Roads to Consciousness: Crucial steps in mental development

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Saint-Mont, Uwe
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For a long time, philosophers have considered the conundrums of consciousness, self-awareness and free will. Much more recently, scientists have joined in and begun to unravel the secrets of mind. Biologists, physicians and psychologists, studying the human brain, but also physicists, engineers, and computer scientists, working on organizational principles of intelligent information processing systems, have contributed to the subject. This contribution explains several “roads to self-awareness”, all of them based on the natural sciences. The first one follows our bio-psychological evolution. The second road starts with the engineer’s point of view and mainly builds on information science and technology, in particular robotics. The third road taken is the most abstract; it exploits complex dynamic systems and their emergent properties. Despite their different origins and methods, these lines of investigation converge. That is, the findings of various fields can be combined into a unified theory of mind and self-awareness, which is the main purpose of this paper. This overall synthesis suggests that the mind results from a multi-hierarchical organizational structure, and self-reflexive flows of information in embodied systems. In addition to this, stable self-awareness appears spontaneously in sufficiently complex robots, when the system’s capability of describing itself crosses the level of conceptually clear information processing (thinking). As an application, one obtains a number of construction principles for mentally developing systems that are explained towards the end of this contribution.