Effect of consciousness on evolution

The same thing in regards to what?
If you mean complexity, clearly it isn’t.

Yes, I completely agree with this but my point was that when you want to take drugs( something which will alter your mental state), the wanting is a mental state of itself. So, there’s an interrupted chain of causality that at no point requires an “I”.
For future reference, when I say physical configuration I simply mean mental state. :wink:

Exactly. See what I wrote above.

You know what? I think it is in fact fascinating and “unbelievable”.
I also think it is extremely depressing but that’s me…

I’m not implying control.
I’m saying that the decision making process does happen. The decision making process is a function of the brain. But, as it was shown by Benjamin libbet and by many other scientists after him, decisions have already been made before they spring into consciousness.

My brother told me about this guy after we were sharing ideas…


I’ve posted that video already in some thread.
I recommend you read his latest book, “Free Will”.

Another very good book is “Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human” by Susan Blackmore. It does concentrate on consciousness, but what is interesting is that she interviews 21 of the most influential current researchers/thinkers on human consciousness and asks every one of them whether they think we have free will.

Having read the book I would say that pretty much none of them believe we have “Free Will” in the classic sense: i.e. that there is a “self” that somehow stands apart from the physical body/brain and controls what we do. But some of those interviewed still feel that free will is (in some ways) compatible with determinism. But here it becomes important to redefine what we mean by free will. The reason that most people assume we have free will is that our subjective experience is strongly coherent with an expectation of freedom to do what we want, moment-to-moment. And although I think science has made it obvious that this is an illusion, if we expand our definition of “self” to include the brain and body and all it contains and has experienced, we can still see ourselves as conscious agents; in some sense we are “free” to do as we choose (are not externally constrained) but what we choose is determined by who we are. In other words, at a deeper level, it is apparent that we really don’t get to choose what we choose.

Rather than try to shoehorn our definition of free will into a compatibilist point of view, Sam Harris believes it is ultimately a better strategy to see free will as an illusion, because there are certain consequences (eg. for moral reasoning) that are aided by the realization that who we are is causally determined.

Here is an interesting take on “free will”: ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_ask … sions.html

Oh, and another interesting thing is that Susan Blackmore was actually a parapsychology researcher for quite some time: she now totally rejects parapsychology.

posting more replies in a mo

As I suggested above, recognition, perception and awareness would make consciousness phenomenal. For me that means there is both a material and anti-materialist answer. Either way you got something ‘operating the switchboard’ which means its having an effect on evolution.

As to the latter, we don’t know if the consciousness experiences those unmade choices ~ do they flick through the mind and are they the final choice? Yet we do know that the consciousness makes some of the choices, the ones it makes. The physical cannot know what the info we experience is [because its not physical], but info changes [e.g what I am writing now] the output.

Here I think we should concentrate on weather or not the human machine self operates. For me its like there are a bunch of objects drawn on the blackboard [quale and info] and the conscious part of the machine [or spirit] can scan them and make a choice about what it wants to consider, or choose to abstain.

Well the witness experiences e.g. the colour blue, which represents the wavelength of the electrical signal, which in turn represents the wavelength of light. The brain can work by those signals, but it cannot know what the colour blue is. If the consciousness is then an extension beyond the physical, and it communicates the blue colour as a word here, then how can the brain know what it means when it is not part of it? Seems like there are two worlds here, that of the mimic [brain] and that of the experiencer [soul].


Imagine that the brain is like a switchboard, how is it operated?…

a. signals derived of external sources operate the switches?

b. consciousness is the physical [or other] subjective aspect of the brain, which operates the switches?

c. both a and b.

If b or c then consciousness must have an effect on evolution!

I am claiming that consciousness is the mechanism which controls the experience, but not what informs it! Note that here I am not saying that consciousness is something other than part of the machine.
The consciousness is the only thing which can understand information, and that’s where the materialist argument gets tricky. The brain can only possibly know collocative information, and that is not what you are thinking in terms of right now!

Lets just throw the self out of the window here. Free will however is different, it isn’t entire, the non selecting aspects of the brain can act alone, but the consciousness can select options too, so there are both parties at work here. The self isn’t fundamental to free will, its just a mechanism of worldly and societal interaction, a tool that consciousness uses. Twins for example can have very similar personas/selfs.

I’d say consciousness is the aspect of the brain which centralises ~ there must be something doing that for cohesive purposes, our minds would be a mess otherwise.
There are massive advantages, but I am not just talking about being fit, I think just ‘being’ conscious gives a further need to be fit and survive.

Hmm well I saw a documentary where sealions and walruses, took logic tests involving food rewards for changing sets of symbols. They out performed some humans! Dogs and dolphins take linguistic instruction from us, birds make music when their chirping is slowed down. One example showed a bird a small segment of Beethoven’s 9th. Dogs with smells millions of times stronger than ours probably have an associated language in their minds.

For me the most interesting point is that, humans probably share a similar [if more complex] ‘inner language’ which is possibly conceptual. This is important because we often fail to notice this running beneath out thoughts, and this language may know and switch a lot more switches than we do ~ in terms of our more overt linguistic thought!

Sure but the consciousness can be broken down into many parts [e.g. perception, awareness, recognition, cognition/thinking], and we need to break it down so as to see what’s going on ~ science. The experiencer is the thing [epicentre] which awareness, perception and memory are brought into and cognated to form our thoughts ~ both conceptual and overt linguistic, kind of like our thinking space.

That doesn’t make the experiencer a ‘thing’, or an object, nor does it need to be to remain physical [if it is]. Its an emergent property perhaps like the screen and keyboard on your phone or computer.


There are several evolutionarily stable strategies that will allow gene-carrying members of a species to succesfully survive long enough to procreate.

Primates have evolved by combining the herd strategy (like goats or pidgeons) with the two-legged brutality strategy (like bears or hawks). Humans in particular have added a thick layer of logical programing capabilities that have allowed them to progressively shift to the mass colony strategy (like ants, or fish), and I think this is what quetzalcoatl is talking about.

Thinking back now, it’s funny how Sawelios recoiled when I suggested the possibility of straight chemical sucking strategies (like elms, or plancton).

That point is moot. Free will is a a logical impossibility regardless of the universe being deterministic or ramdom.

I hate that holistic you can have your cake and eat it too bullshit kind of argument. It’s beyond stupid. I think Dennet subscribes to it although I’m not sure.
One can expand the notion of self as much as one wants but here’s why it’s a nonsensical argument: You’re no more responsible for the workings of your brain as you are for your heart beating or the production of testosterone in your body or the number of red cells you have in your blood.
Your liver is part of your body and yet no one would hold you accountable if it stopped functioning properly and no one would argue that you control your liver.

Harris does believe that free will is an illusion. It’s not some sort of tactic to make us more moral. :wink:

Putting aside how the brain works for a moment, I never denied that consciousness has an effect on the world or that it has evolutionary advantages. I’m not sure why you’re insisting on that specific point.

That’s a self-defeating argument. You have just conceded, implicitly, by not addressing what I said, that you do not control the how sound is perceived. ( And no one in their right mind would argue otherwise)
If consciousness was something that controlled experience then you would have full control over how sound is perceived.
Please notice that I’m using sound as an example. It can be easily interchangeable with something else.

Is it? I think consciousness is the product of information being processed. A kind of self-referential process.

Actually if you throw the self out of the window, you have automatically thrown free will out of the window as well. After all, if there isn’t something independent of the brain but that somehow affects it, how could you possibly have free will?

Now you’re just mixing concepts.
Although to be fair, there’ s a shitload of different conceptualizations of the self. As a psychology undergraduate, I think I have learned like 10 already.

I understand what you’re saying, I just don’t think you can support that claim. As I’ve said before, we know that different parts of the brain control different things to the point where a person can, for instance, be able to talk fluently but not be able to enunciate the function of a certain object. There really is no center. Certainly not from an objective point of view and I’m arguing that even from a subjective point of view, it doesn’t exist.

An associated language? I don’t buy that. Associated emotions, feelings and physiological responses ? For sure.

I agree - it does not matter if there is a random component; this does not restore or bestow free will in any fashion. What I am saying is that, in my interpretation, it may be valid to redefine free will such that it is compatible with determinism. And a number of people, like Dennett have essentially done just that. I mean, most of my decisions are “up to me” in the sense that they are unrestrained by external factors (I am not under duress) - they are still determined by my personal likes/dislikes/preferences/conditioning etc. etc., but they are mine. And although they are determined, they are not “predetermined” i.e. until I make them nobody (not even me) knows what I will choose. That’s about as free as things can get.

I know where you are coming from here (why not just face the facts, right?) but I’m not sure I would call Dennett (or the other compatibilists) stupid. I can alter or modify the workings of my body including my brain. You yourself have expressed an interest in bodybuilding if I remember correctly. Certainly here is avenue for changing our bodies and how they function, essentially by using our brains. And the brain itself can be modified by meditation. But it is still all subject to determinism, i.e. there is a complicated causal chain (more like a web) of antecedent events.

Again I agree that he really does believe it is an illusion and I have heard a talk where he specifically addressed Dennett’s take on free will as being simply a redefinition. And then he specifically stated that he thinks it healthier to accept the fact that we do not have free will, because it can make us more compassionate. I’ll look for the video or essay or whatever it was.

But since you said that the self is an illusion, this might read: “that which does not exist does not control the physical configuration of the brain belonging to that which does not exist”.

My point is that what we associate with the name volchok/FC does in fact control the physical configuration of the brain it pertains to, as it is nothing but the existence of that brain, including all that caused it.

So the larger point being that testosterone changes decisions, and this is significant, but what caused the presence of testosterone and the system in which it has the capacity to influence decisions? Exactly - “you”, “The Self” - the irreducible “complex of drives” as a cause of which chemicals can be identified as fulfilling a function at all.

Man is not passive to his chemicals, man is such a combination of chemicals that cyclically reacts to sustain itself as a reaction pattern with particular properties, requirements and operating context. This quality holds all chemicals in a firm grasp. For without this selected tendency to sustain a behavioral circuitry, instead of a non circular continuum of change, there could be no cells or particles whatsoever - no energy would get caught in spin, no mass would be thinkable.

Testosteron is a part of the balance, power over it as an isolated element gives tremendous, if not devastating power over the whole organism. Power over its regulation without knowledge of the consequences to its function in terms of other elements of the system, is a very dangerous power, like administering neurotransmitters supplements can cause the most intense crises as well as instantly cure depression. The science of chemicals is both of the greatest risk and merit.


I can’t affect your liver function with all the social pressure I can bring to bear (excluding maybe extreme psychological stress or execution) . I can affect your behaviour more or less, though, so you are held responsible for your behaviour.

This might strike people raised with a Christian free-will moral ethic as unfair or uncompassionate, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.

Well, yes we do have that. But that is not free will. That is usually described as “Freedom to act”.
I think it’s intellectually dishonest to redefine things like that. It´s an impediment to clear thinking and intellectual discourse really.

I wouldn’t call Dennet stupid. His argument is stupid.
Yes, it is possible to change your body, or your brain. But again, wanting to do so is a mental state in itself that doesn’t just happen in vacuum.
It reminds me of when I’m thinking about free will. Suddenly a thought occurs, and I recognize that I didn’t control that thought, it just emerged. And then I notice that me recognizing that I did not control that thought is just another thought which I also didn’t control. See where I’m getting at?

It does make us more compassionate.
This is it: samharris.org/blog/item/free … -free-will

Language does have its limitations. I cannot discuss these matters without using personal pronouns.

There is no unit in control. What produces and regulates testosterone is not the same thing that produces and regulates something else. And there isn’t a “you” that is somehow responsible for that. No more then you are responsible for the appearance of say, a tumor.

I don’t understand your point. :-k


I’ll try it this way:

  1. Why should we become more compassionate as a result of seeing free will as an illusion?
  2. Given that we either will or not do so, depending on our mental states, dispositions, history and genetics (etc), why would it be important for you to make any such claim?

It may seem a bit nonsensical or tangential put this way, but I’m trying to work out the responsibility thing.

Interesting distinction; everything is foreordained in either case, but fatalism assumes free will.

One of Harris’ main contentions is that we will be more compassionate because we will be able to see that people are not responsible for many of the bad things they do in the way that an assumption of free will appears to demand. In other words, criminals don’t often have any real “choice” about their behavior. I think we have witnessed a few threads here on ILP where posters were positively revelling in the manner in which certain deviant criminals should be tortured and killed. A realization that these individuals might not be responsible for their acts in the way that is assumed by much of our legal system could increase compassion and hopefully prevent us from treating the offenders in a similar fashion to the way they treated their victims.

And just because things operate deterministically doesn’t mean that we are not agents or that our ideas carry no weight or influence - realizing that others are not necessarily free to “not commit” atrocities can influence the way we respond. It could make us more compassionate.