Awareness and consciousness: self versus non-self

the self versus the bodyThe difference between the physical body and the living personality requires a clear differentiation between matter and life. This investigation has been captured by science under the term autopoiesis. Autopoiesis is the study of the characterization of a complete living system as it compares to either a part of another living system or non-living matter.

Over many years of laboratory research, test results have demonstrated that all animals and plants also have this self-concept awareness, which prevails through their responses to various environmental challenges. The functions of their mechanical physiology have also confirmed that this self-concept pervades through all living tissues, reflected by the display of episodic memory—remembering specifics about past events and past sensations.

For this reason, we see animals learning quickly which activities result in pain and which activities result in pleasure. They immediately respond simply because every living being seeks pleasure (Dere et al. 2006).

Bitbol and Luisi (2004) sum up the distinction between living organisms and non-living matter as grounded within the principle of cognition. A definition of cognition as proposed by Bourgine and Stewart (2004) is, “A system is cognitive if and only if sensory inputs serve to trigger actions in a specific way, so as to satisfy a viability constraint.”

Bourgine and Stewart also contend “A system that is both autopoietic and cognitive is a living system.” Bitbol and Luisi clarify that “the very lowest level of cognition is the condition for life,” and “the lowest level of cognition does not reduce to the lowest level of autopoiesis.”

Cognition and awareness

When we consider the element of cognition, we bring into focus the nature of awareness. Cognition is the awareness of self and non-self. The awareness of self and non-self are required for a living organism to consider survival important. Without an awareness of self and non-self, there is no intention for fulfillment.

To investigate this we could first analyze the difference between a living organism and a piece of matter without the component of life. An easy comparison would be between single-celled bacteria and a dead cell separated from a living body.

A single-cell bacterium is a complete living organism. Studies have shown bacteria indeed respond to stimuli, avoid death, and avert pain. As we know from medicine, bacteria will intelligently mutate and adapt to antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are bacteria that have intelligently defended themselves. Living bacteria also conduct all of the activities required for independent survival: consumption, digestion, reproduction, self-propul­sion, sense perception and emotional response, the intention to survive, and self-organization.

Clive Backster’s (2003) EEG work with bacteria proved that bacteria could sense danger through a subtle means of communication. This is also called quorum sensing. In quorum sensing, bacteria communicate amongst each other to come to consensus about the safety or risk about a particular environment.

Non-living objects display none of these characteristics. A machine may digest and respond to stimuli, but it will not have sense perception and emotional response. A machine relies upon a living person to program its tasking and response. Once a machine has been disconnected from its power source, the machine ceases function.

The self concept

A single cell can be put into a Petri dish and kept alive, however. But this in vitro setup makes the cell now dependent upon the environment of the lab equipment, driven by living lab operators. The cell has thus become a surrogate of the lab, just as it was formerly a surrogate of the living body. It is now more like a machine hooked up to an energy source. It displays no independent sense perception, the desire to survive or independent emotional response.

While the cell is part of the living body, it maintains the body’s self-concept only when it is connected to the power source of the body - the living being. Once detached, it displays metabolic continuation, but no separate self-existence.

Without intention and the awareness of self, there is no consciousness. Without consciousness, there is no life.