Changing How the World Thinks

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Consciousness Cannot Have Evolved

The sooner we acknowledge it, the sooner we’ll solve the hard problem of consciousness

web1Why consciousness cannot have evolved

The overwhelmingly validated theory of evolution tells us that the functions performed by our organs arose from associated increases in survival fitness. For instance, the bile produced by our liver and the insulin produced by our pancreas help us absorb nutrients and thus survive. Insofar as it is produced by the brain, our phenomenal consciousness—i.e. our ability to subjectively experience the world and ourselves—is no exception: it, too, must give us some survival advantage, otherwise natural selection wouldn’t have fixed it in our genome. In other words, our sentience—to the extent that it is produced by the brain—must perform a beneficial function, otherwise we would be unconscious zombies.

One problem with this is that, under the premises of materialism, phenomenal consciousness cannot—by definition—have a function. According to materialism, all entities are defined and exhaustively characterised in purely quantitative terms. For instance, elementary subatomic particles are exhaustively characterised in terms of e.g. mass, charge and spin values. Similarly, the behaviour of abstract fields is fully defined in terms of quantities, such as frequencies and amplitudes of oscillation. Particles and fields, in and of themselves, have quantitative properties but no intrinsic qualities, such as colour or flavour. Only our perceptions of them—or so the materialist argument goes—are accompanied by qualities somehow generated by our brain.

Materialism posits that the quantities that characterise physical entities are what allow them to be causally efficacious; that is, to produce effects. For instance, it is the charge values of protons and electrons that produce the effect of their mutual attraction. In nuclear fission reactors, it is the mass value of neutrons that produces the effect of splitting atoms. And so on. All chains of cause and effect in nature must be describable purely in terms of quantities. Whatever isn’t a quantity cannot be part of our physical models and therefore—insofar as such models are presumed to be causally-closed—cannot produce effects. According to materialism, all functions rest on quantities.

Our phenomenal consciousness is eminently qualitative, not quantitative. There is something it feels like to see the colour red, which is not captured by merely noting the frequency of red light.

However, our phenomenal consciousness is eminently qualitative, not quantitative. There is something it feels like to see the colour red, which is not captured by merely noting the frequency of red light. If we were to tell Helen Keller that red is an oscillation of approximately 4.3*1014 cycles per second, she would still not know what it feels like to see red. Analogously, what it feels like to listen to a Vivaldi sonata cannot be conveyed to a person born deaf, even if we show to the person the sonata’s complete power spectrum. Experiences are felt qualities—which philosophers and neuroscientists call ‘qualia’—not fully describable by abstract quantities.

But as discussed above, qualities have no function under materialism, for quantitatively-defined physical models are supposed to be causally-closed; that is, sufficient to explain every natural phenomenon. As such, it must make no difference to the survival fitness of an organism whether the data processing taking place in its brain is accompanied by experience or not: whatever the case, the processing will produce the same effects; the organism will behave in exactly the same way and stand exactly the same chance to survive and reproduce. Qualia are, at best, superfluous extras.

Therefore, under materialist premises, phenomenal consciousness cannot have been favoured by natural selection. Indeed, it shouldn’t exist at all; we should all be unconscious zombies, going about our business in exactly the same way we actually do, but without an accompanying inner life. If evolution is true—which we have every reason to believe is the case—our very sentience contradicts materialism.

This conclusion is often overlooked by materialists, who regularly try to attribute functions to phenomenal consciousness. Here are three illustrative examples:

(1) consciousness enables attention.

(2) consciousness discriminates episodic memory (past) from live perceptions (present) by making them feel different.

(3) consciousness motivates behaviour conducive to survival.

Computer scientists know that none of this requires experience, for we routinely implement all three functions in presumably unconscious silicon computers.

Regarding point 1, under materialism attention is simply a mechanism for focusing an organism’s limited cognitive resources on priority tasks. Computer operating systems do this all the time—using techniques such as interrupts, queuing, task scheduling, etc.—in a purely algorithmic, quantitatively-defined manner.

Regarding point 2, there are countless ways to discriminate data streams without need for accompanying experience. Does your home computer have trouble separating the photos of last year’s holidays from the live feed of your webcam? Data streams from memory and real-time processes can simply be tagged or routed in different ways, without qualia.

Finally regarding point 3, within the logic of materialism motivation is simply a calculation - the output of a quantitative algorithm tasked with maximising the gain while minimising the risk of an organism’s actions. Computers are ‘motivated’ to do whatever it is they do—otherwise they wouldn’t do it—without accompanying qualia.

The impossibility of attributing functional, causative efficacy to qualia constitutes a fundamental internal contradiction in the mainstream materialist worldview.

Just as these three examples illustrate, all conceivable cognitive functions can, under materialist premises, be performed without accompanying experience. Nonetheless, we regularly see scientific publications proposing a function for consciousness. A recent Oxford University Press blog post, for instance, claims that ‘the function of consciousness is to generate possibly counterfactual representations of an event or a situation’, which ‘hint at the origins of consciousness in the course of evolution’.

If one reads it attentively, however, one realises that the article defines what is meant by ‘function of consciousness’ in a rather counterintuitive manner that contradicts the way any casual reader would interpret the words:

 ‘When we consider functions of consciousness, they are the functions that are enabled by stimuli that enter consciousness or the functions that can be performed only in awake humans or animals. Functions in this sense should not be confused with the question of what kind of effects conscious experiences (or qualia) exert on physical systems.’

 In other words, what the author calls the ‘functions of consciousness’ aren’t the cognitive tasks performed by consciousness, but simply those visible to consciousness—i.e. reportable through conscious introspection. Why call these tasks the ‘functions of consciousness’ if they aren’t what consciousness does, but merely what it sees? According to this argument, phenomenal consciousness expressly isn’t the causative agency behind these tasks—for the article excludes the causal efficacy of qualia from the definition—but merely their audience. As such, this theory is somewhat beside the point, as far as the survival value of having qualia or the evolutionary origins of phenomenal consciousness proper.

The impossibility of attributing functional, causative efficacy to qualia constitutes a fundamental internal contradiction in the mainstream materialist worldview. There are two main reasons why this contradiction has been accepted thus far: first, there seems to be a surprising lack of understanding, even amongst materialists, of what materialism actually entails and implies. Second, deceptive word games—such as that discussed above—seem to perpetuate the illusion that we have plausible hypotheses for the ostensive survival function of consciousness.

Phenomenal consciousness cannot have evolved. It can only have been there from the beginning as an intrinsic, irreducible fact of nature. The faster we come to terms with this fact, the faster our understanding of consciousness will progress.


If you want to hear from leading thinkers like this debating renowned philosophers, cutting edge scientists, headline-making politicians, and beloved artists, come to HowTheLightGetsIn Hay 2020 for four days of debates and talks alongside music, comedy and parties.

Bernardo Kastrup will be appearing in The Limits of Material discussing consciousness and idealism.

See big ideas like this one debated live at the IAI’s online festival, HowTheLightGetsIn Global between September 19-20. Hundreds of events live-streamed from London, Delhi and New York, featuring the biggest thinkers in philosophy, science, politics, the arts and economics. Find out more here.
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IdPnSD 26 February 2020

“… a fundamental internal contradiction in the mainstream materialist worldview.” – As an example, how do you justify that different parts of the same apple have different tastes? This means every atom has its own taste. Thus atom is not just material. Princeton University has shown that electronic circuit boards can react with human intentions. A Japanese scientist has shown that water crystals change shape according to your attitude to the glass of water.

Consciousness is a property of soul. Soul has many other properties, it causes birth and death of every object, it causes reincarnation, it gives yogic power in humans and all animals, etc. Bible and Vedas say, “God is spirit.” That is every object has a soul and that soul has created that object, according to the destiny of that object. Soul is eternal, and does not evolve, because it is the root cause of every cause. Take a look at the following article for more details,

Otto Mann 18 February 2020

Philosophy does not belong in inquiry about consciousness, because it has no language for it. Kastrup writes...

"The impossibility of attributing functional, causative efficacy to qualia constitutes a fundamental internal contradiction in the mainstream materialist worldview"

Who holds a "mainstream materialist worldview?" No scientists I know. "Materialism" is an irrelevant straw man that casts physics and evolution as quantitative and mechanistic — they are neither. "Qualia" is/are a persistent fiction — an invention to provide logical referents that have no reality. The infamous "hard problem" is no better than a paralyzing artifact of flawed dualism.

Worst of all is the semantic sanctimony.

"Phenomenal consciousness cannot have evolved. It can only have been there from the beginning as an intrinsic, irreducible fact of nature."

An easy case can be made that there are universals, eternals, fundamentals. But there is no cause whatsoever to name any of them "consciousness" — and that is what "consciousness" first is: word; name. It is a good name for that which is self-evident to us, the several humans reading this. But is it the best name for that 'experienced' in/by/of a clam? A sponge? A virus?

Far better to take a monistic view and understand human experience as a property-of or quality-of the physical system we might quite smartly name "neurality" or "neural being". That frees us to use the name "consciousness" as does Julian Jaynes, and it frees us from the interminable false dichotomy that the hard problem would have us wallow in.

Tomas Hull 14 February 2020

If consciousness is material, why do people remain conscious after the great majority of their brains have been surgically removed?

How can we have a discussion whether consciousness can, or cannot, have evolved, if the mechanism of consciousness is largely unknown?

John Wright 12 February 2020

It seems to me there are two questions:
First, Is conciousness fully implemented in physiology - i.e. is it a capability of the brain and body? (alternatives might be some super-natural factor, a "soul" without which conciousness is not possible, a notion that many religions have held to over millenia)
Second, If it is purely physical could it have evolved by the mechanisms we recognise as being responsible for other evolutionary "achievements" like the eye? or does some super-natural process or event have to come into play (maybe "Intelligent Design").

This article illustrates the difficulty of even defining conciousness precisely. We continue to discover more clues about how the brain works, though no neuroscientist would deny there is a long road still to travel before we understand it. Given those two "states of the art" are far from mature I don't think we are remotely close to disproving either assertion. I'm entirely comfortable with the likelihood that we and our conciousness "just evolved" and all our attributes and capabilities are entirely "natural". Philosophy doesn't provide a short-cut to the hard yards of scientific research needed to get closer to solving the problem.
Note that I'm not challenging the existence of a "soul". I'm just claiming that there is no demonstrated need for it to be involved in "mind" or conciousness.

Mario Marais 11 February 2020

Dear Mr Kastrup, there are different schools of philosophy here that deserve a mention. Dan Dennett and Keith Frankish argue against your core assumptions. A short example by Keith:

Christian Thomas 10 February 2020

Lost me in the first, opening line. Evolution doesn't always select for fitness. Sometimes the more numerous do better than the fit. shrug. If consciousness didn't evolve, where is a record supporting this hypothesis in between, or even before early life and in between conscious beings existence?

Thomas Kennon 10 February 2020

I'm just a hopeless dilettante but where the hell are all the Deleuzians to quell this kvell?

strange INTP 9 February 2020

Lara W.'s comments covered most of what I was originally formulating as a response while reading this essay, so I'll pick it up from there.

Our capacity for abstraction is the single most salient feature distinguishing us from all other organic life on Earth. Almost every "human trait" is not uniquely human, but is evidenced elsewhere. Even the *ability* (vs. capacity) for abstraction is: there is a preponderance of exemplary evidence of other animals exhibiting some amount of abstraction - repurposing objects in their environment (tool use), and even some rudimentary theory of mind (some ability to understand another's mental state). It may be helpful here to define "abstraction" as formulation of a mental model outside of the immediate context in reality. It is not the ability for abstraction which makes us uniqely human, but our capacity for it - our ability to form mental models of our environment, each other, and ourselves, in past, present, and future.

It is important to draw a distinction between ability or capacity for abstraction, and "consciousness". In fact I argue they are causally related: consciousness is a *by-product* of our capacity for mental modeling (i.e. abstraction). I think there is a critical level of recursion in that modeling capacity that spontaneously gives rise to consciousness, and that it happens when the mental modeling loops back onto itself - at that point, self-awareness emerges ("I think, therefore I am.") The distinction (between consciousness and capacity for abstraction) is important because it means that consciousness in and of itself need not be evolutionarily favored. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't (I can't think of any particular reasons that it should be). However, evolutionary theory allows for morphological features that do not, on their own, seem to confer evolutionary advantage - and many such seemingly paradoxical by-products can be found in nature - take extreme sexual dimorphism as just one example. What matters in the long-term is that over-all fitness is improved, and sometimes a feature can confer higher overall fitness (and therefore be selected for) even if a side-effect may seem deleterious when viewed on its own (of course, the case is even stronger when the side-effect is neutral). And the capacity for abstraction is clearly favorable.

If one accepts my arguments above, there's really no paradox. Furthermore, there are a couple interesting suppositions that potentially follow: 1) some animals may indeed have some level of consciousness (if their capacity for abstraction hits that threshold), and 2) it's entirely conceivable that machines could achieve self-awareness, if outfitted with the appropriate modeling capacity.

I think the arguments about the subjective nature of qualia are nothing but a distraction. Qualia are necessarily subjective because they are experientially path-dependent. That is to say, our individual qualia are the result of the unique experiences, and corresponding associations that our brain makes between them, that accumulate over our life's path. To explain another poster's rhetorical example: take a guy who's eaten no cheese except Wisconsin Cheddar his whole life and feed him Gorgonzola, and he might, at first try, dispute that Gorgonzola is in fact cheese. There is no essential "cheesyness", except that our qualia tells us so. For a humorous real-life example, I have a friend who hates fish, and can't/won't eat any fish with the single exception of salmon, which he inexplicably likes. He jokingly claims that salmon is not fish - because if it were, he wouldn't like it. For him, there is some unenjoyable "fishyness" qualia evoked by all fish except salmon.

Consciousness is not our qualia, but rather both are the result of our mental modeling capacity.

In summary, I do not think the "problem of consciousness" is Hard - just difficult.

Chris Weldon 8 February 2020

This is embarrassing.
I seem to have entered a discussion on the biological and philosophical implications of consciousness.
The material is over my head and I have a short attention span to boot.
Which way to the soft core porn?

corey syverson 8 February 2020

READ Nesse. Sorry...

corey syverson 8 February 2020

How does growing a bigger brain, that allows more timeline scenarios or "past to future what if possibilities," not benefit humans and allow us to inhabit more environments? And how does the logically generated and subjective (or is it objective?) "Me" not spontaneously appear in these scenarios? Once the scenarios become a constantly running narrative, or "stream of consciousness," voila, adaptive brain function has become consciousness. There is now a "Me" in the present, between past and future. Reed Keese.

Kevin Kearney 8 February 2020

It seems that one evolutionary utility of consciousness is that it is an advanced algorithm for predicting the future. Maybe not necessary (an automaton could develop with predictive capabilities), but one possible evolutionary path to develop that capability.

Marcus van der Erve 8 February 2020

I get upset by reading this nonsense. Humankind, so it seems time and time again, has a bloated image of self. Our reality is much more down to earth and so is the reality of reality. If Mr Kastrup's goal is out to sell his book, I would not buy it. Of course, the commoner is illiterate when it comes to these questions and other mental elixers. It amazes me that Henri Bergson's views on this are ignored until someone stumbles over them again - not this time, though. More about our view of the reality of reality here:

Jeff Wunder 8 February 2020

It's amazing to see materialists argue so hard for the biological evolution of something that will never, ever be scientifically observed. You can't prove that anyone or anything else is conscious any more than you can prove that someone you meet in a dream is conscious.

Frank Spence 7 February 2020

Jerry Coyne,
Materialism is structure and function, yes, even for things such as gravity. Gravity is defined by observations of the way objects affect each other. Structure and function. Stuff doing stuff. Describe one materialistic phenomena that can't be described in terms of structure and function. In fact materialism requires that all observable phenomena be ultimately describable in structural and functional terms, and that everything real be observable either directly, or indirectly by its observable effects.
Now pay attention to experience - sights, sounds, tactile sensations, emotions, thoughts, etc. Are they actual? Of course (I am speaking for myself and would invite you to do the same). Is there a non-zero possibility that experience does not exist (as suggested by Dennett). No. And to suggest that experience is an illusion (as Dennett has) is frankly silly; illusions ARE experiences. There is zero possibility that experience is not actual. (This is NOT a claim about the veracity but rather the reality of experience. How about the contents or impressions of experience - self, others, world, matter? Yes, there is a non-zero possibility that everything EXCEPT experience is non-real, that they are illusions.
Now, is there a structure and function explanation at least theoretically for every nuance of observable human behavior? Of course there is. Materialism requires that there be.
Next, is it fair to say that feeling sensations and emotions and thoughts is at least something more and different from interactions of matter that ostensibly explain the observations? That is, if it weren't for the absolute first person reality of subjective experience, there would be no logical reason to say that there was such a thing as subjective experience, except as a metaphor for observed structure and function. Stuff doing stuff is all that materialism needs or CAN invoke in its explanations.
So Dennett is right, sort of, in that, if materialism is correct (and not itself a metaphor to explain impressions within experience), then subjective consciousness is not actual, not real. But I for one cannot deny the absolute reality of experience (even if if what is real is an “illusion”). Interestingly, in contrast to the absolute reality of first person experience, claims about experience in others is subject to the same non-zero chance of non-reality as are materialist claims.
I don’t know the answer to the hard problem, but there is one, and materialism is definitely not going to yield the answer.

James Cross 7 February 2020


Regarding your comment:

"Reading these comments is fascinating in a bizarre way. It baffles me how so many otherwise smart people just can't understand that, under materialism, ALL function can be performed without accompanying experience. "

I think you are missing a key point. ALL functions can be performed without accompanying experience but that does not mean or imply that ALL functions in living evolved organisms ARE performed without experience. It also does not mean necessarily that experience provides no evolutionary value to an organism. Your argument seems, paradoxically, to be that if we could make a machine that performs all functions a human being can perform then materialism is false.

John Myers 7 February 2020

Thank you Lisa W. Excellent.

James Cross 7 February 2020

Lara W.,

Yes. I think learning is probably the best explanation if we had to single out one thing.

The Transition to Minimal Consciousness through the Evolution of Associative Learning

"The minimal state of consciousness is sentience. This includes any phenomenal sensory experience – exteroceptive, such as vision and olfaction; interoceptive, such as pain and hunger; or proprioceptive, such as the sense of bodily position and movement. We propose unlimited associative learning (UAL) as the marker of the evolutionary transition to minimal consciousness (or sentience), its phylogenetically earliest sustainable manifestation and the driver of its evolution. We define and describe UAL at the behavioral and functional level and argue that the structural-anatomical implementations of this mode of learning in different taxa entail subjective feelings (sentience). We end with a discussion of the implications of our proposal for the distribution of consciousness in the animal kingdom, suggesting testable predictions, and revisiting the ongoing debate about the function of minimal consciousness in light of our approach."

I had by own take on it before reading what I just linked to.

Chris Weiss 7 February 2020

Consciousness exists in a sliding scale. Differentiating factors can be used to discriminate types of consciousness using things like the mirror test with different species. If consciousness were unique and not related to evolution, it should exist in an all or nothing state which is not what we observe.

Jerry Coyne 7 February 2020

There are so many problems with this piece that I can't mention them without writing a few thousand words. May I refer you to my critique on my own website at this link?:

The main problem is that he misdefines materialism, conflates natural selection and evolution, mischaracterizes what it means to solve "the hard problem", and proposes what seems to be a form of panpsychism instead of recognizing that we are making progress, though neuroscience, in realizing that consciousness is indeed "materialistic" because it supervenes on our brain, which is an evolved, material organ.

Frank Spence 7 February 2020

Nicely done. Still, notice how many of the responses reflect a persistent misunderstanding of materialism. Materialism is strictly about structure and function. Structure and function are all that is necessary to explain every objective phenomenon including evolution. Materialism has no use nor explanation for subjective consciousness. On the other hand, subjective consciousness is the single phenomenon that exists beyond doubt. Don't confuse this to be a claim that the subjective consciousness of others is knowable. It is strictly a claim that the only thing that exists beyond doubt is first person subjective consciousness. Within that first person consciousness exists the following impressions: the existence of a self, the existence of a world governed by specific "natural laws", including the existence of other apparently conscious beings. None of these things however can be said to exist without question. Any hope of understanding consciousness must begin with the primacy of subjective consciousness. If one then accepts the argument of this article, i.e., that materialism cannot account for subjective consciousness, then materialism must be rejected. Materialism should rather be seen as an explanatory construct for observable phenomena within consciousness, a way to make sense of the impressions created by consciousness. One may wonder why such a construct exists within consciousness, just as one must wonder why such a construct exists in a materialist explanation. Natural law is no less a mystery in a materialist explanation then in a subjective or idealist explanation. Thanks so much for a refreshingly logical article, which is rare in consciousness discussions.

Carlo D'Anna 7 February 2020

Interesting theory. Consciousness itself could be an intrinsic force in the Universe. Sentient awareness takes all forms. Many forms not organic. In fact sentience and consciousness might be myriad in all things. A beings lack of empathetic awareness may never allow that being to understand another forms consciousness. Another point to make is that Western Philosophy often overthinks this point. Eastern philosophy such as Zen would attempt to understand this phenomena by experiencing it in the gut instead of the flitting ego mind by deep meditation on the problem. Some things cannot and never be explained by the use of material mind.

Mike Perr 7 February 2020

Can we say consciousness will never be quantifiable? In physics, the outcome of an event can be directed by the conscious decision of the observer. This can be seen in many types of experiments, the most commonly known would be the Double-slit experiment where photons or electrons can exist as either particles or waves, depending on the conscious decision of the observer. Experiments of similar nature have been performed with molecules consisting of hundreds of atoms showing that this phenomena is not only in the the whacky sub-atomic quantum world. At this point the phenomena is not understood, but like everything else I'm sure we will eventually gain some understanding of it and maybe eventually link this consciousness to the physical world with some quantifiable properties.

Headless Platter 7 February 2020

This assumes evolution effective and efficient. But evolution does not always find the most efficient solution. When it stumbles across something that works, it just goes with it. If it were infinitely efficient, we certainly would not still eat and breath through the same orifice. Our circulatory systems would not depend on a single point of failure, but would operate with redundant backup hearts. Our immune systems would still be as strong as that of any animal. And the nocturnal ancestors of white people would have retained melanin in their skin, just because there was no reason to discard useful protection from the sun. These things were not "favored by natural selection". Natural selection just didn't care, and that was enough for us to lose our claws, keep our appendix, operate with just one heart, and so forth. Unless consciousness gets in the way, evolution has no need to destroy it. And frankly, people who really care about themselves seem to do a pretty good job of maintaining themselves.

Clément Goubert 7 February 2020

Natural Selection is not the sole mechanism through which individuals evolve. The finite, and relatively small, size of the human population makes is analogue to a lotterie. Yes maybe a ball with advantageous feature (allele) exists in the population, but the chance to pick it can be very slim. Thus we comonoly see the fixation of alleles that are not really advantageous. That being say, the only substrate for evolution (selection or random picks) is variation. Perception of color for example is I believe subjective and thus is variable. How much of that is heritable is the key. If there is a minimum of that variance that is heritable, then it is and will keep evolving one way (selection) or another (chance).

verysimple77 7 February 2020

Great article, I agree, consciousness did not evolve! When is common sense going to liberate us from the false belief of evolution! Looking forward to that day.

Vince Williams 7 February 2020

I postulate that humans have once again, in their arrogance, attempted to claim something for themselves alone perhaps to feel superior, and this time it's consciousness. It is my contention that consciousness, instead, belongs to any living creature from microbes to dogs to fish to insects to humans. If it didn't evolve then it is, essentially, what belongs to any life form. Although the English language is poorly suited to define consciousness, I submit that the closest definition of consciousness, in English, is "KNOW NOW". It is necessary to attribute those two words with all affiliate definitions and meanings to arrive at the understanding of consciousness. Any life form possesses some form of KNOW and has some ability of sensing NOW. Taken together, these are what allows survival and procreation in its various (cell division to egg laying to live birth).

Steven A 7 February 2020

Consciousness is more closely aligned with Neuropyschology, rather than abstract science.
This article, aligned with the necessity of logic, doesn't understand what is beyond logic,
although it hints that there MUST be something more. A hominid stares at the color red. Ok.
I can't say I found it interesting, just iterative. As Pascal said, logic exists for humans to
know their own limited ceiling, eh? This article smacks of left-brain-dominance, which endlessly
needs proofs, definitions, to stuff into the little science baggie of shifting definitions, etc. I see science
and logic as low-level tools to use. That's it. They do NOT describe reality, although they would love to.
The left-brain ALWAYS tries to GRASP these proofs and doesn't understand help is
close by. It lives in its own tight grip. The Self-Module, The Ego, lives in this left-brain space
and can become a chatterbox for limited science revelations and views. The science media prints this stuff.
Whoever abdicates the left-brain-dominant position will advance in consciousness, as more fully whole-brained.

Try chanting AUM. Oh. I see. Take the wires off.

I write about the neural implications in this ancient chant. I wouldn't expect you would
be interested, so we have that in common. I doubt I will read Bernard again,
because I'm not interested in endless arguments, which he must have inside himself.
Hmm? There is an entire cadre of such folk, such as M. Sherman, who have the same
affliction. They don't know themselves, and therefore look outside for details of their
own consciousness, which they will interrogate analytically, as the sun goes down
on the Ego's dream.

Frank S 7 February 2020

I have felt for a long time that consciousness arises from our perception of things as 'trajectories'. We never see qualia 'red' alone, but always integrated into an assembly of features, including motion. A static thing has 'motion' in the sense that is perceived as still relative to oneself (so that eyes and head may track it). And the perception of motion is always relative to oneself. This basic notion of trajectory gets more complex when our consciousness gets more advanced and sees ourselves in more complex ways. I believe the notion of possession (it is 'mine') arises when one sees the trajectory or arc of things and oneself in more abstract ways. Farming is a byproduct of that. Farming and rearing animals gives us the surplus energy that large brains require. So consciousness evolved.

Jon K 7 February 2020

From the above letter to the public, "According to materialism, all functions rest on quantities."

No, that's your strawman and an assertion you make towards an unspecified target that you happen to find easy to topple.

Evolution is a science theory that makes predictions. But they are only quantitative when deduced into some specific circumstance. And then, only sometimes. It may also be that some things must come before others, but without specifying exactly by how much. (If we don't know enough yet to say.) But the amazing thing about science (of which the modern theories related to evolution are a part) is that its ideas are highly interwoven and inter-dependent. Each supported by, but also supporting, other ideas in science. That's something remarkable about this human activity. One of the quite unexpected predictions of evolution, nearly one hundred years beforehand, is that fusion (or something like it) would have to be yet discovered in order for evolution to be true (small-t true, as science is ever-tentative to what the future may yet bring us [science never produces capital-T Truths.]) Darwin himself realized the difficulties, expanded loudly by Lord Kelvin in that day, that the sun itself couldn't possibly have existed long enough for Darwin's evolution to have occurred. Neither lived long enough to see that science would later uncover fusion as a new source of energy that finally was able to provide the added support that evolution needed for the lengths of time it required. Physics inter-twines with evolution, chemistry and molecular structures and their construction techniques uncovered in microbiology inter-twine with evolution, etc. Each supporting, and each supported by, others. Science ideas make predictions, not only explanations or re-interpretations of past results. And they are all "of a piece." Not random sweepings loosely collected together by some broom. But highly inter-dependent upon each other for their mutual strength and meaning and tightly inter-connected.

Newton's idea that "every particle attracts and is attracted by every other particle" is, by itself, an idea. But as you can see, there are no quantities mentioned. Galileo's idea that a particle set in motion would continue in that motion unless acted upon (something that took him years to reach from experiments rolling balls down inclined and increasingly more polished troughs) and that two different particles of differing "weights" would still fall at the same rate (arrived at through a thought-experiment he performed) or that particles in copper rods must have some kind of "glue" that binds them... These again are all ideas without quantities to them. But important ideas, none the less.

That doesn't prevent such ideas from being used to approach quantitative statements, if and when they are deduced into specific circumstances. But the ideas are just that.

Science has its limitations. It doesn't tell us about the Ultimate Nature of Reality, for example, and it probably never will be able to do so. It does a fine job of providing us with pretty good explanations and pretty good predictions of some aspects of the world within which we find ourselves. Beyond that, we have only our worldviews to guide us.

I don't see anything you said here as connected into the body of science knowledge nor does it shed any added light into science (or evolutionary theory.) It's yet another unsupported internal state of mind. I think that's fine. We all have those and there's no shame in it. We merely need to recognize those things which are at the time internal states from those which are at the time supported by a weight of affirming sharable evidence we can agree on. Obviously, the future matters, too. So these distinctions aren't immutable and will change as new theories tethered to results both old and new arrive and as the comprehensiveness of our views improve.

FYI, I don't have a specific opinion about consciousness. My working experience is physics, my love is mathematics, and I've debated the question of consciousness from time to time with string theorists and mathematicians who have far more specific ideas about it than you've shown here. They've actually spent serious sit-down time trying to develop ideas that tie into the existing body of science and tried to make some strong arguments that could be communicated and shared. They didn't pretend to higher thoughts than others they perceived lacking in their gifted insights; rather, they instead attempted to add something new and constructive to the discussion.

But for now, enjoy your windmill. You are in good company with many other philosophers past and present.

Lachy Kearse 7 February 2020

Our bodies are made up of systems that operate on feedback loops, whether a positive or negative stimuli .Having said this truth the explanation for near death experiences and out of body experiences cannot operate on a feedback loop.obviously death cuts out any feedback loop as far as NDEs go, therefore the consciousness involved is not dependant on a feedback loop and therefore is not physically bound,simple

Ed-e Belmonte 7 February 2020

I strongly agree with this article and have thought about much of the same for awhile.

Though there could've been more of a point toward differentiating phenomenal conciousness and concious self reporting. Reading the comments that appears to be where most of the confusion is coming from combined with, as has been pointed out, just blatantly missing your point about computers being capable of doing such tasks without phenomenal experience.

Big fan keep it going!

Philip Totts 7 February 2020

"Reading these comments is fascinating in a bizarre way. It baffles me how so many otherwise smart people just can't understand that, under materialism, ALL function can be performed without accompanying experience.....People just don't seem to understand what materialism means; what it is and implies. Amazing."

The onus is on you to be more clear.

We are so deeply acculturated to materialism, it is no simple process to see outside of it, since it is in the very fabric of our thought. The standpoint of idealism makes for an impressive speculation, but we live as if we live in a material reality - our experience of reality is typically Newtonian, not Einsteinian.

And can you really say that consciousness does not evolve? Not, for example, in the course of a typical human life? As someone mentions below, it is poorly defined - certainly there are greater and lesser degrees of consciousness. We are ignorant of phenomena, and then, perhaps with help, come to realise them - by using a series of models of the world to illustrate one another, or by learning games of increasing sophistication, we bring things into consciousness that were previously non-existent for us. And therefore our consciousness has increased.

Does a baby have "consciousness?" From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, the normal baby and normal mother share a consciousness, and only in time does the child reach the "mirror stage," and later develop a "theory of mind" as a kind of escape from its developmental solipsism. Is that shift not an evolution? And as such moments of enlightenment repeatedly determine sexual selection - the true "utility" of consciousness, according to Schopenhauer, Darwin and Freud - is there not an evolution proper? And if there isn't, how exactly can we call ourselves conscious?

I think you want to say that consciousness is a stuff, but I think what you're really driving at is that life is a stuff - and it's true that life implies a capability to respond, but I'm not clear that this capability is conscious, even if it seems to be heading that way.

H Lee Wieser 6 February 2020

Does a magnet produce electricity? Has a magnet been used to create electricity? Have we made progress in the use of magnets to create electricity? Consciousness is an evolving trait. I'd share with you how, but I'm working on publishing that work. If anyone wants to help me publish that work, I'd be much obliged.

Amol Kelkar 6 February 2020

Conscious experience has no utility? You could easily chop off your own limbs if it didn't hurt. Phenomenal experience are the reigns on our free will. There couldn't be a more important utility.

Michael Cohen 6 February 2020

Excellent article and so sad to see that abuse by our climate crisis may have warped part of our minds so the article snubs the crisis’s 54-sense organic remedy. Why not help save the world along with our keister? is irrefutable. I invite you to review it. You may find useful: “natural attraction is conscious of what it is attracted to.”

Bernardo Kastrup 6 February 2020

Reading these comments is fascinating in a bizarre way. It baffles me how so many otherwise smart people just can't understand that, under materialism, ALL function can be performed without accompanying experience. You don't need to experience red to perform any function; all you need is to detect light at a certain frequency band. Robots detect light without this detection being accompanied by experience. People seem to take consciousness so much for granted that they inadvertently attribute it to function and structure as if it were integral to it; but that is a blatant conflation. People just don't seem to understand what materialism means; what it is and implies. Amazing.

lizzyann 76 6 February 2020

The Universe is a machine because you can't have a future point unless it's contained by a past point which means the Universe is an eternal recurrence which can never change because all changes are one non change. The only point of existence is to know you exist which means you must then exist, you only have two concepts that can occur which is to be 100% of existence and to become 100% of existence, nothing more or nothing less. God and evolution are two different concepts as one concept together, to be 100% knowledge and to evolve to create yourself as 100% knowledge, which means you can't go beyond self consciousness and you can't go before consciousness. You will always believe your history of memory and memory of history is happening for the first time because only a past point can contain all of its future points as past points which means when we destroy ourselves as self consciousness we will reset this Universe as a past to future universe because only a future point can experience itself becoming a past point because only we can observe a future point becoming a past point. If you didn't destroy your history of memory and memory of history then this Universe could never have believed it could come into existence as a beginning point becoming an end point, the only point of existence is to always exist which means you must already be an end to a beginning to be able to replicate your existence infinitely as a beginning to an end. If this Universe has to be infinite but also had to create itself then this Universe can only be a story of how you create your own history to believe it exists.

Mike Ivsin 6 February 2020

Hafta define consciousness first. Otherwise it's just talk.

Brian Ballard 6 February 2020

Silly materialists. As I enjoy my cheese sandwich I'm amused as to their explanation of cheeseyness.
They claim that cheese is made up of molecules, that are made up of elements, that are made up of subatomic particles. But there is no cheeseyness in subatomic particles. There is no cheeseyness in elemental particles, there is no cheeseyness in molecules. And yet those silly materialists will claim that by combining enough molecules, suddenly, cheeseyness will just magically appear where there was none before. Thus is nonsense, obviously only something supernatural can explain the appearance of cheeseyness out of nowhere.

Ptyl Dragon 6 February 2020

I wrote something on a similar note:
I think consciousness has a function which is irreducible to materialism. I think that’s an axiom based on observation. We will not see that function in a materialistic evaluation, the same way an x coordinate doesn’t show on a y axis. I also believe we are deliberately mistaking materialism with mechanism, so that alternative possibilities wouldn’t be suggested, and fracture our confidence further.

Bernd Prager 6 February 2020

While I mostly agree with the author, I have two main issues: First consciousness is poorly defined across the board. (Merriam-Webster basically defines it as, I quote: "The quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself.") Any modern computer power management standard fulfills that premise. - "Here we go, I am on." Secondly and pardon my rudeness, we're not doing any science here: Any science needs to be testable. So, upload my consciousness into a super-computer. How do we test, if that transfer was successful? We have absolutely no idea. My humble request to all the philosophers, micro-biologists, computer-engineers, brain-surgeons and so forth: please let us all together stop and figure out something we commonly agree upon and then being able to test somehow. That would be great. Thanks.

A Brickley 6 February 2020

Consciousness veto's and inhibits maladaptive behavior according to how it feels. In the brain this is quite different to generates behavior which can and does, mostly, some say entirely happen pre consciousness. Where ever or not, in theory this is necessary is mute as its how mind has evolved. Personally i cant see the problem with material evolution of the brain giving rise to software that has the quality of consciousness with the adaptive qualities of motor function veto.

Bill Goodman 6 February 2020

There is a difference between false premises and unprovable ones. There is also Godel's incompleteness theorem to be considered regarding truth and proof from a logical perspective.

Bill Goodman 6 February 2020

Another guy named Yeshua said the best hands on personal evidence for god is one's own consciousness. Believe it or not.

Bill Goodman 6 February 2020

A guy years ago posited that in the beginning was consciousness, which he called the logos, and which we call the word, and which you can call the plan of all plans or whatever you please. I'm just sayin'. As you conceive your world, so it shall be. Self fulfilling promises all the way down. But what is the self?

Richard Morgan 6 February 2020

"Computer scientists know..."
That is the point. Computer scientists are conscious and "know", which is why computers don't need to. Scientists create algorithms which imitate certain functions of consciousness.
This happens in an artificial ....
Oh, wait....

Bari ben-Harim 6 February 2020

if i understood, the author says redness and consciousness are in the same category, experiential, and therefore could not have been evolved.

since i am very sure that the experience of redness has been evolved, i am also very sure that the experience of self has been evolved. but there is a difference. self-awareness is a meta-experience, experience of experience, and that may emerge from mere complexity. but the complexity is evolved.

redness is also analogue, whereas sight is digital. i know this because it gives mammals the ability to pick out red fruit instantly from a background of other colors. that kind of instant solution is analogue, a digital solution requires sorting. plants picked red for ripe fruit because animals had already evolved the experience of redness - animal blood is red.

i conclude that the mechanisms of sense are digital and the author's conclusions apply to digital systems. but experience is analogue.

the most important clue is goedel's theorem. self-awareness can only arise where the user is on the INSIDE. computers will never be self-aware since the user is on the outside.

Todd Saalman 6 February 2020

Why can't the function of consciousness be to oversee all other functions? At any rate, no one denies that consciousness exists. Doesn't that mean that the purely materialistic view is flawed? Is not the color red qualia regardless of the materialistic absorbsion of the remainder of the light spectrum, and shorthand used by the 'consciousness' function to optimize survival success, the set of shorthand tools leading to the rise of self-awareness?

Phillip Weaver 6 February 2020

People don't seem to realise that all of our senses are possible without an experience of them, this is a sticking point for many in following this argument.

Phillip Weaver 6 February 2020

I agree absolutely with this article, logic dictates that it is so. It is time we consider panpsychism more seriously.

Lara W. 6 February 2020

I don’t know anything about materialism or computer science—my degree is in evolutionary biology, so perhaps that will simplify things nicely. Consciousness exists, in part, to guide an organism by learned experience. As organisms don’t evolve through intentional engineering, but rather through chance mutation, there aren’t a variety of pre-programmed functions to choose from in the management of data streams, there is only whatever chance mutation provides, which natural selection then acts upon.

Biological organisms, especially those of a higher order, use emotion as a framework for learned experience: if you suffer trauma, the accompanying feelings of extreme unhappiness serve to guide you away from repeating it; if you couldn’t learn from mistakes, you’d likely make them again and again and, in doing so, risk foreshortening your life. (Pleasure and the memory of pleasure likewise guide one back to potential fitness rewards, and functioning as a mindless zombie presents far too much peril of repeatedly blundering into the same dangerous conditions, leaving natural selection little to work with.)

Consciousness is necessary for planning a theoretical future outcome; this cognitive leap into the abstract (that is to say, the ability to envision a hypothetical state of being which does not yet exist) may benefit an organism that experiences shortage or competition within its environment (it is understood that the capacity to plan ahead helped early humans to exploit environments that were patchy in resources, for example). The ability to imagine a series of potential outcomes is useful, then, only in light of remembered experience.

It is not simply a question of bearing witness to a thing—consciousness both acts and reacts (and here it is worth pointing out that these sorts of actions and reactions differ from those of the unconscious mind, which serves to carry out myriad functions that don’t warrant active awareness but are necessary to the functioning of the organism; e.g., the mechanics of locomotion, of chewing food, etc. — automatic functions which, having been mastered early in life, don’t require painstaking thought to carry out.)

Consciousness did indeed evolve as a necessity in the processing of stimuli through the framework of basic emotions, feelings which serve both to reinforce past lessons and to signal to others a particular need in the organism (or perhaps an attractive quality for sexual selection) and, as with all such characteristics, it evolved gradually, as various traits and their by-products offered up, via the occasional, beneficial mutation, new and ever evolving reproductive advantage to the organism in question.

David Edwards 6 February 2020

Quantum theory is best understood as a form of perspectivism not physicalism

Nietzsche introduced the idea of perspectivism: in the final analysis, all we really have is a manifold of interlocking perspectives. For example, consider the following toy model. If humans are small finite, represent each possible human perspective by a small non-empty subset of {1,...,n} where n is a large natural number. Then, there are minimal perspectives, but no maximal human perspective. Still, there is an ideal finite perspective which sees everything! If n=infinity, then there is still an ideal infinite perspective which sees everything! (God's eye-view!) If one accepts the standard quantum logic, then one has a manifold of perspectives which cannot-by Gleason's Theorem-be embedded into any single perspective! There are now maximal perspectives, but no universal perspective!

David Quinn-Jacobs 6 February 2020

You’ve obviously never read anything by Dan Dennett. There are very good and plausible explanations how conscientiousness could have evolved. Qualia can be as mythical and unnecessary as any deity.

Jeff Wunder 5 February 2020

Good explanation but... consciousness is not a phenotype to begin with. In fact, it's not a scientifically observable property of anything, even in principle. Unobservable "phenotypes" can't evolve and don't even emerge ontogeneticaly from any genotype, as spandrels or anything else. So if consciousness exists, it didn't evolve, and it isn't even physical.

Damien Vasse 5 February 2020

False premises lead to erroneous conclusions. This article does exactly that.
Here the erroneous premise is subtly hidden behind other very much true premises. This error is about selection and phenotypic traits. This is a common error, mixing Evolution and natural selection. A phenotyic trait doesn't have to give any advantage to exist and persist in any given species, for two main reasons: 1) they appear thanks to random mechanisms, not in response to any given circumstance; 2) natural selection removes the unfit phenoypic traints only if their bearers can't manage to pass their genes on to the next generation (mostly by failing to procreate, whatever the reason).
So, consciousness can happen by chance, and if it doesn't prove to be unfitting, there's no particular reason it gets lost through selection.
There's no need for a phenotypic trait to have an actual function.
(edited for clarity, not being a native English speaker I might have used poor wordings).

Damien Vasse 5 February 2020

False premises lead to erroneous conclusions. This article does exactly that.
Here the erroneous premise is subtly hidden behind other very much true premises. This error is about selection and caracters. This is a common error, mixing Evolution and natural selection. A caracter doesn't have to give any advantage to exist and persist in any given species, for two main reasons: 1) caracters appear thanks to random mechanisms, not in response to any given circumstance; 2) natural selection removes the unfit caracters only if their bearers can't manage to pass their genes on to the next generation (mostly by failing to procreate, whatever the reason).
So, qualias can happen by chance, and if they don't prove to be unfitting, there's no particular reason they get lost through selection.
There's no need for a caracter to have an actual function.