Consciousness

Among forms of life, consciousness is practised in ways that range from being conscious of the presence of food, the differences between the fertile and the inhospitable, between light and dark, heat and cold, danger and security, and on to the presence of others and the interpreted qualities of things (Thompson 2007; cf. Godfrey-Smith 2017). This obviously extends the definition of consciousness by accepting that different forms of life are selective of the things to which they respond. Human consciousness appears to be special simply because it can name those things, and it can select its responses to some things by endowing them with certain cultural values. The various levels of consciousness with which life operates therefore display three common characteristics. The first is the expression of an intentionality, in the technical meaning of the term. Consciousness in other words is orientated towards things: consciousness can only exist by being conscious of something. Secondly it is situated, by which I mean that consciousness is orientated by means of a particular embodied facility, and it is practised from a particular perspective. Thirdly, consciousness develops along with the biologically embodied conditions within which it grows. These three features amount to treating consciousness as relational. In other words, life is not conscious per se, but it becomes conscious of something by means of its own situated and embodied development. This is important because it means that the kind of consciousness that marked different forms of humanness occurred as ways of recognising value in a set of material conditions. Artur Ribeiro has developed this point, and drawing in part upon the work of Vincent Descombes (Ribeiro 2018a & 2018b; Descombes 1986 & 2001), Ribeiro emphasises that ‘action is always an intention towards the external world’ (Ribeiro 2018b, 29). Therefore, in understanding the actions of others:

we cannot rely on causal processes or something that is internal to humans. Wanting to attend the World Cup depends on the existence of the World Cup as an object that is external to cause-effect conjunctions and external to humans, . . . This means that a link can be established between teleological and historical explanations,. . ., if the object of an intention is external,... it would mean that understanding intentions requires understanding the external object - an object that is specific to a historical period. (Ribeiro 2018b, 52, original emphasis omitted, my emphasis added)

This hints at how an archaeology of consciousness might work. Not as speculation upon what human agents might have ‘meant’ in the traces that resulted from their actions, but as an understanding as to the material foci towards which those actions were directed (Chapter 8).

Forms of life grow and develop by means of their access to the resources necessary for their sustenance and protection. This is the practical recognition of the qualities of things relative to a particular interpretant. Different manifestations of the qualities of things became recognisable to populations of practitioners, as they moved and negotiated the networks of things, spaces, and people. Eloise Govier (2019) has argued that archaeologists, in considering the relationship between humans and things, should start by questioning the assumption that these are relationships in which causes necessarily lead to effects. She bases her case on the work of Karan Barad, commenting on Barad’s statement that ‘“causes” and “effects” emerge through intra-actions’ (Barad 2007, 214). This implies, Gov- ier argues, ‘that causes and effects emerge in phenomena rather than through “unilateral” movements from causes to effects’ (Govier 2019, 51). The argument might be put most simply by considering the archaeological treatment of the humamthing relationship. In today’s archaeology this is widely conceived as a relationship in which human motivations caused things to become the kinds of things that they are for us today. Alternatively the humamthing relationship is conceived, by Govier, as one that was articulated by bodily movement, and by the attention of a particular kind of embodied humanness that directed itself towards, and was in effect caused by, its growing recognition of the qualities that existed in things. It was therefore those things that made particular kinds of humanness, and not the humanness that made those things. In selecting the work of Mala- fouris to exemplify her argument she notes that he ‘focuses on the hylonoetic (“thinking through and with matter”), and presents the concept as an alternative to hylomorphism’ (Govier 2019, 52). The latter model is one in which a process is often conceived in a way that the object is formed in the internal mind and then is projected onto the material.

 
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