Consciousness can be defined as “that which interprets signals” or “that which can discriminate and choose between signals.”
A single cell that can distinguish light and darkness and choose one or the other is conscious in this respect.
(I wonder if the choice needs to be “better” in some way, evolutionarily or even subjectively even if wrong. Seems that if most choices are bad, the chooser will not survive for long, yet in the interim could still be conscious.)
A dog that smells food has a more complex interpretation of many more signals than the single cell above. Additionally, the dog can choose between these signals, though not without confusion sometimes, just like us.
As humans we experience our consciousness in many ways. Few of us doubt its importance.
This makes sense based on the definition of consciousness as “that which interprets signals” or “that which can discriminate and choose between signals.”
It is emotional to be conscious in the sense that we must care about our decisions, our choices.
Surely that is much of the reason we have emotions. They are the chemistry that accompanies choices. Chemicals in the body are most definitely signals, very strong ones.
For more on this topic: Life is self-organizing signals.
Life signals can be biological and unconscious or biological and conscious.*
If conscious, signals can be variously interpreted by the sender, the receiver, or both.
If unconscious, signals are interpreted in only one way or in a limited number of ways.
Consciously organized signals make up such things as psychology and sociology, both of which have many variations.
Human beings generate, learn, send, receive, and interpret signals.
All signals have valence. If conscious, valences (like signals themselves) can be variously interpreted.
It is very beneficial when thinking about any complex matter to pay attention to the valences of its individual signals and signal networks.
For example, if you want to buy or rent a home the various factors that you may consider can all be thought of as signals with valences.
A “small place” is a signal that may have positive valences because it is cozy and easy to keep clean. And it may have negative valences because it is cramped and has no room to store stuff.
With some degree of rationality, we can asses these valences and decide which ones are important to us. If you are going to share the place with another person, you can both do assessments and compare.
Your conclusions won’t be perfectly rational but they will be clearer to you than if you did not do assessments like that.
Besides the size of the place, you will also want to analyze in a similar fashion its location, floor plan, cost, what’s nearby and so on.
The same is true for how to asses your own psychology or the sociology of your group, company, or nation.
If you do this often enough, you may decide to replace the idea of having a personality or identity with the idea of having an operating system that generates, learns, sends, receives, and interprets signals.
Notice that interpreting yourself (the signal of self) as an operating system that employs these few rules is a kind of self-organization. As such, it is concise (Occam’s razor), accounts for all data, has clearly identified parts, has explanatory power (you can use it as we did above), can be applied to all life including human psychology.
This is not the only explanation or description of life, but it is a good one with many uses.
A few notes:
*Surely there are other bases for consciousness than biology as we know it.
Life self-organization is “anti-entropic.”
Politics runs on simple signals because they are readily grasped by large numbers of people. Importing simple political signals into your operating system and keeping their strong public valences is not a good idea.
Politics teeters between left and right and there is no good middle. The middle is no good because the true middle needs to be a middle of complexity against two extremes.
Reason and rational thought are in many respects organizing principles, maybe that’s all they are. Same can be said for logic.
Personality and identity are also organizing principles, here applied to self and others. Seeing yourself as “an operating system that generates, learns, sends, receives, and interprets signals” is also an organizing principle, but the data is clearer and more useful than that which goes into identity and personality.
…FBI Director James Comey assured the president-elect there was no credible evidence that Russia influenced the outcome of the recent U.S. presidential election by hacking the Democratic National Committee and the e-mails of John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
What’s more, Comey told Trump that James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, agreed with this FBI assessment.
The only member of the U.S. intelligence community who was ready to assert that the Russians sanctioned the hacking was John Brennan, the director of the CIA, according to sources who were briefed on Comey’s conversations with Trump.
“And Brennan takes his marching orders from President Obama,” the sources quoted Comey as saying. [emphasis added] (Comey to Trump: The Russians Didn’t Influence the Election)
Biosemiotics is the study of signs and their interpretations by living organisms.
The interpretation of a sign is generally synonymous with its “meaning” for the entity that interprets it.
Biosemiotics (from the Greek bios meaning “life” and semeion meaning “sign”) is a growing field of semiotics and biology that studies the production and interpretation of signs and codes in the biological realm. Biosemiotics attempts to integrate the findings of biology and semiotics and proposes a paradigmatic shift in the scientific view of life, demonstrating that semiosis (sign process, including meaning and interpretation) is one of its immanent and intrinsic feature. (Source)
Here is a short video on the subject: A Biosemiotic Perspective.
The importance of meaning (sign interpretation) in human life is so great, many humans will die, or want to, if they lose an overall sense of it.
Just because we crave meaning does not mean we have to have good meaning, valid meaning, right meaning. Almost all cultures almost all of the time are filled with bogus meaning. They thrive on it.
If you find something in a culture, you will find it in individuals. Almost all human psychology almost all the time is rife with bogus meaning.
Some of that comes from culture, some is the interpretation of the individual, all of it is mixed together.
This is why memes are so powerful. They are meaning-signs that for many different reasons are interpreted as being true. A meme can be picture or a few words. An example is “Diversity is Strength.”
That meme is probably not scientifically valid. There are many studies that show it is false.
Whatever the case, “Diversity is Strength” (or one of its derivatives “stronger together”) has become a significant public meaning, whose main interpretation is rarely questioned.
There are scores of memes (cultural signs or signals) circulating within American culture at all times.
Some cultural signs and signals are “organic” in the sense that they have grassroots origins, springing from the “ground” of culture itself.
Others are formed and manipulated by powerful forces who want to influence culture or change it. “Diversity is Strength” is an example of this.
America’s elite subculture has been pushing this meme for many years. The following video contains many examples of this meme being used by public figures as well as a refutation of it: Diversity DESTROYS Social Cohesion in the West.
Most people do not analyze signs, symbols, memes, or semiotics. They do not ask for the source of a cultural sign, its uses, or even if it is true.
Once a cultural sign is established, it will tend to remain unquestioned until some other force (money, media) or meme replaces it.
The best thing for individuals to do is replace crappy, manipulative memes with your own analysis and understanding. Replace them with Right Meaning, in the Buddhist sense.
The Buddha is often described as mainly “an analyst” who gave us many ways to free ourselves from delusion.
A specter is haunting the dinner parties, fundraisers and think-tanks of the Establishment: the specter of the “alternative right.” Young, creative and eager to commit secular heresies, they have become public enemy number one to beltway conservatives — more hated, even, than Democrats or loopy progressives. (Source)
Well-worth viewing for Buddhists and all others. Having a grasp of semiotics and how meaning functions in living organisms is very helpful for understanding who and what we are.
Nothing brings out battling over semiotics better than a US presidential election.
Not long ago we had Hillary attacking Pepe the frog as racist.
Even the ADL weighed in on that one, giving the charge far more prominence than it deserved, though they did conclude in their last paragraph that the poor frog was only a racist symbol if someone festooned it with real racist symbols.
Still, use of the green frog meme did decline after Hillary’s claim and this slightly weakened her opposition for a day or two because Pepe was a rallying symbol (for Trump, against her). Hillary made temporary small gains in this semiotic skirmish, though a probable aftereffect was her opposition rebounded and gained ground once the vacuity of her argument was fully understood.
More recently, use of the word “globalist” by Trump and his supporters has been branded as “antisemitic.” This is so dumb it’s hardly worth analyzing, but if you care to read all about it, Jonathan Taylor has a good article: Trump, Anti-Globalism and the Anti-Semitism Slur. It surprised me to see how many people take the charge seriously.
Taylor makes the most important point—that branding someone else’s semiotics as bad is a lazy way of making them shut up. (It is very bad to do this in my book.)
When it comes to semiotics, Donald Trump has shown his moxie. His continued use of semiotics deemed bad by his opponents has weakened their ability to limit or define debates in such a shallow manner.
This shows me that Trump is a smart man. It takes brains to see those little buggers for what they are and ignore them. Much of PC culture is based on the inarguable rightness of shallow semiotics.
A good sign coming out of this campaign is Hillary’s overuse of semiotic hot buttons has weakened them and hollowed out arguments that use them.
Notice that her constant use of the bad Russia meme as an excuse for all her problems is falling flat because no one believes it. It’s so weak it has given rise to an answer that works well against her: “So Russia hacked the NSA and put those emails on Weiner’s computer so the FBI would find them when they investigated him for illegal sexting.” Right.
Great vid. Don’t miss this one.