Could consciousness have evolved? | Evolution News

Image credit: Dave M via Pixabay.

Evolutionary biology is a veritable geyser of storytelling. “Just-so stories” is the term evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould used to describe the many fables biologists concoct to account for the astounding specified complexity of living things.

Among these Darwinian fables that plague evolutionary science, neuroscientist and developmental biologist Emily Casanova has noted,

Although modern [evolutionary] assumptions may seem a little less far-fetched [than children’s fairy tales], they’re no less fanciful – partly because modern scientists are sometimes so focused on “What adaptive advantage could this trait give?” rather than determining how said trait could have arisen and been transmitted by other means. Moreover, so often these assumptions are unverifiable, they are not even “assumptions” in reality. These are just interesting thoughts.

EMILIA CASANOVA“THE ABSURDITY OF “JUST SO STORIES” TO EXPLAIN EVOLUTION”, TO SCIENCE ON A MUG (22 MAY 2016)

It is inevitable that the Darwinian narrative will be applied to the most remarkable and scientifically intractable characteristic of higher animals: consciousness. How is it that certain living beings, and in particular man, have become conscious?

believe it or not

There is actually a scientific discipline called “evolutionary consciousness”. Two of its eminent practitioners, Simona Ginsburg and Eva Jablonka, have published a book on their research. Here is the introduction to an excerpt from the book:

What is consciousness, and who (or what) is conscious – humans, non-humans, non-living things? What varieties of consciousness do we recognize? In their book “imagine the mind,“Simona Ginsburg and Eva Jablonka, two leading voices in the science of evolutionary consciousness, delve into these and other questions through a series of “perspectives” – over 65 brief and engaging texts, featuring some of the opinions of poets , philosophers, psychologists and biologists, accompanied by animated illustrations by Anna Zeligowski.

Each image and text serves as a starting point for discussion. In the following texts, excerpts from the vista “How Did Consciousness Evolve? the authors provide an introduction to the theory of evolution, consider our evolutionary transition from non-sentient to sentient organisms, explore the tortuous relationship between learning studies and consciousness research, and reflect on the origins and evolution of suffering and imagination.

INTRODUCTION TO SIMONA GINSBURG AND EVA JABLONKA“HOW HAS CONSCIOUSNESS EVOLVED? AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE” ON THE MIT PRESS READER (JUNE 24, 2022)

Ginsburg and Jablonka begin their essay with the obligatory hymn to Charles Darwin (1809-1882) in a flowery rehash of the theory of common descent and hereditary variation with natural selection. Then they ask: how is awareness evolve?

Unusual for evolutionists

Interestingly – and this is quite unusual for evolutionary biologists (who are generally ignorant of metaphysics and classical philosophy of any kind) – they invoke the ancient philosopher Aristotle’s classification of the souls of living things. Aristotle proposed that souls could have three general powers:

  • powers necessary for the basic functions of life (e.g. nutrition, excretion, growth, reproduction, etc.), i.e. a vegetative soul
  • powers necessary for sensation and locomotion, i.e. sensitive the soul, and
  • powers necessary for abstract thought (i.e. intellect and will), i.e. rational soul.

They propose that an evolutionary transition from vegetative souls to sentient souls to rational souls took place. That is, the evolution from single-celled organisms to non-human animals to human beings.

They then ask, “What unique tangible property marks all living beings that have consciousness,” and their answer is: unlimited associative learning. They propose that boundless associative learning is the “transition marker” to the evolution of consciousness. They then proceed to the usual fabrications about the selective advantages conferred by learning. It’s a lot of rhetorical flourishes with very little logic or science.

Their hypothesis goes awry in several obvious ways.

Read more on The mind matterspublished by the Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence at the Discovery Institute.

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