How consciousness works – Michael Graziano – Aeon

How the light gets out

How consciousness works – Michael Graziano – Aeon.


One thought on “How consciousness works – Michael Graziano – Aeon

  1. In my opinion the understanding of our special human consciousness cannot be expected from brain research but from communication research. Humans have a linguistic consciousness. Due to have become linguistic beings.
    6 mya our early ancestors were ape-men (apes, adapted to a savanna environment, looking as bonobos but walking on their legs because in this dangerous new environment they needed their hands for carrying stones and food and children). But otherwise they were normal animals, with a normal ape awareness and self-consciousness.
    Perhaps around 4 mya in one of their groups the habit of imitating of something that some girl (all new thing among monkeys and apes start as a girl’s initiative) had in her mind. As an incidental girl’s play. Because it was not only funny but also convenient, the girl’s play became a habit, a special group culture. Girls who moved to another group for their partner, took the habit along and so the culture spread among the whole tribe. Our ancestors!
    These imitations of things were names, were symbols, were words! The girls imitated thing that were not ‘responses’ on ‘stimuli’ out of the environment, no, they imitated things that they had in their mind: things that they expected somewhere on the foraging route, or some animal they saw yesterday, or a dangerous animal that perhaps could be lurking on a far place.
    A total new phenomenon in the history of life: an individual that could communicate something that was not perceivable in the near environment: a thing on a far place or in another season.
    Names for things, that is what these bonobo-ancestors (BOANs) made special creatures on the Pleistocene African savanna. Because disposing of names for the things does somtething with an animal:
    1. It creates a feeling of distance between the namer and the named thing, between ‘subject’ and ‘object’. Comparable with their ability to throw stones for defense against big cats and hyenas: defense from a distance. There came ‘light’ between them and their environment. Emotionally they felt a bit separated from the environment, where normal animals remained unresisting parts of it. The BOANs could objectivate things.

    2. A name (symbol, word) can be seen as a mental handgrip on the thing, with which one can ‘grasp’ it and hand over it to the other, who can ‘get’ it, capito? We not only communicate with names for the things but we think with them: we communicate with our selves with names for the things. That is what I mean with linguisticness.
    3. Getting ‘grip’ on the sabre toothed tiger with the name of it, confers a feeling of power over the feared monster. Naming somebody means a violation of a person’s integrity. In many tribal communities its taboo to name an adult with his name: one has to circumscribe him or her, out of respect. Jews may not name their god with his name. Te BOANs lost their respect for the sabre toothed tiger.
    4. Disposing of names for the things the BOANs could knowledge gained by one generation, transfer to the following generation. Knowledge could accumulate.
    5. Two know more than one, and a whole group can solve big problems. With names for the things the BOANs could brainstorm.
    6. Disposing of names for the things enabled the BOANs to plot. Armed with their stones and their sophisticated communication the BOANs became the terror of the animal world, the hooligans of the savanna.
    Loosing respect for feared things such as fire, at some point the BOANs went over to use the fire, as the only species in nature ever. Because they had a name for it. The control of fire marked the second major step of the BOANs towards humanity.
    But now my reply becomes too long. My point here is that names for the things made the BOANs linguistic animals. Ever more names for ever more things: in the end the BOANs arrived in a named world, a world of named things. Essentially this is a virtual world. A ‘words world’. In fact we all live in a ‘words world’, we are linguistic creatures. Our consciousness is linguistic.

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