evolution of consciousness (Introduction)

by dhw, Sunday, July 30, 2017, 11:03 (134 days ago) @ David Turell

George: Came across this and thought of you:

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/06/how-consciousness-evolved/485558/

All sounds quite plausible to me.

DAVID: We all appreciate your thinking of us and providing this very well done explanation of the evolution of the human brain. I don't think he hasn't given us a good explanation of consciousness, but has afforded a good description as to how we arrived at the state of being conscious and responsive. Well worth reading.

I add my delight at hearing from you again, George, and for a change I agree with David. Good history, but absolutely no explanation of consciousness. The essence of the whole thing seems to me to lie in this section. A talking crocodile might say:

I’ve got something intangible inside me. It’s not an eyeball or a head or an arm. It exists without substance. It’s my mental possession of things. It moves around from one set of items to another. When that mysterious process in me grasps hold of something, it allows me to understand, to remember, and to respond.”

The crocodile would be wrong, of course. Covert attention isn’t intangible. It has a physical basis, but that physical basis lies in the microscopic details of neurons, synapses, and signals. The brain has no need to know those details. The attention schema is therefore strategically vague. It depicts covert attention in a physically incoherent way, as a non-physical essence. And this, according to the theory, is the origin of consciousness. We say we have consciousness because deep in the brain, something quite primitive is computing that semi-magical self-description.

There is no theory of the origin of consciousness here. Merely the author’s contention that the crocodile is wrong, and it’s all due to neurons, synapses and signals, which is the standard materialist explanation. He may be right, but nobody in the world knows how it works or how it originated.


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