The history of consciousness has much been researched and speculated upon the problem of accurately defining its history is that there are so many factors to the operation of consciousness we can only hypothesize about its true evolution. I have always found it useful to start with a concrete definition if that is at all possible in this case, so.
The word 'conscious' derives from the Latin words 'cum' ('together with') and 'scire' ('knowing'). In the original sense, two people who know something together are said to be conscious of it 'to one another'.
Consciousness Neurology. a physical and mental state of being awake, fully aware, alert, and oriented, in which the functions of the brain and the sensory stimuli are easily controlled. Psychology.1. the fact of being aware of oneself and one's surrounding's. the fact of being aware of oneself and one's surroundings. 2. see CONSCIOUS, def.
It seems apparent that the underlying factor of consciousness demonstrated by these two definitions is knowing/awareness. The "modern" definitions of consciousness seem to all define some aspect of awareness, but awareness of what? Awareness separates the individual from the world it distinguishes the "I" as a unique entity and hence aware of ones self. The well-known philosopher Descartes was first to declare in his famous phrase "I think therefore I' am". This unique phrase was the first to distinguish this so-called self-awareness formally, but is it enough to just think? Does this in itself constitute consciousness? Over many years of research individuals including myself have noticed there to be a relationship of consciousness to language and society, I believe that consciousness exist in both the mind and the reality it creates collectively with the world. It is difficult for me to discuss consciousness in terms of a history for several reasons one is that I don't believe that there is a classic history, it appears to be more of an evolution. To suggest that there is a history of consciousness is to imply that there was something in its place before it emerged. If we look at some of the underlying factors, which constitute consciousness, lets say for arguments sake these are some of the key contributors to consciousness. The parameters listed here are for the most part all subject to evolutionary development as it pertains to the individual some more than others. If we are to consider the elements listed here being subject to constant change consciousness must to be subject to environmental stimuli. This would include cultural diversification because the nature of consciousness is reflective this also
suggest that the cognitive factors mediating consciousness react to outside stimuli as well as create the environment it operates within. In the context of a “evolution” these operations would be under constant development hence giving the appearance of a so-called history. I believe that much can be learned about this history/evolution from Jean Piaget and his theories on cognitive development. Piaget’s studies in the developmental process of children, a well-known work entitled Genetic Epistemology explore the learning process of children by breaking into 4 stages their developmental process.
“The major ontological assumption upon which biogenetic structuralism is founded is that there exists no reality intervening between the central nervous system and the environment. The corollary is that all other presumed levels of reality have analytic status only. Thus, when philosophers speak of "mind," psychologists speak of "personality," American anthropologists speak of "culture," and sociologists and social anthropologists speak of "society," they are referring to patterns abstracted from behavioral (and introspective) equivalents of internal brain processes.”
“ Biogenetic structuralism specifically holds that the “mind” and the “brain” are two different views of the same reality. The mind is how the brain experiences its own functioning and the brain provides the structure for the mind”
McMannus, Laughlin and d’Aquili have in my estimation have done some of the most interesting work to date concerning consciousness and the symbolic process. As you can see demonstrated in these two definitions on biogenetic structuralism once you get past the mind body problem we are faced with a narrowing integer of mind/brain equation. To review the lines in the first quote which state, “the major ontological assumption upon which biogenetic structuralism is founded is that there exists no reality intervening between the central nervous system and the environment.“ If one where to accept this opinion then we could say that part of the developmental process of consciousness coincides with the exposure to environmental stimuli re-enforcing are observations on the previous page which confirm many of these observations. As we can see this “history/evolution” relies on many sources to accurately construct the network we know as consciousness, many if not all depending on the introduction of the object”us” to stimuli. During early development the brain/mind appears to be un-separated from the environment it exists within. It is often pondered in this regard to which has occurred first?
Another interesting view, which seems to validate some of the information presented here comes from Vygotsky, L.S. The major theme of Vygotsky's work is that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. Vygotsky states:
Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.
Although I have issue to exactly how much the role of social interaction plays in cognitive development the fact that it appears to be a major player is not in dispute here. I would like to propose a hypothesis surrounding this development something I call the Piano Theory. The Piano theory works as such first we must use what we understand so far about the way we perceive and assimilate various information. We can do this very simply by looking at those elements that are retained in memory after moments of interaction or observation. I would like to use the piano to predict the outcome of two separate cognitive development scenarios. Below I have drawn an example of a piano let us suppose for a moment that our thought process worked like the keys of a piano. One observation we can make is that the piano exists outside of any stimulus that is to say for our purposes that consciousness would exist outside of language. We say this because we would still be able to make sounds on the piano without knowledge of reading music (use of the piano does not presuppose a language). Our first rule is that consciousness would exist prior to developed language. Let us conjecture a bit further and suppose we are locked in a room for several years without hearing or seeing music. After sometime becoming familiar with what notes make which sounds we would have established the first codes of our conscious network establishing the (phonetic) aspect and the (alphabetic) aspect of language. Again after some time we would begin to articulate higher system of vocabulary by playing several notes together establishing cord structure etc....
Over time meaning and emotional patterns would be associated to sounds establishing a hierarchy of meaning and concepts. From these systems would arise other systems creating multiple meanings and associations and alternate structures such as emotional and systemic logic patterns. I have chosen to use the analogy of the piano for several reasons the first being that it is sensitive to touch, the second being that it sound is regulated by vibration (440 220 180 etc...) Part of understanding neurological functions as they pertain to cognition and consciousness is to establish a foundation that will allow us to study higher order functions and altered states of consciousness.
Now on the opposite spectrum if we were to place the same individual in a social environment where everyone played piano it would be fairly safe to assume that the learning curve would be a bit more enhanced do to the fact the individual would have a point of reference of a already existing language system. Not to mention the advantage of observing “proper” playing techniques etc.....