Tetrapod Evolution and the Evolution of Consciousness

It is here proposed that the evolution of life was destined to produce self consciousness out of physical matter just as surely as self-consciousness is destined to be produced by the build up of matter from the human zygote.

Our external vantage point allows us to see the process whereby an individual human matures from the point of conception  We are in a position to witness all the stages in the life of individual humans. Activities such as birth, death, growth and decay go on all around us. Conversely on the grand scale of things, taking life as a whole, we are in the middle of evolving life and so we don’t have an overall, clear picture of the process.

In this video Sean B. Carroll states that:
…living things are occupying a planet whose surface is always changing. Hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, tectonic movement, ice ages, climate changes whether local or global, all of these keep changing the environments that species are in, they are running to keep up and most of the time they fail. So we have to think about earth’s history to understand life’s history. We have to understand what’s going on at any particular place to appreciate what’s going on with any particular species.

The same could be said for the cells in your body. Their environment is always changing and most of them do not survive as you change from embryo to adult. From an individual cell’s point of view there may not seem to be any direction.Some live some die, some change slowly, others change dramatically. But from the higher perspective of the whole body there certainly is direction.

It must be acknowledged that vertebrates evolve at the different rates. Coelacanths have been around for hundreds of millions of years. When animals within a group are compared, the ones that are deemed to be the most primitive are those that retain characteristics from the node of the group’s branch. So among vertebrates coelacanths are considered more primitive than humans even taking into account that they have had the same amount of time for their evolution.

Rational Wiki explains that:
Biologists have evidence that all life developed from a common ancestor that lived just under 4 billion years ago, and the concept is accepted by virtually all scientists working in the field.

If that is true then every single tetrapod alive today has an unbroken ancestry dating  back to this common ancestor. Every amniote can trace their ancestry from a water existence to organisms that first set foot on the land, to fully air breathing, but still exothermic, organisms, and finally on to endothermic mammals and birds. At each stage these animals have become more detached from the external environment. I hope the following points will make this clear.

If we follow tetrapod evolution there is a progression from external to internal fertilisation, from eggs deposited in the environment to eggs protected from the environment by an outer shell and then on to gestation within the mother. Even after birth mammals do not take their sustenance directly from the environment but from the mammary glands of the mother.

And humans generally are not content to eat food taken directly from nature. It is altered by extracting, mixing, cooking and preparing so that much of the time the consumer does not even know where it originated.

We aim to nullify the effects of weather and seasons by the use of suitable clothing, We are able to eat food that is out of season by having it transported round the world or by preserving it, or dehydrating it or freezing it. We do not depend on the seasons for procreation and we are able assist conception when it doesn’t occur naturally. All of this serves to detach us more and more from our surrounding environment. Some people are not happy about this detachment and so they call for us to “get back to nature”.

But this separation is necessary for self consciousness to develop. An organism that does not feel itself to be outside of nature cannot have self consciousness.

There must be a feeling of “me in here against nature out there”. We humans are unique in considering our activities as contrasting with the natural world. We contrast natural with artificial. No other animal has separated itself from nature to the extent that humans have.
Humans can trace their ancestry back through reptile-like, amphibian-like and fish-like conditions, the latter three have obviously remained at an earlier condition than humans. This does not mean that they haven’t evolved since the split with the ancestors of humans. After all there are a multitude of ways of being a reptile, an amphibian or a fish. It just means that they haven’t grown out of the environment they find themselves in to the extent that humans have.

This separation from the environment can even be observed in each individual human looking from toe to top. We can be said to have our feet planted firmly on the earth. Gravity holds us to the earth and our legs support our weight and allow us to move about. Our arms are freed from this task and using the marvelous structures at the ends of them we can create out of the substances of the earth. Gravity plays a lesser part in their activities.  Moving on up our brains, being suspended in cerebrospinal fluid, are even more free from earths gravity. Using our brains we create, not from the substances of the earth but out of our inner selves. Being encased in the skull separates our brains even more from the external environment.

Using our hands we mould earthly substance, using our brains we mould thoughts.

Evolution is a creative process and it has turned creatures into creators.

216 thoughts on “Tetrapod Evolution and the Evolution of Consciousness

  1. John Harshman: You have two major problems in that assertion. First, pre-evolutionary classifications are not attempts to discern “kinds”, which is what we’re supposedly talking about. The fact that groups are nested within groups should have given you a clue to that. “Kinds” by definition are not nested within other “kinds”. Second, methods in systematics have changed radically since the period Mayr and Simpson are talking about there. Quote-mining will not help you.

    Linnaean classification was an attempt to discern kinds. The fact that groups are nested within groups shows you the design pattern. No kinds are not nested within kinds. The archetypes are nested within each other to bring about the kinds.

    And the Creationist can adopt those radically new methodologies to help them on their quest.

  2. Frankie: Linnaean classification was an attempt to discern kinds.

    Please provide some support for this assertion. And if it was an attempt to discern kinds, why can’t you point to some particular level of the classification as the unambiguous level of the “kind”?

  3. John Harshman: Please provide some support for this assertion. And if it was an attempt to discern kinds, why can’t you point to some particular level of the classification as the unambiguous level of the “kind”?

    Contact the creation orgs and Linne put the CK at the level of genera. Gee how did I know that if he wasn’t searching for it?

    You dare chastise me for alleged ignorance and here you want me to help you with yours.

  4. John Harshman:

    Charlie, you imagine that you have explained something. You are wrong. I conjecture that you have no clear conception yourself, and this accounts for some of your difficulties. Your analogies are so far all useless, including “dark energy”, “centrifugal and centripetal”, and “chrysalis and butterfly”. The quote from Steiner is likewise opaque.

    But it seems that there is only one archetype for all animals, which is best expressed by a sphere, as you claim. Is this true? Or, as Steiner claims, is it best expressed in the “higher” animals? Is there a separate archetype for choanoflagellates? For plants? How many archetypes are there, and what are they? How does this single, animal archetype relate to the ladder of life?

    If you can’t even explain what you’re talking about, what’s the point?

    Using current evolutionary theory can you explain how the form of the butterfly is imprinted in the shell of the chrysalis before the insect has taken shape inside?

    No I do not think that there is only one archetype. I take it you can recognise a dog if you see one. Why is this? Can you explain what it is about the animal that enables you to recognise it as a dog?

    Formative processes can be said to be planar, they come from the direction of the plane at infinity. In the same way matter building processes come from the direction of the point at infinity.

    Do you believe in the big bang? Do you believe that it involves a singularity? If so then you know what I mean by point at infinity. The plane at infinity is just the polar opposite of this and you know how nature loves opposites.

  5. Kantian Naturalist:
    John Harshman,

    I don’t find CharlieM’s views difficult to understand.

    As far as I can tell, he maintains a Neoplatonic (or perhaps more neo-Aristotelian) picture of biology. On this picture, there’s the unchanging, non-spatio-temporal form or archetype, and then there’s the particular exemplifications of that form in each individual living organism. It’s a view with deep roots in Coleridge, Teilhard de Chardin, and many others. (I might disagree with him over how close it is to Goethe per se, but that’s a side issue and not one I really know anything about. But there’s this, The Will To Create: Goethe’s Philosophy of Nature, for the curious and idle.)

    The Neoplatonic picture of biology, with its deep commitment to evolution as a teleological process, is at odds with modern science, but as we’ve already seen, CharlieM is not interested in holding his picture to the evidentiary standards of modern science.

    I don’t find his views at all difficult to understand. I simply see no reason at all to think that they are true. As I see it, any speculation that is not sufficiently constrained by empirical evidence is indistinguishable from bullshit.

    Thanks for the link, I’ll have a look when I get a chance.

    Do you believe in the reality of singularities? And if so do you also believe in the reality of the plane at infinity?

  6. Kantian Naturalist: I do think that teleology is real, but I do not think of it as a kind of cause that is distinct from mechanistic causation.

    Mechanistic causation is just another term for teleological efficient causation.

  7. Kantian Naturalist: One nice objection that Wheeler raises against radical, anti-representationalist enactivism is that if the cognitive system is not functionally decomposable into components, the cognitive system would be too closely coupled to its environment to respond adaptively and creatively.

    That does not seem “nice” to me.

    Problem-solving seems to require representations.

    I expect that it requires simulations. I’m not sure whether a simulation should count as a representation.

  8. John Harshman: You haven’t even seemed to have noticed my claims about amphibians. And those are the counter to your claims about mammals and birds. As for you being smarter than a salmon, that may be true, but you should attempt to demonstrate it by making intelligible statements, which so far you have not. How the collective intelligence of a salmon species could be measured or even made a coherent concept is unclear to me.

    I didn’t really see much in your claims about amphibians.

    You mentioned that a few species of frog do not rely on water to lay eggs. Does this mean that they have developed further than the majority of frog species? You also stated that frogs have added an extra segment to their legs. What has actually happened is that they have elongated tarsals. I would say that digitigrade mammals and birds, and unguligrade mammals have taken this a step further. And I don’t see how you think that having a relatively large genome can be said to be a progression.

  9. RoyLT:
    I’m still trying to get a clear picture of what you are asserting.Are you suggesting that all life forms from the first bacterial cells to modern humans are different levels of expression of the same “Jesus” archetype?


  10. Mung,

    Mechanistic causation is just another term for teleological efficient causation.

    What would non-teleological efficient causation look like?

  11. CharlieM: I didn’t really see much in your claims about amphibians.

    Then you should consider actually reading the whole thing when I go to the trouble of typing it.

    You mentioned that a few species of frog do not rely on water to lay eggs. Does this mean that they have developed further than the majority of frog species?

    That question exposes once again your linear conception. There is no “developed further”. There is only “different”.

    You also stated that frogs have added an extra segment to their legs. What has actually happened is that they have elongated tarsals. I would say that digitigrade mammals and birds, and unguligrade mammals have taken this a step further.

    “Further” again. Yes, the tarsals are the extra segment. Does that make me wrong, or what? The question was amphibians vs. humans, right? Humans don’t have elongated tarsals.

    And I don’t see how you think that having a relatively large genome can be said to be a progression.

    It is if, like you, you think that there’s no junk DNA.

  12. CharlieM,

    OK, it appeared from earlier posts that you were suggesting a single archetype for all of life. So ‘the Logos’ is the archetype for humans only. Got it.

    Next question, when two genera are similar in structure and have a generally-accepted evolutionary link, how are their archetypes related? For example, I would suggest that Canis and Vulpes fit these criteria. Do you deny that these two groups share a common Canid ancestor, or are their archetypes somehow related?

  13. Mung: Mechanistic causation is just another term for teleological efficient causation.

    I understand why one might say so, but I am not sympathetic to Aristotle’s views about causation, and certainly not at all to a Thomistic interpretation of those views. (I think that Aristotle himself is deeply ambiguous on many deep metaphysical issues. One can read Metaphysics and have a rough sense of the general picture while still being very unclear on the details!)

    Aristotle himself does not actually say that there are four kinds of cause. What he says is better thought of as saying that there are four kinds of explanation of why things are as they characteristically are: we can explain what makes a thing a thing — ‘thinghood’ (ousia, substance) in terms of structure (morphe, form) or in terms of underlying stuff (hyle, matter).

    Thinghood — to be a thing, any particular thing (tode ti, “a this”) – is to have structure and stuff. When we explain a thing in terms of its stuff, we can talk about the “material cause”. When we explain a thing in terms of its structure, we can talk about the “formal cause” but also the “efficient cause” and “the final cause”.

    The distinction between mechanistic causation and teleological causation has no basis in Aristotle. As far as I can tell, the first person to try and make that distinction was Leibniz.

    Leibniz was basically sympathetic to the rise of mathematical physics in the 17th and 18th centuries, but he also knew the Scholastic tradition extremely well — he read Suarez as a teenager. On my interpretation of the history of philosophy, Leibniz understood extremely well that if mechanistic causation was the only kind of causation, then we end up denying the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and freedom of the will. (He understood this because that is exactly what happens in Spinoza’s philosophy!) Thus he had to introduce a distinction between mechanistic causation (at the level of what appears to us as physical substances, “bodies”, that exist in space) and teleological causation (at the level of what really exists, non-spatial and non-physical mind-like substances ).

    Kant takes this up in the distinction between the determinate judgments in the Critique of Pure Reason and the reflective judgments of teleology in the Critique of the Power of Judgment. From Kant, teleology becomes a central concept in the German Idealists like Schelling and Hegel, English Romanticism like Coleridge, and subsequent thinkers in these traditions: Emerson, Peirce, Dewey, Bergson, etc.

    I am actually not happy with the distinction between “teleological causation” and “mechanistic causation”, just as I am not happy with the distinction between teleology and teleonomy.

    I would rather begin with Dennett’s idea of “the physical stance” and “the intentional stance”, and proceed from there. The next step is to disambiguate Dennett’s “the design stance” into a distinction between “the teleological stance” and “the artifactual stance”. I would also re-label the first two as “the mechanistic stance” and “the discursive stance”, respectively.

    This yields three “primary stances”: the mechanistic stance, the teleological stance, and the discursive stance. But these are just stances that one can take; it doesn’t tell us what the stances are taken on.

    Given my anarchistic ontology of process, the answer is: the primary stances are taken on relatively stable processes. In the case of the teleological stance, the relatively stable process in question involves the dynamics of organizational closure and thermodynamic openness. In the case of the discursive stance, the relatively stable process in question involves the dynamics of successful and unsuccessful cooperation.

    (This much suggests that on my picture, we look to empirical science to understand what the real processes are that we take stances on. That much fits with my general methodological commitment to scientific metaphysics. Moreover, if we think of “the manifest image” in terms of stances taken, and “the scientific image” in terms of processes that stances are taken on, we arrive at a much more satisfactory fusion of the two images than anything Sellars himself was able to achieve.)

  14. I.m sorry that I haven’t managed to post for a while. I have been asked questions that I would like to reply to and I hope I a haven’t left it too long.

    Hi Charlie
    I believe the thesis you are developing is: the process of developing consciousness was part of developing isolation from our environment. Do I understand this correctly? Your statement:

    Is key to your thesis if I understand it correctly.Can you develop evidence to back this up?

    Hi colewd

    You are more or less correct.

    Evidence comes from observation: In the case of individuals self-consciousness only gradually appears in young children as their independence develops. Modern Western science was founded on the principle that the observer separated her/himself from the objects under examination. The observer has to distinguish self from the world.

    Owen Barfield, Oxford Inkling and friend of C.S. Lewis, describes the way human consciousness has evolved over historical time using the following terminology:

    To begin with we have original participation where there is no separation in the individual conscious mind of an inner and an outer world. Then we have alpha thinking which has culminated in present day science. This is an onlooker consciousness. Theorizing is an instance of alpha thinking. Beta thinking involves looking inward, reflective thinking, thinking about thinking. It is by this type of thinking that Barfield makes the following statement:

    Obvious as it may be to reflection that a system of waves or quanta or discrete particles is no more like solid matter than waves of air are like sound, or raindrops like a rainbow, it is not particularly easy to grasp, and it is almost impossible to keep in mind, that there is no such thing as unfelt solidity. It is much more convenient, when we are listening for example to the geologist, to forget what we learnt about matter from the chemist and the physicist. But it really will not do. We cannot go on for ever having it both ways.

    The evolution of consciousness is not a progression from a consciousness that is the same in kind only with a lack of knowledge compared to our present day Western minds . These types of consciousness are different not just in degree but in kind. Barfield writes:

    When we find a primitive mind incapable of grasping what is to us the self-evident law of contradiction, it is absurd to imagine such a mind thinking in terms of cause and effect, and of inference from one to the other. Rather we are in contact with a different kind of thinking and a different kind of perceiving altogether.

    The quotes above are from “Saving the Appearances – A Study in Idolarity”, by Owen Barfield.

    According to Barfield we are aiming towards final participation which is similar to original participation only then it will involve a higher self-consciousness.

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