Consciousness as an intelligent complex adaptive system: A neuroanthropological perspective

Anthropology of Consciousness 35 (1):15-41 (2024)
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Abstract

In complexity theory, both the brain and consciousness are understood as trophic systems—they consume metabolic energy when they function. Complex systems are dynamic and nonlinear and comprise diverse entities that are interdependent and interconnected in such a way that information is shared and that entities adapt to one another. Some natural complex systems are complex adaptive systems (CAS), which are sensitive to change in relation to their environments and are often chaotic. Consciousness and the neural systems mediating consciousness may be modeled as CAS and, more specifically, as intelligent complex adaptive systems (ICAS), where intelligence means that a nervous system can solve problems successfully by intervening between sensory input and behavioral output. Evolution of any ICAS will result in emergent properties, particularly advanced brains. Two processes are involved in integrating experience and knowledge: the effort after meaning and the effort after truth. These efforts are mediated by the predominance given to direct experience presented to the brain's sensorium and modeling processes mediated by higher cognitive functions. Understanding consciousness as an ICAS has profound repercussions in how anthropology conceives of culture.

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