Consciousness is an emergent property of the material universe. In other words, intelligence arises spontaneously from the natural meanderings of matter in time. This property of emergent awareness can be seen as an ineluctable property of life forms. As living organisms grow in complexity, they become increasingly intelligent – increasingly aware.
This is not intelligent design as it is commonly understood. Quite the contrary, it is the observation that, given certain initial conditions, simple systems often grow in complexity as they grow in size. It is a phenomenon observed everywhere. Cybernetics demonstrates the increasing intelligence of software systems that are allowed to multiply and reproduce themselves. Biologists studying such so-called “simple” life-forms as the amoeba, Physarum (slime mold), have discovered evidence of emergent intelligence that involves higher-order functions of memory, learning, and anticipation. And the high level of animal intelligence that occurs within an ant hive is well-documented.
The human brain is a super-intelligent network of neurons, each of which is incapable of even a single simple thought. However in their intricate relationships, the many hundreds of billions of neurons of the human brain and the body’s many trillions of interconnected cells form an intelligent system that distinguishes us as one of the most highly complex and deeply conscious aggregations of matter in the known universe.
The study of conscious awareness and intelligence has always been a defining aspect of human thought. The fact that we can reflect on the thought process itself is perhaps the most specifically “human” aspect of human intelligence. The Vedic philosophers of ancient India described awareness in terms that are comparable to those used by neurobiologists and computer scientists today.
To demonstrate the universe is intelligent requires no more proof than to peer into a mirror. . Inextricably a part of the universe as a whole, our living planet is not just alive – it is an astonishingly intelligent living system. The entire biosphere of Earth is a seething manifold of awareness, intelligent behavior, and emergent consciousness. And we are its human face.
First Image: The Emergence of Awareness, Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 2009.
Slime mold image by Toshyuki Nakagaki: http://discovermagazine.com/2009/jan/071
Ant farm image: Tullio DeSantis
Ants! – YouTube URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQERRbU23bU
Neurons in the Human Brain: http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/photos/brain.html
Emergence – Complexity from Simplicity, Order from Chaos (1 of 2):
YouTube URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdQgoNitl1g
The Brain and the Universe: YouTube URL:
System intelligence reference: Steven Johnson, Emergence, Scribner, 2002: