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Can Evolutionary Theory Explain Human Consciousness?

Discussion in 'theory, philosophy & history' started by Nikolai, Jan 12, 2008.

  1. Kizmet

    Kizmet Well-Known Member

    I think we all pretty much agreed on that.

  2. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    I would have thought that was all the other way around - we have an abstract self-object because we are linguistic animals, not vice-versa.
  3. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes neither achieved much. R.I.P.

    Something of a coincidence if the phenomenal quality of pain has no influence on behaviour and no evolutionary advantage that pain is painful.
  4. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    You could easily avoid painful stimuli without something that it's like to be in pain. In fact you do, like when you touch a hot-plate that's on, your hand is withdrawn through a spinal reflex and the cognitive experience of 'ow' only happens after that.
  5. bluestreak

    bluestreak HomosexualityIsStalin’sAtomBombtoDestroyAmerica

  6. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes neither achieved much. R.I.P.

    Perhaps you're right. All the same, if you're right, it seems like a hell of a coincidence that pain is painful.

    I think it's more the case that consciousness can play a role in explaining evolution. It already does, as people's selection of mates seems to depend on who they find attractive.
  7. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    Pain-aversion is the closest we have to a hard-wired instinct, so I think it's a special case rather than an exemplary one.
  8. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes neither achieved much. R.I.P.

    I don't think it's a special case at all, - on your theory it's just as much a coincidence that orgasms are pleasurable, and that love feels lovely, etc. etc.
  9. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    There are two things here though - the aversion to physical damage which is pretty clearly an example of information processing (and not even necessarily by the brain, as in my example above), and the fact of the experience of what it's like for someone to have that aversion. That most complex life-forms seek to avoid physical damage to themselves is totally uncoincidental and uncomplicatedly a product of evolution, the fact that there are associated qualia is I suppose coincidental (although I wouldn't necessarily use that word) and has no obvious evolutionary advantage.
  10. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes neither achieved much. R.I.P.

    Not exactly, thought I'm glad to see you admitting the logic of your position.

    It's not that there are associated qualia that's coincidental.

    It's that there are associated qualia, that have no evolutionary advantage, play no causal role, and yet, just by coincidence happen to have exactly the right kind of phenomenal quality that they'd have to have if they did play a causal role.

    It's astonishing the things people can persuade themselves to believe so that they can deny the obvious.
  11. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    I still don't think you've quite got me. Higher-order concepts are an example of information-hiding in my opinion. Like if I wanted to write a computer program to play backgammon, one of the tasks that I would need to do would be to write some code to throw a dice and give me a random number between one and six. I might have to do some quite complicated things to get it to be truly random and always between one and six, but as far as the rest of the program is concerned all it needs to know is that the dice_throw subroutine or method or whatever produces a random number between one and six.

    Now there's no mistake in saying that on a particular play the call to the dice-throwing code 'causes' a particular state of play, even though I know that behind that is a more complicated state of affairs that involves a seed, a random number generator, some arithmetic to manipulate the results to be between the bounds that I want etc etc. Of course behind that is a lot of pushes and pops and copies to a big squash-ladder of memory, and behnid that is a load of electronics, physics, etc etc, but no problem - I can still say that at a particular point the dice-thrower code causes me to get a score of four and take one of your pieces.

    There's no reason why higher-order concepts shouldn't work like this, as particular selections that hide from us more complicated and less salient aspects of our embeddedness in the world. But all of this is still function; we are still no closer to understanding why we have qualia, we've just replaced simple sensory qualia with the qualia of higher-order conceptions. To put it another way, the problem is not that we have thoughts, but why we have an experience of having them.
  12. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes neither achieved much. R.I.P.

    I'm afraid I don't see what you're getting at at all.

    you've said that in your view phenomenal consciousness didn't have an evolutionary advantage, - so I presume you think it doesn't do anything?
    I think you said earlier that it's perfectly possible for things to appear in evolution, not because they're advantageous, but just as an emergent accident.

    I guess you think that the types of minds that for some unexplained reason have phenomenal consciousness, have some evolutionary advantage, --? ?, (i.e. in terms of the repertoire of functions and behaviour that they have)

    What I don't understand at all is what you think about the following questions.

    Why is pain painful?
    Why are orgasms pleasurable?
    Why does shit smell bad?
    etc. etc. Ad infinitum.
  13. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    Exactly that. Although I don't know why you're qualifying consciousness as 'phenomenal'.

    Shit smells bad because it's a vector of contagion, orgasms are probably pleasurable because of pair-bonding, pain is painful because an organism that was indifferent to damage would have a very short life, etc etc. These are fairly easy problems, not the hard problem IMO.
  14. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes neither achieved much. R.I.P.

    I find it hard to believe you're really so obtuse that you fail to see that that you're failing to answer the question about why the phenomenal properties of the experience are as they are.

    Or alternatively, if you are talking about the phenomenal properties, then you're admitting that they do play a causal role.
  15. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    I honestly don't think I am. Very simple creatures that have no consciouness in the sense that we do perform complex goal-directed behaviour - mosquitos buzz around your head at night and not in the corner of the room because they home in on the CO2 gradient of your exhalations, and the lack of bloodsucking-qualia hampers them not at all.
  16. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes neither achieved much. R.I.P.

    Oh I see, well you're shifting your ground. Now you're saying there's no distinction between phenomenal consciousness and functional consciousness.

    But in that case what you really have to say is that for some reason, for us since we have the kind of minds we do, (as in mental abilities and behaviour we do) it's just impossible for us not to be conscious in exactly the way we are.

    The irony is, I actually agree with that. But, in my case that makes sense, because I'm a spiritualist, and think consciousness is built into the way the universe works, and changes things. So it's pretty easy for me to explain why it's like that.

    For you though, you're basically saying either that there's an identity between certain functional mental properties, and having certain phenomenal experiences, - or else that there's a necessary connection between them.

    But it's totally arbitrary and ungrounded for you to say that there's such an identity or necessary connection.

    Why should there be?
  17. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    In terms of what I think about the answer to the hard problem, well if I knew I'd be off getting my Nobel prize. What I suspect is that there is a continuum of consciousness, and that our consciouness depends on the basic embedded interaction of sense, processing and motivation that the mosquito displays when it seeks you out once the lights go off, plus memory plus the symbolic order plus the ability to introspect our own mental states. Probably each of these builds on the one preceding to a degree, and the last allows us a kind of infinite loop; even the most abstract cognitive event has a cognitive consequence, so that our awareness (computationally) is always a slightly retrospective view on what just happened in the apparent instant (which is to an extent illusory, we perceive in something of a splurge of time, then make up our instant-to-instant awareness after things have already happened - both internally and externally).

    I don't think in all honestly that consciousness changes much. Mostly where you have action, then there you have embodiedness and processing.
  18. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    I guess I'd say the way the universe works is in a way built into the way we always take part in it - we are not observers of it but actors in it, inescapably. Look at the traces in an evacuated chamber and you see particles, use a double-slit and you see waves. Neither the particles nor the waves are 'the world', it can only be the particles in the chamber or the wave effect with the two slits. Of course there are rules and consistencies - you can't see waves in a chamber or particulate behavoiur with a double-slit experiment. The same is true of the internal world - there is no pure introspection, every introspective action generates its own mental states. So you can never know what it is like to be someone else, in that you would either have your own memories, motivations and so on that would derail the process of their cognition somehow, or you would have to give those up and become them, in which case it would no longer be you having the experience. You could have the memory of being them, but never be anyone but yourself.
  19. Knotted

    Knotted Sweet when you stir it up

    That's an extremely good point.

    Presumably consciousness is not an overall disadvantage (in the short term) as it so if it isn't an advantage (in the short term) then it does nothing relevant. And that seems a very odd thing to say.

    (Note by the way that Gould & Lewington's 'spandrels' are adaptions even if there is no adaptionist explanation for them.)

    Mind you this sort question is only a problem if you take arguments about qualia seriously. My feeling is that the 'hard problem' is mainly to do with the subconscience and that consciousness is a trivial phenomenon riding on top. There are obvious advantages to our ability to problem solve for example. Is that an activity that requires 'consciousness'? Of course. Something which is not conscious cannot have problems and therefore has nothing to solve.
  20. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    I would have said that the ability to problem solve doesn't require consciousness in the sense that we're talking about, it just requires computation. For an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about have a look at the Chalmers paper A Computational Foundation for the Study of Cognition
  21. Kizmet

    Kizmet Well-Known Member

    In a way this thread reminds me of the old story about the 5 blind men and the elephant.

    (Not the rude one!)

    The subject is huge and it's entirely possible to be right about a part of it... but seem wrong from another part!

    Demosthenes... How would it fit if the conscious manifestation of things like pain/orgasm were anti-evolutionary? In other words a side effect that takes us away from the process of evolution?

    Fruitloop... I should introduce you to a friend of mine... Mandy... she's a vicious Dominatrix. She'd talk to you about some interesting associations that folk make with pain that just don't compute! ;)
  22. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes neither achieved much. R.I.P.

    I don't think it would fit. I just can't make sense of the idea.

    But all the same, if the conscious manifestation doesn't change anything, doesn't accomplish anything, then I can't see why it matters what it's like.

    That's why I think consciousness must change things. In a nutshell.

    And I suppose, since i think it must change things, - in the end, I think it must be fundamental, - not an accident.
  23. Kizmet

    Kizmet Well-Known Member

    It does change things. Of course it does.

    It changes how we react to things.

    Why? One doesn't necessarily follow from the other.
  24. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes neither achieved much. R.I.P.

    Well yeah, of course, - but that's the of course that materialists deny.

    Which makes me go :confused:

    On the second point, well, i think you may be right, one doesn't necessarily follow from the other, - but what i said, is more or less what I think.

    you can either say that consciousness inexplicably pops into existence but doesn't do anything, when you have the right kind of mental structure and complexity embodied,

    or you can say what I say, which is that there was always consciousness, and there always will be, - but it can be embodied, and by being embodied, it acquires a form that respects the mental architecture and function of the medium in which it's embodied.

    I reckon the second view is a lot more elegant than the first.
  25. Kizmet

    Kizmet Well-Known Member

    It changes how we react therefore it changes what we do therefore it changes what we become.

    Take out the bit about 'always was and will be' from the second...

    take out the bit about 'inexplicably' and 'does nothing' from the first...

    ... put one into the other and, if you do it right, you have a third.

    That's the one I believe. :)
  26. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes neither achieved much. R.I.P.

    Well that's coherent I reckon, - but, I find it odd because there's no explanation of why it's the kind of universe where consciousness pops into being.

    And if you grant that consciousness can be causally efficacious then, how can it be, ? Why not invoke it as a fundamental, or as a first cause.
  27. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    She sounds fantastic :oops:

    The symbolic order and particularly writing for us are an amazing transformation of the potential of computation, in that they originate in but can also transcend our embodied nature (which is the real meaning of Freud's Death Drive, which no-one at the time, not even Freud, really understood). Perversion lives there, and we (as discursive subjects) live there with it. :)
  28. Kizmet

    Kizmet Well-Known Member

    As a by-product of the evolution of other awareness related tools is a perfectly good explanation.

    Because it's not necessary for it to be so.

    And occams razor defines what one should do with the unnecessary.
  29. gurrier

    gurrier Registered Abuser

    It was implicit in what I said - it's the functional division of your brain which deals with long-term planning and strategy, the stuff that is too complex too be encoded in stimulus response behaviours (move away from pain) or patterns (seek food).

    It's obvious how having such a capability is evolutionarily advantageous and it is the way it is because that's the simplest way for evolution to engineer it.
  30. Kizmet

    Kizmet Well-Known Member

    Up to a point. Otherwise why haven't more species done it?

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