A friend can’t make sense of this, from philosopher Keith Frankish in Aeon:
Consciousness is a life-transforming illusion
So, again, what is consciousness for? In his 2011 book Soul Dust, Humphrey proposes a novel idea. He argues that consciousness enriches life. It doesn’t add information; it adds interests and goals. Qualia are wonderful, magical things, and conscious creatures enjoy having them. They relish their sensations, and this relish gives them a deeper interest in their own existence. They also project qualia onto their surroundings and take a deeper interest in them too; and they come to think of themselves as having a self, which is of great importance to them. These developments, Humphrey argues, have great survival value and explain why evolution equipped us with consciousness. …
This may be just the change of perspective we need to understand consciousness. There’s a catch, however. For qualia are very strange things; they are utterly unlike any properties known to the physical sciences, and many philosophers argue that they are nonphysical. But there is good reason to think that everything that happens in the physical world has a physical cause. Since we are part of the physical world, this means that if qualia are nonphysical, they cannot affect us. Humphrey’s proposal threatens to be self-defeating. Qualia enrich life because they are magical; yet because they are magical they can’t affect us and enrich life!
There’s a possible way out of this, which Humphrey himself adopts. It involves another radical idea. Maybe qualia are a sort of illusion. Evolution couldn’t set it up so that brain states really have qualia, so it did the next best thing. It set things up so that they seem to have qualia when we attend to them (when we introspect). Consciousness is, as Humphrey puts it, a sort of inner magic show, in which brain states are the actors and introspection the audience.
This is a big pill to swallow, and even if you’ve gone along with the argument so far you will probably want to get off here.More.
It is a big pill to swallow, especially if we are accustomed to hearing evolution described as a mindless process.
But who says that in a post-modern age philosophers need to make sense? Cosmologists don’t need to have evidence, do they? conform to reality, and Darwin’s followers need only court judgments, not evidence.
See also: Neuroscience tried wholly embracing naturalism, but then the brain got away
Would we give up naturalism to solve the hard problem of consciousness?
Can we talk? Language as the business end of consciousness
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