In the year 3000, let's suppose, humanity completes its greatest construction project ever: Ringworld, a habitable surface as wide as a planet but spanning an entire planetary orbit -- a ring around a neighboring star with 10,000,000,000,000 square kilometers of living space. A big place!
Earthly nations send colonists. Once on Ringworld, the colonists form independent nations, free of Earthly control. These nations grow and spread. For sociological reasons, let's suppose, Ringworld nations function best with populations near 100,000,000. Once a nation grows much larger than that, it tends either to fission or to stagnate. Now, what type of nation will be well represented on the surface of Ringworld after ten thousand years?
Although it could play out in various ways, the most straightforward answer seems to be: nations that grow fast, then fission, then repeatedly grow again and fission again. Mobility to unpopulated parts of Ringworld, away from competitors, might also be favored. Also, we might expect the most evolutionarily successful nations to have intergenerationally stable developmental resources -- that is, to be such that their fission products tend to develop the same traits that the fissioning parent nations had, i.e., the very traits that made those parents evolutionarily successful. Otherwise, after a few generations, those nations' fission-produced offspring nations will be outcompeted. We might further imagine that the most successful nations employ eugenics: Their governments select a range of DNA strands containing especially desirable traits, which then serve as the genetic basis of the next generation of their citizens; and the governments that do so with the best eye to maximizing their nations' eventual descendant nations, and that do so stably over the generations, are eventually the nations that are best represented on the Ringworld surface.
We might imagine, too, that as the Ringworld surface becomes more crowded, aggression starts to pay. In response, the competing nations develop protective physical borders, grown using nanotechnology and difficult to penetrate without permission. Nations might also strictly limit immigration as contrary to their eugenic plans. If nations are somewhat mobile -- and we might imagine that gravity (or centrifugal inertia) is light and fusion power plentiful -- they might best compete with each other by moving toward opportunities and away from threats, bringing their citizenry and physical defensive borders along with them. Eventually, these defensive borders might gain appendage-like functionality -- e.g., offensive weaponry and the ability to harvest minerals and sources of power. Once this happens, the majority of individual citizens might become largely sedentary, communicating via radio and microwave signals. And once sedentary, size-reduction might be selected for, to reduce the energetic costs of nation-scale movement; and transmission of essential nutrients between citizens might be achieved by purely mechanical means. Furthermore, once free of the demands of individual mobility and individual-level reproduction, citizens might start to specialize ever more narrowly in tasks that serve the reproductive interests of the nation -- or at least the nations whose citizens develop in that direction might in the long run outcompete the nations whose citizens do not.
Over time, as individual citizens shrink and become increasingly specialized, and as the membrane around the nation becomes more functional and more effectively protective of the interior, the overall physical structure of the nation might start to look increasingly like that of what we would call an individual organism that reproduces by fission.
Nations -- at least the evolutionarily most successful ones -- will presumably engage in social intercourse among each other, both cooperatively and competitively. Possibly, some of these nations will evolve so that no single individual citizen is responsible for between-nation communication but rather the communicative efforts arise in a complex way from the citizenry as a whole. If individual citizens become sufficiently small and specialized, and if they learn to communicate with each other non-linguistically (e.g., by direct brain-to-brain stimulation), then it might eventually become the case that no individual citizen can even understand the linguistic communications emitted by her own nation.
A million years passes, during which Earth loses communication with Ringworld. Social pressures on Ringworld favor increasingly sophisticated forms of communication between nations, including the emergence of nation-level art, poetry, song, history, and philosophy -- none of which is comprehensible to the individual citizens of the species of nation that eventually conquers the rest. After these million years, visitors from Earth arrive, and they decide that conscious experience is primarily to be found at the level of nations, not at the level of individual citizens.
Question: At what point in this process did the nations first have nation-level conscious experience?
Might it have been from the very beginning?