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Consciousness Didn't Evolve

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Title : Consciousness Didn't Evolve
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Consciousness Didn't Evolve

The Institute of Art and Ideas has a very interesting piece on the stubborn challenge of consciousness to science: Consciousness Cannot Have Evolved. Here is the kernel of the argument:
our phenomenal consciousness is eminently qualitative, not quantitative. There is something it feels like to see the colour red, which is not captured by merely noting the frequency of red light. If we were to tell Helen Keller that red is an oscillation of approximately 4.3*1014 cycles per second, she would still not know what it feels like to see red. Analogously, what it feels like to listen to a Vivaldi sonata cannot be conveyed to a person born deaf, even if we show to the person the sonata’s complete power spectrum. Experiences are felt qualities—which philosophers and neuroscientists call ‘qualia’—not fully describable by abstract quantities.
But as discussed above, qualities have no function under materialism, for quantitatively-defined physical models are supposed to be causally-closed; that is, sufficient to explain every natural phenomenon. As such, it must make no difference to the survival fitness of an organism whether the data processing taking place in its brain is accompanied by experience or not: whatever the case, the processing will produce the same effects; the organism will behave in exactly the same way and stand exactly the same chance to survive and reproduce. Qualia are, at best, superfluous extras.
Therefore, under materialist premises, phenomenal consciousness cannot have been favoured by natural selection. Indeed, it shouldn’t exist at all; we should all be unconscious zombies, going about our business in exactly the same way we actually do, but without an accompanying inner life. If evolution is true—which we have every reason to believe is the case—our very sentience contradicts materialism.
This has some relevance to the problems of aesthetics. Art works, or as Beardsley calls them, "aesthetic objects," have objective material existence in the form of sound waves, physical matter, light, texture and so on. But they are experienced as subjective phenomena. The saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is literally true. An artist creates an aesthetic object according to how he perceives and the commonality of perception is his assurance that others will perceive it similarly. The object itself has physical existence (even music, which is ephemeral sound waves). But the experience of the object, by the creator, the performers and the listeners, is a subjective experience of consciousness.

That there can be and often are, wildly varying evaluations of an experience by different listeners is to be expected. Indeed, a composer likely has different experiences and evaluations of one of his own pieces over time. I certainly do. Similarly, a performer's experience and evaluation of a piece will change over time as will a listener's. The relativity of perception, that old problem in philosophy, is simply the normal variation of subjective experience which differs among people and in the same person over time.

And yes, it is all qualitative, not quantitative which is why we seem to have so much trouble understanding it. We are raised to think that only the quantitative is "real." The fact that this denies our very consciousness seems to be missed!


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