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Awareness is a biological function

  1. Feb 26, 2007 #1


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    I think most of you will agree that awareness is a biological function facilitated by the specific physiological functions of the nervous system of the more complex living systems residing on planet earth.

    But, if I'm failing in my assessment of you all, here are some definitions from the web dictionaries available on google.

    this is from the Oxford Dictionary:

    Please look these definitions of "awareness" over carefully then could you please state any objections to these definitions or your support for any one or more of them. In this manner we might come to a better understanding of the word "awareness" and what it means. We might avoid any more collisions with these fairytale like notions of a metaphysical "consciousness" or the hairsplitting arguments that may actually be clogging up the PF server or, in the least, clogging up constructive communication on the PF site. :smile:
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 27, 2007 #2


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  4. Feb 27, 2007 #3
    This is a very good point; trying to find a single complete meaning of awareness.
    But one thing that I've observed in my everyday life is that, the terms that we use (especially technical ones) get their meaning or definition according to our personal backgrounds. as an example; the term work is defined so differently in physics when compared to litrature.
    As a result we can't simply look at the dictionaries to find out the meaning. It all depends on what you mean by awareness...
    Lets first define this. :)
  5. Feb 28, 2007 #4
    You comprehend awareness as a "biological...residing on planet earth". That certainly does not mean awareness "is" that. We must be very careful with the words "is" and "are" as they make us sound as if we know more than we actually know. You also seem to be using the word "awareness" quite blithely. A bacterium can be "aware" of heat, a plant can be "aware" of light etc. For all we know the planet, galaxy, universe, may be "aware".
    Your whole point rests on the assumption of mind being a product of nervous system, you should not present it as fact.
    Awareness (inclusive) should not be confused with 'focus', 'attention' or 'concentration' (exclusive). Awareness can be seen as a "state of being" in which all thought has disappeared. The use of the word "aware' in the English language can be compared to "love" - I love pizza. A competent definition must be decided on before discussing, what I suspect, may be the most profound aspect of mind.
    (why "awareness" but not "loveness"? :bugeye: )
  6. Feb 28, 2007 #5


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    Because loveness is not a word.

    Awareness is defined by scholars as a biological function. You'd have to prove them wrong. You have to prove the galaxy is aware. I don't have to prove that a whale is aware of a fishing vessel. I don't have to prove that we are aware of erratic weather. These things are provable. Can you prove any of your ideas are only valid to you. Can you add some value to your ideas by offering examples? Please show in what way a moon or asteroid or collection of them are aware.
  7. Feb 28, 2007 #6
    This definition excludes artificial intelligence systems from being aware as they are not biological.

    Can you explain how a system must be biological to be conscious without using metaphysics?
  8. Feb 28, 2007 #7


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    Please show me a definition of awareness that includes AI as being aware.

    I am unaware of an answer to this question. Please define "metaphysics" as utilized in your question.
  9. Feb 28, 2007 #8
    None of the quoted definitions you gave in your initial post exclude AI except the one from biological psychology, which mentions animals. If Functionalism turns out to be correct, I do not see why an AI can not satisfy those definitions in principle.



    I refer this back to you for definition as you were the one who first used the phrase:

    I will accept any reasonable definition. I want to know why biological life has a magical property that allows it to be conscious, when other things can't ever be.
  10. Feb 28, 2007 #9


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    OK now I'm doing your job for you. That'll be 6 bucks.


    This is only the opinion of one group of robotic engineers. They think they have created awareness in their robot. Probable bias involved in this example. Its like claiming your offspring have smiled at you when they only have gas.

    Break down the word metaphysics to its roots. Meta (beyond) and physics (physics: which means all observable and demonstrable events). In other words my own definition of "metaphysics" is "without observable or demonstrable properties").

    So, how can awareness be measured in an unobservable "force". Or why do people think its necessary to have a non-physical element in order to have awareness?

    Biological life has had a very long time to evolve awareness.

    In fact, you could say that chemicals have had an even longer time to evolve an awareness since all life is a result of chemicals creating and interacting with the environment.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2007
  11. Mar 1, 2007 #10

    I disagree that chemicals have had a longer time to evolve than life. Chemicals don't evolve because survival of the fittest requires reproduction before it can operate. Chemicals only evolve in the sense that they change with time.

    I'd like to ask some questions that will help me understand your definition of awareness. I'm going to ask them all in one go (I thought this would be easier), although some of the questions will not apply depending on your preceeding answers.

    1) As you invoked evolution as the explanation for biological awareness, would you say that biological awareness developed gradually?

    2a) If awareness developed gradually, wouldn't there have to be a scale of awareness? Some things would be more aware than others.

    2b) If awareness was a sudden process, awareness can either be on or off but when did biological life suddenly become aware? What was the "magic" ingredient?

    If there is a scale of awareness, let's call it the Baywax Scale, where zero on the Baywax Scale represents total unawareness of anything, infinity means you are God and know everything and we can say negative scores are disallowed. So the higher your score, the greater your awareness.

    3) Now, is it possible for any given system to score a perfect zero on the Baywax Scale? (rather than just approximately zero or nearly zero)

    4a) If a perfect zero can not be scored on the Baywax scale, we seem to be back in the situation where bacteria, astroids etc have a minimal "awareness". Are the computer systems around the world gradually developing awareness?

    4a) If a perfect zero can be scored on the Baywax Scale, what are the minimum requirements for a system to score above zero? What makes it aware? When did biological life first become aware? And how did this develop gradually without earlier stages that were also aware?

    I'd appreciate your answers because I have been thinking about this a lot myself today.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2007
  12. Mar 1, 2007 #11


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    1.) Yes

    2.) Yes. Is bacteria aware of what you mean by the word bacteria? Is a child aware of what you mean by bacteria? It takes time and experience to come to an awareness of meaning, consequence and so on.

    2b.) The magic ingredient would have to be something like photosensitive chemicals encased in a membrane.

    3.) Depends on the day.

    4a.) I am aware of more than one question here.

    4a) We call it organization. As I've already pointed out my idea is that awareness started when photosensitive chemicals were bagged by the membrane or a primitive organelle within a primitive cell-like structure. This would have been a little more complex than a virus but there is a debate about different viruses being very complex. ie: the megavirus that resembles bacteria. From there these primitive cells were reproduced as a group (or got "organized") because of natural selection which began the precursors of organs in mulicellular organisms. Some of these groups performed sensory functions that worked toward a better survival rate for that particular species or group of cells. This process continued for 3 or more billion years until we started making ourselves aware of the process.

    Are your asteroid friends aware of this?:smile:

    It is obvious is that awareness is a common trait amongst living systems. Its there like the stripes on a tiger or the opposing thumb on a chimp. Awareness is a survival trait that has been naturally selected by the elimination process offered to all living systems by the environment.

    When we try to reproduce it in non-living systems we are trying to reproduce 3 or more billion years of development in much less time. This presents certain drawbacks that can only be overcome with time. Why its being done is anybodies guess. With 6 billion aware humans on the planet its beyond me why we try to reproduce the same condition of awareness in robots. As soon as we do, we won't feel as smug sending them into battle or to explode suspicious packages because we will be aware of the awareness we have instilled in them and start getting sentimental about them as though they were a friend with feelings.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2007
  13. Mar 4, 2007 #12


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    Even if we were to discover that conscious machines can be created there's no reason why suddenly all of our machines would have to be conscious from that moment on.
    The purpose of trying to create consciousness is more to help us understand how we function than anything else.
    I think most research is in AI, i don't think right now we even know where to begin researching "artificial consciousness".
    As far as i see it AI doesn't necessarily imply conscious thought.
  14. Mar 4, 2007 #13


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    I think its possible that awareness arises as a natural product of intelligence (or visa versa). Whether artificial intelligence would evolve the same awareness as organic intelligence remains to be seen. But, as far as I know, intelligence, if not artifical intelligence, requries a state of awareness. How many intellects do you know that aren't acutely aware?
  15. Mar 5, 2007 #14
    Is a bacteria aware of heat/cold? Is a plant aware of light? You seem to be speaking of a different kind of awareness, specifically conscious awareness, but, for the moment at least, I'm not sure if you are saying that awareness is a product of consciousness. I would certainly disagree that awareness is a product of intelligence. I don't actually see why intelligence and awareness should be interlinked. I've met intelligent people who bumble their way through life blindly and some academically abysmal types who are very in tune with those around them. A profound awareness of abstract concepts does not necessarily indicate an awareness of the needs and feelings of others. You may have a specific type of awareness in mind but at the moment I'm not sure.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2007
  16. Mar 5, 2007 #15


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    Lets establish what type of awareness we're talking about. I'll have to decide since I started the thread but while I'm doing that I am open to suggestions.

    edit: I'll have to point out that levels of awareness have been on a parallel course with evolution, in my model, where as the complexity of living things increases so does their ability of awareness. As I pointed out, because awareness is a survival trait ie: survives today because of natural selection, it can be equated with any of the other survival traits among living systems. If there is another way to look at awareness I am open to suggestions but the suggestion will have to have as much physical/plausible evidence behind it as does the theory of evolution.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2007
  17. Mar 5, 2007 #16
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  18. Mar 5, 2007 #17


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    I don't deny that there are forms of awareness in all living systems. Its a matter of deciding which form of awareness to focus on in this thread.

    You could be interested in this article from


    Often the word consciousness is exchanged for awareness here:

    But, we can never climb inside of any other living system and determine if it is experiencing awareness the way we do. We can't even determine if another person is aware in the same way the next one is. So, we need a physiological model that unambiguously signals a state of awareness that can be said to be replicated in all of our subjects.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  19. Mar 5, 2007 #18
    The following isn't aimed at you, Baywax, just at the prevailing attitude toward other living beings.

    As far as I'm concerned, if they can feel pain they have a level of awareness. Pain recognition is one of the main functions of the nervous system in vertebrates… and even we have that equipment. There's a good chance that if a creature (invertebrates included) runs away from danger, they have the ability to feel pain.

    I’m constantly amazed why we're trying to prove that other living creatures do have consciousness. Shouldn’t we be trying to show they don’t? Isn’t it more logical to assume they're more like us, than unlike; considering our evolution? What’s the alternative, that they're robotic? Ridiculous!

    If they didn't come with a price tag i.e. as commodities for humans to use at will, we would most certainly have a different view. But that's just not convenient or profitable...

    Anyone who could look at animal suffering and think they aren’t aware might as well be moon rock, because they have no true humanity, and zero "awareness" for what is real.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2007
  20. Mar 5, 2007 #19


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    Why would the standard measurement of awareness be pain? If an organism's response is to avoid it then it must know of an alternative and better condition than pain. Perhaps seeking out the lack of pain is the measure of awareness. Maybe the instinct to stay out of danger is a manifestation of the survival instinct and not the signal of a conscious awareness of a memory.

    How would these ideas apply to bees and other insects? Is there a sufficient amount of the "stuff awareness is made of" in insects for us to be able to say that they too are aware of a past/present/future/relatives/geniology, etc? How could we measure these levels of awareness? Would it be by the number and diversity of chemicals present in an organism or by the amount of electricity being generated by it?

    Behavioral traits can be deceiving and are often read as one thing when they are indicating another. Like when you see the prairie grouse doing its courtship dance. It appears to be in "rapture" and focusing all its "creativity" into the dance when its actually running on instinctive autopilot while we project and overlay our own, human fantasies onto its behavior.
  21. Mar 6, 2007 #20
    You just answered your own question :smile:

    Even when you shoo the garden variety fly away it knows which root of escape is the most viable option. What would that say for its awareness of my kitchen's architecture? Funny how it manages to find the way it came in without a memory, too ;)

    Maybe, but the same could have been said of humans; thankfully, we can talk about and communicate our "awareness of memory" to our fellow species. Shame that sharks and crocodiles don't get us, though.

    Many mentally disabled human children have no obvious awareness of memory, yet we don’t automatically assume they aren't conscious, do we? Perhaps the ability for awareness in contrast to humans’ isn’t the best measure, after all.

    Seriously, no offense, but who cares? Except for those who want to exploit them, and see their possible "lack of consciousness and awareness" as carte blanche for any number of the infinite cruelties they can inflict.

    Well, I've seen a few guys on instinctive autopilot and it aint nearly as pretty. Barroom brawls over an attractive girl come down to human instinctive behaviour, does that mean we're also devoid of consciousness and awareness? Although, some humans we might have to look at on a case-by-case basis :tongue2:
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2007
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