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Posted by Mario Dovalina on July 24, 2001 19:21:08 UTC

I think we somewhat overvalue conscious thought here. It's not like you can draw a line between conscious and not-conscious. If you accept that traces of consciousness and life are inextricably entwined, I suppose if you traced life back to the point where it "began" to exhibit a mental model, you would invariably end up at life's beginning. Everything beyond the zero-hour of life can be explained by evolutionary theory. I might mention that as life grows more and more evolved and intelligent, our instinctual impulses are overshadowed by conscious decisions. So, I suppose that the first life-forms were creatures of pure instinct, with nearly no conscious existence. All our mental models came from that point.

Regardless of how the life started, it does beg the question "How did that early life survive with no previous instinct or experience to go from?" I don't know, but I can guess, at least. A group of amino acids begins self-replicating for whatever reason, those who by coincidence get it (some basic action) right pass their genes on, those who by coincidence get it wrong die out. Note that at this early point there is no need for such complex actions as "Find mother's breast." Actions like this I don't think could have evolved with no background. But tendencies like "Don't go out into deep water" or "Don't go into that pool of acid over there" or "Avoid that lava flow" I think could easily have evolved through no-background trial and error. Everything else followed from that point. I would guess that whatever inconcievable event led to the beginning of life (whether it's God or a bolt of lightning or developing amino acids doesn't matter for this discussion) is all that matters here, not the development of any mental model. Trial and error is all that is needed, simple coincidence for very simple actions.

Now, the more pertinent question isn't "How did our mental model come to be?" but rather "How did life get started?" I think that debates about the origin of our mental model will inevitably come to this point, which will of course be influenced by your belief or lack of belief in God. So, we have reached a dead end.

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