The Hidden Connections
Keywords: Social Dimension of Consciousness - primary consciousness - reflective consciousness - The "inner world" of our reflective consciousness emerged in evolution together with language and social reality. This means that human consciousness is not only a biological, but also a social phenomenon - Language arises when the level of abstraction is reached at which there is communication about communication - words and objects are created through coordinations of coordinations of behaviour - We coordinate our behaviour in language, and together in language we bring forth our world. "The world everyone sees is not the world but a world, which we bring forth with others". Maturana/Varela - complex choreography of behavioural coordination
The Social Dimension of Consciousness
As human beings, we not only experience the integrated states of primary consciousness; we also think and reflect, communicate through symbolic language, make value judgments, hold beliefs and act intentionally with self-awareness and an experience of personal freedom. Any future theory of consciousness will have to explain how these well-known characteristics of the human mind arise out of the cognitive processes that are common to all living organisms.
The "inner world" of our reflective consciousness emerged in evolution together with language and social reality. This means that human consciousness is not only a biological, but also a social phenomenon.
The social dimension of reflective consciousness is frequently ignored by scientists and philosophers. Almost all current views of cognition implicitly assume that the appropriate unit of analysis is the body and the mind of the individual. This tendency has been reinforced by the new technologies for analysing brain functions, which invite cognitive scientists are study single, isolated brains and to neglect the continual interactions of those brains with other bodies and brains within communities of organisms. These interactive processes are crucial to understanding the level of cognitive abstraction that this characteristic of reflective consciousness.
Humberto Maturana was one of the first scientists to link the biology of human consciousness to language in a systematic way. He did so by approaching language through a careful analysis of communication within the framework of the Santiago theory of cognition.
Communication, according to Maturana, is not the transmission of information but rather the coordination of behaviour between living organisms through mutual structural coupling.
The these recurrent interactions, the living organism change together through their mutual triggering of structural changes. Such mutual coordination is the key characteristic of communication for all living organisms, with or without nervous systems, and it becomes more and more subtle and elaborate with nervous systems of increasing complexity.
Language arises when the level of abstraction is reached at which there is communication about communication.
In other words, there is a coordination of coordinations of behaviour. For example (as Maturana explained in a seminar), when you hail a taxi driver on the other side of the street with a gesture of your hand, thereby getting his attention, this is a coordination of behaviour. When you then describe a circle with your hand, asking him to make a U-turn, this coordinates the coordination, and thus arises the first level of communication in language. The circle has become a symbol, representing your mental image of the taxi's trajectory. This little example illustrates the important point that language is a system of symbolic communication. Its symbols - words, gestures and other signs - serve as tokens for the linguistic coordination of actions. This, in turn, creates the notion of objects, and thus the symbols become associated with our mental images of objects.
Then, as soon as words and objects are created through coordinations of coordinations of behaviour, they become the basis for further coordinations, which generate a series of recursive levels of linguistic communication.
As we distinguish objects, we create abstract concepts to denote their properties, as was the relations between objects. The process of observation, according to Maturana, consists of such distinctions of distinctions.
The Observer appears when we distinguish between observations; and, finally, self-awareness arises at the observation of the observer, when we use the notion of an object and the associated abstract concepts to describe ourselves. Thus our linguistic domain expands to include reflective consciousness. At each of these recursive levels words and objects are generated, and their distinction then obscures the coordination which they coordinate.
Maturana emphasises that the phenomenon of language does not occur in the brain, but in the continual flow of coordinations of coordinations of behaviour.
Language occurs "in the flow of interactions and relations of living together".
As humans, we exist in language and we continually weave the linguistic web in which we are embedded. We coordinate our behaviour in language, and together in language we bring forth our world.
"The world everyone sees is not the world but a world, which we bring forth with others". Maturana/Varela
This human world centrally includes our inner world of abstract thought, concepts, beliefs, mental images, intentions and self-awareness. In a human conversation, how concepts and ideas, emotions and body movements become tightly linked in a complex choreography of behavioural coordination.