GROK: How Did Consciousness Evolve?

GROK: How Did Consciousness Evolve?


I read biology/psychology related stuff to keep up with human behavior from a science perspective - it is useful for:

  • creative fodder for sci-fi
  • looking for tech angles on culture and mental health
  • finding paradigms to create characters/models for story building

That being said, my goals in those areas are loose - a tighter one for this piece would be: think about the consciousness of a fictional character - how developed can it be?


Author: Michael Graziano

Published: The Atlantic

Discovered through: Emergent Future (Blog of Algorithma) post


Concept: Evolution as the grand unifying theory of biology

Consciousness’s history of understanding has been primarily: philosophy, cognitive science, religion

What is the adaptive value of consciousness? When did it evolve, what animals have it?

Concept: Attention Schema Theory

  • less than 5 years old
  • states: the brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and consciouness is the ultimate result of that evolution

Selective Signal Enhancement

  • computing trick: competition
  • nerves shout for attention, only a few are heard
  • SSE: 700-600 million years ago
  • arthropod eye - selects visual edges, supresses the rest
  • primitive - doesn’t require a central brain, easily decentralized


  • “roof” in latin
  • central controller for coordinating senses
  • coordinates overt attention
  • all vertebrates have one
  • constructs internal model for predictions and planning of movement and input


  • brain structure, ~350-300 million years ago, reptiles, birds, mammals
  • in humans - became cerebral cortex - is massive, by far largest structure in human brain
  • reptiles, probably smarter than we give them credit for


  • upgraded tectum
  • can react variably to variable input (look toward, look away, store in memory, etc.)

Tectum is master of overt attention; cortex adds ‘covert attention’ - moves deep processing from one item to another

The cortex constructs it’s own internal model

  • a very abstract set of info for what covert attention is doing, and what it’s consequences are (i.e. machine learning)


  • Teddy Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”
  • open minded, optimistic

Social prediction

  • one’s self model beocmes a model used to guess at others

Concept: Theory of Mind

  • ability to understand the contents of another’s mind
  • humans, apes, dogs, crows, crocs (care for their young)


  • a big leap, at least 70k years ago


  • we’re hyper tuned to tap into eachother’s mind states - that’s our adaptive edge
  • Side effects: False postivies: Ghosts
    • [Religion as a healthy, encouraged false-positive for consciousness?]


  • TODO: send to Brooke re: Veganism
  • TODO: further reading: bio of Francis Crick
  • TODO: Michael Graziano bio
  • TODO: Rough research of The Atlantic and it’s goals/agendas
  • TODO: Justin Barrett - Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD)
  • TODO: Consider/research an AST model for character building (The Sims as a model?)
  • TODO: write Triage character bios with this in mind

Published: July 03 2016

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