing the perceiving did not already have the basic conscious equipment to handle the vision. Four hundred years ago, the most brilliant visionary would not have been able to have Telsa's inspiration of how to create alternating current. Mankind had not yet discovered electricity.
And if the inspired minds did not have the ability to transform the information into meaningful communications, their perceptions - their discoveries - would not have become major scientific or philosophical breakthroughs because nobody would have ever known about them.
The problem is that Julian Jaynes and Roger Penrose differ in what they think consciousness is. In this exploration I use the term consciousness according to the original Latin derivation (com = with and scire = to know. Conscious literally meansknow together.
Consciousness, in this original definition, is the process we use to communicate our perceptions so they may be shared with others (or even with ourselves now or in the future).
Conscious models are tools enabling those who can understand them, to share a common awareness. In the cyclic process of drawing together, weaving, expanding outward in a direction, and observing the result, consciousness is the interval between the outward expansion and the observation of the results. It occupies the outward phase, not the inward phase. To use the example of the archer, from Tibet,
Pulling back the arrow in the bow is perception.
Aiming the arrow is matching the perception with memory.
Releasing the arrow is consciousness (a response - the word, like the arrow, escapes you).
Observing where the arrow strikes is awareness (because it is a surprise whether it misses or hits the target).
Consciousness creates social organization, or culture, and maintains its existence and growth by allowing the members of that organization to perceive more and more about themselves and their common surroundings.
We know together via communications. Communicate derives from the Latin communicans meaning to make common (by sharing or imparting information).
The essential aspect of consciousness is a process of shifting information from one level of communication to another, higher level.
As a simple example, lets do a little experiment.
At this moment, the Moira is anchored in the lagoon of Minerva Reef located almost on the dateline (180º Longitude) some 360 miles south of Fiji.
The atoll is almost perfectly circular, about 5 kilometers in diameter, and from the deck, I can see it all around me. The water in the lagoon is clear, giving the lagoon a brilliant turquoise glow. It is also calm, although outside the circle of the reef, huge waves are thundering on the reef from all directions.
The sound forms a deep rumbling beneath the tranquility of utter wildness. There is no other human being within hundreds of miles.
It is dusk and the sun casts a soft red glow on the western clouds.
I draw in a deep breath and smell the faint iodine/chorine smell of the coral reef at low tide.
The majesty of our ocean planet is reflected in the thousands of shades of blues, reds, and whites glittering on the small wind waves.
I look down into the luminous blue lagoon and see a large shark swimming bonelessly over the white sand below me.
The process of communication involved my perceiving the world around me. The perception was created by the communication web of billions of sensory, nerve, and muscle cells within my body.
The myriad methods cells use to communicate and derive a visual model in my brain is one level of communication.
I could be aware of the scene without being conscious of it. In fact, I might be on deck thinking about something entirely different without being conscious of the awesome colors of the South Pacific sunset in this isolated dot of calm in the energetic sea.
Watching the shark, for example, distracted the focus of my consciousness. In that moment, my sensory system and cellular communication network (peripheral vision, sense of smell, hearing, neuronal activity) were aware (processing information) of the rest of the scene around me but I was only conscious of the shark.
The reason I was conscious of the shark is because my memory has associated concepts, mental models, relative to the predatory nature of sharks, the fact that their skeleton is all cartilage, and the names of species matching the visual pattern I was watching. The shift from the visual model built by the communications of my sensory cells to the higher language models of names, tissues, and expected behavior patterns is another level in the process of consciousness.
But this particular example of consciousness does not end there, because I wrote down the experience. The transformation of my cellular flow of communications into an internal remapping of the information onto a scientific patterning of words and associations was one shift of information.
Writing down the information was a second shift, moving the consciousness outside of myself - first into my logbook and later into my computer. When you read the words describing my experience on the mid-ocean atoll, I "made common" the experience of my senses. And you shared my perception - became conscious of my observations - through language.
The three levels are all expressions of consciousness - knowing together.
The cells communicate to create the mental perception of the world.
This perceptive web of communication is filtered, specialized, refined by the process of comparing the perceptions to my own memory systems - a process using words and even art or music depending on my particular abilities.
Next I translate these mental understandings into patterns of finger movement to write the idea in words (or images) I can share with other humans.
This seems a rather involved way of describing the process of consciousness, but it is important to be aware of the transformations involved.The transformations are not ethereal, irrelevant events. The transformation process is a fundamental aspect of life.
Language is clearly the most common form of achieving this transformation, even within our own heads. Humans use language to define, and thus think about, things we see and experience. We may have an observation without, or beyond, our knowledge of words but I submit that such observations are not to be included in the category of knowing together.
Language unquestionably plays a major role in everyday consciousness, but, there are other forms of communications that constitute knowing together. On the human level there is music, mathematical symbols, visual art, body language, dance, a wide range of smells, touches, and sounds that make thoughts common.
Knowing together includes communications with other creatures as well. We know together with dogs and cats and chickens and most other domestic animals. We even communicate with plants and include them in our knowing together (a process called Agriculture). We sometimes use other creatures, such as flowers or foods, as signals to develop special levels of consciousness between ourselves.
Consciousness includes all aspects of our culture - including verbal language.
There are also different states of consciousness that involve more than our immediate physical environment. I want to go into this further, to consider how and why we manage to know together, and the levels of consciousness we enjoy. But first we should establish some parallel definitions dealing with other aspects and levels of mind besides consciousness.
Let us, therefore, agree to limit consciousness to one aspect of mind and set out some definitions of other words related to mind;
Consciousness is the process of transforming communications from one level of awareness to another, thus building cohesive group behavior by the process of communications.
Awareness is, I think, a good generic term for the fabric of mind. It stems from the Anglo-Saxon word waer, meaning cautious; as in beware or wary - to be aware, on one's guard, ready, wary, prudent, wise, alert, awake. The emphasis here is on watchful expectation.
Awareness exists, in this view, as what I call the "Error of Expectations." and Gregory Bateson calls "News of a difference".
The Observer (of whom we will hear more later) expects conditions to continue as they are. But in a dynamic world where everything is always in motion, nothing continues for long. Romantic sunsets in the South Pacific are transformed by the unexpected silent shadow of a shark in the tranquil lagoon.
Light sensing cells in the eye send a message when the light level changes. When conditions do change, awareness awakens, compares the changed conditions with the memory of past conditions and reacts to adjust itself for continued survival.
Awareness, the error of expectations, is the elementary structure of being. It is the fiber of the Thread of Awareness in Chaos. All living beings are ready (or not) to detect the error of expectations and react to their environment.
Mind, from the Indo European base men - to think - is what awareness does. Mind is a process of communications involving the non-linear flow of information created by awareness. Mind is perception, memory, and response. Although men is also the base of the word man - the one who thinks - mind is not limited to humans. All living beings demonstrate the ability to perceive, remember, and respond.
Perception from the Latin per = through and capere = to take, means to take through. A set of conditions is perceived when it is taken from the external environment and coded into the communications network that is the mind.
If a person is blind, they can not perceive color. If a person has no knowledge of a light switch they might see one but would have no ability to turn the lights on and off with it. Hence, they might discern its presence on a wall, but would not perceive its meaning until it was either demonstrated to them or told to them. What we perceive is limited to our sensory abilities and is directly influenced by patterns we already have in memory.
Memory is information already stored as models or templates in the system. It can be in many forms and in many locations within the communication network. The mental process tests incoming patterns of perceptions with pre-existing templates, sets up feed-back loops to retest some data, rejects other information, and shifts the information to higher levels of pattern analysis depending on the outcome of the tests.
Response is the action taken to adjust to the external changing conditions. The range of possible responses depends, of course, on the complexity of the mind and its associated physical abilities.
Human consciousness is the metrical process we use to build models (paradigms) of our perceptions. Words are a good example of the conscious process. We share definitions of words, words are models. We use them to communicate our perceptions to one another. These models are real; just as a ship's model, or a map, is real. The model - be it a simple word, a mathematical theory, a philosophical understanding, or a scientific concept - alters reality by making possible the common use of new patterns and relationships.
Once perceived and modeled (mapped, transformed into communications), the model can be manipulated by the action of those who share the understanding of the model. They can build on the relationship or destroy it as their actions reinforce or detract from the shared experience. Consciousness is like an enzyme, a catalyst, it tags existing natural behavioral relationships and makes them visible, understandable, and thus removes them from the realm of mystery or magic.
Penrose believes the Mandelbrot set, revealed as an endlessly detailed pattern from what was once thought a chaotic relationship, "The Mendelbrot set is not an invention of the human mind: it was a discovery. Like Mount Everest, the Mandelbrot set is just there!"
Rene Descartes, in the seventeenth century and Carl Pepper, John Eckles and Roger Penrose propose another world, a Platonic world of ideals, where relationships lie waiting for properly attuned and prepared minds.
I don't agree. The world of ideals is a world of ideas, constructed by our communication web and maintained by our awareness when it is activated by those communications. A triangle is not just there. It is a geometrical construct, invented by human minds to provide a template for future comparisons and measurements. A circle does not "have" 360 degrees. The people who constructed our system of geometry devised a circle and divided it into 360 equal units as a system of measurement. Circles can be as easily divided into 100 degrees, or 400 degrees, and are, for some purposes.
The world of ideals is created by human communications - and is as real as human beings, who are created by molecular, bacterial, cellular, and ecosystem communication webs.
Man created fractals - they are a linguistic tool, a catalyst, that enables us to shape non-linear relationships and predict future behavior, thus reducing the error of expectations. Just as a linear graph of any function is a metrical tool used to help us display and understand naturally existing relationships. The Mendelbrot set is not there at all without a computer to construct it.
The Platonic world is also a creation, a museum, a memory, a treasure, constructed within the language mind of man - in literature, words, symbols, and constructions. The ideal world was not "just there" like a mountain waiting to be discovered, it was created, learned, devised, by human communication webs and is now "there" in all its magnificent diversity waiting for students to explore it.
The ideal world is the accumulated models of mankind's insights into the patterns of behavior that exist in the natural world; a world created by the process of mind; a living world where, for 4 billion years, the myriad forms of life have struggled to make sense out of their perceptions.
Slowly, their struggle has built tier upon tier of interlocked behavioral relationships - nested models of communications. And new life forms appeared upon the mental models created by their predecessors. Thus, evolution is the learning process of consciousness.
In living systems, the model becomes the reality. The model is a concept (the word con-cept means to take together), a communication pattern forming the physical manifestation of each living entity. Plato's world is a concept of concepts. Triangles are a concept. Rulers, clocks, dimensions, are concepts; communication tools that become the platforms we stand on to build new concepts.
Mind uses these tools - if it has them and knows how to use them - to develop new perceptions. Thus concepts are entities a means of perception, memory and the ability to modify the environment.
All the multiple tiers of concepts exist as intercommunications enabling the observer to perceive, remember and respond with greater and greater clarity.
The Thread of Awareness in Chaos is the concept describing the process of becoming, a process where consciousness is the means by which awareness forms itself from the cosmic threads.