In a 1964 book, The Raw and the Cooked, anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss charts a winding course through the myths of the Bororo people of South America. Beginning with a story of the rape of a mother and subsequent attempts at revenge by the father culminating in the eventual murder of the father’s wives by the youth, Levi-Strauss weaves myth upon myth with the larger objective of showing how empirical opposites – such as raw and cooked, moistened and burned, fresh and decayed – constitute the conceptual foundation of culture. Levi-Strauss claims that concealed in the myth of rape and revenge is the story of the origin of cooked food and what distinguishes us from animals. We cook our food. We transform nature just as cooking transforms food. That is what sets us apart from the animal and makes us human.
While Levi-Strauss’s exercise was about myth, a new book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Richard Wrangham argues the Bororo myths may be scientifically true. It is all about energy.
Eurasian Magpie – image from from Wikimedia Commons
Consciousness is like the weather. Since everybody experiences it everybody has an idea about it.
Philosophers take it as their unique prerogative since without it they would have no field. Neuroscientists want to make pictures of it and reduce it to chemical and charge. Physicists, who mostly think they are the rightful ones to explain almost anything (especially if it seems mysterious), try to explain it with information theory. New Agers talk about expanding it and political activists about raising it.
What if consciousness isn’t such a big deal after all? What if consciousness is like eyes or ears – just another part of what we are as human but otherwise not so special after all?
Max Tegmark has a new paper Consciousness as a State of Matter. The paper is filled with mathematics which I am not going to try to explain or pretend to understand but there are parts of it which are fairly accessible to anyone with a modest understanding of modern science. Here is a good write-up of it without the mathematics. The paper takes the seemingly radical position that we can understand consciousness as another state of physical matter just like solids, liquids, and gases. I have argued in some other posts that consciousness must be material so I will find myself in agreement with the general sentiment even though I disagree with this approach There are, however, some additional aspects of this that Tegmark may be missing that I want to discuss.