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On the Impossibility of the Evolution of Consciousness


Consciousness could not have evolved from “simpler” states of matter, because it is not a state of matter. To say that consciousness evolved from matter is like saying Newton’s theory of gravity evolved from apples.

Even if for the sake of argument one concedes that natural selection might account for the development of a material body, consciousness remains a mystery. There is still a vast un-crossable gulf between the physical body and mind. In other words, the difference between body and mind is qualitative, not quantitative. You can’t get an immaterial mind no matter how many slight successive modifications of the body there may have been.

David Bentley Hart puts it this way:

It makes sense to say that a photosensitive cutaneous path may be preserved by natural selection and so become the first step toward the camera eye;* but there is no meaning-sensitive or category-sensitive patch of the brain or nervous system that can become the first step toward intentionality, because meanings and categories are not physical things to which a neural capacity can correspond, but are instead products of intentional consciousness.

*It really doesn’t as has been explained in these pages, but we will grant it for the sake of argument.

If one takes the view that humans were created (say, by God, for purposes of discussion)
What do you suppose God wanted to discuss? Mung
nightlight: I'm not aware of geologists or astronomers or physicists claiming that their fields of study explain the existence of consciousness. Ardent materialists, in contrast, are quite convinced that consciousness did arise through evolution. RM + NS + time. So it seems perfectly appropriate to focus attention on the grand sweeping claims of evolution and spotlight where the claims don't hold up. ----- Barry, I do have a question, though. If one takes the view that humans were created (say, by God, for purposes of discussion) and that we didn't exist before our creation, doesn't that suggest that something within the created being accounts for consciousness? Stated in other words, if God organized matter in such a way as to give rise to a conscious being, isn't that an acknowledgement that a particular arrangement of matter can in fact result in consciousness? Eric Anderson
I read that Confucius (or perhaps another Chinese sage) stated that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; but made no suggestion about a journey to Cloud Cuckoo Land. Then again, they lived in pre-scientific times, so it's unreasonable to look for figs to grow on thorns, isn't it?. Axel
Do it in small progressive increments, starting with a Meccano or Leggo set. Axel
@butifnot #8 The fellow who formulated the "hard problem of consciousness" David Chalmers believes we need new postulate to close the gap. I share that view. Obviously, the next question is what is the new postulate. Chalmer's thinks it is a 'pan-experientialism' which is another name for panpsychism, which is what think is the best approach as well. If you know of a better, more coherent way to devise a natural science model of consciousness you are welcome to explain it. nightlight
Nightlight whatever you are postulating its not coherent or far more coherent. A new fundi postulate is not what is needed but a return to 'old' first principles which speak to the impossibility of what you are trying to assert. butifnot
nightlight: Ah, I forgot. I (almost) never use terms like "natural" and "supernatural", because I believe that, in most contexts, they are essentially meaningless. gpuccio
nightlight: I was referring the point of complexity to traditional "strong AI theory" models, where it is exactly the complexity and type of complexity of the software that is held "responsible" for the conscious events. I believe that both you and me are not interested in those models, but still they are the main models of modern "scientific" conception of consciousness. So, I fell that it is my duty to argue against them, even if it should be obvious, IMO, that they are false. I am aware that you have a different approach. I have not examined it in complete detail, but I find some interesting concepts there, even if I don't agree with everything. My main point is that conscious experiences require a transcendental subject, which is always "beyond" the conscious representations themselves. In a sense, it is a fundamental "meta-level", an infinite "mise en abime", and that's why I call it "transcendental". That transcendental self cannot, IMO, be explained in terms of formal laws. However, I do believe that much of the mental stuff does obey formal laws, even if they are well beyond present "scientific" materialistic laws. gpuccio
Me: (Do) you believe a rock is conscious!?! You: Yes, of course,, Me: My pet rock (and quantum mechanics) vehemently disagrees with you! :) https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/on-the-subject-of-subjectivity/#comment-478113
@gpuccio #3 - It is not clear why would existence of property "what it is like to be" some matter-energy pattern (i.e. conscious experience associated with a matter-energy pattern) would need to be related to "complexity" (whatever figure that adds up to) of the pattern. It seems far more coherent to postulate that "what-it-is-like-to-be"-ness is fundamental property of matter-energy, like electric charge or mass. The particular arrangements of matter energy merely affect the specific manifestations of that property, but do not conjure it into existence out of no existence. In any case, a new fundamental postulate is needed to augment the present formulation of natural laws to account for the mind-stuff. The postulate needs to be precise and constructive i.e. it can't just amount to hand-waving about 'complexity' and 'emergence' since that doesn't yield any empirical prediction or detection criteria. One possibility for such constructive postulate is sketched in an earlier post. nightlight
nightlight: OK, I would say you are right. The fundamental truth is that consciousness cannot be explained by material patterns. IOWs: No objective configuration of matter can explain subjective experiences. However, if we conceded, just for discussion, that some very complex pattern (parallel computation, high degrees of looping, or any other foolishness postulated by strong AI fans) may be related to the presence of subjective experiences, still it would be extremely unlikely to imagine the emergence of those computational patterns by RV and NS. The dFSCI of those patterns would be extremely high (certainly much higher than the dFSCI in a protein). But you are right that the hard problem of consciousness remains the fundamental issue. gpuccio
The formulation of the problem in the article is highly contrived since this is not a problem specific to evolution but rather it points to fundamental inadequacy of the natural laws as presently understood. Namely, the present natural laws cannot give rise to phenomenon of consciousness at all, whether through evolution or through any other mechanism or path. Hence, one could have equally well declared the "impossibility of physics of consciousness" or chemistry, or computer science,... since none of them in their present formulations can provide a bridge from laws of matter-energy or math/logic to conscious experience. This problem is also known as "hard problem of consciousness" and pinning it on inadequacy of evolution misses the point. nightlight
It makes sense to say that a photosensitive cutaneous path may be preserved by natural selection and so become the first step toward the camera eye.
David Bentley Hart seems to believe in Darwinism ("it makes sense..."?!). The evolution of eye from a photosensitive spot is practically impossible. As my oculist surgeon says smiling, whoever believes that eye evolved Darwinianly hasn't the slightest idea of what an eye is. niwrad

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