Consciousness and Homeostasis
Damasio in his book ‘The Strange Order of Things’ argues that the core of condition lies in homeostasis. I agree with this generalization. But let me work out in a tweet storm how consciousness relates to homeostasis.
Human consciousness is related to awareness of surprising or threatening observations. It’s an error-correcting mechanism that lends attention to discrepancies of our expectations of the world.
The mind is composed of many layers of cognition. Also, its massive parallelism implies reducing the conditional checks required for error correction.
To do this, consciousness is engaged only in a time-sliced manner in a periodic manner. The majority of time spent is in unconscious activity with only periodic activation of the conscious error-correcting process.
The system 1 unconscious intuitive mechanism minimizes the effort of performing error correction. It is automated and driven by habit. It is like a river flowing without obstructions.
In the cognitive state of flow, where there is a combination of challenge and mastery, consciousness resides mostly in the background. That is because mastery implies automated and competent thought. The kind that can anticipate errors and rarely makes a mistake.
It takes a while to wrap your head around the idea that consciousness itself is an unconscious process. It is that system 1 process that focuses its attention on relevant information flowing in the unconscious.
The conscious process itself is unconscious. This should not be a surprising conclusion.
Homeostasis for complex brains requires the development of a self-reflective System 2 process. Consciousness is sequential cognition, but each step in that sequence is a System 1 process.
Complex minds have many homeostatic processes, there are in constant collaboration with each other. One can think of a homeostatic process as a kind of self. Complex minds have many selves. The narrative self, driven to diet, can override the hunger needs of the bodily self.
For a body to balance in motion, a mind must be able to solve a constraint problem that involves multiple forces. In the same manner, the mind is solving a constraint problem between different motivations of the various selves.
Consciousness is that grand central station where there is a convergence of relevant information across many self models. It provided the consensus model so a body may act as one.
Minds construct themselves by interacting with their environment. Each self constructs a sophisticated model to maintain homeostasis.
Homeostasis thus is the preservation of a state that is defined by higher-level abstractions. The social self as an example is driven by motivations like care, compassion power, and connectedness. The narrative self is motivated by prosperity and creativity. The perspectival self is driven by certainty and curiosity. The volitional self is driven by creation and competence. The bodily self is driven by the most basic of motivations: sustenance and safety.
An informative way of understanding the interactions of various selves is through the use of a wardley map.
We can thus see a parallel between selves and the motivations we find in spiral dynamics and constructive developmental theory. Modern society consists of shared doctrines, the most prevalent of which belong to purple (security), red (energy and power), blue (order), orange (success) and green (community). These doctrines all exist simultaneously and typically in conflict or cooperation in modern civilization. The lower developmental stages evolved first and have existed longer than subsequent stages. Different cultures give greater emphasis on one stage over the other.
We can make the analogy of stages of development with the development of selves within the mind. The narrative and the social selves are the most recent development. One can make the mapping that the stages in spiral dynamics are developmental stages of a person's narrative and social self. The operating instructions that an individual mind develops for its narrative and social self come from the collective and environment that an individual participates in.
What’s usually missing in a homeostatic model is that the driving force is unspecified. This driving force or intrinsic motivation is what pushes the agent towards a change. A simple organism must move to discover food, a complex organism must move in an abstract sense.
Human consciousness, therefore, is different depending on the developmental state of each individual. The consciousness of a child, adolescent or adult are different. The consciousness of a person in an indigenous tribe, an illiterate person or an educated person are all different. Commonsense for one mind is different from the commonsense of another mind. What is relevant for one mind is different from what is relevant in another mind. What another mind is aware of is different from another mind. What another mind attends to is different from another.