Effect of consciousness on evolution

Effect of consciousness on evolution

Whenever I watch nature shows, it is if all life-forms are automatons programmed entirely by evolution. You never hear about consciousness, that even though animals behaviourisms are indeed directed by evolution, there is a living being there which can make decisions for itself.
Sure any animals in danger are going to go by what nature provides as a first recourse to safety, they are inexperienced as consciousnesses so those traits protect them.

Without getting into a debate about free will, lets assume that animals [perhaps some insects] can make decisions and most importantly, that there is something there experiencing nature, where there isn’t anything that is evolution [as a thing in and of itself]. In fact couldn’t we say that some part of evolution is the result of there being consciousnesses involved, that they don’t want to be eaten or fail to get a mate. So evolution is partly there as a result of living beings will to survive, and perhaps survival of species is a secondary effect of that on evolution, ~ because evolution just understands that desire as chemical patterns, and so the will for individuals to survive originates in the consciousness, then extends to survival of species via that imprint upon the chemistry.

Instead of ‘free will’, we’ll assume that consciousness can go with instruction or be forced to at some level, but also that it has some choice. Prey would run away equally because it has consciousness and because its evolutionary chemicals tell it to. In fact without consciousness there isn’t anything for evolution to protect.


A male lion comes along and chases another off, then takes over the female. It then kills the infants of that female, one may think that its being ruled by an evolutionary trait to do that, yet some other creatures probably wont do that. Humans only work to pay for them and their families, we don’t want to pay for others because we can only do so much. We don’t want to pay umpteen billions for the state, EU quangos and the unemployed, are we directed by evolution or have we considered it ~ ‘after’ the idea derived from evolutionary traits had occurred in our minds? Essentially we are agreeing with the instinct though sometimes we don’t agree with it, we are not specifically directed by it.

I don’t know how many times I need to stress this.
The fact that free will is an illusion does not mean that decisions don’t happen.
Simply, those decisions are being caused by things you are not aware of and do not control.

I’ll give you a quick example so that you can understand my point: It is known that testosterone administration decreases generosity in many contexts plus it affects financial risk aversion and career choices. So, as you can see, something as simple as administering testosterone will influence the kind of thoughts you have and how you behave. Now, I’m guessing you were never administered testosterone , but think about it, were you ever aware of the levels of testosterone in your body, in your life? No.

Testosterone is just one variable. There’s probably an incalculable number of variables that play into your decisions.

As a side note, once you understand this, you also realize that the self is an illusion.

If there is a deterministic universe, then consciousness has affected things very little, being a mere witness to events. Note: as V points out this does not mean there are no decisions, but ‘awareness’ is not having any effect. Though I supposed we have noticed we notice and hence end up with discussions like this one. This has some effect, but I doubt it is advantageous to the species.


Sure but if consciousness isn’t directing those decisions [like how we experience it], then at best it’s a passenger to them. The causes are initially [mostly [bar imagination etc]] derived from things beyond us, naturally, the consciousness has to take input from the senses which takes time and is outside of its control. Its after that where minds become subjective and choose what to do, and sometimes the machine acts alone - so to say, that it can protect the living consciousness where e.g. there is no time to consider things.

I would expect that ~ I’ve taken LSD I know how powerful chemicals can be. If what I am saying here is right, then it would be unethical to administer such drugs except where there’s an unnatural deficiency. The chemical balance is due to there being consciousnesses, the body reacts chemically to that, then over time DNA changes accordingly.

Such a genetic being is what we inherit, then we too become part of the chain.

Would you say that consciousness has no effect?


This is a big misunderstanding of what I just said.

First of all, the universe being deterministic or random is irrelevant to this subject.
Now, it’s not that awareness is not having any effect. Clearly it is. If you are aware that it’s gonna rain you take a an umbrella with you. And as I’ve repeated to the point of exhaustion, actions do have consequences.
The thing is the awareness is caused by the physical configuration of your brain, something that changes, even if only slightly, every second.
As we all know, we do not control the physical configuration of your brains. And even if it seems like you do , for instance when you try to change your mental state trough meditation, wanting to do that is in itself a mental state which you had no control over.

So, the conclusion of all this is not that consciousness doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t have an effect, the conclusion is that “you” don’t have an effect because this " I" that we cherish so much simply does not exist. The reality is not that we are simply passengers, but that there is no passenger.

In a sense, yes. But do not mistake that with fatalism. Actions have consequences. However it is true to say that actions simply move trough you.

Obviously, different chemicals cause different reactions. The reason I mentioned testosterone is because it is naturally produced in your body, and I wanted you to realize how your thoughts, actions and decisions can be influence by it . Now think of how many physical variables play into the functioning of your brain and you slowly start to see that free will is nowhere to be found.

A rabbit will run across an open field in a zigzag pattern so as to tire a chasing dog. Blind instinct? I doubt it. It’s good rabbit sense!

How is that last sentence not fatalistic?

From naturalism.org:

Fatalism holds that the natural world causes events in human life but is not itself influenced by human will or behavior. No matter what you do, the same things will happen to you. The fatalist position is that “if I do not have free will, then my life is totally determined by the outside world, therefore my beliefs and desires have no effect on the outside world, and therefore no matter what I do the same things will happen to me”. Of course, it is empirically demonstrable that our behavior affects the environment and thus what happens to us.

If you want to read further: naturalism.org/fatalism.htm# … lism%C2%A0

The personality is corruptible, and it is not a thing ~ I’ll buy that for sure. However consciousness has at its epicentre an experiencer, and that is a thing. If we take the materialist route [though it cannot even explain what colour is], then everything we think is exactly what’s going on in the brain. Our experience then is exactly what the machine is doing, if we think we are making a decision then that ‘is’ the brain making its decision upon sensory data, its how the computer organises itself into singular output ~ as displayed on the screen [not that it is only that single output, the computer can do many other things, and people can too ~ walk etc].

Consciousness then has this self organising principle, and I’d expect there to be an example of this as an evolutionary hierarchy. Surely then this factor has played a massive part in evolution?

Yes but actions have many possible outcomes, something has to decide which one to use. When you say they move through you it sounds like a description of an automaton, when our experience is of something which chooses which option to take. In what way is that choice not there? Sure there are choices made for us [the organiser and experiencer], but not ALL choices. Figuratively speaking yet representative;
The mind has many lines [signals etc] going into it and they lead to centres, then there is an overall centre. Equivalently decisions are made in all centres!


Chicken and egg situation;

If there’s a self organising principle and major centre [not physically so, because consciousness uses the whole brain], that probably has a major effect upon the distribution of evolutionary chemicals.
Naturally there is plasticity in this, just as we can inject chemicals into the body, the decisions we make [as well as those we don’t] can cause the body to make such chemicals.


Is it ? Experience is the cumulative result of what is perceived by your senses, a process that you clearly do not control and the interpretation or representation if you will of stimuli, another process that you do not control. Furthermore, this processes are exceptionally complex and are dependent on a multitude of factors and variables. There is no “center”, no “unit”.

The “thinking” is a tiny tiny part of what goes on in the brain. Most of the processes are unconscious.


I don’t quite understand this bit.

You can call it “something” if you want but in reality it’s a bunch of things interacting with each other. Like a very complex algorithm. That’s why the self is an illusion also from a objective point of view. There isn’t a section of the brain that controls all the other sections.

We are (and I’m using “we” in a very loose sense here) causal agents but we are not self-caused.
Your experience doesn’t choose an option, I think it’s more accurate to say that you experience the choosing of an option. And that decision making process is influenced by the experiences you have. That’s why knowledge is possible.

This doesn’t make sense. We know that that is not how the brain works. Check what I said above about the self being an illusion also from a objective point of view.

I agree.

You misunderstood me.

  1. I never said actions did not have consequences. 2) I was pointing out that the witnessing is not causal, not that I attributed THAT PART to you.

I never said anything that remotely implied you or I thought consciousness does not exist.

This was a point I was making, not one I attributed to you.

Sure, that would be one conclusion, as I have said elsewhere.

Not if its an epiphenomenon. Not if the machine would do the same things without an internal witness.

I am sure you have heard of the experiments that showed that people have made their decisions before they are conscious of it. These strongly support the idea that consciousness merely watches a decision the machine makes. Not that there is or need be a dualism. Consciousness is a quale.

Or if we word that differently; there is a cumulative result of stimuli that we don’t control, and that is experienced - which we do control. As the brain has many instruments which can act independently if there is a need to, then some things can occur out of our control a faux pas or reflex action for example.
Note; I used ‘epicentre’ and otherwise I don’t think there is a literal centre ~ which I explained, nor a little man inside us [lets not go down that route as it has never been what I am saying].

We experience an approximate ‘centre’ of thought, ergo there is one, that experience if it is literally in the material, cannot be something other than a function of the machine.

True, but it is central to the way the machine works, its like the hub. The processor is only a tiny part of the computer.

Consciousness then has this self organising principle, and I’d expect there to be an example of this as an evolutionary hierarchy. Surely then this factor has played a massive part in evolution?

I am suggesting that the experiencer is literally a function of the brain, and that it is the thing the brain uses to centralise and organise the masses of information going on in there. I’d assume that other creatures have a similar feature, thus it has been having an effect throughout evolutionary history, or at least since consciousness arrived.
Surely you’d agree that the brain must have a way of organising itself? And it does that to a degree singularly from multiple input/outputs.

Consciousness is the network, on brain scans it can be seen flitting around different epicentres of the brain, it is everywhere but has no physical centre, yet centralises information cohesively. I don’t think its like an algorithm? Its mostly a physical set of chemical polarities releasing electrical impulses. The self is an illusion or rather a construct of the brains organisation, which gives it ways to interact with its environment.

The brain is plastic and can create information, the experiencer is neither specifically caused nor self-caused, it’s a fluid constantly changing thing.

Within the context of experience is ‘recognition’, and that could be something as simple analogously to magnetic tape recording [perceiving] something. In the act of recognition collocative information is sometimes turned into conceptual information or knowledge and language. Different informations of both kinds are compared and selected, but only within the context of the experiencer. That act is us thinking, there isn’t something else making us experience things differently to how we see it working in our minds eye.
This is why my idea of centres and epicentres work as metaphoric notions portraying the metaphysical apparatus of mind. The ‘centres’ pertain to the ways the mind organises itself.


When the consciousness is not around -so to say, then we are sleeping. You cannot get an unconscious brain to act the same way as it would consciously, as far as I know.

Even if we could I refer you to my notion of ‘mutual equivalence’; if there is an external entity like a spirit, mind or soul or even simply an experiencer, then for it to be able to make utility of brain/body, then that has to be responsive. As such you could operate it with said entity or with gears n levers - so to speak. Its remote control if you like.
It can do all the things you can do with it, necessarily.


I have and have written about it many times, essentially I feel this is only true under certain circumstances and imperatives. Equally our linguistic thoughts may indeed occur after a decision, but we also think conceptually, and the decision often flick through our minds without us really taking any notice. If I remember rightly sometimes the person in the experiment noticed that.

I think some decisions are made aside from us, this is necessary for inexperienced souls, that e.g. evolution provides an escape from danger. If we have time to think then we can make decisions, just run first!

I hope the rest of my last reply to volchok answered your other points, I was considering them at time of writing.

But the body is in a different state in sleep. It is not simply that ‘we are not conscious’. And, in fact, you can be conscious when in sleep states - lucid dreaming in REM sleep and even be aware in other parts of sleep and still be immobile, etc. My point is that we do not know if consciousness has any affect in the organism or is merely an epiphenomenon. It seems like choices are made before the conscious mind is even aware a choice has been made.

Or it is simply a byproduct of the brain body, a quale.

In a deterministic universe how would this quale move the body. When I see red, I have the experience of a red quale in my mind. But it is the action of photons hitting the retina causing various neuronal and other brain reactions that is causal. ‘We’ notice the red, and perhaps move toward the tie we are going to buy, but consciousness is not acting, it is just watching what photons trigger in nerves…and so on. the actions AND what one is conscious of are both effects of the trigger.

All the time I have this awareness quale.

We can make a machine that can react to things. Most people do not think that even the most complicated machines are conscious. So reacting and doing and even following programmed choosing do not require a causal consciousness.

There is no reason to assume it is more than a witness. Of course choices are made by the body and they are ‘watched’ by the witness which is really a quale.

So, when a tiger chooses to kill a wild boar that’s the same thing as a hunter choosing to kill a tiger? Which is the same thing as someone from PETA choosing to express outrage at this?

Great posts. I’m really interested in the gray area where evolution meets determinism meets consciousness. I’m still thinking about the illusion of identity. It’s making eerie sense.

I’m gonna try to do some thinking out loud here. I’m thinking we do have some power over the physical configuration of our brains. I’m not exactly sure what you meant by “physical configuration,” but in any case you might have meant I’m confident that people can and do effect the make up of their brains. From the indirect – eating, sleeping, choosing when and what to pay attention to – to the direct – drugs, headbanging, surgery – people have a fair amount to do with the constitution of their brains, be it through brain chemistry, macrostructural subjection, or cognitive conditioning. But I’m picking up on what you’re saying about identity. It really isn’t “me” consciously controlling my brain. It is my body/brain spinning out continuous automatic behavior and determining in large part its own future conditions. So what am “I” that I’m aware and experience this process of behavior as if sitting in the seat of causality? Ah, it’s so fascinating and unbelievable. I think about human culture, the music I’m listening to (Porcupine Tree), daily life for millions and millions of human beings across all ages… how can we carry on being so (relatively) certain and comfortable about our agency and personhood if in reality the complexity of our organism and its processes makes it such that the selves that we think we are can only be myth!

On the use of “decisions” here ^ …if it is always a complex confluence of conditions - one’s total circumstances (I like that word, from the latin circumstare “to stand around”) - which cause behavior, then how can it still make sense to imply control by labeling any part of these events “decisions” ?

You’re really claiming to control your experience? Do you control or are you even aware of the processes that allow you to read this sentence and understand it’s in English? Of course not. Do you control the way air vibrates and ultimately becomes what we know as sound? No. You also don’t control your thoughts…

This so called “epicenter” is, again, an illusion both from a subjective and an objective point of view. Not only there is no “center” that controls everything else but your thoughts and actions elicit different parts of your brain as we have known for quite some time now.

I agree that it is an important part. And I never denied that consciousness affects things. The only thing I’m arguing is that at no point does the self come into the equation. Or free will, obviously.

I definitely agree that consciousness is a function of the brain, I just don’t think I would say that it centralizes anything. As far as what are the evolutionary advantages of consciousness, there are some theories out there. I think I can find you some interesting links to read if you want. I might have to read them as well.
As far as other animals go, I have no idea honestly but just the other day I was reading about how animal’s mental activity has to be completely different given that they don’t have language. A hungry cat doesn’t think " A bit of fish now would be awesome". He just gets up and eats.

I certainly agree with this.

Again, I don’t know what the experiencer is. To me, it makes much more sense to talk about processes or consciousness.
Consciousness is most certainly caused and I don’t really understand how you can claim otherwise.

Yes but the “experiencer” is not really an “experiencer” but a bunch of processes interacting with each other. It’s not a unit. That’s the whole point.