Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

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Jim Cross
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by Jim Cross »

JustinG wrote: Mon Sep 13, 2021 2:08 am
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.
Actually after I made my comment I reread your comment and thought that you might be agreeing with me more than I originally thought.
can be accounted for in terms of lower-level nonconscious processes.
In my view, no. At least not in living organisms.

First, there is empirical information that links behaviors associated with consciousness with the ability for learning. This is the Jablonka-Ginsburg thesis that learning is a marker for consciousness.

There are the decades of operant conditioning research on learning and positive and negative reinforcements.

There is also the somewhat trivial observation that no complex learning takes place from unconscious inputs.
Bernard Baars, originator the global workplace theory of consciousness, notes that “there appears to be no robust evidence so far for long-term learning of unconscious input” and the “evidence for learning of conscious episodes is very strong.” He also writes: “Consciousness is also involved with skill acquisition. As predicted by the hypothesis, novel skills, which are typically more conscious, activate large regions of cortex, but after automaticity due to practice, the identical task tends to activate only restricted regions.”
https://broadspeculations.com/2020/01/1 ... certainty/

There is in my view a very good evolutionary explanation for this.

It gets precisely at the question of whether the brain is a computer or a simulator.
Compared to actual computers, the brain and nervous systems must make the best with a relatively small amount of energy and a relatively slow computational speed. In simple organisms those limitations may not be fatal. However, the evolution of greater adaptive capability, the integration of more sensory data, and the development of broader repertoire of behaviors would eventually hit a computational barrier. The brain could not compute quickly enough to provide an selection advantage if it relied solely on a computational approach. The evolutionary response would be development of a simulation on top of a computational base. Unsurprisingly , our consciousness feels occasionally exactly like a simulation, although for the most part we think the simulation is real.
https://broadspeculations.com/2021/04/2 ... ypothesis/

In other words, consciousness - the generation of the simulation - is only way organisms can do complex learning.
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by JustinG »

Jim Cross wrote: Mon Sep 13, 2021 12:13 pm
There are the decades of operant conditioning research on learning and positive and negative reinforcements.
Our disagreements may boil down to whether there is or isn't a hard problem of consciousness, in which case they are probably irresolvable (as philosophers and scientists have been arguing over this for decades). But the evolutionary argument could be applied to operant conditioning in the following way:

1. Operant Conditioning relies on observable behaviours and makes no reference to subjective states.

2. Therefore, operant conditioning theory entails that a particular learned behaviour, such as touching a stove, could be associated with subjective feelings of pleasure or of pain.

3. Subjective feelings of pleasure are generally associated with behaviours which enhance survival, and subjective feelings of pain are generally associated with behaviours which do not enhance survival.

4. This indicates that subjective feelings must have an influence on observable behaviours.

5. Therefore, operant conditioning is wrong in characterising learning in terms of observable behaviours without any reference to subjective states.
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by JustinG »

AshvinP wrote: Mon Sep 13, 2021 3:00 am
JustinG wrote: Mon Sep 13, 2021 2:38 am 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.
For immanent critique, in any particular context the starting point is what is given in that context, even though that starting point may end up being completely overturned. For example, Hegel begins the Phenomenology of Mind with the position of the certainty of sense data.

Hence, for example, spiritual or meditative exercises may be a valid starting point within some contexts, but cannot be a starting point in contemporary secular philosophy, because secular philosophy starts with secular assumptions.
The concept of the "beyond”, the “true world” invented in order to devaluate the only world there is - in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality!

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AshvinP
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by AshvinP »

JustinG wrote: Tue Sep 14, 2021 6:08 am
AshvinP wrote: Mon Sep 13, 2021 3:00 am
JustinG wrote: Mon Sep 13, 2021 2:38 am 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:


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.
For immanent critique, in any particular context the starting point is what is given in that context, even though that starting point may end up being completely overturned. For example, Hegel begins the Phenomenology of Mind with the position of the certainty of sense data.

Hence, for example, spiritual or meditative exercises may be a valid starting point within some contexts, but cannot be a starting point in contemporary secular philosophy, because secular philosophy starts with secular assumptions.

I know this is a common method in the modern age, but I am just saying that I don't think it is a useful, and is actually counter-productive, for the reasons stated before.

As for Hegel, the "certainty of sense data" is not really an assumption but a given of experience. He is not starting with the assumption that sense data reveals the essence of the phenomena, but rather that the sense data exists. In our experience, we are confronted with phenomena perceived by our senses. Fichte also starts in a similar way in The Vocation of Man. That is the phenomenological approach - there are no metaphysical assumptions added on at the beginning of the analysis, so in that sense it is the opposite of how you begin in the paper. That approach eventually leads both Hegel and Fichte to conclude it is our own Spirit (Mind-Thinking) which is the common active force underlying all manifestations of phenomena. Here is exampe from the beginning of Fichte's Vocation.

Fichte wrote:I am surrounded by objects which I am compelled to regard as separate, independent, self-subsisting wholes. I behold plants, trees, animals. I ascribe to each individual certain properties and attributes by which I distinguish it from others; to this plant, such a form; to another, another; to this tree, leaves of such a shape; to another, others differing from them.

Every object has its appointed number of attributes, neither more nor less. To every question, whether it is this or that, there is, for any one who is thoroughly acquainted with it, a decisive Yes possible, or a decisive No,—so that there is an end of all doubt or hesitation on the subject. Everything that exists is something, or it is not this something;—is coloured, or is not coloured;—has a certain colour, or has it not;—may be tasted, or may not;—is tangible, or is not;—and so on, ad infinitum.

​Every object possesses each of these attributes in a definite degree. Let a measure be given for any particular attribute which is capable of being applied to the object; then we may discover the exact extent of that attribute, which it neither exceeds nor falls short of. I measure the height of this tree; it is defined, and it is not a single line higher or lower than it is. I consider the green of its leaves; it is a definite green, not the smallest shade darker or lighter, fresher or more faded than it is; although I may have neither measure nor expression for these qualities. I turn my eye to this plant; it is at a definite stage of growth between its budding and its maturity, not in the smallest degree nearer or more remote from either than it is. Everything that exists is determined throughout; it is what it is, and nothing else.
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by JustinG »

AshvinP wrote: Tue Sep 14, 2021 11:49 am
JustinG wrote: Tue Sep 14, 2021 6:08 am
AshvinP wrote: Mon Sep 13, 2021 3:00 am


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.
For immanent critique, in any particular context the starting point is what is given in that context, even though that starting point may end up being completely overturned. For example, Hegel begins the Phenomenology of Mind with the position of the certainty of sense data.

Hence, for example, spiritual or meditative exercises may be a valid starting point within some contexts, but cannot be a starting point in contemporary secular philosophy, because secular philosophy starts with secular assumptions.
I know this is a common method in the modern age, but I am just saying that I don't think it is a useful, and is actually counter-productive, for the reasons stated before.
Whether or not it is useful, IMO many discussions on this forum end up going around in circles until they reach a dead end because some users work with the assumptions of contemporary secular philosophy whereas others do not.
As for Hegel, the "certainty of sense data" is not really an assumption but a given of experience. He is not starting with the assumption that sense data reveals the essence of the phenomena, but rather that the sense data exists. In our experience, we are confronted with phenomena perceived by our senses. Fichte also starts in a similar way in The Vocation of Man. That is the phenomenological approach - there are no metaphysical assumptions added on at the beginning of the analysis, so in that sense it is the opposite of how you begin in the paper.
This is a big and important topic. But I think it would be best discussed in another thread (if desired) as it digresses substantially from the OP.

The concept of the "beyond”, the “true world” invented in order to devaluate the only world there is - in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality!

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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by AshvinP »

JustinG wrote: Wed Sep 15, 2021 5:38 am
AshvinP wrote: Tue Sep 14, 2021 11:49 am
JustinG wrote: Tue Sep 14, 2021 6:08 am

For immanent critique, in any particular context the starting point is what is given in that context, even though that starting point may end up being completely overturned. For example, Hegel begins the Phenomenology of Mind with the position of the certainty of sense data.

Hence, for example, spiritual or meditative exercises may be a valid starting point within some contexts, but cannot be a starting point in contemporary secular philosophy, because secular philosophy starts with secular assumptions.
I know this is a common method in the modern age, but I am just saying that I don't think it is a useful, and is actually counter-productive, for the reasons stated before.
Whether or not it is useful, IMO many discussions on this forum end up going around in circles until they reach a dead end because some users work with the assumptions of contemporary secular philosophy whereas others do not.


Oh I agree, but probably in the opposite direction as you mean it. You asked for critiques to your paper. I gave you a critique - I asked you to defend your underlying assumptions, i.e. the foundations on which all of your arguments depend. That should be a basic form of critique used by all methods, but it is not in the modern age. BK can never made headway by the staunch materialists precisely for this reason - they are unwilling to take a serious look at their own assumptions. For whatever reason they feel it is not that important to be self-aware of what one is assuming in their thought processes. So then their arguments go around in circles, because they are referencing their own flawed conclusions for support of other conclusions, never realizing the former were derived from flawed assumptions.

What is the point of having a "discussion" if the reasoning is based on flawed assumptions? Clearly that only leads to endless speculation without ever reaching any firm consensus. FYI, I did not choose to respond here just to critique you. The understanding [or misunderstanding] of the evolution of life is really one of the most fundamental obstacles to people taking evolutionary idealist views seriously and working towards a conceptual system which makes sense of cultural developments broadly. Of course you already know this, as you are familiar with Hegel vs. Marx and how their systems lead to two diametrically opposed ways of understanding human history.


Ashvin wrote:As for Hegel, the "certainty of sense data" is not really an assumption but a given of experience. He is not starting with the assumption that sense data reveals the essence of the phenomena, but rather that the sense data exists. In our experience, we are confronted with phenomena perceived by our senses. Fichte also starts in a similar way in The Vocation of Man. That is the phenomenological approach - there are no metaphysical assumptions added on at the beginning of the analysis, so in that sense it is the opposite of how you begin in the paper.
This is a big and important topic. But I think it would be best discussed in another thread (if desired) as it digresses substantially from the OP.

OK, if you actually want to continue discussing it, then I will start a new thread in a bit.
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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by JustinG »

AshvinP wrote: Wed Sep 15, 2021 1:16 pm
JustinG wrote: Wed Sep 15, 2021 5:38 am
AshvinP wrote: Tue Sep 14, 2021 11:49 am

I know this is a common method in the modern age, but I am just saying that I don't think it is a useful, and is actually counter-productive, for the reasons stated before.
Whether or not it is useful, IMO many discussions on this forum end up going around in circles until they reach a dead end because some users work with the assumptions of contemporary secular philosophy whereas others do not.


Oh I agree, but probably in the opposite direction as you mean it. You asked for critiques to your paper. I gave you a critique - I asked you to defend your underlying assumptions, i.e. the foundations on which all of your arguments depend. That should be a basic form of critique used by all methods, but it is not in the modern age. BK can never made headway by the staunch materialists precisely for this reason - they are unwilling to take a serious look at their own assumptions. For whatever reason they feel it is not that important to be self-aware of what one is assuming in their thought processes. So then their arguments go around in circles, because they are referencing their own flawed conclusions for support of other conclusions, never realizing the former were derived from flawed assumptions.

What is the point of having a "discussion" if the reasoning is based on flawed assumptions? Clearly that only leads to endless speculation without ever reaching any firm consensus. FYI, I did not choose to respond here just to critique you. The understanding [or misunderstanding] of the evolution of life is really one of the most fundamental obstacles to people taking evolutionary idealist views seriously and working towards a conceptual system which makes sense of cultural developments broadly.
Sure, but in a practical sense, there can be value for some in engaging in discussion which presupposes the tenets of contemporary secular metaphysics. Such engagements can be derailed by metaphilosophical arguments against the assumptions of secular metaphysics, with engagements coming to revolve around what metaphysics is or is not.

So, in terms of this forum, for example, I think the agreed upon 'rules of engagement' need to mature and develop some more.
The concept of the "beyond”, the “true world” invented in order to devaluate the only world there is - in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality!

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Re: Evolution and the causal efficacy of consciousness

Post by Soul_of_Shu »

JustinG wrote: Thu Sep 16, 2021 3:48 amSo, in terms of this forum, for example, I think the agreed upon 'rules of engagement' need to mature and develop some more.
What about the rules of engagement preclude anyone from referencing the problematic implications of paradigmatic contemporary secular metaphysics, even insofar as it then tends to devolve into recapitulating and perpetuating the kind of deprived thinking from which contemporary secular metaphysics is born? If nothing else, I suppose it may serve as a cautionary reminder of how crucial it is for thinking to evolve beyond it, an evolution which the creation of this forum was inspired to facilitate, rather than some rear-view mirror focus on what not only doesn't serve that evolution, but actually may hinder it.
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