The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

A History of Concepts

One could argue that ancient gods simply represent concepts. As concepts were forming in human minds, human minds expressed them as concepts. And their interaction yielded religions.

Ancient gods represented qualities, mountains, rivers, forces of nature, emotions. Gods were vehicles for natural forces to express themselves. Gods were created for each new phenomenon or discovery. Ancient religions were systems of concepts: they classified and organized concepts through a network of legends (symbolic narratives) and a series of rites (symbolic actions) in a manner not too different from how Marvin Minsky’s “frame” organizes knowledge. A legend expressed the function of the force in nature and in relation to other forces. A rite expressed the attributes of the force.

They were “local”: each culture developed different sets based on local circumstances.

As lower concepts gave rise to higher, more complex concepts, old gods were replaced by new gods (e.g., the god of thunder or of the Nile was replaced by the god of fertility or of harvest). New gods were created as the mind progressed from purely narrative/literal concepts to more and more abstract concepts.

At some point there arose the concept of all concepts, the concept of Nature itself, the concept of the supreme power and of everything that exists, of the force that is behind all other forces. Thus monotheistic religion was born.

God became not the vehicle for a force but “the” force itself.

Religion is, ultimately, a way to pass culture (a system of concepts) on to future generations. People of different religions have not only different rites (physical lives) but also different mental lives, because they think according to different conceptual systems. There is no one-to-one correspondence between Roman gods and Indian gods, and that explains why ancient Rome and ancient India were completely different societies: they had completely different concepts, i.e. people thought in completely different manners.

In that sense, monotheistic religion represents a major leap forward in cognitive skills. Just like the zero enabled higher mathematics and the Roman arch enabled taller buildings, so the single-god religion enabled higher thinking.

 


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