Proposal for an evolutionary approach to self-consciousness (Feb 8th 2014)

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Abstract
It is pretty obvious to most of us that self-consciousness is a product of evolution. But its nature is unknown. We propose here a scenario addressing a possible evolutionary nature of self-consciousness covering the segment linking pre-human primates to humans. The scenario is based on evolutions of representations and of inter-subjectivity that could have taken place within the minds of our pre-human ancestors . We begin by situating self-consciousness relatively to other aspects of human consciousness. With the help of anthropology, we date a possible starting point of our scenario at a time when our non self-conscious pre-human ancestors were able to build meaningful representations and were capable of inter-subjectivity, like are our today modern apes. As the proposed scenario is based on an evolution of representations, we recall an existing model for meaningful representations based on the generation of meaningful information by systems submitted to internal constraints. This model allows us to define representations of conspecifics and auto-representations that we assume as having been present in the minds of our pre-human ancestors. The next step of the scenario is to consider an evolution of inter-subjectivity towards identification with conspecifics that could have led to a merger of the auto-representation with the representations of conspecifics in the minds of our ancestors. Such a merger brought the auto-representation to become about an entity existing in the environment, as were the representations of conspecifics. We consider that such identification with conspecifics has introduced in the mind of our ancestors an elementary and embryonic sense of being an existing entity that we name ‘ancestral self-consciousness’. The same process has also imposed to our ancestors an identification with suffering or endangered conspecifics which has produced an important anxiety increase that could have blocked the evolutionary process. We propose that the performances developed by our ancestors to manage that anxiety increase have also generated significant evolutionary advantages that have helped the development of ancestral self-consciousness and favored its evolution toward our full-fledged self-consciousness. It is also proposed that some pre-human primates have avoided the anxiety increase by finding a niche where evolutionary advantages were not necessary. This may have led to our today apes. The contribution of anxiety to the proposed scenario brings to position anxiety management as having guided the evolution of self-consciousness and as still being a key player in our today human minds. Regarding philosophy of mind, possible links between phenomenal consciousness and the proposed nature of self-consciousness are introduced. The conclusion presents a summary of the points addressed here. Possible continuations are highlighted as related to human mind, to anxiety management and to artificial intelligence.
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First archival date: 2014-02-03
Latest version: 2 (2014-02-09)
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2014-02-03

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