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Conscience, Consciousness and Scientific Knowledge, or the Evolution of Idiocy: Problems of Natural and Cultural Selection

Paper presented at the conference in commemoration of Charles Darwin, titled: « Penser la conscience aujourd’hui. Un point de vue anthropologique sur la question »

Department of Anthropology, University of Montreal on Friday, 17th April, 2009



The French word “conscience” entails both consciousness and conscience. This conflation made me reflect on how the concepts that are separated in English could in fact be interlinked and interdependent.

Consciousness is the awareness of the self and the world and is directly related to conscience, since what we do depends on «what» and «how» we know. Language mediates this knowledge, which is built with the classificatory method of science, in which the category «human» is problematic, because it prompts scientists and people to see the world in a hierarchical and disconnected order. The Russian physiologist, Ilya Arshavski, studied the effects of humanism on the physiological, mental, and moral fabric of people and concluded that conscience and consciousness are drastically eroding and threaten to doom not only the human species, but the wild world at large. Species, says Arshavski, survive through cooperation and mutual aid, while competition and greed at the root of civilisation threaten the viability of the world and create a hostile environment. Because civilisation stands on the premises of monoculturalism (i.e., the assumption that the world exists for the purposes of one group or class of humans), then civilised sociality depends on alienation from the purpose and intelligence of the victims consumed by the civilised and the deterioration of civilised human understanding of the principles of life. Civilisation thus precipitated the deterioration of intelligence. The effects of the globalism of civilisation and the resultant extinction of thousands of species call for an urgent re-examination of anthropology.

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