Running head: EVOLUTION AND COGNITION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panel Presentation:

The Evolution of Consciousness

Alexnadra Alonzo, Ann Dorlet

and Jennifer Traver

Loyola Marymount University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexandra Alonzo

Ann Dorlet

Jennifer Traver

 

Carruthers, Peter (2000). The Evolution of Consciousness. In Carruthers, Peter, & Chamberlain, Andrew (Eds.), Evolution and the human mind: modulatory, language, and meta-cognition (pp. 254-275). Cambridge University Press.

 

            Peter Carruthers (2000) tries to find out how consciousness might have evolved since there is no agreed account of what exactly consciousness is.  Many evolutionists agree that there are many theories that help explain consciousness, and others that only bring problems. One of the problematic theories is phenomenal consciousness, also known as p-consciousness. This is the kind of mental state that has a distinctive subjective feel or phenomenology. Most theorists believe that there are mental states such as occurent thoughts or judgments, which are conscious, but are not p-conscious. There is also a dispute on whether mental states can be p-conscious without being conscious in the functionally definable sense or if they can be explained in functionally or representational forms. Every theorist can agree that p-consciousness is the most philosophically problematic. It is difficult to understand how its distinctive properties could be realized in the neural processes of the brain or how its properties could ever have evolved.

            Some theorists believe that the relationship between p-consciousness and the rest of the natural world is mysterious. Some feel that p-conscious states are non-physical in nature, while others think that they are physical states but their nature is closed to us. 

            Recent theorists have tried to explain p-consciousness in first-order representational terms (FOR). The goal is to characterize all of the phenomenal “felt” properties of experience in terms of the representational contents of experience.  In this case, p-consciousness is said to be one to have an impact on the subject’s beliefs and practical reasoning process in such a way as to guide behavior.

            Others have tried to explain it in higher-order representational accounts (HOR). This is divided into four general types.  First, there are ‘inner sense’, or higher-order experience (HOE) theories. This states that p-consciousness emerges when our first-order perceptual states are scanned by a faculty of inner sense to produce to HOE’s. Second, there are higher-order thought (HOT) accounts.  This states that p-consciousness arises when a first-order perceptual state is targeted by an appropriate HOT. Thirdly, HOT can be divided into two categories.  The first is actualist, which is where the actual presence of a HOT renders a perceptual state p-consciousness. The second is dispositionalist, which is where the availability of a perceptualist state to HOT makes it p-conscious.  Finally, there are higher-order description accounts (HOD). These are like HOT theories, except that linguistically formulated descriptions of the subject’s mental states take over the role of thoughts. 

            Throughout the chapter, Carruthers (2000) evaluates each of the four different accounts, or theories, of how p-consciousness could have evolved.  Starting with higher-order experience (HOE), we see that ‘inner sense’, which is crucial to HOE’s, is in and of itself too complex of a mechanism to have evolved in some steady selection pressure.  “Inner sense’ suggests that we embody inner scanners that, like any inner device, would have to be a physical device which depends on the detection of those physical events in the brain. This means that a scanning device that generates HOE’s of visual experience would have to be almost as sophisticated and complex as the visual system itself. A steady and significant evolutionary pressure would be necessary, over a considerable period or time, in order to build it.  Of course, he rejects this account of HOE’s and its function on p-consciousness. Next, Carruthers (2000) examines evolution and the actualist higher-order thought (HOT) theory.  This theory is also rejected because it also deals with a complex system.  It can be seen as a ‘cognitive overload’. Objects of attention can be immensely rich and varied, therefore requiring there to be equally rich and varied collection of HOT’s tokened at the same time.  He uses an example of a Van Gogh painting to explain this argument.  One can immerse themselves in the colors and textures of a Van Gogh painting, and it would seem that one can be p-conscious of a highly complex set of properties, which one could not even begin to describe or conceptualize in any detail. 

            The dispositionalist HOT theory is the one theory that Carruthers (2000) feels is a good account of the evolution of p-consciousness.  It proceeds in two main stages. The first stage involves an evolution of systems that generate integrated first-order sensory representations, available to conceptualized thought and reasoning.  These various sensory systems generate integrated representation of the environment, which are then made available to a variety of concept-wielding reasoning, planning and belief generating systems. The second stage involves the evolution of a theory-of-mind (ToM) faculty. This mind reading, or theory-of-mind faculty, has evolved and been selected for.  This faculty allows us to gain recognitional concepts for a variety of surface-features of the environment and, in turn, allows us to generate higher-order recognitional concepts in response to that perceptual data- ‘seems red, looks green, feels rough, appears loud’, and so on. This means that people would have achieved higher-order awareness of their own experiential thoughts. Once you can reflect on your perceptual states, you can learn from experience that certain circumstances that arise through perception may be an illusion, and you can learn to withhold from particular judgments.  Carruthers (2000) reports that this may be sufficient enough to qualify p-consciousness as an exaptation.  It may have not been originally selected for, but rather a by-product of a mind-reading faculty for having access to perceptual representations.

            The availability to HOT could confer on our perceptual states the distinctive properties of p-consciousness. These distinct properties being that they are states that encompass a subjective dimension, or a distinct subjective feel. Carruthers (2000) agrees that a representational state depends, in part, on the powers that consume that state.  What a state represents will depend on the kind of inferences that the cognitive system is prepared to make in the presence of that state. P-consciousness experiences the dimension of subjectivity. Each percept of red, is at one and the same time a representation that red and a representation of seems red or experience of red.

            Carruthers (2000) feels that the only other competitor left in higher-order representational (HOR) theories is the higher-order descriptivism.  Hominids evolved a wide variety of specialist processing systems for dealing with particular domains.  Carruthers (2000) feels that they may have also evolved specialist theory-of-mind systems.  Hominids also evolved a capacity to produce and process natural language, which was used for the purpose of inter-personal communication. This conferred on our species a decisive advantage, enabling an adaptable form of cooperation, and an increase and transmission of new skills and discoveries. This gives rise to what is distinctive of the conscious human mind. This is the ability for humans to ask themselves questions and to extract answers from those questions.  This allows for access to the language faculty, and these specialist processing systems would have been able to interact freely and access one another’s resources.  This can be referred to as a Joycean machine, the ‘constant stream of inner speech’. 

            Carruthers (2000) emphasizes the importance of HOT’s on p-consciousness, but he also elaborates on the importance of structured HOT’s.  Thoughts must be carried by a structured state such as sentences of innate and universal symbolism.  Any organism that can gather and retain information about a complex, changing environment must have representational states with compositional structure.  He uses an example of early hominids that engaged in hunting and gathering.  He says that they would have to keep track of the movements and territories of many other animals and humans.  While on a hunt, early hominids would have had to recall previous sightings and patterns of behavior, recall areas of territory, and would have needed to alert for signs of prey.  Humans need to ‘collect, retain, up-date, and reason from a vast array of information’. The mind-reading faculty is also set up as to represent, process, and generate structured representations of the mental state of ourselves and of others.  We need to work out and remember ‘who perceives what, who wants what, who feels what, and how different people are likely to respond in a wide variety of circumstances’.

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carruthers, Peter (2000). The Evolution of Consciousness. In Carruthers, Peter, & Chamberlain, Andrew (Eds.), Evolution and the human mind: modulatory, language, and meta-cognition (pp. 254-275). Cambridge University Press.

 

I.                    Phenomenal consciousness (p-consciousness):

A.     Definition: the kind of mental state that has a distinctive subjective feel or phenomenology

B.     First-order representational (FOR):

1)      Goal is to characterize all of the phenomenal “felt” properties of experience in terms of the representational contents of experience

C.     Higher-order representational (HOR)— 4 types:

1)      Higher-order experience (HOE)

a.       p-consciousness emerges when our first-order perceptual states are scanned by a faculty of inner sense to produce HOE’s

2)      Higher-order thought (HOT)

a.       p-consciousness arises when a first-order perceptual state is targeted by an appropriate HOT

3)      HOT divided into 2 categories:

a.       actualist: actual presence of a HOT renders a perceptual state p-consciousness

b.      dispositionalist: the availability of a perceptualist state to HOT makes it p-conscious

4)      Higher-order description (HOD)

a.       are like HOT theories, except that linguistically formulated descriptions of the subject’s mental states take over the role of thoughts

II.                 The Evolution of HOE’s and ‘inner sense’

A.     HOE theories try to explain how it is that one aspect of someone’s experience (i.e. color) can be conscious while another aspect (i.e. movement) can be unconscious

B.     HOE theories are ‘inner sense’ models of p-consciousness

1)      ‘inner sense’ models postulate a set of inner scanners directed at our first-order mental states, and construct analog representations of the occurrence and properties of those states, generating HOE’s

2)      ‘Inner sense’ accounts of p-consciousness are rejected on evolutionary grounds:

a.       the complexity of ‘inner sense’ mechanisms makes it almost inevitable that such devices could have evolved

b.      we would never had evolved HOE’s unless we already had HOT’s; HOE’s are not needed if HOT’s already existed

III.               Evolution and HOT theories:

IV.              A. Actualist HOT theory:

1)      Rejected because it does not really explain the phenomenology of experience or render a p-consciousness state

2)      Conscious experiences and objects of attention are immensely rich and varied, therefore requiring there to be an equally rich and varied collection of HOT’s tokened at the same time

B.     Dispositionalist HOT theory:

1)      Favored above all other accounts for p-consciousness

2)      Generates an integrated first-order representation of the environment and allows for a variety of concept-wielding reasoning, planning, and belief system

3)      Gives rise to the evolution of a ‘theory-of-mind’ faculty, or mind-reading faculty

C.     The mind-reading (or ‘theory of mind’) faculty has evolved, and been selected for:

1)      precursors of this ability seem detectable in other great apes

2)      having a use both in deceiving others and facilitating cooperation

3)      gives reason to think that enhanced degrees of this ability would have brought advantages in survival and reproduction

D.     HOT theories give rise to the idea that p-consciousness may qualify as an exaptation

1)      It was not originally selected for, but

2)      It can be seen as a by-product of a mind-reading faculty, which was selected for, having access to perceptual representations

E.      Structured HOT’s are considered important in the p-conscious process

1)      Organisms which can gather and retain information about a complex and constantly changing environment must have representational states with compositional structure

2)      Our mind-reading faculty is set up in such a way as to represent, process, and generate structured representations of the mental states of ourselves and others

V.                 Evolution of HOD’s

A.     P-conscious states are those perceptual contents which are available for reporting in speech—linguistic description

B.     Hominids may have evolved specialist theory-of-mind systems

1)      For example: cooperative exchange systems, and processes for gathering and organizing information about the living world

C.     Hominids developed complex communication

1)      They evolved a capacity to produce and process natural language exclusively for the purpose of inter-personal communication

D.     The idea of Joycean machines:

1)       a language faculty that allows us to generate questions and answer those questions within our mind; “a constant stream of inner speech” (Carruthers, 11).

VI. HOT’s are seen as being independent from language

2)      Language and a capacity for structured HOT’s co-evolved

3)      Because of higher-order reasoning and thought, we are able to recognize the intentions and beliefs of other people without using language

a.       For example, bodily movements/gestures and expressions

VI.              Conclusion:

A.     Dispositionalist higher-order thought is seen as the best way to explain p-consciousness in evolutionary terms

B.     Once you can reflect on your perceptual state, you can learn by experience that certain circumstances give rise to perceptions that are illusory, and you can learn to withhold your first-order judgments in such cases.

C.     P-conscious consists of positive distinctive properties which consist of states having subjective dimension, or a distinctive subjective feel

a.       These states can be conferred by the availability of HOT’s

 

 

 

 

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