"What is the essence of awareness, the spark that makes us us? Something lovely apparently buried inside us is aware of ourselves and of our world. Without that awareness, zombie-like, we would presumably have no basis for curiosity, no realization that there is a world about which to be curious, no impetus to seek insight, whether emotional, artistic, religious, or scientific. Consciousness is the window through which we understand." —Michael Graziano


  1. The state of being awake and aware of one's surroundings.
  2. Awareness or perception of something by a person.
  3. The fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world

World Science Festival

Consciousness Explored & Explained, 2010

The Whispering Mind: The Enduring Conundrum of Consciousness, 2013

QBO Robot

Mirror-self recognition is a hallmark of intelligence in animals, something found in primates, dolphins and elephants, for example, but not dogs. Here's an interesting video of leopards trying to make sense of a mirror.

On Being Human

Some questions:
  1. What does it mean to be human?
  2. What defines a being as fully human?
  3. Is being human merely biological or is there something more?
  4. What are the attributes that belong solely to human beings and not to other living beings?
  5. What are the attributes that belong to living beings but not to machines?

Lascaux.jpgTraits that Make Humans Unique

By Melissa Hogenboom • 6 July 2015 • BBC

"I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." So said the physicist Robert Oppenheimer, who helped to invent the atomic bomb. The two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 killed around 200,000 Japanese people. No other species has ever wielded such power, and no species could. The technology behind the atomic bomb only exists because of a cooperative hive mind: hundreds of scientists and engineers working together. The same unique intelligence and cooperation also underlies more positive advances, such as modern medicine. But is that all that defines us? In recent years, many traits once believed to be uniquely human, from morality to culture, have been found in the animal kingdom. So, what exactly makes us special? The list might be smaller than it once was, but there are some traits of ours that no other creature on Earth can match.

Ever since we learned to write, we have documented how special we are. The philosopher Aristotle marked out our differences over 2,000 years ago. We are "rational animals" pursuing knowledge for its own sake. We live by art and reasoning, he wrote. Much of what he said stills stands. Yes, we see the roots of many behaviors once considered uniquely human in our closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos. But we are the only ones who peer into their world and write books about it.

"Obviously we have similarities. We have similarities with everything else in nature; it would be astonishing if we didn't. But we've got to look at the differences," says Ian Tattersall, a paleo-anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, US. To understand these differences, a good place to start is to look at how we got here. Why are we the only human species still alive today whereas many of our early-human ancestors went extinct?

Humans and chimpanzees diverged from our common ancestor more than six million years ago. Fossil evidence points to the ways which we have gradually changed. We left the trees, started walking and began to live in larger groups. And then our brains got bigger. Physically we are another primate, but our bigger brains are unusual.
We don't know exactly what led to our brains becoming the size they are today, but we seem to owe our complex reasoning abilities to it. It is likely that we have our big brain to thank that we exist at all. When we—Homo sapiens— first appeared about 200,000 years ago we weren't alone. We shared the planet at least four other upright cousins.

Homo sapiens started to produce superior cultural and technological artifacts. Our stone tools became more intricate. We started to assign symbolic values to objects such as geometrical designs on plaques and cave art. Our language-learning abilities were gradually "switched on", Tattersall argues. In the same way that early birds developed feathers before they could fly, we had the mental tools for complex language before we developed it. We started with language-like symbols as a way to represent the world around us, he says. For example, before you say a word, your brain first has to have a symbolic representation of what it means. These mental symbols eventually led to language in all its complexity and the ability to process information.

It's not clear exactly when speech evolved, or how. But it seems likely that it was partly driven by another uniquely human trait: our superior social skills. Comparative studies between humans and chimps show that while both will cooperate, humans will always help more. Children seem to be innate helpers. They act selflessly before social norms set in. Studies have shown that they will spontaneously open doors for adults and pick up "accidentally" dropped items. They will even stop playing to help. Their sense of fairness begins young. Even if an experiment is unfairly rigged so that one child receives more rewards, they will ensure a reward is fairly split.

Felix Warneken of Harvard University, differentiates it like this. Children are "proactive", that is, they help even when presented with only very subtle cues. Chimpanzees though, need more encouragement. They are "reactive": they will hand over objects but only after some nudging. Something must have happened in our evolution, Tomasello says, to make humans increasingly reliant on each other. Our brains needed fuel to get bigger and so collaborative hunting may have played a key role in that. Our advanced teamwork may simply reflect our long history of that.

Chimps can knowingly deceive others, so they understand the world view of others to some extent. However, they cannot understand others' false beliefs. Tomasello puts it like this: chimpanzees know what others know and what others can see, but not what others believe. This tells us something profound about ourselves. While we are not the only creatures who understand that others have intentions and goals, "we are certainly unique in the level of abstractness with which we can reason about others' mental states." When you pull together our unparalleled language skills, our ability to infer others' mental states and our instinct for cooperation, you have something unprecedented. Us.

We tell stories, we dream, we imagine things about ourselves and others, and we spend a great deal of time thinking about the future and analyzing the past. We also have a fundamental urge to link our minds together which "allows us to take advantage of others' experiences, reflections and imaginings to prudently guide our own behavior" and this in turn helps us to accumulate information through many generations.

Charles Darwin, in his book The Descent of Man, wrote that humans and animals only differ in degree, not kind. This still stands true but that it is precisely these gradual changes that make us extraordinary and has led to "radically different possibilities of thinking." As far as we know, we are the only creatures trying to understand where we came from. We also peer further back in time, and further into the future, than any other animal. What other species would think to ponder the age of the universe, or how it will end?"

NOTE: The above is an abbreviated copy of the Hogenboom's article, for the full text, see BBC site.

What is Consciousness?

Ted Talk—Ray Kurzweil