Why was consciousness naturally selected?

#1
On the materialist view, consciousness is considered an epiphenomenon. That is, it is a causally inert by-product. (To argue otherwise is to presuppose free will and therefore some kind of dualism.) So, this raises the question: Why was consciousness naturally selected? (Something that is invisible and causally inert cannot possibly confer any kind of survival benefit.)

Addendum:

It has been my experience that some materialists cannot accept that their worldview necessarily implies epiphenomenalism. So, for those materialists who cannot, I will ask the following question: What do you expect a "robot with consciousness" to do in practice that a "robot without consciousness" cannot do in theory? (Being aware in and of itself exerts no causal influence.)
 
#2
: a secondary phenomenon accompanying another and caused by it; specifically : a secondary mental phenomenon that is caused by and accompanies a physical phenomenon but has no causal influence itself
Surely a secondary phenomenon has, by definition, not been selected for. It is a by product of something/s that has/have been selected for. Or am I misunderstanding your question?
 
#3
Surely a secondary phenomenon has, by definition, not been selected for. It is a by product of something/s that has/have been selected for. Or am I misunderstanding your question?
Are you arguing that consciousness is a byproduct of something that has been selected for?
 
#7
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#8
I'm not sure what you're asking here... Sensory processes, memory processes and their interconnections?

But then I'm not sure exactly what precisely you mean by consciousness either.
Consciousness = awareness

Obviously, a more efficient "carbon-based information-processing system" (or "stimulus-response system") would be naturally selected over a lesser one. But that's not what I'm asking. I'm asking why a "carbon-based information-processing system WITH consciousness" was naturally selected over a "carbon-based information-processing system WITHOUT consciousness?" Because whether an information processing system is experiencing consciousness appears completely irrelevant as to whether it can actually process information (sensory information or otherwise).
 
#9
I'm not sure what you're asking here... Sensory processes, memory processes and their interconnections?

But then I'm not sure exactly what precisely you mean by consciousness either. Human consciousness? If that's what you mean perhaps you could answer the question in the title of this article?

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/when-does-consciousness-arise/?page=1
As the babies spatial network matures (dendrite/spine creation, strengthening and pruning)... and as it builds up sufficient coherent interference from the past... Lol... Possibly...
 
#11
Consciousness = awareness

Obviously, a more efficient "carbon-based information-processing system" (or "stimulus-response system") would be naturally selected over a lesser one. But that's not what I'm asking. I'm asking why a "carbon-based information-processing system WITH consciousness" was naturally selected over a "carbon-based information-processing system WITHOUT consciousness?" Because whether an information processing system is experiencing consciousness appears completely irrelevant as to whether it can actually process information (sensory information or otherwise).
Correct me if I'm wrong, but by awareness you mean some sort of self reflection (ie: not just taste, but being able to self-reflect that there is an "I" that is tasting")?

Also correct me if I'm wrong, but you would also say that there are some life forms that have this information processing with awareness, and others that don't?

I think the problem is in conceiving natural selection as selecting one characteristic over another. It's not the case that With C was selected over W/O C. Rather, some some species proceeded along a With C information processing line and others along a W/O C information processing line.

It's easy to fall into the trap of conceiving natural selection as almost a deliberative process. I know the language brings to mind the image of choosing among different options and making the choice that maximizes survival - but that's not really it, as I understand it. All selection means is that the living being passed on its genes to a new generation. There's no guarantee that this will produce the most efficient use of resources, or most advantageous characteristics. Indeed there are plenty of example of rather inefficient characteristics that get passed down.

That said, in terms of your OP I'm not sure what philosophers say on this but I as I conceive it, our awareness is as much a part of the causal chain as anything else. I think of consciousness a bit more broadly than you're defining it here. That is consciousness is a collection of a bunch of different processes that range from basic light sensitivity to conceiving the self - basically any process that produces an experience.

The question then is framed in terms of information processing that with experience and information processing without experience. Really we're saying that experience is a form of information processing. If the experience helps lead to action then it will have a causal role. Ie: the experience of pain can cause an automatic instinctive reaction to move away from the source of the pain. If all that happens is the organism moves in a different direction this will have some survival benefit. Of course, if the living being has evolved in a manner where there is also some deliberative capacity the survival benefit would be enhanced (ie: it would not just move in an arbitrary direction away from the danger but could further process and analyse information in a manner in which to make a more strategic movement.

Note as well that just because a process is used in a manner that helps it stay alive long enough to pass on genes, doesn't mean that every use of that process will be for survival reasons.
 
#12
I suspect very few would go along with that simple definition; there appears to be more to it.
Wikipedia defines "consciousness" as "the state of awareness or the quality, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself.[1][2]"

But even then what is awareness without sensory input?
You're evading the question. Why was a sentient stimulus-response system naturally selected over an insentient one?
 
#13
Correct me if I'm wrong, but by awareness you mean some sort of self reflection (ie: not just taste, but being able to self-reflect that there is an "I" that is tasting")?
You're wrong. I mean awareness. That may entail self-awareness, but it doesn't necessarily entail this.

Also correct me if I'm wrong, but you would also say that there are some life forms that have this information processing with awareness, and others that don't?
I believe that there are life forms other than human beings that experience subjective awareness.

I think the problem is in conceiving natural selection as selecting one characteristic over another. It's not the case that With C was selected over W/O C. Rather, some some species proceeded along a With C information processing line and others along a W/O C information processing line.
Unless all carbon-based information processing systems generate consciousness, then why is it that some carbon-based information processing systems generate consciousness while others do not?

That said, in terms of your OP I'm not sure what philosophers say on this but I as I conceive it, our awareness is as much a part of the causal chain as anything else. I think of consciousness a bit more broadly than you're defining it here. That is consciousness is a collection of a bunch of different processes that range from basic light sensitivity to conceiving the self - basically any process that produces an experience.
Without awareness, there is no experience.

The question then is framed in terms of information processing that with experience and information processing without experience.
So, why do some carbon-based information processing systems generate subjective experience (awareness) while others do not?

Really we're saying that experience is a form of information processing. If the experience helps lead to action then it will have a causal role.
Wrong! That an information processing system happens to experience subjective awareness is completely irrelevant as to the information processing actually taking place. That's why consciousness, on the materialist view, is considered to be an epiphenomenon (a causally inert by-product).
 
#14
You're wrong. I mean awareness. That may entail self-awareness, but it doesn't necessarily entail this.
Ok, I think you mean something similar to me when I say experience. This is the wiki definition which I think is pretty close to how I'm using it: "Awareness is the ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns"

I believe that there are life forms other than human beings that experience subjective awareness.
Right and to different extents. But the point I was trying to get at is whether you would also say there are also life forms that have information processing systems without awareness.

Unless all carbon-based information processing systems generate consciousness, then why is it that some carbon-based information processing systems generate consciousness while others do not?
Because some evolved in that direction while others didn't. We can ask the same question about any selected trait, right? Why did one species select in direction A, while some other species selected in direction B?

To say that consciousness provides a selection advantage is not to say that other characteristics don't also provide selection advantages. Every species that currently exists has adapted to its environment in a manner that permits enough members of it to pass their genes on. If the environment changes and they don't adapt they may become extinct.

Without awareness, there is no experience.
Yes, I think we're meaning approximately the same thing here.

So, why do some carbon-based information processing systems generate subjective experience (awareness) while others do not?
Well, that's something researchers are currently working on! I don't think anyone has solved this yet. From what I've seen the IIT (integrated information theory) folks seem to be making some progress and I'm somewhat partial to what I've been seeing coming out of that camp, though I think it's still too early to tell. Other researchers such as Penrose are persuing microtubules as playing a key role but their stuff is too technical for me to be sure. I'm content for now to sit back and see what guys like these are able to come up with!

But regardless of the actual mechanism, I don't think its correct to say that because this mechanism produces awareness and provides a selection advantage that one would expect every species to proceed that way - which again, please correct me if I'm wrong, seems to be what you're suggesting?

Wrong! That an information processing system happens to experience subjective awareness is completely irrelevant as to the information processing actually taking place. That's why consciousness, on the materialist view, is considered to be an epiphenomenon (a causally inert by-product).
Like I said, I can't speak for how others consider conscious process, this is how I see it. Why is it irrelevant?
When you touch a hot stove you will instinctively, without awareness pull your hand back. Some life forms might only be able to do that. The pain provides information that causes it to move away from the source of pain but the information may not affect future actions. Species with conscious processes of awareness and deliberation can make greater use of the information, in terms of current actions as well as drawing on the experience in future actions.

The view I'm currently leaning to is that conscious processes are not in addition to information processing, but are a type of information processing. They play their part in the causal chain along with everything else in this vast web of causes and effects (with perhaps some randomness thrown in).

Whether you technically call that epiphenomenal or not I don't know. I've seen this term used in all sorts of ways on the forums, to different effects, that I find it - at least for me - impedes clear communication rather than promotes it. So I try and avoid it entirely, just describing how I view things!
 
#15
Wikipedia defines "consciousness" as "the state of awareness or the quality, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself.[1][2]"
So what would that look like without sensory input?



You're evading the question. Why was a sentient stimulus-response system naturally selected over an insentient one?
It is convenient to talk about "consciousness" or "sentience" as though it is its own separate entity. Perhaps we have to be a bit more imaginative?
 
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Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#16
On the materialist view, consciousness is considered an epiphenomenon. That is, it is a causally inert by-product. (To argue otherwise is to presuppose free will and therefore some kind of dualism.) So, this raises the question: Why was consciousness naturally selected? (Something that is invisible and causally inert cannot possibly confer any kind of survival benefit.)
I don't see why physicalism implies epiphenomenalism. Here is an interesting idea about the purpose of consciousness:

http://gazzaleylab.ucsf.edu/wp-cont...s-in-the-Nervous-System-Ezequiel-Morsella.pdf

It has been my experience that some materialists cannot accept that their worldview necessarily implies epiphenomenalism. So, for those materialists who cannot, I will ask the following question: What do you expect a "robot with consciousness" to do in practice that a "robot without consciousness" cannot do in theory? (Being aware in and of itself exerts no causal influence.)
Why is this question relevant? Just because consciousness evolved to solve certain problems doesn't mean that there aren't other nonconscious methods of solving them.

~~ Paul
 
#18
But the point I was trying to get at is whether you would also say there are also life forms that have information processing systems without awareness.
I subscribe to a version of panpsychism. So, I believe all carbon-based information processing systems or stimulus-response systems (living organisms) experience subjective awareness. From my view, consciousness wasn't naturally selected because it's fundamental.

To say that consciousness provides a selection advantage is not to say that other characteristics don't also provide selection advantages.
To reiterate: Consciousness, on the materialist view, is an epiphenomenon (a causally inert byproduct). As such, it cannot possibly confer any survival benefit whatsoever. That's why I am asking the question.

Just FYI. I have provided you with a link to the term "epiphenomenon" while also defining it.

The view I'm currently leaning to is that conscious processes are not in addition to information processing, but are a type of information processing.
If I understand your position correctly, you believe some information processing functions generate subjective experiences while others do not. So, I will ask you the same question (more or less) I posed in the addendum of the OP: What functions do the proponents of (strong) AI expect a "silicon-based information processing system WITH consciousness" to perform in practice that a "silicon-based information process system WITHOUT consciousness" cannot perform in theory?
 
#19
So what would that look like without sensory input?
There's awareness of nonsensory input (e.g. mathematical abstractions). But this is irrelevant. The fact is that all stimulus-response systems respond to environmental stimuli (sensory input) by definition. So, you're still evading the question: Why was a sentient stimulus-response system naturally selected over an insentient one?
 
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