Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Factors for Identifying Non-Anthropic Conscious Systems

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Factors for Identifying Non-Anthropic Conscious Systems

Article excerpt


The concept of identifying consciousness is a complicated issue to address in an interdisciplinary manner, in large part because various disciplines have entirely different definitions and terms. Philosophy of mind, neurobiology, psychology, and quantum physics all use the same term in distinct, even exclusionary ways, which minimizes the potential for meaningful interdisciplinary work. There are significant ramifications to this issue, as research into consciousness influences what systems are considered inert, alive, and/or sentient. Both of the popular solutions to these conflicting definitions present their own problems.

The first and most common solution is to proceed as if there were no other concepts of consciousness beyond one's own discipline. Quantum physicists explore implications of wave function collapse without mentioning the biological requisites of the observer, while neuroscientists examine how the human mind processes its environment without extrapolating this analysis to nonhuman entities. These oversights represent the abrogation of the scientific duty to coordinate knowledge across disciplines. Specialization in the pursuit of highly technical research is necessary in science, but those specialized findings must be able to be reintroduced in a comprehensible format to the general academic community. Exclusive terminology prevents this collaboration and thereby makes the research of interdisciplinary or systems-based hypotheses more difficult.

The other solution involves generalizing terminology until it is ambiguous enough that it can apply to multiple disciplines. The problems with this approach are more nuanced: the underlying conflicts are ignored rather than resolved, and the ambiguity allows anthropocentric biases to subconsciously influence research. The latter issue is more insidious, as it may mask the need for new paradigms of inquiry. Examples of anthropocentric biases in consciousness theory include Turing's Imitation Game and reliance on biological processes to determine conscious behavior. In both cases it is often erroneously assumed that anthropic manifestations of conscious behavior are defining rather than expressive.

This paper will discuss a potential set of defining factors of conscious systems that are both clearly delineated and multi-disciplinary. This approach is intended to minimize anthropocentricity and supplement rather than replace existing conceptions of consciousness. It is important to note that the intent of this paper is not to announce new discoveries in consciousness, but to propose a new paradigm with which to search for said discoveries. The proposed factors will be defined below, with each section structured to explore the necessity, terminology, and benefits of the new factor. A final summary will examine the broader implications of this approach to systems that display conscious characteristics.


For the purposes of this paradigm non-anthropic consciousness (also referred to as conscious systems) is defined as a complex adaptive system with a minimum energy rate density. Further definitions regarding internal processes, quantum implications, intelligence, and sentience are retained by specialists in those fields. While all known conscious systems are biological organisms, this paradigm does not require that prerequisite. This proposal is a minimal shared baseline, and its divergence from generally accepted models of consciousness is intentional. The minimum factors proposed to identify conscious systems include:

1. Communication: Conscious systems require discrete parts of the system to be able to influence one another in a holistic manner. Whether this is by synaptic firing or gravity is irrelevant.

2. Adaptation: Consciousness requires adaptation to the environment and selective behavior. Static systems cannot be conscious. Dynamic systems can be, but are not necessarily conscious. …

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