According to Charlie Stross, “Consciousness seems to be a mechanism for recursively modeling internal states within a body.” Animals, such as humans, use their senses, their nervous system, to construct a model that allows them to optimize their living conditions. Most of what the brain does is unconscious, so why isn't all of it? Perhaps there is a survival advantage conferred by creating the artificial “recursive model” that allows a dualistic mind/body sensation of consciousness, whereby the model (the mind, conscious awareness) can have an active conversation with the machine of the body, second guessing its impulses and suggesting alternatives. Any creature exhibiting complex behavior appears to be capable of emotions and a rich inner life, according to Jonathan Balcombe. And the inference seems justified to me.
By happy accident, I have had the pleasure of seeing three distinct species of salticid spiders here in Fairbanks (including Sitticus finschi and Phiddipus borealis). These small creatures have two large eyes for binocular vision that they use to stalk their prey, a trait we share with them. I wish I had a macro lens on my digital camera, but even without one, just a few days ago I captured the image of a spider staring back at me as I focused on him. There is more evidence than not to suggest that he was aware of me, in some sense, just as I was aware of him. For me, that is one of those experiences of “seeing the world in a grain of sand.”
Philosophy is, in one sense, an attempt to “model the model”, and technology is providing us with a more direct route to do this via better sense data - by watching the degree of activity in regions of the brain with real-time brain scanning. This brings the larger, unconscious activity that the brain engages in into the realm of conscious awareness. And it is speculated that this could conceivably allow one to control all of one's impulses, specifically the less desirable ones. Could this be the much sought after cure for procrastination? Still a long way off.
One last observation: “The Chinese room” thought experiment supposes that the man in the room exchanging symbols for symbols under the door need not have a recursive model (in Stross' sense) to do so. But we know that such a model has evolved and, so far as we have means to detect it, we have not failed to observe it. Call it salience, even the insects beneath our feet display it (recent studies of animals like bees and even jellyfish suggest our understanding of their behavior is far from complete). Who is to say their model is any less vivid to them than ours is to us? We do not know the basic unit of thought or emotion, but in a materialistic world, surely it must exist in some sense.
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