1. What is the kind of knowledge we can acquire in biology?
1.1. Biology as a natural science
1.1.1. Inductivism Empirical statements Universal explanatory theories
1.1.2. Objectivism
1.1.3. Reductionism
1.2. Biology as a distinct science
1.2.1. The biological object
1.2.2. Evolution Evolution and creation Evolution and reproducibility
1.2.3. The brain The primary objective of brains is to produce behavior Which behavior is to be produced? The foundations of adaptive behavior Consciousness objectifies the world
2. How does biological knowledge help us understand being?
2.1. What is man?
2.2. The mind body problem
2.3. Materialism and religion
2.4. The meaning of being

This is a preliminary draft, representing my first stages in pondering about the more general questions that arise when working as a biologist (citations will be included at a later stage). This document will probably be eternally under construction - all helpful comments and relentless critique are highly appreciated!!

Last modified by
on 06-jun-2004

There was a young man who said, "God,
It has always struck me as odd
That the sycamore tree
Simply ceases to be
When there's no one about in the Quad."

"Dear Sir! Your astonishment's odd,
For I'm always about in the Quad,

And that's why this tree

Will continue to be

Since observed by

Yours faithfully


Ronald A.Knox

I think only few people have tried to develop a metabiology so far. An extensive internet search revealed only one substantial occurrence: in connection with Richard Dawkins' meme-concept, ideas (in analogy to genes: memes) are understood as informational organisms with a biological substrate (i.e. metabiological organisms, see Memetics: A Systems Metabiology). 
This is not, however, in any way related to what I have in mind. It is, actually, rather the opposite, as I will try to make clear below. 
I will first give an introduction into my notion of meta-biology and then try to develop my thoughts as thoroughly as possible.
Of course these are not all my thoughts. I don't even intend to write anything new. It is just a condensed version from what I have read and then picked and chosen from to form my view of a metabiology. Citations will follow sometime.

  The term Meta-physics stems from the ancient greek "tà metà tà physiká" meaning "that, which lies behind physics". It was coined as a bibliographical term by the greek philosopher Andronikos of Rhodos (80 BC) in order to refer to the philosophical work of Aristotle which followed (i.e. was located behind) his scientific writings in an 100 BC edition. Metaphysics today refers to the philosophical discipline that is concerned with the principles and meaning of being. Whereas physics attempts a systematic description of the concrete physical world, metaphysics revolves around questions that progress beyond the concrete. One could put the central metaphysical question as: what is the kind of knowledge we can acquire in physics and how does that knowledge help us understand being?
This is not quite correct, since the "physics" in metaphysics is used as pars pro toto to refer to the physical world and all science studying it. Can I keep the terms the way I introduced them anyway?

In analogy to the above definition of metaphysics, I'd like to propose the central question for a metabiology: what is the kind of knowledge we can acquire in biology and how does that knowledge help us understand being?
I am aware that I subsume a particular theory of science and a large part of what is commonly understood as metaphysics under my idea of metabiology. However, as the common denominator of both topics is biology and both are reflections on levels more abstract than the empirical science, I still think the term metabiology is applicable. (any counter arguments are welcome!)
As the basic metabiological question is dyadic, my attempt will consist of two parts:

What is the kind of knowledge we can acquire in biology?  
  Knowledge itself, of course, is not a term whose meaning is self evident. One could try to understand knowledge as the collection of truth. What is truth? The most common definition of truth is "the accordance of a statement with its fact". But when and how is this accordance granted? If somebody states "There is a unicorn in the garden, eating roses", can that be true? Usually, these questions are solved by having several persons agreeing that the accordance applies. On what basis do people agree on what is true? In our example, one would take a look out of the window to see whether there really was a mythical beast in the garden, eating roses. So seeing is believing? Since there have been no confirmed sightings of unicorns, we don't expect to see one, if we look into the garden. If we then saw a unicorn, we would probably check our eyesight, try to catch the animal and touch its horn etc. We probably would not do that, if we saw a horse in the garden. Evidently, our senses are not a good source of truth. Our reliance on our senses depends on previous experience, on knowledge that has been confirmed by other people. What makes people eligible for creating truth? In the tale of the emperor's new clothes, two clever persons are enough to make believe there was accordance between their statement and the fact. What enables us to distinguish between truth and deception? Is there a distinction between them, or do we only believe ourselves and persons we trust? In our daily life truth is a social matter and rather fuzzy and complicated. It depends on who makes the statement, how many they are and how much we want to believe the statement and so forth. It could be a lot simpler, if truth were defined by an arbitrary convention. If a statement meets the convention, everybody will agree that it is true. Of course, different conventions could be used in the different domains of our culture (e.g. religion, philosophy, science, art) and indeed many such conventions have been agreed upon both implicitly and explicitly (examples for these conventions are the pope's infallibility dogma or English law, which decrees that truth is what a jury unanimously agrees with, and is agreed to by subsequent jurists). One of the most successful conventions of truth was adopted by the natural sciences: reproducibility. Sticking to this convention, the natural sciences have successfully acquired a specific kind of knowledge, scientific knowledge. It is important to keep in mind that however successful and dominant this type of knowledge is for the progress and evolution of mankind so far, it is only a fraction of the reality we experience: that which is reproducible. As I have recently learned, such a conventionalist definition of truth is the logical consequence of radical constructivism (for definitions see here and here). 
I will elaborate more on the basis of this epistemological aspect of metabiology at a later stage of this draft: see section 2.
What part of the scientific knowledge is biological and how can it be distinguished from the rest? The answer to this question lies in examining the type of knowledge acquisition in biology. I think careful study of the most successful methods and strategies that unify biology with all other natural sciences and those that distinguish it from them is the key to apprehending what the biological kind of knowledge might be.
Biology as a natural science  
  When thinking about the methodology of natural sciences, three basic methods / strategies come to my mind. Using induction, objectification and reduction, scientists have been able to render the natural sciences the driving force in the cultural evolution of mankind.
  If knowledge is a collection of truths, then induction is a method how to arrange these truths. Induction is the abstraction of a more general statement from multiple particular statements. According to this definition, there are two processes of induction that take place 1) at the abstraction of empirical statements (facts) from observations and 2) at the abstraction of theories from facts.
Empirical statements  
  The smallest unit in the wealth of scientific knowledge is the emprical statement or fact (these terms denote the kind of truth they convey: scientific truth). An observation attains this status, if it can be reproduced (otherwise it was merely an anecdotal observation). Why should that convention be better than any other? For us erroneous humans, there are practical reasons to chose reproducibility: The reproduction of observations (under various circumstances and in front of various observers) is used as a means to attain truth by minimizing the contextual (anecdotal) effects that are necessarily connected with each single subjective observation and observer (see part 1.1.2. Objectivism). In this way, we can eliminate the individual errors that each observer necessarily makes at each observation. There is no way to eliminate the errors all humans necessarily make! 
I think this brief statement suffices for this section. I will have to deal with it more deeply in section 2: I will have to give a review of epistemological thought (Hume, Kant, Hegel and evolutionary epistemology) and discuss the viewpoints of solipsism/realism/constructivism.
Universal explanatory theories  
  In the first inductive step, we try to assure ourselves that our observations are facts. In the second step, we infer a more general hypothesis from one or more of these facts. An hypothesis is a construct that can produce phenomena that are isomorphic with the empirical statements from which it was induced. We then use these hypotheses to predict future observations of which we have no prior experience. An hypothesis attains the status of a universal explanatory theory if it has successfully predicted several observations (since the status of hypothesis vs. theory is not very clearly defined, I will use the term "theory" throughout).
However, there is a logical problem in this approach: what leads us to believe that we will observe something in the future if we have observed it several times in the past? Why do we expect the sun to come up tomorrow, just because it has done so in the past? Is there a logical reason to believe in constants, a justification for our belief that the present is like the past, like the future? If not, is there a way to avoid skepticism and acquire "objective knowledge"? These are the basic problems around which David Hume's "An enquiry concerning human understanding" revolves. He comes to the conclusion that there is no logical justification for our beliefs. Following and further developing the empiricist tradition of Locke, Berkley and Hobbes, Hume tried to escape skepticism by commonsense probabilism. With growing experience, one learns that there are conjunctions between objects, order and universalities (Section V). Rules derived from these frequent / reproducible observations tend to be more reliable (probable) than others (Section VI). However plausible this seems, it is irrational (it is only a belief) and in no way a satisfying answer to the questions above. I agree with Popper (1972), who found that these questions are psychological questions, which do not help us in the quest for knowledge at all. It is not sufficient to count how often a theory is corroborated, how many facts there are in favor of a theory. There is no logical reason to infer "all swans are white" merely because we have seen hundreds of white swans. However, if we are lucky, we can falsify an universal explanatory theory by contradicting empirical statements.
Thus, the most important test-statements that are deduced from a theory are those that do not confirm but falsify this theory. This closes an inductive / deductive loop in which there is constant feedback between facts and theory. Scientific progress is thus characterized by elimination of falsified theories and creation of new, yet to be tested ones. This means that one can never be sure that the critical - potentially falsifying - experiment has been carried out. It becomes evident that we never uncover part of an otherwise hidden abjectivity, but rather construct a reality with which we can reconsile future observations. More to this in section 2!
This leads us to the second major convention in the natural sciences (solving "the problem of demarcation", Popper, 1972): Only those theories (or statements deduced from these theories) which are falsifiable by facts are scientific theories (statements).

"The great tragedy of science -- the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact."
T.H. Huxley

Is this sufficient for a general methodology? Can I leave Kant aside in this matter?

  For successfully abstracting a general explanatory theory from a collection of facts it has proven most valuable to take an observational (meta-)position of higher order than the theoretical framework of the system in question. In this manner, the degree to which subjective states of the abstractor enter the theory can be more easily minimized. 
Isn't there a better way to explain this?
When facts are gathered, the scientist has to take a position on a more abstract level than the object he is studying. This is important not only because he might otherwise subjectify the abstraction from his results but also because he might interfere with each single observation. Most experiments are designed in such a way that their outcome is not influenced by the presence of the observer. Natural sciences have been most successful in constructing theories about a universe that always follows certain universal laws, whether anyone is observing it or not. Violations of the objectivist credo that there is a world that behaves the same with or without us are scientifically rather unsatisfying. Albert Einstein was never able to concur with the conclusions that were drawn from quantum mechanics: he used to argue "the old man does not play dice with the universe" when confronted with the statistical interpretation of Schrödinger's wave-equation.
To evaluate to what extent we can objectify biological research, it is indispensable to examine the biological object more carefully.
  Our understanding of the world is structured hierarchically, i.e. we perceive the world as composed of different levels of complexity. The human mind tends to look for the simplest possible components in a system and assign levels to different assemblies of these components. The smallest particles in the universe, for example, are assigned to the level of physics. A large enough assembly of these particles is assigned to the level of chemistry. When is that assembly "large enough"? As soon as the facts of the whole complex of particles can be explained more easily by a chemical theory than the facts of the sum of the particles by a physical theory, without loss of explanatory content. (Does that make any sense at all?) The same is true for the transition from chemistry to biology: as soon as it is easier to explain the facts of a whole complex of chemical objects with a biological theory than it is to explain the facts of the sum of the chemical objects with a chemical theory (without losing any explanatory content), the whole complex of chemical objects is called a biological object. (Is this application of Occam's Razor admissible?)
This does not necessarily mean, however, that biology has to be entirely reducible to physics and chemistry. If there are instances, where the whole constitutes more than the sum of its parts, some explanatory content were lost by the reduction. It does mean, though, that contradictions between biological facts on the one side and physical or chemical facts on the other side are not admissible.
Reductionism and Occam's Razor are logical consequences of inducing general explanations from particular observations. If the goal is to find one (comparatively simple) theory explaining a complex of observations, a simple theory will always be favored over a more complex theory, if their explanatory value is equal. Large efforts have been made to find the ultimate consequence, the "theory of everything" which generalizes all current theories. However, until now, no-one has been able to construct such a theory.
Biology as a distinct science (particular methodology)  
  So far, I have only tried to give a short description of elementary scientific methodology. Much has been written about this (and I will refer to my still to be created references for further reading.) and I hope there will be only little dispute as to biology belonging into this basic framework. But where within this frame of reference is biology to be found? Certainly, in principle it shares all the general approaches with the rest of the natural sciences. But are there specificities that feature biology? Does it contain methodological elements of its own? Is knowledge acquisition in biology different from knowledge acquisition in other natural sciences? We will have to scrutinize the biological object and the kind of knowledge we can acquire about it to come closer to an answer.
The biological object  
  In common language biology is understood as the science about life. What is life? On can think of several criteria that distinguish living from non-living matter:
  • Movement 
  • Reproduction 
  • Metabolism 
  • Cellular organization 
  • Growth 
  • Excitability
It is clear that all biological objects must share the property "life". However, it is a necessary but not a sufficient criterion. If one investigates into insect flight, for example, it is not easy to agree that this person is doing biological research. As we have learned in the previous section (Reductionism), all objects in this universe are physical objects. If it is easier to apply a chemical or a biological theory to explain certain observations of a physical object, it becomes a chemical or biological object. In other words, insect flight is a physical object, if e.g. only the aerodynamics are studied. As soon as muscle contraction or the evolution of wings is under study, it becomes a biological object. A scientific object is thus determined by the type of theory that is used to explain the facts of that object. But how do we know that the method in question (e.g. aerodynamics or muscle contraction) belongs to a particular science?
It now becomes evident that by elaborating at the criteria that constitute the biological object we will arrive at a canon of properties that in turn constitute biology as a particular natural science.
To be continued... (I might cite Wolbert 1978 from here on)

Since now we have some criteria at hand to determine the biological object, this might be the time and place to shed some light on a very basic property of this object. Observations from a biological object are hardly ever reproducible in the strict sense. This can be easily exemplified: at some point, every biological object comprised either parts or single or a collection of individual living organisms. Because every single organism always differs from any other organism to a certain extent (even if it is genetically identical) and because every organism changes over time, observations on one individual (or parts or assemblies thereof) can never be exactly reproduced (not even in the same individual). This is inherent to the biological object and is usually not critically dependent of the accuracy of the measuring devices. Errors of measurement can be found in every empirical science. System immanent deviations between otherwise identical observations are unique to the biological sciences. With one notable exception: Quantum physics. Just as quantum physicists have to resort to statistical interpretations of their data, most biologists use statistics to estimate the reliability of their observations. This is definitely a weakening of the prime scientific convention of truth. However, since there is no such thing as absolute truth anyway and moreover the agreement as to when an observation is called "reproduced" critically depends on convention as well, this is only a quantitative and not a qualitative deviation from the initial convention. This basic stochasticity in the biological object will become important below, when the role of biological knowledge for our understanding of being is discussed. It is pivotal, for example, for a biologist's way of assessing the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to any given phenotype.
I think this needs more elaboration?

In the following part I have picked two prime objects (which most scientists would certainly classify as biological objects) to exemplify the kind of knowledge acquisition in biology: Evolution and the brain.

  Evolution is certainly the constitutive biological object that unifies the diverse disciplines and distinguishes biology from other natural sciences. (I have more about this subject on my evolution page.) However, evolution is a historical process. No other natural science is focussed so tightly towards an historical, thus irreproducible process. It is commonly agreed upon, that evolution does not follow any predestined goal or aim. An historical random walk through an evolutionary landscape as the tying knot for an increasingly diverse science?
Even worse, according to the definition above, the empirical statement about evolution as the cause for the origin of species can not be falsified and is therefore not a scientific statement. If the constitutive element of biology is neither reproducible nor falsifiable and thus does not meet two of the major prerequisites to be ranked as a scientific hypothesis, why do most biologists accept evolution and how can scientific methods aid in understanding evolution?
Evolution and creation  

Luckily, the evolution / creation debate is not at all symmetric. Creationists have a great disadvantage: it is much easier to observe evolution than creation. There are many experiments showing evolutionary processes at work in molecular design (e.g. with self-catalyzing RNA), resistance formation (e.g. in bacteria) or directed change in quantitative traits (e.g. hair number or fruit shape in plants) using artificial selection pressures. The number of areas, where the power of evolutionary processes becomes evident enlarges every day and has now also reached non biological fields (e.g. computer science, robotics, machine design etc.). However, as we learned in the section on the problem of induction, sheer number of observations in favor of an hypothesis is not a very good argument. Moreover, all evolutionists can show is, that evolution is working today, but whether it was the cause for the origin of species is a mere inference of the type "the present is like the past". If creationists agree to that uniformity principle, the only logical alternative to creation is evolution and every instance where evolutionary processes can be shown, falsifies creation in that very instance (and vice versa). Comparing the number of experiments that showed creation as the driving force (and falsified evolution) with the number of experiments showing Darwinian evolution as the underlying principle (and falsifying creation) reveals a rather strong bias towards evolution. Evidently, with the growing body of evidence for evolution, creationism is in constant retreat.
Interesting findings (Nature 396, 336-342; 1998) prompt a short detour deeper into this particular discussion. Since it is not debatable any more that mutation and selection function to bring about long term adaptive changes (indeed the principle is used as a tool in developing many of the modern industries), many creationists have surrendered on this point. Instead of sticking literally to the bible (as creationists are almost exclusively Christian), modern creationists admit change in the origin of species. Darwinism, however, is said not to suffice to explain the means by which this change is brought about. Modern creationists accept that "microevolution" (adaptive changes) within species follows a Darwinian basis, but mutation and selection are regarded as incapable of producing the large differences between genera. In a groundbreaking paper Rutherford and Lundquist (1998) have now suggested a molecular mechanism which would enable a single individual to enrich its genome with a multitude of mutations, the effects of which will only penetrate in stress situations. More specifically, they found out that a protein in Drosophila (HSP90) buffers heritable alterations in other proteins by binding to them and restoring their initial function. Only when this HSP90 is lacking during development (by mutation, by a pharmacological block or by being sequestered by other proteins in case of stress such as excessive heat), these alterations penetrate and lead to "phenotypic variation affecting nearly any adult structure". It is obvious that such a mechanism can collect potentially useful mutations over a very long time and release them just at the point when they might be needed: in times of harmful environmental conditions. Another mechanism that promotes the same effect was found in the bacterium Escherichia coli - when the cell is subjected to strong radiation or chemical mutagens, the SOS response to DNA damage preferentially introduces Adenosine bases at abasic template lesions in the replicating DNA strand. Again, it is obvious that this will lead to an increase in the mutation rate (and thus phenotypic variation for selection to act upon) at just the right point in time. In other words: in principle, mechanisms such as the abovementioned may have served to bring about massive phenotypic variation in times of environmental stress. It is easy to conceive that with such a multitude of variants together with the strong selection pressure exerted by harsh environmental conditions, it may take very few generations for large and fast evolutionary canges to occur. Not only provide these findings mechanistical explanations for processes for which creationists need a creator, they also suggest a molecular mechanism by which such prominent concepts as "punctuated equilibrium" (Eldredge and Gould, 1972; Gould and Eldredge, 1993) could substantiate.
In two related papers (PDF: 1, 2) in the same journal (Nature, 717, 2002), results are reported that undermine the creationist argument even more. The researchers found that simple changes in a single regulatory protein are sufficient to change the gross body plan from a crustacean-like plan with legs on all body segments to a more insect-like one with legs only on the three thoracic segments. Thus, it's not even necessary to accumulate a number of mutations for large scale morphological changes. It appears not unlikely that with more research, even more 'macro-evolutionary' mechanisms are discovered.
I hope this short digression made it very clear that evolutionary research today is highly dependent on the assumption of uniformity in time and can only provide circumstantial evidence for past evolutionary paths. If creationists accept the uniformity principle they also have to accept the evidence. The abovementioned findings have filled another gap in evolutionary theory that "the old man" was supposed to fill. It should also be clear now, how the concept of evolution could gain scientific status without being susceptible to scientific methods directly.

Evolution and reproducibility   
  Can an inductive science provide insight into an historical process? As mentioned in the previous section, it is assumed that evolutionary rules are a) universal and b) constant in time. Evolutionary models or experiments generally try to elucidate these rules and thereby make probabilistic predictions about the time course and direction of evolutionary processes. Evolutionary biologists do not merely try to explain evolution a posteriori, which would be tautological (e.g. "surviving of the survivor"), but rather try to find the causes driving the historical process still today. Strictly speaking: evolutionary biologists repeatedly observe the effects of universal evolutionary laws not the historical evolution. Whether these laws were in effect when the species originated is not a scientific question, it is a postulate.
One important point has to be mentioned when we consider the reproducibility of evolutionary observations: evolution acts on a dynamical landscape, using the stochasticity of its underlying mutational and selective processes to produce unique solutions to each new problem. Evolutionary experiments can therefore be expected to have different outcomes and time courses for every run. It is the compliance or non-compliance with evolutionary theory that is tested in such experiments, not the final state of the studied system.
The brain  
  One product of evolution has received a considerable amount of interest in mankind's scientific quest: the brain. It seems that there are currently many reproducible observations made about the brain (to the extent mentioned above) and most of today's theories about specific or general brain functions do produce test statements to falsify these theories. One function of the brain, however, might not as easily be subjected to all scientific methods as most other functions. There are reasons to believe that the objectification of consciousness might fail. In order to elucidate these reasons, it could be useful to have a glance at the basic organization of brains.
The primary objectives of brains: behavior  
  The brain did not evolve to see, smell or hear. An eye can not be selected for on its own. Only if the information the senses convey to the brain is translated into fitness values, (i.e. recognizing a mate, escaping a predator and so forth) can selection favor organisms with senses. Ambulant organisms are faced with the problem of adaptively responding to rapidly changing environmental stimuli. Brains are evolution's solution to that problem. There is a rather drastic discrepancy in the behavioral organization of sessile and ambulant organisms: Sessile organisms only have a very limited capability to actively influence their living conditions. Thus, their ethograms are dominated by reactive behaviors. In ambulant organisms, the ability to move around must have co-evolved very tightly together with a behavioral repertoire that enables the organism to move around in order to find suitable habitats. Their ethograms therefore contain largely active behaviors. One outstanding feature of brains is their ability to actively / spontaneously generate behavior.
Which behavior is to be produced?  
  Of course it is of outmost importance for the organism to mainly produce adaptive behaviors. Evidently, the decision which of the many behaviors to produce at a given instance may well prove vital. There are, in principle, two possibilities how to accomplish this task: either with innate behavior programs (e.g. reflexes, stimulus-response chains etc.) adapted to each circumstance by evolution or with acquired behavioral traits, adapted by experience. In the 18th century, part of the empiricist philosophy of Locke (An essay concerning human understanding) was the assertion that individuals were born with a tabula rasa and only experience could establish mind, consciousness and the self. On the continent, Leibniz envisaged the self as a monad carrying some knowledge of a basic understanding of the world. The discussion as to whether nature or nurture are the driving force shaping cognitive abilities was for a long time considered to be interminable. Until the 1960s this dispute was still very vivid in the behavioral sciences: in the tradition of the English empiricists, Skinner's school of behaviorism postulated general rules for all types of learning, neglecting innate differences or predispositions. Lorenz was one of the protagonists of ethology in Europe, which focused on the inherited aspects of behavior. It was Lorenz who ended these antagonistic views of behavior in showing that there indeed are innate programs ("fixed action patterns") and predispositions in behavior where only little learning occurs. Today, it is largely agreed upon that nature and nurture are intimately cooperating to bring about adaptive behaviors. Probably only in very few cases ontogenetic programs are not at all subjected to behavioral plasticity. Conversely, the facilities of acquiring behavioral traits have to be genetically coded for.
This paragraph is actually the introduction to my diploma thesis. It fits so well in here :-) I have more about my own brain research on my learning and memory page.
The foundations of adaptive behavior  
  The degree to which behaviors are innate or learned is a) limited by the capacity of the brain to store learned or innate behaviors and b) dependent on the complexity of the environment to which the organism is adapted. It is essential to keep in mind the intricate interplay of reactive, spontaneous and learned behavior. Even under extremely well controlled experimental circumstances, a stream of observed behaviors will hardly ever be exactly reproduced at a later time. This stochasticity is vital for the animal to act flexibly in an ever changing environment, but it can be fatal if an important goal (feed, mate, etc.) has to be pursued. One could see the actual stream of behaviors an organism produces as a trade-off between internal set-points and initiating activity: The momentary deviation from a desired state superimposes a bias upon the actual field of probabilities for producing certain behaviors. This bias shifts the range of behaviors that are produced, towards behaviors that serve to minimize the deviation from the desired state. Whether these behaviors are then recruited from the pool of innate or from that of learned behaviors is arbitrary. Such deviations from internal states are commonly called drives, instincts or emotions and are a prime mechanism for affecting a wide variety of behaviors to pursue an adaptive goal (survival, reproduction etc.). For most of the evolutionary timescale, the only way to globally affect the interplay between learned, innate and spontaneous behavior was to use drives, instincts, moods etc. However, as the complexity of the environment (also the social environment) grew together with the complexity of the behavioral repertoire, a second mechanism evolved: consciousness. The advent of internal representation ("thinking") and self-awareness served very well indeed to produce adaptive behavior. One can imagine the brain as a device in which drives set the stage for the directive under which behaviors are produced, and consciousness aids in selecting the most efficient behavior and creates new behaviors. This implies that drives function on a global scale, sub-consciously. It is thought that drives / emotions are a much older evolutionary invention than consciousness and the evolutionary age of the corresponding brain areas confirms that view. 
Consciousness objectifies the world  
  Consciousness is the means by which we solve problems either internally (i.e. thinking) or externally (i.e. by communicating). Having the ability to anticipate problems and their solutions and abstractly trying out several possibilities before performing the actual behavior is the basis for objectifying the world. Consequently internalizing not only problems of everyday life but also more abstract terms, means treating them as entities in their own right. Objects from the external world (physical objects) and from inside (moods, drives, instincts) are subjected to close scrutiny by consciousness. However, when trying to understand what consciousness is, it has to objectify itself, which might prove a hard thing to do. I deem it well possible, that after quantum mechanics, consciousness research might be the second area where objectivism fails and final conclusions about the nature of the object can not be drawn. 

to be continued... 

Conclusion of part I  
  to be continued... 
How does biological knowledge help us understand being?  
  to be continued... 
What is man?  
  to be continued...
Know thyself!  
  to be continued...
Molecular Biology, evolution and the brain  
  to be continued...
Biology and the human society  
  to be continued...
The mind body problem  
  to be continued...
Materialism and religion  
  to be continued...
The meaning of being  
  to be continued...
copyright © Björn Brembs 2004.