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Why did humans/animals evolve to become self-aware of their own thoughts. That is, why don't humans act and compute like a machine, or walking zombie. In my mind, such creatures would still be as smart and equally capable of surviving, the only difference being they don't experience the phenomenon of self-awareness. (To understand my question think: unconsciously sleep walking)

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    $\begingroup$ What kind of answer are you looking for? If the answer "It is evolutionary advantageous" or "You might not be able to have one without the other" will not work for you, can you give an idea of what you expect? $\endgroup$ – MCM Jan 16 '13 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ "such creatures would still be as smart" - if you aren't conscious can you be aware of others' motivations in the same way? Isn't the ability to develop a theory of mind a big part of "being smart"? $\endgroup$ – Alan Boyd Jan 16 '13 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ How can you demonstrate that humans are self-aware? How can you demonstrate that computers or worms are not? These are hard philosophical questions not really suited for this site. $\endgroup$ – terdon Jan 16 '13 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @MCM, The answer I personally think is that evolution cannot explain why we have awareness. I posted the question in-case people who know more about evolution could give an explanation. $\endgroup$ – Kenshin Jan 16 '13 at 23:39
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    $\begingroup$ The thing is that "feeling" something does not demonstrate it as true. Also, it is virtually impossible to demonstrate that animals are or are not self aware. $\endgroup$ – terdon Jan 17 '13 at 18:48
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There have been many proposals over the years as to why human consciousness has emerged and how, or even what it is.

Most of us will not be surprised to know that there is no consensus about an answer here. Its hard to draw a trend from a single example.

Here is a little survey of the one's I've heard.

  1. We are intelligent because we have opposable thumbs and can use tools, which evolved our brains. This is an old one - maybe as old as Darwin's time. I think its mostly ignored now because so many animals - including pandas and other non primates have opposable thumbs or use tools or both. (monkeys and chimps use tools, and recently crows have also been observed to use tools.)

  2. brain size. We do have a large brain to body size ratio. There are other animals with similar ratios and they don't have internets.

  3. We are 'self-aware'. That is to say we recognize ourselves as an individual. It was proven that other primates can recognize themselves in mirrors (putting a red dot on their forehead. when they see their reflection, they touch their own forehead). So that's not exclusive either. its not a bad idea, but so far it doesn't seem to make the

  4. 'We ate something' I once read a discussion of how humans might have ingested psychotropic plants or fungi. As you can see, this was 2010. Its not the worst idea, but its hard to prove. Lots of experiments on cats since the '60s have not produced cat's who care to tell us if they are intelligent. Maybe they are just too smart in the first place.

These theories, from when I was a student are so discounted now, you can't find too much record of anymore since they were pre-internet and also they seem so unlikely now.

More modern theories have locked onto social configurations of human societies which drive intelligent adaptations. This is stemming from observations that human evolution (the rate at which genetic variants are retained in the gene pool) are accelerating since humans have become social.

These new theories while standing on some amazing evidence are still feeling around in the dark - stuff about how social interactions have created a preference for intelligence-like traits. There is probably something to that - once intelligence gets a toehold it is a clear advantage. But how did it show up only once and why us? I think that's the hard part that science has, for the moment, given a rest.

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    $\begingroup$ Given how we clearly would have no hardship eradicating everything else on earth (though funnily moral objections against doing so), it could be that intelligence/conscience/... is an "absolute advantage" trait similar to, for example, using enzymes rather than ribozymes or DNA in conjunction with RNA - except that we're not yet at the stage where all alternatives are eradicated. $\endgroup$ – Armatus Jan 21 '13 at 0:56
  • $\begingroup$ heh - we're so superior we might end up doing the job on ourselves too! I agree though - nothing seems to be able to stop or trump intelligence... $\endgroup$ – shigeta Jan 21 '13 at 3:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Armatus - Are you sure we could easily eradicate everything else (well, all other life) on earth? Viruses might be a tough game, especially those that live in humans. And extremely small things that replicate often and mutate successfully relatively often may adapt pretty quickly to our efforts to eradicate them (not that it would be easy in the first place). $\endgroup$ – 5th Jan 22 '13 at 3:13
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    $\begingroup$ If only the Obama administration had really listened to the Death Star Petition we'd have a running start at it. Seriously there is an idea that bacteria might have come to earth by hitching a ride on a martian meteorite, so some clearly believe its possible microorgs can survive planetary devastation. (search term: "Panspermia") $\endgroup$ – shigeta Jan 22 '13 at 4:04
  • $\begingroup$ A Death Star might be the way to go if we wanted to include ourselves in the noble quest of extermination, but imagine the horror if some tough bacterium would get a foothold on the death star itself! : ) (As for all alternatives that don't include us humans -- it will be tough to get all the bacteria in intestines, mouth, stomach etc out of there) $\endgroup$ – 5th Jan 22 '13 at 12:19
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This is really a philosophy question because for now, we have no clue how consciousness works. But other answers have correctly noted that we know it's closely related to our ability to learn, reason and remember.

There are some attempts to explain it though - you could now the famous TED talk about the illusion of consciousness by the philosopher Daniel Dennet. By evolutionary means, we can mainly study the concept of self.

One of the simple philosophies trying to explain consciousness is panpsychism. Panpsychism is virtually a part of hinduism and buddhism and says that everything has some degree of consciousness and our mind is one of the emergences of unity of many little conscious things.

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I don't think you can ever ask or answer for that matter WHY questions in biology. The only answer there is: because it works. Asking why questions implies that there was a reason, and reason cannot exist alone by itself. Reason is held by someone or something. And reason is something that doesn't exist, it is something we created and use for our own purposes and we cannot attribute it to anything else having one. Now, if you asked "how?", that's an answer biology was created for.

There could have been many outcomes to everything in biology but this is the one that appeared and works. This doesn't mean that it is some sort of theoretical or practically optimum, but the law of this universe is survive long enough to improve if needed.

I know that this is an opinion, but it's as close to the answer that you can get. If someone gives an answer to the WHY question, you could never prove it, or you could find evidence for all the possible reasons. And we can't also tap into the reasons of the universe because our intellect and modes of expression are way lower than the universe has.

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    $\begingroup$ Asking why doesn't have to imply reason, it can imply a cause. $\endgroup$ – Probably Feb 20 '17 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ yes, "why" is different from "what for" $\endgroup$ – Filipe Rocha Mar 31 '17 at 17:36
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Why did humans/animals evolve to become self-aware of their own thoughts.

Answer is pretty simple. Most mammals are self aware... it is just a matter of degree. It is a lot more advance in humans, but it is there in animals. like pride of Lioness hunting... setting up an ambush together... which means a lion can predict what zebra will do in a situation. And what other lioness will do.

And why have it? The answer is simple... being aware of you own thought, is basically being able to prediction the thoughts of others. And this is pretty useful.

We have the example of lioness pride ambush hunting. It requires a degree of self awareness in order to communicate and in heat of the chase predict what the other members of your pride will do and what will the prey animal will do.

Being alpha (wolf, lion, chimp, elephant, hyena, meerkats) is great. There are many biological benefit (first to eat, drink and have babies). However for a there to be an alpha, there must first be a group to be alpha over. And when there is a group, there is a beta, and while beta might not be able to beat you individually, beta might team up with delta..to remove you.

So as you can see, living in groups quickly leads to complications. And if you can understand others, you can use others to benefit yourself. Much selection pressure there for to evolve consciousness.

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    $\begingroup$ "being aware of you own thought, is basically being able to prediction the thoughts of others" I don't think these two things are necessarily related. As an extreme counterexample: Many algorithms can predict behaviour (e.g. youtube and amazon suggest videos/items you might be interested in). That doesn't mean they are self-aware. I know I reasoned in the opposite direction as you did (you: self-awareness causes prediction; me: prediction can exist without self-awareness), but I still think yours was not a valid logical conclusion. Or at the very least not an obvious one. $\endgroup$ – a tiger Feb 20 '17 at 11:43
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Probably density of cortical columns. I tested this on a mouse recently, it was aware I was trying to help it and actually walked calmly into the jar. Released it but did wonder if it will make an appearance again one day.

Perhaps in this case, neural nets are not complicated enough unless the connectivity threshold is in a critical range. This is apparently why we are one of only three intelligent species on this planet, sharing this with dolphins and African Grey parrots. Four if you count octopi.

I speculated a while back based on my knowledge that connectivity modulators like psilocin, xenon and other compounds could be used to trace the actual neural connections responsible. This has been linked to Orch-OR and other QC like phenomena, also allowing for strong AI to be developed by synchronizing classical processors with a quantum link using entangled photons.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Bio. Thank you for your contribution. However, we appreciate well-sourced answers and by the looks of it they are more a collection of thoughts and opinions, rather than plausible answers. Perhaps even more importantly, you are targeting a how question and the OP is asking why. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 31 '17 at 7:36
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I think we will never know. We just know that natural selection selected for us to have a brain that following the laws of physics will make us more fit to reproduce. We have no idea how the brain creates a consciousness if it does. We don't need a theory of consciousness to explain why people report that they're conscious. One might argue that then we would not be aware that we were reporting that we were conscious, therefore we do know that we're conscious, and just have no way to show it. According to my question, https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/55391/does-anyone-really-know-that-theyre-conscious, I'm not sure one can even know for sure about oneself that they're conscious.

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Animals are not self aware, sentience is the quality of placing yourself in time and space, and the capability of introspection. We humans know we exist, we know we live in a universe, we ponder what's the meaning of life, where we came from and how we came to exist, where we go after we die, animals don't, they act by instinct and have different levels of intelligence, their behavior is written in their DNA code, but they aren't self-aware, this is the basic trait that separates us from animals.

Concerning how we became self-aware, that will depend on your beliefs (another trait of our advanced intelligence), but those who believe in evolution pretty much agree that we developed sentience because our brains developed much further than that of any other species, our advanced cortex and cognitive system gave us this ability. Different religions also have different accounts to our origin and history, in the proto-Indo-European cosmology for example, we are descendant of aliens, called pleiadians or nordic aliens, they came to earth through a portal in the sun, and brought their seed to our planet and gave origin to us, all our knowledge and manifestation of our humanity, like science, art... come from them.

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