Among the many empirical fruits of knowledge, which I bestow upon my students, is the concept of the characteristics of living things. After all, to study and understand the phenomenon of life is to basically understand what constitutes an organism. Without going into great detail, one of these characteristics is the ability of an organism to respond to stimuli from their external environment. Many indeed are the stimuli in the external environment when one considers chemical, electromagnetic, pressure, sound, light and so forth.

Now, animal life may be studied hierarchically from the most simple to the most complex with a greater degree of specialization and variety and interdependence of working parts as one progresses up the Phylogenic scale from Phylum Porifera (Sponges) to Phylum Chordata. Indeed in the sponges, response to the external environment is primarily chemically based in the absence of a nervous system Whereas in the chordates, a seemingly impossible concert of internal events guide a prey seeking hawk from high in the air through a high speed dive to the successful capture of a fleeing rabbit it earlier spied in the underbrush from 1000 feet aloft.

Our species, Homo sapiens is empirically grouped with the Chordates, more specifically Subphylum Vertebrata, where we share many characteristics with such notable beings like the rattlesnake, Mako shark, Tuna, Bull frog, and Ostrich. We all have backbones and our brains (including the "I" function) are safely encased inside a skull. Examining this seemingly incongruous family tree a bit closer we can see more of a family resemblance between ourselves and such "critters" as the family dog, your neighbor's cat and Bonzo the Chimp down at the zoo. We are all the more closer in relation to each other rather than the ostrich or any fish because we all have hair, and the females of our species give birth to live young and soon thereafter suckle the infants with milk produced by special glands. However, as far as we can determine, only Humans can think and have consciousness. Considering further that we are products of evolution and we are not willing to ascribe the quality of consciousness to "lower" animals then where did consciousness first arise in the evolutionary journey which has lead to modern humans?

Humankind has been walking the surface of the planet for a very long time. Just how long depends on how you describe the criteria for what it means to be human or which expert you consult. Many of the much-heralded paleontological discoveries point to the origin of our species on the African continent, specifically in east and southern Africa. Of course, good science demands self-testing, rigorous analysis and re examination of prevailing theory and hypotheses. Still scientifically works in progress, several competing explanations of origin seek to placate the public's need for a tangible, concrete and ultimately easily understood story.

It is worthwhile to bring to your attention that paleontological evidence is usually composed of bones (whole or fragmented) tools, and chemical traces of organic materials. Nowhere in these scientific treasure troves is there any tangible remains of the origin and development of human consciousness. Tool making has been observed among some species of animals including, as expected, chimpanzees, but we not ready to say unequivocally that they have consciousness. Such an esoteric entity does not lend itself to the process of preservation and fossilization as does bone. There is however, peripheral evidence for this human characteristic.

Early people painted images of themselves, animals and scenes of daily life and also carved figures in bone, stone, and ivory. Now, almost without fear of contradiction, we can hold these items as definite proof as the manifestation of a consciousness. After all, why expend the energy and effort to both convey perception and concept to others of your kind if not itself a product of a sense of awareness of self and the world in which you inhabit? Such objects have been found in several places around the globe and give foundation to the emergence of a consciousness intrinsic to a species widely spread on the surface of the globe. Most of these objects and artifacts date back to approximately 35,000 BC, long after our species had successfully populated the continents of the "old world". Consequently, while certainly attesting to a sense of consciousness at a particular point in our kindıs evolutionary journey, they offer no comforting closure to the broader question. When did consciousness first emerge among humans? In fact, are we guilty of a kind of ethnocentrism, when we relegate our search for the origin of human consciousness only among our immediate human ancestors who themselves were essentially members of our species, Homo sapiens? Is there any reason to discount the possibility that human consciousness first manifested itself in a species almost uniform ally postulated to be directly ancestral to our own? The likely candidate for this dubious position in our family tree is a noble and athletic Hominid named Homo erectus. Widely agreed to be human, hence the genus name "Homo", and the first whose anatomy proves to possess that human quality of walking completely upright, hence the specific epithet, "erectus". Look at a skeleton of Homo erectus from the first cervical vertebrae down to its metatarsals and you are looking a modern, though more robust, human. The face, however, is another story. Certainly not what sleeping beauty would have enjoyed waking to.

Fossil evidence indicates they too originated in sub-Saharan Africa about 1.5 million years ago, long before our species. They migrated north and east and west into Europe and Asia with populations eventually becoming well established Admittedly science loves them because they were tool makers, hunters, anatomically very similar to us with smaller brains and big jaws and they were the first to migrate to greener pastures. Their position on the human ancestor tree for the moment is fairly concretely positioned, unless of course, another set of observations, new evidence or reinterpretation of the evidence shakes that tree up. So in many ways, we view them with a status of "less than the angels" with us as the angels. Are we ready to look for evidence of the emergence of consciousness among these hominids whose brains were approximately half the size of ours?

Homo erectus, of course has left us, their probable ultimate descendents no records or structures. They did not produce art as did the "grandfather" members of our own species. So, are we at a dead end so to speak in our search for the origins of human consciousness?

At this time, I seek to remind you, that paleontologists rarely leave a stone unturned (pun intended), and they meticulously scour their chosen digs. Such detailed work led several years ago to the discovery and excavation of the undisputed remains of ancient hearths dating back to more than 400,000 years ago. Pieces of charcoal surrounded by arranged stones with pieces of animal bone were found in Provence, France dated to the time of occupation of this area by Homo erectus.

Let's digress for a moment and together tap our knowledge of the Greek myths. If you recall, the Olympian gods bested the original rulers of the heavens, the Titans in an epic struggle. One of the Titans allied with the gods, (click on homework help, then minor gods) Promethesus was granted permission to reside with the gods and was instrumental in the creation of mankind. Taking pity on their ignorance and plight, Prometheus spirited away some fire from Heaven and gave it as gift to humankind. This act was seen by the gods as an attempt by Prometheus to make humans more god-like. Such an act was treasonous to the Olympian gods and Father Zeus punished Prometheus by having him chained to a rock where his liver would be consumed by vultures only to be regenerated for their eternal dining pleasure.

Well then, the evidence as manifested in these archaic hearths clearly indicates that Homo erectus at some point developed the ability to capture and replicate the process of fire generation. Clearly this was something that set them apart from the other animals. They were almost god-like. Fires do, of course, occur naturally and independent of an ignition by man. Lightning strikes and Magna flows periodically, in accordance with natural laws, set both fields and forest ablaze. Nature's wisdom allows such events to remove the old and diseased and eventually allows for rejuvenation with the new and strong.

Those lowly bands of Homo erectus were occasional witnesses to the wonders and horrors of the natural world and well as inextricably a part of it. There were no boundaries between the two. Early in their existence as a species, Homo erectus responded and reacted to natural fire as any other animal; they feared and fled from it. What then was that "Promethean" spark or inspiration which dared them to "capture" and harness the power of fire? With fire, the seemingly endless dark of the night could be held back. Both metaphorically and realistically, a demarcation line may be drawn here. Here, it seems to me that this group of Hominids were no longer content to acknowledge and react to fire. Did an emerging consciousness, an "I function" conceive the ability to grab a tree branch, place it in the fire and harness a part of the world's wonders ? With such an act (or series of parallel acts) a separate "I function" seems to emerge. It seems to me to say, "I am here, as is the fire, and I can hold the fire". The sense of having the power to seize and control a force of nature implies a sense of self and ones relationship to the world which both begat and contains him. However else to define consciousness?

It is commonly taught in Biology classes that the first simple groups of animals to possess some kind of nervous response are the group that includes the Jellyfish and Coral. Nothing complex here, no spinal cord, or Medulla Oblongata, Neocortex or Hypothalamus. Just a "net" of sensory and motor neurons that allow the animals to detect prey, release their offensive tools and "reel" in their prey. From here we can progress up the Phylogenic tree and observe that the nervous systems of animals becomes increasingly complex culminating in the Mammalian brain whose member species are sometimes classified more according to their complex behaviors than their morphologies.

Nested within the boxes input and output lies our "I" function", our consciousness. However, as I see it, our consciousness transcends our own existences. Because collectively we are the conscience and consciousness of the planet. Its eventual fate and all that dwell on it may lie with us. Our Promethean gifts have multiplied many times over. Not content to rule fire, we have progressed considerably from those hearths in France to where we now tinker with the basic molecular structure of life. Every new step in our progress to acquire power over the natural world brings more questions in the ethics and morality of our actions. Consequently, our ability to achieve consensus in response to those questions becomes more elusive. Is it inevitable that the further development of Human consciousness increase the entropy of the universe?


For the purpose of this discussion, we are calling the conscience activities of brain the "I function". The central nervous system consists of 1 X 1012 neurons. Each of these neurons have dendrite connections that monitors the activities of over one thousand other neurons and also have axon connections that may give output signals to another thousand plus neurons. Each neuron functions as a computer interpreting the one thousand plus possible input signals and deciding if the individual signal warrants a reaction, what type of reaction and where among the 1000 or more axon connections to send the output signal.

The I function has no direct connections to the outside world. All sensory transducers of the peripheral nervous system are neurons that connect to the neurons of the spinal cord which in turn connect to neurons in the unconscience brain. The neurons of the unconscience brain edit, amplify, and make interpretations of the sensory input signals. These neurons then decide what if anything to send to the I function part of the brain. The same sensory transducer input may be interpreted many many different ways by an individual neuron depending on experience. There are the 1000! combinations of input signals that the individual neuron may receive. Each of these may elicit a slightly different response. All of this activity is done at the pre-conscience level and the information received by the I function is controlled by unconscious areas of the brain. This has significance in understanding how individual people will differ in the interpretation of the same information.

CONSCIOUS Vs UNCONSCIOUS BRAIN As they may function in walking and driving.

The I function can handle only a limited number of variables. How many times have we been told that we "can't do two things at once" ? The solution to this is that input signals are digested and prioritized by the pre-conscience areas of the brain. Likewise out put signals are not sent directly to motor neurons but rather an activation signal is sent of a group of neurons [think of the brain as a series of interconnected function control boxes] that have been programmed to perform a complex motor function. As we walk, the I function sends an output signal to the "walk" master control box which sends an output to the right leg motor control box which via signals to various other muscle control boxes which in turn send outputs to various muscle groups to place the leg in proper motion for walking. As this leg begins to move, the inner ear sensors send a balance change output which causes the "walk box" to send outputs to the left arm, shoulder and leg to move is such a way as to counter the shift in equilibrium caused by the right leg movement. All the walking functions are done at the unconscious level. The I function only made a decision to walk. The unconscience brain sent a proper sequence of output signals to subroutine boxes to implement coordinated walking without the I function being aware of the vast array of interactions between output and input signals that must continuously occur to take a few simple steps. In simple terms, walking is largely an unconscious brain activity.

This was not always the case. Sometime in the first two years of life the I function figured out the individual sets of input and output signals needed for the walking activity. With repeated experience, the needed series of output, input, interpretation, more output, more input etc. were relegated to subconscience control boxes.

In later years most of us learned to drive a car. At first we had to think about which pedal our foot was on and how must force to use on the pedal. The car lurched forward and jerked to a stop until we learned by trial and error how much pressure to on each pedal. We had difficulty judging closing speed of other cars and our brains were on information overload in light traffic. We over corrected, under corrected and had difficulty judging the speed needed to properly make a turn. Then there was parking. Once again the I function developed a series of relevant subroutines which soon became part of our subconscious brain. The I box developed other subroutines to filter out the many sensory inputs that were not relevant to operating the car safely. These were put in a preconscious area of the brain. Today we drive a car using very little of the I function. It is absolutely frightening to think about driving on a crowed high-speed highway when I, and most of the other drivers, are controlling their vehicles almost entirely via the unconscious brain. Yet the unconscious brain can handle a large number of variables while the I function works best with a few number of very explicit variables. This is what driver training and experience has done for us. The unconscious brain takes care of most of the reactions to control the car and the preconscience sends an occasional explicit output to the I function related to some event perceived to be significant. As we drive to and from work the I function is planning lessons, putting together shopping list or working on solutions to our daily problems. Most of the time the unconscious brain is used to adjust the speed of the vehicle, to counter the carıs drift to the right or left and to follow the contours of the highway. It is possible to let the subconscious brain to all the driving. This appears to happen in "road hypnosis " and may be happening sometimes when we are having a conversation on a cell phone.


What is the difference between education and training? Let's once again look at the I function and the unconscious brain. We could say that education is a set of inputs directed at the I functions whereas training is "programming " the subconscious brain. But then we need to ask "how do we program the subconscious brain from the outside of the nervous system?". The answer seems to be that we must cause the I function to develop subroutines that it relegate to boxes in the unconscious brain. We commonly refer to these "trained" subroutines as habits.

The movements of the hand and fingers as a student writes are a function of subconscious routines programmed by the I function into boxes on the side of the brain which controls the writing hand. Children learn to form letters using the I function. They are taught each stroke needed to form a particular letter and then to put together a sequence of strokes that will form the particular letter. They practice this until the muscle sequences are programmed into their unconscious brain. If a teacher permits a child to form a letter incorrectly or in a sloppy manner, that will be the program that will reside in the unconscious brain. If the teacher insists on properly formed letters, then the unconscious sequence of motor functions will be set up to form the letters correctly. We teach the multiplication tables to the I function. The students repeat them over and over again until they are programmed into the unconscious brain. As adults we "know" what 6 X 7 is due to the input of the unconscious brain into the I function. When we are asked "what is 6 X 7 ?" a set of air vibrations are changed into electro/chemical impulses by sensory neurons in the ear. These go to the auditory boxes of the unconscious brain which converts them to words. The auditory processing neurons send outputs to the I function as well as many parts of the unconscious brain. Some of these outputs stimulate the memory neurons that store the equation "6 X 7 = 42" and when this neuron receives the first part of the half, it completes the equation and may send the missing part to the I function. This means that, in some cases, the I function may receive the input question and "42" milliseconds apart. In other cases, the I function will receive the question and need to send output signals to various unconscious areas of the brain to elicit a "correct" response. This means that learning is not just causing the I function to program and store new subroutines in subconscious boxes. It is also causing unconscious neurons to establish connections with different areas of the unconscious brain.

This explains and supports much of educational psychology. The Piaget stages of cognitive development called the concrete and the conceptual have been the subject of many educational studies. Normally high school students are in the concrete level and college sophomores are in the conceptual level. Many pedagogical techniques have been devised to try to move younger students into the conceptual level but with very limited success. If the organic difference between these levels of thinking is a function of growth of new synopses between neurons in the unconscious brain, then it is reasonable to assume that conceptual thinking is a function of brain maturation.

Since the neurons of each brain will grow different patterns or synopses between neurons[remember that each neuron will have over 1000 input synopses and an equal number of output and that there are 1X1012 neurons] , there is an infinite number of patterns of connections. Therefore no two brains, even of monozygotic twins, will have the same pattern of connections.

The fact that neuron connections grow in an unpredictable pattern gives support to Ausubel's theory of conceptual leaps. Ausubel theorizes that information is filed is various places in the brain and that random bridges are formed between the files of information and that these bridges will form in a random non-predictable pattern. This theory has largely been passed over in education because it states the concept development is nonlinear and unpredictable. This does not give the curriculum designer any direction thus has been ignored. The theory of conceptual leaps would follow the random patterns of neuron connections and the fact that the unconscious brain can handle large number of variables but also is not bothered by ambiguity and uncertainty. Ausubel attempts to handle this with advance organizers and concept maps.

If we carefully analyze science concepts that we often try to teach our students we will discover that they contain [1] multiple variables [2] a degree of ambiguity (until the entire concept is understood) and [3] a degree of uncertainly (especially when the student is not good in math). This means that conceptual thinking is largely a function of the unconscious brain.

We have all enjoyed seeing the "light" go on when a student suddenly understands a concept. The light goes on when the neurons of the student's unconscious brain make connections and interpretations between "boxes" of subroutines. These have been programmed into the unconscious brain by the I function.. The unconscious brain often sends a fully developed concept to the I function. We experience a sudden "insight" to a problem or situation.


First it means that we can not "teach" concepts. The brain of the student will form concepts as neurons make new connections. The best that we can do is to correct misconceptions until the studentıs brain arrives at an acceptable concept. This may not occur in a given time period since it is a function of brain maturation. If we can not cause a student to grow taller in given school year, likewise we can not expect to accelerate brain maturation.

Next it tells us that we should be designing education experiences to provide the students with a wealth of varied experiences that can be used as building blocks for conceptual insights.

Our expectations and evaluations [grades] are often unrealistic. If we really wish to understand the brain maturation level of our students, we need to evaluate their levels using something like Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives.