Submitted for The General Theory of Evolution on January 31 - February 3 at the University of Dusseldorf.
Evolutionary Pressures Toward Abstract Representation
Abundant evidence shows the importance of embodied cognition. We reinterpet this same evidence to consider a "disembodying mind". For example, Lakoff and his colleagues have noted that in cognitive metaphors such as "love is journey" and "caring is warmth", that these metaphors leverage the concepts which the body monitors more frequently, namely paths and temperature. And yet the purpose of these metaphors is to allow an individual to consider more abstract concerns, namely love and caring.
Biological evolution has demonstrated a remarkable development of central nervous systems that tend towards ever more abstract representations of the world. A paramecium may be said to engage the world directly through receptors for light, chemicals and so on. But more advanced creatures live in a world of signs. Indeed, we can observe a distinction among signs which the semiotician Peirce made in terms of icons, indexes and symbols. A butterfly may be thought to live in a world of flowers, that is, of icons and images, representations of what it senses, sees, smells and feels. It manages its mental resources by choosing to pay attention to particular icons. As Graziano has pointed out, a mouse's brain includes a model of attention, and so a mouse can add this information to the icon, and thus be aware. Indeed, a mouse can consider if a cat is aware of it or not. Thus a mouse lives most abstractly in a world of indexes, a web of causal relations, who is attending to what.
We describe an even more abstract world of consciousness which humans inhabit, but quite likely other great apes as well. Not only are humans aware, but they are able to control their awareness, that is, to turn it on or off. Human can choose to "step in" and immerse themselves in a subjective experience, or to "step out" and consider objectively what is going on, what others are experiencing. We describe cognitive frameworks that occupy the human mind. For example, matters of existence require two points of view: We need to be able to raise a question, does a chair exist or not? but also suppose an answer: If it exists, then it exists; if not, then not. Similarly, questions of participation require three points of view: a cycle of taking a stand, following through, and reflecting. Issues of knowledge require four points of view: whether, what, how and why. We document eight such cognitive frameworks as "divisions of everything" and show how the eighth division collapses into a "zeroth" division, yielding a closed cycle of frameworks. We then model human reflection, awareness and consciousness as adding one, two or three perspectives to each frameworks, thus shifting our minds from issue to issue. Thus the human condition may center on consciously experiencing a tiny, abstract model of the world, in which we adjust parameters for our attitudes that have consequences for our unconscious actions upon indexes, icons and the world itself.