Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

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AshvinP
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by AshvinP »

JustinG wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 3:41 am Thanks Ashvin,
Whitehead's metaphysics was chosen as an example of, possibly one of many, "defensible interpretations of physics available which are consistent both with observed empirical facts and with the proposition that subjective states influence physical behaviour". An idealistic approach could been given as an example instead. But condensing Whitehead into less than 500 words was no easy task in itself, so I wasn't going to try and do the same with an idealistic approach, especially since the paper has a biological focus and was aimed at biologically-oriented readers. But, yes, the principle idea (the causal efficacy of consciousness) could be consistent with and applied to various forms of idealism.

The main issue for me is distinguishing between what is an "observed empirical fact" of biological life vs. a materialist or panpsychist interpretation of the facts. We have facts that show all living organisms share certain mineral-like processes. Many of them share mineral and plant-like processes. And fewer, but still a good many, share animal-like processes, i.e. inner life which engages in directed acts of will and feeling. We also know humans have an ego-"I" which no other animals seem to have. Everything else about the so-called progressions of one form of life to another are interpretations laid on the facts. They may reference fossils and geological layers and genetic studies to support those proposed progressions, but those are still interpretations of the underlying facts that there are shared features and shared genes. Methods of dating these things and recreating a whole evolutionary narrative take us into the realm of materialist assumptions stacked upon other materialist assumptions. From an idealist view, as opposed to a panpsychist one, the causative factor in the phenomenal world are what we typically refer to as principles, laws of nature, archetypes, etc. - they are the overarching ideas which make sense of all the particular manifestations. In that way, since we are limited to pretty crude analogies to visualize what are essentially meaningful qualities with no physical structure, the process is more like a top-down structuring from Universal formative principles to more particular manifestations of those principles. That is what Cleric also was pointing to in his comment about the entropic gradient from Sun to all biological processes on Earth. Note that this is not really the "creationist" view either because it does not assume any specific Divine agent acting from outside of Nature and it does not say we must be satisfied with the most vague speculations about ideas in the "mind of God" being turned into physical creatures at some particular point in time, or anything similar. Rather it says, if we want to discover the details of the evolutionary process, we must look to the manner in which the meaningful qualities of our experience are structured. I think William James actually started to do this, because he was a psychologist after all. That is where we find the structure of meaningful qualities - our own psyche.
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JustinG
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by JustinG »

AshvinP wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 4:20 am We also know humans have an ego-"I" which no other animals seem to have. Everything else about the so-called progressions of one form of life to another are interpretations laid on the facts. They may reference fossils and geological layers and genetic studies to support those proposed progressions, but those are still interpretations of the underlying facts that there are shared features and shared genes. Methods of dating these things and recreating a whole evolutionary narrative take us into the realm of materialist assumptions stacked upon other materialist assumptions.
I'm not denying the relevance of what you are saying, but it is beyond the scope of this thread.

I think there is value in provisionally adopting the assumptions associated with Darwinian evolutionary theory and seeing where they lead, as they lead to the conclusion which undermines an epiphenomenal view of consciousness (or at least that is what the argument is in the paper).
Shajan624
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by Shajan624 »

Justin,

Well written paper.

I think evolutionary argument did not turn out to be the bomb it was expected to be because it did not go far enough.

It could be viewed as an attempt to compromise with the apparent impenetrability of Darwinian theory by bringing in the subjective through backdoor. Causal efficacy of conscious mental activity could potentially be extended to ‘un-conscious mental activity’ as well. That would leave very little for blind natural selection to work on. Evolution might tun out to be ‘mind-driven’ and natural section merely the third-person view of mind at work over long periods of time. I think materialists recognise the danger and show little interest.

I am curious how evolutionary argument lends support to panpsychism. Doesn’t the model accept subjectivity itself evolved through natural selection? If so why inanimate matter could have conscious properties?
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by Jim Cross »

JustinG wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 3:25 am Hi Steve and Jim, thanks for the comments. My response:

The paper aimed to have a primarily biological focus. So I didn't want to consume too many words discussing philosophical issues related to causality or the definition of consciousness, important as these issues are. The reference to feelings is to phenomenal experience throughout, and not to Chalmer's notion of psychological consciousness.

From the perspective of Darwinian evolutionary biology, if feelings do not do anything (i.e. if they have no causal efficacy), then there is no evolutionary reason why, for example, touching a stove is associated with feelings of pain or eating is associated with feelings of pleasure. From a Darwinian perspective, if feelings do not have causal efficacy then it is equally likely that touching a stove be associated with ecstatic pleasure or eating be associated with excruciating pain. As the latter is not the case, Darwinian theory therefore implies that feelings have physical effects in the world (i.e. they have causal efficacy).
I thought I was pretty clear exactly how pain on touching a stove creates a memory and learning. Surely, you are not suggesting memory and learning have no evolutionary value. In the same way, pleasurable experiences generate positive memories and reinforce behaviors that generate them. This is basic behaviorism and directly tied to neuro-transmitters.

It isn't really hard to see how this evolved.

Simple reflex circuits - touch a stove pull back - are only of limited value. It wouldn't stop an organism from touching a stove again and again. It addresses the immediate damage done to the hand but not future damage. For the organism to recognize the more general case it must create a memory of a stove, or even better the abstract case of hot objects in general, that it can combine together to avoid touching stoves in the future. Consciousness is directly tied to this learning because it requires integrating the cognitive recognition of a hot stove with the memory of the pain generated when touching it.
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by Jim Cross »

I'm not expert on Heard but it seems he sees pain and its transcendence, and other what he terms 'fundamental polar sensations", as keys to evolution too.

"Pain and pleasure, agony and lust, are the two fundamental polar sensations which lie at an equally rudimentary level. Only when this dazing sensationalism is transcended, can consciousness experience sustained intensity of being. This process indicates a possible ending of pain, a possible solving of the problem of sex, and also the possibility of a completely new step in evolution."
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AshvinP
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

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JustinG wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 5:19 am
AshvinP wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 4:20 am We also know humans have an ego-"I" which no other animals seem to have. Everything else about the so-called progressions of one form of life to another are interpretations laid on the facts. They may reference fossils and geological layers and genetic studies to support those proposed progressions, but those are still interpretations of the underlying facts that there are shared features and shared genes. Methods of dating these things and recreating a whole evolutionary narrative take us into the realm of materialist assumptions stacked upon other materialist assumptions.
I'm not denying the relevance of what you are saying, but it is beyond the scope of this thread.

I think there is value in provisionally adopting the assumptions associated with Darwinian evolutionary theory and seeing where they lead, as they lead to the conclusion which undermines an epiphenomenal view of consciousness (or at least that is what the argument is in the paper).

Justin,

I really don't get why you would see value in provisionally adopting any assumptions which could turn out to be false. If they are false, then the rest of the reasoning and conclusions derived from that reasoning go out the window. I don't think we should pursue science just to undermine materialism or any other worldview, but to figure out what is essentially real about the world we experience.
“It is your presumption that freedom is something which you already possess that ensures that you will remain in chains."
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by JustinG »

Jim Cross wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 11:56 am
JustinG wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 3:25 am Hi Steve and Jim, thanks for the comments. My response:

The paper aimed to have a primarily biological focus. So I didn't want to consume too many words discussing philosophical issues related to causality or the definition of consciousness, important as these issues are. The reference to feelings is to phenomenal experience throughout, and not to Chalmer's notion of psychological consciousness.

From the perspective of Darwinian evolutionary biology, if feelings do not do anything (i.e. if they have no causal efficacy), then there is no evolutionary reason why, for example, touching a stove is associated with feelings of pain or eating is associated with feelings of pleasure. From a Darwinian perspective, if feelings do not have causal efficacy then it is equally likely that touching a stove be associated with ecstatic pleasure or eating be associated with excruciating pain. As the latter is not the case, Darwinian theory therefore implies that feelings have physical effects in the world (i.e. they have causal efficacy).
I thought I was pretty clear exactly how pain on touching a stove creates a memory and learning. Surely, you are not suggesting memory and learning have no evolutionary value. In the same way, pleasurable experiences generate positive memories and reinforce behaviors that generate them. This is basic behaviorism and directly tied to neuro-transmitters.

It isn't really hard to see how this evolved.

Simple reflex circuits - touch a stove pull back - are only of limited value. It wouldn't stop an organism from touching a stove again and again. It addresses the immediate damage done to the hand but not future damage. For the organism to recognize the more general case it must create a memory of a stove, or even better the abstract case of hot objects in general, that it can combine together to avoid touching stoves in the future. Consciousness is directly tied to this learning because it requires integrating the cognitive recognition of a hot stove with the memory of the pain generated when touching it.
I thought I was more or less in agreement with your prior post Jim (though maybe I didn't read it closely enough), so it will be interesting to disentangle our positions and see where they diverge.

I think the divergence may be in how we each conceive of reductive explanation. My discussion of this in the paper (pp. 363 -364) is as follows:
A hallmark of physical science has been the explanation of higher-level processes in terms of lower level processes. As David Chalmers puts it, in reductive explanation an appropriate account of lower-level processes results in the explanation of the higher-level phenomenon falling out. Or, in more technical terms, a natural phenomenon is reductively explainable in terms of some low-level properties when it is logically supervenient on those properties. In terms of the physiology of the human body, this means that, in principle, an explanation at the level of physical and chemical processes in the body as determined by the laws of physics and chemistry would explain all movements of the body. There is no need to infer any contribution from higher-level subjective mental states.
So, in terms of your stove example, in your explanation the actual subjective sensation of pain does not seem to have any relevance to the creation of the memory and the learning. As I am reading it, in your explanation the actual subjective sensation is not actually doing any work, because all of the behaviour can be accounted for in terms of lower-level nonconscious processes.
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by JustinG »

Shajan624 wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 9:26 am Justin,

Well written paper.

I think evolutionary argument did not turn out to be the bomb it was expected to be because it did not go far enough.

It could be viewed as an attempt to compromise with the apparent impenetrability of Darwinian theory by bringing in the subjective through backdoor. Causal efficacy of conscious mental activity could potentially be extended to ‘un-conscious mental activity’ as well. That would leave very little for blind natural selection to work on. Evolution might tun out to be ‘mind-driven’ and natural section merely the third-person view of mind at work over long periods of time. I think materialists recognise the danger and show little interest.

I am curious how evolutionary argument lends support to panpsychism. Doesn’t the model accept subjectivity itself evolved through natural selection? If so why inanimate matter could have conscious properties?
Shajan,

Your comment that "materialists recognise the danger and show little interest" hits the nail on the head. I think that is the real reason that James' argument does not receive much attention. However, even if the implications of James' argument were broadly accepted, in my view there would still be a large role in biology for natural selection. Critics of neo-Darwinism frequently say that natural selection can account for the 'survival of the fittest' but not for the 'arrival of the fittest'.

The argument that the evolutionary argument lends support for panpsychism goes roughly like this: The evolutionary argument implies that subjective feelings have physical effects. But the matter from which organisms are made is no different from matter elsewhere in the cosmos. Therefore, if the matter from which organisms are made is associated with subjective feelings which have physical effects, then it is reasonable to conclude that matter everywhere in the universe is associated with subjective feelings which have physical effects (i.e. a form of panpsychism).
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by JustinG »

AshvinP wrote: Mon Sep 13, 2021 12:21 am
JustinG wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 5:19 am
AshvinP wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 4:20 am We also know humans have an ego-"I" which no other animals seem to have. Everything else about the so-called progressions of one form of life to another are interpretations laid on the facts. They may reference fossils and geological layers and genetic studies to support those proposed progressions, but those are still interpretations of the underlying facts that there are shared features and shared genes. Methods of dating these things and recreating a whole evolutionary narrative take us into the realm of materialist assumptions stacked upon other materialist assumptions.
I'm not denying the relevance of what you are saying, but it is beyond the scope of this thread.

I think there is value in provisionally adopting the assumptions associated with Darwinian evolutionary theory and seeing where they lead, as they lead to the conclusion which undermines an epiphenomenal view of consciousness (or at least that is what the argument is in the paper).

Justin,

I really don't get why you would see value in provisionally adopting any assumptions which could turn out to be false. If they are false, then the rest of the reasoning and conclusions derived from that reasoning go out the window. I don't think we should pursue science just to undermine materialism or any other worldview, but to figure out what is essentially real about the world we experience.
Ashvin,
The use of assumptions provisionally is part of dialectical methodology, which works by way of immanent or implicit critique. Using Hegelianism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectic ... _dialectic) as an example:
In the Logic, for instance, Hegel describes a dialectic of existence: first, existence must be posited as pure Being (Sein); but pure Being, upon examination, is found to be indistinguishable from Nothing (Nichts). When it is realized that what is coming into being is, at the same time, also returning to nothing (in life, for example, one's living is also a dying), both Being and Nothing are united as Becoming.

As in the Socratic dialectic, Hegel claimed to proceed by making implicit contradictions explicit: each stage of the process is the product of contradictions inherent or implicit in the preceding stage.
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AshvinP
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by AshvinP »

JustinG wrote: Mon Sep 13, 2021 2:38 am
AshvinP wrote: Mon Sep 13, 2021 12:21 am
JustinG wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 5:19 am

I'm not denying the relevance of what you are saying, but it is beyond the scope of this thread.

I think there is value in provisionally adopting the assumptions associated with Darwinian evolutionary theory and seeing where they lead, as they lead to the conclusion which undermines an epiphenomenal view of consciousness (or at least that is what the argument is in the paper).

Justin,

I really don't get why you would see value in provisionally adopting any assumptions which could turn out to be false. If they are false, then the rest of the reasoning and conclusions derived from that reasoning go out the window. I don't think we should pursue science just to undermine materialism or any other worldview, but to figure out what is essentially real about the world we experience.
Ashvin,
The use of assumptions provisionally is part of dialectical methodology, which works by way of immanent or implicit critique. Using Hegelianism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectic ... _dialectic) as an example:
In the Logic, for instance, Hegel describes a dialectic of existence: first, existence must be posited as pure Being (Sein); but pure Being, upon examination, is found to be indistinguishable from Nothing (Nichts). When it is realized that what is coming into being is, at the same time, also returning to nothing (in life, for example, one's living is also a dying), both Being and Nothing are united as Becoming.

As in the Socratic dialectic, Hegel claimed to proceed by making implicit contradictions explicit: each stage of the process is the product of contradictions inherent or implicit in the preceding stage.

To me the above sounds like starting with one given of experience (becoming from nothing to being to nothing) and reasoning from there. Perhaps we could say the above contains at least one assumption somewhere, and one assumption must always be made to proceed in any thoughtful inquiry, but that is still much different from starting with an entire series of assumptions like, "life is a complex organization of amino acids, proteins, cells, etc. combining in certain configurations which allow them to reproduce and grow, which then allows those configurations to further combine until we have living creatures with phenomenal consciousness, which then allows the consciousness to play a role influencing further evolution of the living organisms". With every assumption added, the room for error grows by orders of magnitude. Eventually, if even one or two of the initial assumptions were flawed, the person proceeding in such a manner is studying a complete chimera of their own abstractions which has nothing to do with the underlying Reality.
“It is your presumption that freedom is something which you already possess that ensures that you will remain in chains."
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