Friday, December 08, 2006


The Future Evolution of Consciousness

Cogprints - The Future Evolution of Consciousness by John Stewart of the "Evolution, Complextity, and Cognition Group"* (ECCO) at the Free University of Brussels:


What potential exists for improvements in the functioning of consciousness? The paper addresses this issue using global workspace theory. According to this model, the prime function of consciousness is to develop novel adaptive responses. Consciousness does this by putting together new combinations of knowledge, skills and other disparate resources that are recruited from throughout the brain. The paper's search for potential improvements in the functioning of consciousness draws on studies of the shift during human development from the use of implicit knowledge to the use of explicit (declarative) knowledge. These studies show that the ability of consciousness to adapt a particular domain improves significantly as the transition to the use of declarative knowledge occurs in that domain. However, this potential for consciousness to enhance adaptability has not yet been realised to any extent in relation to consciousness itself. The paper assesses the potential for adaptability to be improved by the conscious adaptation of key processes that constitute consciousness. A number of sources (including the practices of religious and contemplative traditions) are drawn on to investigate how this potential might be realised.

Continued at "The Future Evolution of Consciousness" (pdf file)

'About ECCO':

"ECCO, the Evolution, Complexity and COgnition group, is a transdisciplinary research group, situated at the Free University of Brussels (VUB), and directed by Francis Heylighen. While founded under the present name only in 2004, our unofficial history goes back many years. Our members come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from physical science and technology to the social sciences and humanities.

Our research focuses on the evolution of organization:

* how does a collection of initially autonomous, but interacting, agents self-organize?
* how does it evolve to an increasingly cooperative, adaptive and intelligent system, able to tackle problems too complex for individual agents?

Examples include the emergence of life from molecules, of multicellular organisms from cells, of the mind from neurons, and of languages, culture, markets and institutions from individuals."

ECCO also publishes The Journal of Memetics-Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission (JoM-EMIT) which is an international, peer-refereed, (open access) scientific journal:

"In the words of of its inventor, Richard Dawkins, the word "meme" refers to "a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation". More precisely, a meme can be defined as an information pattern, held in an individual's memory or in an outside artefact (e.g. book, record or tool), which is likely to be communicated or copied to another individual's memory. Examples of memes are ideas, technologies, theories, songs, fashions, and traditions. This covers all forms of beliefs, values and behaviors that are normally taken over from others rather than discovered independently.

Memetics is the theoretical and empirical science that studies the replication, spread and evolution of memes. It core idea is that memes differ in their degree of "fitness", i.e. adaptation to the socio-cultural environment in which they propagate. Because of natural selection, fitter memes will be more successful in being communicated, "infecting" a larger number of individuals and/or surviving for a longer time within the population. Memetics tries to understand what characterizes fit memes, and how they affect individuals, organizations, cultures and society at large."

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