Much of my writing revolves around consciousness so it seems prudent to establish a foundation for this topic. What follows will be my interpretation of Douglas Hofstadter’s work, specifically “Godel, Escher, Bach” and “I am a Strange Loop”. If you find this intriguing, I highly recommend you check out his work, it’s fascinating and far more in depth than this can be.
In the interests of brevity I’m going to skip the issue of an immaterial consciousness (a soul or spirit, or some such thing). Those ideas have many arguments and many counter arguments. These can be addressed elsewhere. As my post on Natural Philosophy points out, I’m interested in studying the way the world works, which must be understood physically.
The human brain is a form of evolved computer (it may be vastly different from our computers, but it’s basically a logic machine). It’s evolutionary purpose has changed over time, as all survival traits will. At one time, tool use, their creation and improvement, was paramount to human survival. A brain capable of creativity would be a major boon to a hominid. But creativity is such a seemingly abstract and non-computational property.
Well no, it’s not. Simulation is the key.
The human brain developed the ability to internally simulate parts of the world and extrapolate (modify and predict) how it will function in a variety of situations. This is how we created better tools and technology in general. We applied the same simulation software to our fellow hominids because social survival was equally necessary. It’s very helpful to predict how your fellow pack members will react given actions you may take (like getting kicked out for hoarding food). It’s a small step to apply that human simulating part of our brain on our own mind.
Simulating and predicting/experimenting on our self creates consciousness. The core of self is the concept you have of your self. Self improvement is becoming an improved version of yourself, something you discover by simulating a variety of your ‘selves’. This simulation is a self-reflection, like a room full of mirrors or a camera turned to it’s output screen. It reflects and amplifies itself infinitely. This is what Hofstadter refers to as a Strange Loop.
It’s what we refer to as consciousness.
Postscript: This is very brief. Probably too brief to actually make the argument properly. I just didn’t want to bog this post down to heavily. I learned the concepts from a book that’s 777 pages long and another that’s 412. Of course I’m not doing it justice. Feel free to post questions in the comments and I’ll try to clarify anything I glazed over.