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The Origin of Consciousness – How Unaware Things Became Aware

The Origin of Consciousness – How Unaware Things Became Aware

Consciousness is perhaps the biggest riddle in nature. Stripped to its core meaning, consciousness is what allows us to be aware
both of our surroundings and of our own inner state. But thinking about consciousness has
this habit of taking us round in circles. We all intuitively know what consciousness is. It’s this… It’s what you’re experiencing here, right now. But once we try to pinpoint just what exactly it is,
it leaves us grasping at thin air. And not just us, philosophers and scientists
struggle to define consciousness. Different schools and ideas compete with one another,
but no one has come close to figuring it out. It’s unsettling to realise that we don’t understand
what makes us aware of ourselves and the world. In this fuzzy area, consciousness and intelligence
are also related, although they are not the same. We’ll talk in greater depth about theories of consciousness and intelligence in other videos. Like much of what makes us human, our consciousness is likely to have
evolved from less complex forms, as a product of evolution by natural selection. It has probably emerged from an immense several
100 million years sequence of countless micro steps, that together make up a sort of
gradient of consciousness. What was the first step on this
path from the non-conscious to the basic consciousness that ultimately led to the convoluted consciousness we humans enjoy today? [Intro] Take a stone. The consensus is that a stone is not conscious.
Though, not everyone agrees even on this. Some panpsychists claim that
a lump of rock may have an inner life. However, there are no real grounds for any such
assumption since stones never show behaviour. Their inner life can neither be proven nor disproven. A more common starting point is with the living things. A living thing, or a self, is a part of the universe
that sustains itself and makes more of its kind. To do so, it needs energy. And this is where an awareness
of the world comes in handy. The original function of consciousness was probably
to direct a mobile self that was short of energy to a fresh supply of food. On the smaller scales of life,
you don’t need to be aware to find food. Trichopax adhaerens – one of the simplest
of all animals moves around haphazardly. It slows down in the presence of food,
and speeds up in its absence. This is highly effective, and makes the tiny creature
spend more time where there is food spend more time where there is food
than where there is not. But it never moves in a particular
direction towards a particular target, and there’s no need for it to be
conscious of its environment. The first major step towards consciousness was probably taken when mobile selves
started to move themselves directionally. Moving towards what was good for them,
say food, and away from what was less good, say someone else who thought that they were food. Take Dugesia tigrina – a tiny worm
known for its funny face. Sometimes the worm is hungry, and sometimes not. This means that when it moves, the worm self is not simply producing an
automatic response to an external stimulus, but that its actions depend
upon its inner, physiological state, whether it’s hungry or sated. When it’s just eaten,
the worm is less energetic, but when starved for a while,
it will move itself in the direction of tasty things. It uses chemoreceptors on its head
to smell its environment, and guide it in the direction
where the scent of food is strongest. After finding and eating a meal, our worm buddy heads
back to a dark sheltered spot to digest it in safety, until it’s hungry again. But animals that blindly follow their sense of smell
don’t have a concrete objective in view. They still lack any sense of where they are heading. So, the next step on the ladder of consciousness
is to add some perception at a distance, like vision. Vision adds context and depth to our world. With vision comes a sense of
the space we and our food exists in. It adds a whole new dimension to awareness, and is
a huge step towards more familiar consciousness. An optical apparatus, like an eye, enables
us to visualise our goal and lock onto it. But even at this stage, a self is only able
to pursue its food as long as it sees it. So, the next logical step needs
to happen on the inside. To visualise food in its absence, for example, a self needs to create some sort of
inner representation of the world. Now, an animal can continue looking for food,
even when it escapes its sensory range. Because of this inner representation
of what is relevant in the world, it can remain focused on its food and its desire to get it. Our self now exists in a world it can get familiar with. The ability to remember things has emerged. Thanks to memory, animals can be
distracted from the pursuit for a few seconds, but quickly continue their path afterwards. A related phenomenon is called ‘object permanence’. This describes our awareness that things
continue to exist even when we can’t see them. This cognitive skill is enjoyed by some mammals
and birds, and perhaps other animals too. Human babies tend to develop this ability
around the time they turn eight months, while baby chickens show this ability
within a day or two of being born. The capacity to remember a thing in its absence
suggests at least a basic sense of time. A sense of time is a big step
on the ladder of consciousness. It may also enable a self to look forward
from the present moment and anticipate the future. Adult chickens, for example, are able to resist a meal put
in front of them if they expect to receive a bigger meal as a prize for holding back for a while. This sort of delayed gratification means there is an
ability to visualize a reward that only exists in the future, which can be quite a challenge even for adult humans. Western scrub jays are experts in delayed gratification. They show an even more elaborate sense
of the future when they hide food in a cache to retrieve it at a later date. The scrub jays will even rehide their food if they become aware that a potential thief has been watching them. This means that they know
that there are other hungry selves out there, who are aware and see the world
from their own, different perspective. Crafty scrub jays can sort of
read the mind of their fellow birds. This ability to mind-read is crucial
for complex levels of consciousness. By putting yourself in the position of others,
you can outsmart a rich competitor, or empathise with a hungry friend. Language takes the ability to read minds
and represent what is absent to a whole new level. Words enable us to construct
hypotheses about the world, make detailed plans, and to
communicate them with others. Words enable us to think about ourselves
and our place in the universe, and even about our own consciousness, which is something we’ll be doing more in future videos. So, what is the origin of our consciousness? It probably began as the directed motion
of a hungry self towards a source of food. With the survival benefits, this gave it over
competitors that moved at random or not at all. It probably all started with the urge for more food. So, even with the sophisticated consciousness
that allows us to dream about space, build skyscrapers, or obsess about novels, it’s not surprising that we can’t stop thinking
about where we’ll get our next meal. Collectively, we’ve put so much thought
and ingenuity into getting food, that we can now just get our food to
come to us with little conscious effort. This video is part one of a three-part video series
relating to big questions of life and the universe, made possible by a grant from the
Templeton World Charity Foundation. You can find our sources and
further reading in the video description, or get the consciousness book
by Rupert Glasgow for free- link down below. If you want to help us make more videos,
you can do so on, or get one of our posters from our shop.

100 comments on “The Origin of Consciousness – How Unaware Things Became Aware

  1. Get the Consciousness poster here:

  2. Have you thought about how thoughts just randomly pop up out of nowhere… Where do they come from… Im too high for this.

  3. looking for a human lecture on consciousness…Ill find one if I keep looking but cartoons wasnt what i was looking for sighhhhhhh

  4. It seems that the video doesn't understand the difference between electrical signals that are responsible for triggering hunger (things that are purely mechanical) with introspection, qualia etc. (mental states, that are by definition, not material and cannot be grounded in material causes, otherwise, consciousness would be grounded in inconsciousness, which would be absurd to postulate)

  5. Consciousness is just another title for LIFE, or the Real Self. The human experience is just that, an experience LIFE is experiencing one of billions and billions of different experiences produced through a Processing System referred to as The Processing System of LIFE. It is very, very easy to see the Processing System Construct Outside the experience, (universe) when shown how or brought to your attention by them, that know and see the Processing System of LIFE themselves. Once you discover how to see this Processing System, you can study its Construct, workings and its operating language.

  6. To be fair, lot of people are like Dugesia tigrina. when starved for a while they move in the direction of tasty things. after eating go to a dark spot to diggest in safety.

  7. That doesn't explain anything. You merely pretend consciousness is a tool to get food, confounding it with senses. But nvm.

  8. Awesome music! Human brain is like a computer. Consciousness is what you're running on your system, it's what the operating system is showing and the operations it's performing. Subconscious is like what RAM is doing, what's in the BIOS, programming on video card chips, and what is going on in the hidden DOS box in the background. A mosquito is like AI of a zergling 🙂

  9. Valuable content. clear and concisely said as well as the animations it makes it entertaining to watch. amazing how complex beings we are today and knowing know how we came to be. thank you for this!

  10. Misleading title Kurtz. This is the story of how aware things became more aware. I re-watched the video 3 times and haven't found the part where unaware things became aware. Maybe I missed it. If anyone has a time stamp where it was referenced in the video please help.

  11. Forget consciousness, what about space? Ever pause to think about what space is, should it exist, how it exists and what if anything exists beyond? When you sleep and dream, your mind paints a picture in which you exist in space but that space doesn't actually exist at all because your mind made it all up. In short, there might be much much more depth to the children's song "Row your boat gently down the stream" than we ever thought.

  12. I’m very surprised The Templeton Foundation would sponsor production of a video that doesn’t advocate consciousness originating by means of a divine creator. @Kurzgesagt any further insight? There’s no nefarious intent in my question but I’m genuinely puzzled and quite curious. As always, thanks for the fantastic material!

  13. It's just like the conundrum in quantum physics. Experiments and reality are affected by human observation. It's like trying to observe yourself observing yourself.

  14. Consciousness is the result of hyper evolution orchestrated by artificial intelligences either from the future or extra terrestrials. The evidence is seen in religious scripture with Eve eating the forbidden fruit, and then becoming aware, this is an allegory for the tesseract or monolith, or DNA mutation that led us to become hyper intelligent. The amount of time it took for humans to develop from previous homo species was so little, in relation to other instances of speciation that fully natural evolution could not have been the case. That is why we never found the missing link, we are clearly the result of some experiment. Look at all the scripture from every ancient text religious or secular, look at the ancient Egyptians’ drawings and Aztecs drawings of alien beings. It’s all there. I believe DMT and psylocibin could have also played a role in our hyper awareness. One thing is for sure though, the elite are transhuman at this point and almost immortal, communicating with beings on different planes and dimensions through the ingestion of a concoction of adrenachrome, DMT, and other stimulants. It’s been like this for millennia. Look up ancient blood rituals of Egyptians, Aztecs, Inca. They all drank blood and did DMT. This is still happening today.

  15. Consciousness- The emerging result of various brain activity that's processing both external and internal stimuli. Which results in a detailed awareness of self and a certain level of intelligence and comprehension of the environment.

  16. any person talking about what consciousness actually is NEEDS to have experimented with psychoactive substances. its imperative! seriously! the assumption that only a complex structure experiences consciousness is fundamentally wrong. Every thing that can be perceived as a separate thing also has its own perception. You / Your arm /your forearm / a finger / that one atom at the top of your finger. Every one of these has its own opinions. And your illusion to be only one consciousness is quickly dissolved by viewing experiments with people whose two brain-halfs are separated. scale that up, think about how these two minds are fused together into something that perceives itself as one (this is the part where psy-drugs come in, to demonstrate to you how good your brain is able to trick you into perceiving stuff differently from one second to the other). and then ask, well, what IS the smallest thing that can have its own mind? Consider Slime-molds for example, who are Unicellular organisms, yet display clear signs of memory and complex behaviour. The theory here is that electric patterns carry information via repetitive vibration… well, if the ability to display quasi-electrical vibrations is what is crucial for a mind, then, my friend, the smallest possible thing that can carry a consciousness is the very fabric of space and time itself: the quantum fluctuations in a complete vacuum. Therefore: mind created matter, not the other way around.

  17. Still no reason for me to believe that we are random products of evolution. I'm not saying we were necessarily put here then either, but when a big chunk of atoms can become conscious then everything else can as well, or is already. So, thanks to science I can write this comment from my phone, but unless somebody shows me a picture of the big bang or writes me a postcard from the future, I won't take scientific 'facts' for granted.

  18. If consciousness emerges from interaction of matter doesn't that sort of elude to Panpsychism by some degree? It just feels like a easy slippery slope

  19. Can we simulate this to Artificial intelligence to become conscious ? But instead of food we feed them with information,like creating world with hidden information and when they get it we give them gratification (points) and when they don't they lose points?

  20. In the first two minutes, there was a contradiction. Saying that consciousness is made up of vast micro-consciousness that creates the bigger whole. Then life forms from it, and as it becomes more complex, its self-awareness/consciousness also becomes more complex as such with humans compared to let's say a deer. Then it says that a rock has no proof of consciousness because we cannot examine its behavior. But we can. We can see that there is a behavior within the cosmos because of its movement that we define as "Time" due to the nature of "Space". From this space-time continuum, manifests life which is just a more complex vastness of micro-micro consciousness taking shape – from star dust we came, to dust we go and it recycles, this is because Time can only exist when it is in movement and can be used as a measurement by the mirror-effect of awareness; being aware we are the cosmos looking at its image. We are a micro form of consciousness but in a grander sense- more like a compact version. Look at cell phones. The smaller they become, the more intricate the connections, the software installs, the apps developed, and all the ways you can connect to others all around the globe. The more you learn, the more you change. Why? What is the nature of that?

  21. Already watched this video. Now I know to get myself prepared. I'm doing a report on machine learning and consciousness for science rn.

  22. You putting a border on a random spot. The simplest of all life speeds up when there is no food, so why wouldn't it possible that the conscious experience of this being circles only around the presence or absence of food? The other way around, when this being needs no consciousness to speed up or slow down for food, why would the more complex being need it ? It might just react to visional or other stimuli, just as the Trichoplax adhaerens reacts to stimuli of food or to the absence of stimuli of food.

  23. The best question ever is why r we aware that we r aware that we r awere?……
    Edit:It's litterly an infinite question lmao

  24. Very interesting video, but I would think that consciousness must have also arisen from the concept of producing offspring, I wish that was mentioned too

  25. Hypothesis: the human brain is such sophisticated biological hardware, that it's not only able to perceive the dimension we exist in, but it simotaniouisly creates an intangible dimension we call consciousness, witch is a mixture of the consious state, and the subconscious state. When it comes to the intangible science of the mind, definition that we've given to things matters. What's the definition of psyche? Anyone?

  26. The cell slows down around food and speeds up when there is not, how is it not conscious? Just because it moved randomly? 3 quarters of the shit I do a day is random.

  27. I hope you can continue this series on Consciousness, they are amazing!!!!!

    Does a image classifier feel pain?

    What are the next capability for machines to be able to achieve consciousness?

    We have computation that begets pattern recognition, which begets prediction / learning, which begets understanding / intelligence, which begets self awareness, which when combined with qualia begets empathy??

    Hurry up so I can add this to machines 🙂

  28. And maybe rock has its own consciousness but the reaction time is so slow that we cannot measure it. As they move slow, they live a very very long life.

  29. The thing is: Any decision to move towards a food source is percieved by consciousness, not initiated by it. Our thoughts are authored unconsciously. As far as we can tell consciousness might serve no function at all.

  30. "I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness." – Max Planck, the father of quantum physics, Nobel Prize winner

    "All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter." – Max Planck, the father of quantum physics, Nobel Prize winner

    "The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter… we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter." – James Jean, a notable English physicist

    "I incline to the idealistic theory that consciousness is fundamental, and that the material universe is derivative from consciousness, not consciousness from the material universe… In general the universe seems to me to be nearer to a great thought than to a great machine. It may well be, it seems to me, that each individual consciousness ought to be compared to a brain-cell in a universal mind." – James Jean, a notable English physicist

    That's consciousness according to two of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century.

  31. You guys are making amazing videos that I have questions about in my life. You have opened up my mind to many things like how we all need to develop and help others develop to better help us all. Over Population. Space. All very cool.

  32. Nice theory, but that’s not how it happened. You can’t “Become aware” you have to have been “Born” Aware through God’s creation. Literally nothing else makes sense because it’s impossible for something to come out of nothing and you can’t gain Sapience or Sentience. You have to have a Human (Person) Spirit/Essence for the former, and you have to have a creature (beast) Spirit/Essence for the latter. Both exist independently from the body/physical mind and are the true indestructible/unalterable Consciousness/Spiritual Mind) of a lifeform, and are both brought about through intentional Creation.

    Cue the people with an agenda coming to deny this.

  33. receptors to perceive immediate environment, then long range perception, then memory of our perception, projection & prediction, empathy = awareness and consciousness?

  34. the atom in the intro has 4 electrons in it's outer shell and 4 in it's outer shells. it's carbon with 2 extra electrons in it's first shell assuming it's 2d because there might be some protons and nuetrons hiding but as far as i know it'd carbon

  35. Ancient India figured it out thousands of years ago. Not only that they have volumes and volumes of scriptures on it.
    Reason why science can't figure it out? The objective world is experienced in consciousness. Anything that is experienced arises in consciousness. Consciousness is fundamental and is the subject doing the science. How can science objectify the subject?

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