Look at the nature around you. Nature does not have intelligence and self-awareness, but it has created living beings with intelligence and self-awareness (an example of which is us humans). Philosophically, how can such a thing be justified?

This question and similar questions have occupied my mind for some time and I really do not understand where self-awareness and intelligence originates.

For example, our body is made up of different parts such as the brain, heart, etc., which together make us stable and alive. But none of these components have intelligence and self-awareness, and in fact, they only perform their duties in a robot-like manner. So where does our self-awareness and reason come from?

Also, in addition to your answer, I would be grateful if you could introduce some sources for reading.

(I'm a bit of a beginner in philosophy and I don't know exactly what tags to choose for my question, so I apologize in advance if the chosen tags are wrong.)

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    We do not know... the issue has been discussed extensively by philosophers for millenia. Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 15:43
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    “The harmony of natural law reveals an Intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.” — Albert Einstein. Nature either does or does not also have the properties that we call intelligence and self-awareness depending on what one recognizes as the nature of nature. Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 15:49
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    As Mauro points out, we do not yet know how the process got started initially, but we do know that once it did, the process was very, very gradual and incremental, with lots of dead ends stretching over ~billions of years. Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 19:10
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    What you're calling 'self awareness' and 'intelligence' are man made labels, and don't really indicate an objective property of living things. It's short-hand to sort of describe what we're like, but they're ultimately interpretations, not objective descriptions. A more pertinent question might be: 'how does nature produce multi-cellular and animal life'. We know the answer to that question.
    – Cdn_Dev
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 20:07
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    A couple of points: first, brainless, single-cell organisms exhibit sentience and subitizing-like awareness of their surroundings insofar as they are able to judge whether or not another organism is safely consumable. Second, Daniel Dennett has made much of the fact that even non-living entities such as viruses evolve, e.g., here youtube.com/watch?v=OsLBMr51-bo at about 44 mins in he discusses viral memes.
    – DJohnson
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 23:38

2 Answers 2


Living organisms are examples of dissipative systems, like a wind-Zephyr, or the Red Spot storm on Jupiter. This general category, involves emergent structures that are sustained by their accelerating a transition from unlikely ordered states, into likely disordered states. This is part of the universe sponteneous tendency to iterate towards increased disorder, which we call the Second Law of Thermodynamics (Conformal Cyclic Cosmology provides a plausible idea how this could be getting reset). Highly ordered or maximally disordered systems tend to be boring, the interesting place is the transition between, described by complexity theory, and the domain where emergence happens.

Life is the subset of dissipative sytstems that create local patches of decreased entropy, at the cost of increasing entropy outside the organism so a net acceleration in increase of entropy - through respiration and eating, for instance. The Gibbs Free Energy is a useful way to understand how living systems don't just 'roll down the hill' of entropy, but find jumps of harvestable energy that can be used to power metabolic processes. See this Mindscape episode: Kate Jeffery on Entropy Complexity & Evolution.

Life seems to have begun at 'white smokers', gas vents in alkali mud, where polarised molecules that are present sponteneously form spheres, that have different chemical conditions inside than outside, a recipe for energising dissipative complexity. An RNA soup gathering in these spheres, formed replicating systems that propagate specific molecules, and then whole ecologies of molecules, energised by chemical gradients between the inside and outside of the cell. Mitochondria and the cell nucleus seem to have begun as parasites, that became obligate symbionts, and supported an explosion in the complexity of life. See Are Life and Intelligence analogous? for discussion.

We can map the entire neural system of one of the simplest organisms, and we find it has 1 out of it's 302 neurons dedicated to distinguishing self from not-self, which has obvious advantages in not eating it's own body. That seems to be the origin in more complex organisms, of touch. Evolution has a pattern of 'hijacking' one thing for another, like human ear-bones are the descendent of fish jawbones.

The brain being split into hemispheres, seems to be about maintaining parrallel processing of the world for each side of our body, but with one having an internal emphasis, and one external (see cerebral hemisphere and hemispherectomy). This can be understood as extending self vs other.

Intersubjectivity, our capacity to see the point of view of others and invite them into our own, can be understood as being rooted in mirror neurons as specialised neurons in neuronal structures for mimicing other humans. And extended by the neocortex, which the Dunbar Number indicates developed for understanding the intentions of others and navigating our social landscape not for generalised problem solving - this can be associated with the Default Mode Network, and the maintenance of the social self.

Self-consciousness having this special significance we alot it, is I think best understood in terms of Hofstadter's strange loop model, and tangled hierarchies. That is, that cognitive maps which include a self-model that can be altered towards generating desired outcomes, produces feedback loops that involve intentionality, including as applied to what kind of being to be or become. Crucially we can relate this to actual predictions about the role of intelligence, as Kahneman's system 2 editing system 1 responses; discussed here: Is AI capable of Hofstadter's anology? This can also help deal with Godel Incompleteness and Turing's Halting Problem, because it allows a function being executed to become a unit in a new metaphor, setting an unhalted algorithm into a coherentist fabric rather than getting stuck. It may look an obvious thing to be able to do, but this is a crucial faculty distinguishing minds from computers, as highlighted for instance in Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind.

So we have a ladder, from entropy, to inside and outside, to a social self, to intentions and active self-awareness that decides what kind of person to be.

Universal Constructor Theory is a new approach being developed to help reconcile aspects of fundamental physics, information theory, and Darwinian-style evolution, namely how a 'dead' system can accumulate information about it's environment such as to help it achieve homeostasis and replication. In it the capacity of simple systems to have constrained sets of permutations, but which one it's in being uncertain, is understood as a generalisable and fundamental property of systems. See Constructor theory of life

Some other relevant answers:

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    Nothing here that I can argue against [I've not followed all the links]. All I'll say is I don't like being called a dissipate 😄
    – Rushi
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 6:57

How does awareness arise from non-awareness? From the perspective a natural epistemology (SEP) in philosophy, it emerges (SEP). There are many phenomena in the universe that emerge, if you believe in such a thing. For instance, an oak tree emerges from an acorn. Acorns manifest no capacity for growing leaves, but leaves emerge from an oak tree. So, it is a fact about the universe or our conscious representation of it depending on your views, that living organisms manifest intentionality. From natural selection, organisms that manifest sophisticated intentionality tend to continue to reproduce in a biological arms race. Human beings, who have evolved not only intentionality, but also a social use of intentionality especially language, have come to dominate other major species on the planet as a result.

The question of why did it arise in the first place can be seen as a gradual transition in states from abiogenesis to simple nervous systems to full-fledged brains that have increasingly grown in size and complexity. Today, some philosophers consider the brain a sort of biological computer capable of physical computation (SEP). What drives this increasing complexity from simple inorganic molecules to reproducing nucleic acids right into the Great Apes? According to one hypothesis by physicist Jeremy England, complex living beings are better at dissipating heat. His hypothesis is known as dissipation-driven adaptation. Of course, this is just a hypothesis, and there are still lots of fuzzy areas of knowledge around abiogensis. Of course, there are alternative explanations. Some people believe there are magical or supernatural forces at work in which God or gods cause intelligence to happen, and such arguments are studied in the philosophy of religion (SEP).

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