Emergent Evolution

In this view, consciousness was rescued from the undignified position of a helpless spectator by reconciling the metaphysical imposition view with collective emergent properties. One metaphor used was: as the property of wetness cannot be derived from the properties of hydrogen and oxygen atoms alone, so consciousness emerged at some point in evolution in a way underivable from its constituent parts. John Stewart Mill and others suggested that as properties of matter emerged from an unspecified forerunner, properties of complex compounds emerged from conjunction of simpler compounds, and properties distinctive of living things emerged from the conjunction of these complex compounds, and finally consciousness emerged from these living things (Jaynes, 1976). Thus a scaffolding of new conjunctions were thought to result in previously unseen relationships bringing new emergent phenomena. Coalescing as something genuinely new at a critical stage of evolution, consciousness assumed guidance over the course of events in the brain, and causal efficacy in bodily behavior. In some ways this view is like the "Indian rope trick" in which the Fakir tosses a rope into the air where it mysteriously stays, he then climbs up the rope, pulls it behind him and disappears. Evolutionary processes may have provided for the development and existence of consciousness which then assumed control and guidance of biological systems. The conditions leading to the appearance of consciousness may be viewed as a nonlinear emergence from evolutionary events.

The emergent evolution theory liberated biologists and neuroscientists from their burden of needing to base all of their results on known physical properties. The mind could thus be dealt with in a subjective sense, allowing psychiatry and Freudian theory to become acceptable without a concrete basis for concepts such as ego, id, and superego. Significant questions which then arose included: When did consciousness emerge? Where? In what species? And what was it? The brain/mind duality still existed and in fact the mind was dealt with only in broad and nebulous generalities.

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