Feb 16, 2023
“Consciousness is an agent of identity, a consequence of identity, and an expression of identity…”
The idea of free-floating consciousness is absurd. Consciousness is not some sort of disembodied pseudo-substance, detectable (in theory and in practice) only through its various, otherwise inexplicable, manifestations. It is not a ghost in a machine (Gilbert Ryle).
Consciousness is not inferred from data; it is the direct experience of data that includes the awareness of that data as data and the awareness of awareness itself. Consciousness is recursive; it is the ultimate stage in the integration and unification of elements in the constitution of an actual entity.
Consciousness is an agent of identity, a consequence of identity, and an expression of identity – all in no particular order. Bumper sticker: Consciousness happens!
It is a paradigm of non-linear, recursive, self-reinforcing process. Therefore, every actual entity, to the extent that it is, in fact, an actual entity, is conscious. However, the intensity and the subjective form of that consciousness varies widely from one actual entity to another.
The idea of hard-wired consciousness is also absurd. Consciousness cannot be reduced to some sort of physical structure, e.g., a network of molecules or cells, but that is not to say that some sort of physical structure is not required for consciousness to manifest – it is!
So, if consciousness is neither free-floating nor hard-wired, what is it? Consciousness is an emergent property of a nexus of elements; it is characteristic of certain patterns. It is a homeostatic behavior that accompanies the process of transition from mere multiplicity to actual entity. Consciousness unifies and identifies.
Ontogenesis is an atemporal process. It is entirely unrelated to what we call causality (which is by definition a spatio-temporal phenomenon). Every nexus includes the entire multiplicity of events that it subtends. The nexus-stage of ontogenesis ‘orders’ the multiplicity so that it can function as patterned raw material for the emergence of a novel actual entity (event).
In one sense, a nexus logically precedes the formation of an actual entity. In another sense, it is the consequence of that formation. Therefore, it cannot but be acausal and atemporal. In fact, it is the actual entity that determines the identity of the nexus, not the other way around.
T-shirt: One nexus, one entity: one entity, one nexus! That’s ontological democracy for you. Think Three Musketeers: one for all and all for one! (Theistic translation: God for us and us for God!) That’s Being.
But again, it’s the actual entity that drives the process, i.e., that gives the nexus its character. It is as a nexus that the activities of the independent elements of the omnipotent multiplicity (think Aristotle’s ‘matter’, i.e., pure potentiality) begin to align (think metal filings as they encounter a magnetic field) in the initial stage of the formation of an entity.
It is consciousness, the homeostatic behavior of certain nexus (pl.), that is responsible for the phenomenon of identity. Identity in turn functions as its own engine of homeostasis. Once again, like every element in ontogenesis, this is a non-linear, recursive, auto-reinforcing process.
Like terrestrial species defined by their DNA, all nexus (pl.) share elements in common. In fact, the elements of ‘neighboring nexus’ (pl.) are likely to overlap…massively. But that doesn’t mean that the entities that ultimately emerge from those nexus (pl.) will be phenomenally similar; far from it! I share 70% of my DNA with a fruit fly; it is my brother from another mother. 'Nuf said?
Only an actual entity ‘creates’. (Sidebar: Therefore, in a theistic ontology, God too must be an actual entity.) Only an actual entity can contribute both unity and novelty to the world. In fact, to borrow a construction from Keats, unity is novelty and novelty unity – that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know! Bottom line: each nexus constitutes a unique ‘actual world’ for the emergence of a unique actual entity (or event).
The process that happens between an Actual World and an Actual Entity is quite complex – too complex for this venue. (Check out Process and Reality – Alfred North Whitehead.) It involves values, objectives, feelings, choices, contrasts, etc. The culmination of that process is the emergence of a unique entity (event), adding yet another element to the vast multiplicity of events that are available to be ordered in a nexus so that it can function as an element in the emergence of other actual entities. Self-awareness (aka consciousness, aka identity) is a defining element of ‘actual entity’ per se.