In the beginning there wasn’t anything of notice, writes psychologist Shimon Edelman in his new book “The Consciousness Revolutions: From Amoeba Awareness to Human Emancipation.” But as soon as a cell was born, according to Edelman’s view, consciousness came into being. All it took, he says, was a cell membrane to create basic conditions for consciousness: differentiation from the outside world, the power to act upon preferences and care – in this case about self-preservation.
“Single-cell lifeforms have been basically conscious from the get-go,” writes Edelman, professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It did not stop there: built-in capacity for discernment, when validated by caring and backed by memory, is potent magic.”
Edelman traces the evolution of consciousness through the book, from the most basic phenomenal awareness of bacteria to the pleasures and pains of human self-consciousness to artificial intelligence and the political possibilities of social consciousness. He integrates a computational understanding of the nature of consciousness and its ethical implications, building toward a call for a conscious effort to create systemic change in today’s world.