Popular Science

Bjørn Grinde

The Evolution of Consciousness and How to Make the Most of it
Bevissthet. Forstå hjernen og få et bedre liv

Consciousness implies an awareness of sensations and a capacity to experience life. To answer the question of why we have this feature, the author proposes the following evolutionary trajectory: nervous systems appeared for the purpose of orchestrating behaviour. As a rule of thumb, the challenges facing an animal concern either approaching an opportunity or avoiding harm. These two options were originally hard-wired as reflexes. Our distant ancestors gained consciousness because they needed to experience feelings in order to weigh positive and negative outcomes; which typically implies deciding between approach or avoidance. The system was a success because it improved the strategy for choosing behavioural options appropriate for the genes.
A range of evidence suggests that the attribute first appeared in the amniotes (the phylogenetic group comprising reptiles, birds and mammals). In the human lineage, the feature expanded to yield the “film of life” we experience; and to include qualities such as self-awareness, advanced cognition, and a level of free will.
Besides offering an understanding of what consciousness is about, the model suggests a strategy for improving the impact it has on our quality of life.

So far sold: English world rights (Springer Verlag)

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