Wednesday, June 28, 2017


























Biology and Philosophy

How Biology Shapes Philosophy: New Foundations for Naturalism. David Livingstone Smith, ed. Cambridge: CUP, 2017. ISBN: 9781107055834. Hardcover. 364 pages. $99.99US

How Biology Shapes Philosophy is an excellent example of truly interdisciplinary work. These are not philosophers talking about literature or art; rather, these are philosophers who grapple with some of the hard problems of science. The verb shapes in the title is key: to make or create. Biology does not merely inform philosophical thought but forms it in some way. The collection confirms that we are biological, evolved creatures who like to speculate about our behaviors. In 1959 C.P. Snow erroneously and infamously wrote how his idea of “The Two Cultures,” the sciences versus the arts/humanities, could not communicate with each other. Snow has since been proven wrong, and David Livingstone Smith’s impeccable collection featuring a stellar line-up of top-notch scholars clearly demonstrates how biology and philosophy are parts of the same whole working together.

If you are a philosopher, I’d recommend you purchase this book for your department. If you are a biologist, you might be pleasantly interested to see how philosophy is reading and interpreting your work. Philosophers need to see the conversation they should be having, and not the barriers some maintain, between them and their colleagues in the sciences. For those of us who are not scientists, we don’t do “research” – we analyze texts, like those produced by natural and social scientists. But an excellent example of disciplines as seemingly divergent as biology and philosophy need to forge a closer working relationship now more than ever.

In addition to an Introduction by Professor Smith, there are thirteen chapters that cover a range of subjects, from neurophilosophy, teleosemantics, rationality, ethics, human nature, and gender, to name only a few. The contributors are philosophers but, almost without exception, exhibit a deep knowledge and deft handling of the sciences. In many cases, I was happy to see, aspects of evolution are pretty much treated with care and accuracy.

Although I’m neither a philosopher nor a biologist, allow me to comment on the merits of Professor Smith’s endeavor. I’m happy to say that except for two chapters I found difficult and one that seemed outright skeptical of an evolutionary biological approach, all of these authors take complex ideas from two disciplines and express them simply and directly. Daniel Dennett, for example, beautifully expresses how it’s essentially incorrect to force species into categories where there are and should be, according to evolutionary theory, gaps. Over essentialism we need to highlight the gradual change in great time of all living things, the gradations of phenomena like consciousness. Of course essence (if there is even such a reality) is microscopic, e.g., chemical microstructures that make iron what it is. At any rate, in Dennett’s metaphorical prose, the project now is “to reconstruct the most elevated philosophical concepts from modest ingredients” (22). Likewise, Alexander Rosenberg says philosophical naturalism is philosophy drawing from Darwinian ideas. Evolutionary forces affect adaptive outcomes like beliefs. Following Dennett, Rosenberg asks philosophers to consider why and for what in terms of evolution. If there’s any “purpose” (a debatable word) it comes from the three pillars established by Darwin: variation, competition, and inheritance.

Echoing the work of Todd Feinberg and Jon Mallet on the origins of consciousness (reviewed on these ASEBL pages), Peter Godfrey-Smith notes how, after Thomas Nagel’s question about what is it like to be a bat?, qualia and consciousness are now treated equally. There was, in very ancient prehistoric times, a rise of subjective experience in an environment of minds beginning somewhere in the Cambrian explosion. Simple cognition (not felt) appeared first (and is still with us), followed later by subjectivity (which some organisms do feel).

From my perspective, I’d like to see more collaboration between scientists and philosophers or scientists and artists. One fine example is in Patricia Churchland who, in her chapter, asserts there is no mind/brain split in spite of right/left brain hemisphere research. All the medical evidence (in brain, psychological, and pharmaceutical studies) shows that mentality derives from brain matter. Like Dennett, Churchland discourages philosophy from looking to or using words like soul or élan vital. Coming back to Nagel, and now adding David Chalmers, Churchland says contrary to some of their beliefs there is no “extraphysical” consciousness. In fact, Churchland’s essay is an excellent example of my point: she notes how Chalmers and Nagel philosophize abstractly without conscientiously relying on the research experiments science provides. Since consciousness is biological, scientific data needs to be used, as Churchland does, to explain it – indeed, to explain many of our behaviors. This is not to discredit philosophy but to highlight its importance in delineating larger and more enduring questions fundamental to scientific inquiry (e.g., bioethics).

I found the chapters on teleosemantics challenging (David Papineau) and dense (Karen Neander). The fault might be mine. What’s useful here is how, in line with teleosemantics, information received by an organism, and not necessarily the maker’s situation, determines its truth condition. As an example, Papineau offers the now famous illustrations of vervet monkey calls that represent, for the hearer, the location and type of predator. That is, the representation is true because it fulfills a biological function (101). This is more to functional biology and not evolution, and I note that Papineau cites Alvin Plantinga. Maybe this is justified here in that natural selection works on the evolution of beneficial behaviors and not on particular beliefs. Teleosemantics deals exactly with behavior and is, therefore, oriented to outcome content (109). In this way, most human representations are species conducted.
Parts of the book, especially here, were written for certain classes of philosophers. Not to be unfair, but at times I thought the book’s version of biology might be a handmaid to philosophy. That is not necessarily a criticism, though; it might be an operation of how these two disciplines work together. On a similar score, I’ve read books by neuroscientists and primatologists who bandy about philosophical ideas as labels. My point is that in terms of readability, parts of the collection were hard to grasp.

On a related note, I thought Ronald De Sousa’s chapter was skeptical concerning how biology can inform human knowledge about self-identity. Maybe so. It seems in a small space De Sousa tries to get to the question of human nature and says nature has intentions – see the fixity of species. But Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin demonstrated, later confirmed, that species are not fixed. I know that previously De Sousa has written against any evolutionary approach to the arts [2004. “Is Art an Adaptation? Prospects for an Evolutionary Perspective on Beauty.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 62.2. 109-118.]. In this essay he proclaims, talking about the human, female orgasm, “Some of the best things in life are spandrels” (148). From here he seems against any natural law theory based in biology. For instance, he says that any preference for “nice people over nasty ones” does not need to rely on evolutionary theory (150). I don’t know that the cultural anthropologist Christopher Boehm, to name one, would agree. Next, we read that “evolutionary ethics is “unconvincing” (150). I’m not sure that Dennis Krebs, to name one, would agree. With statements like these De Sousa is coming close to how T.H. Huxley denied any evolutionary component to morality, that it was entirely a human, cultural creation. It is not. We see many examples, to name one species, of caring and punishment in chimpanzees. De Sousa says that just because a behavior is frequent does not make it “good” (150). As far as I know, an evolutionary biologist would not say that either; traits and characteristics that contribute to survival and reproduction get passed on. It’s not a question of good or bad. A male chimpanzee understands and exercises self-control, and if he castigates another too much, the group will howl disapproval. This is not good/bad behavior, per se but is a clue to what in the human realm we declare as right/wrong. 

On the top of page 151, contrary to some of the other authors in the collection, it seems to me De Sousa makes the mistake of suggesting human uniqueness over other species. This is based on how we alone have “speech” (151). This is not true if we consider the range of vocalizations across species, how many (and not just us) have the FOXP2 gene for vocal learning, like song birds and dolphins. Consider, too, how chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans have been taught to communicate with sign language, granted some better than others. True, our speech enables a greater value system; but this overlooks how other species have survived longer without such values. Homo erectus, who probably had some type of proto-language, was around longer than (so far) us, and probably because its values were kinship with the environment and other species. Some of our “values” are actually destructive. We overproduce, overconsume, and waste resources. Yet H. erectus, among others in the hominin radiation, bequeathed to us the very emotions (shared with apes) De Sousa claims are harmful. Another slip De Sousa makes is to assume, as he seems to believe, that evolution is based on survival of the fittest (154). In the first edition of On the Origin of Species Darwin does not use this phrase (which came from Herbert Spencer) and regrets using it in later editions. The fit do not survive; traits and characters, no matter how small – jealousy or a fear response – survive because they have benefited the species.  

Samir Okasha covers a theory of rationality, distinguishing between epistemology, which evaluates how a belief is rational, and practical philosophy, which evaluates how any action is rational (161). Mirroring an extended evolutionary synthesis, Okasha sees choice, or a type of rationality, in response to an environment so as to modify behavior.

In terms of morality, Philip Kitcher follows Darwin in The Descent of Man regarding a moral sense evolving across species, a genealogical method. This approach leans more to species connections and continuities and less to natural selection. Like Okasha and others in the collection, Kitcher is aware that evolution comes in various dimensions, first outlined in Evolution in Four Dimensions by Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb and more recently by work of Kevin Laland, to name a few. Kitcher makes the valid point that philosophers need to be in contact with the phenomena they discuss, otherwise the argument becomes irrelevantly abstract. I once had a philosopher insist that Bergson’s Creative Evolution is real science and that morality comes from above, not below. Closer to the truth would be an examination of kin selection, group interactions, retribution, reciprocity, and altruism in nonhuman primates and even other species. In his books, primatologist Frans de Waal has plenty of examples of empathy in nonhuman primates. Kitcher believes in “moral progress” (195), which also makes me think of how Huxley separated human morality from anything natural. On its face this is anti-evolutionary, teleological. Similarly, nature has no purpose. But Kitcher’s qualification is that any such progress is not “toward” but “away from” (195). In other words, our ancestors learned from and corrected their mistakes. That type of progress I can live with. I know Kitcher is aware of the hominin lineage and our continuities with nonhuman primates, but perhaps space restricted his reference to them. Instead, he seems to deal with periods only around the time fully modern humans began to establish agriculture and cities.

All of which brings us to the question of “human nature” discussed by Edouard Machery. People are extraordinarily different but yet all part of the human race. Note: there are wide variations of personality across great apes, too. Human nature is, then, descriptive only. What are the constituents of a human nature? A moral sense? Speech? Bipedalism? Machery says, rightly, we need to see those constituents in action; they are not instilled by a supreme power (208). While the arts and humanities seem to manifest some of our human qualities, Machery says that science “holds the keys of human nature” (208). The arts and humanities are good indicators of our imaginative and creative predispositions since they evolve with us. Machery’s point is that any so-called human nature (I’d prefer the expression human tendencies) is the result of evolution in its multiple dimensions. This approach, too, correctly accommodates the extended evolutionary synthesis. Machery questions the view of human uniqueness that says a function of human nature is “to draw a line between human beings and other animals” (211). We could say each species, certainly, is unique and fills its own evolutionary niche. In other words, there is no human essentialism. As an example, Machery says we are not bipedal because we are human but that bipedalism is the result of evolutionary forces and selection pressures on australopiths, our distant ancestors. There are practical and moral considerations here, since it is difficult to modify traits that are supposedly and only distinctly human.

Taking us further in this realm of plasticity and away from ancient and medieval notions of fixity, is John Dupré, who writes about sex and gender not only from a biological angle but also from an ontological one. Like Machery’s question concerning human nature, Dupré asks about the “divisions” in nature; is there an essence, and if so is it on the atomic or genomic level (230)? As we know, many organisms are asexual and have been for eons. Dupré notes that among sexed organisms, “sex can be fluid” (231), and he provides examples. I recall, too, reading once about an organism that is asexual but under survival pressures will become sexual to diversify its gene pool. What this means is that for biologically sophisticated creatures sex has to be considered on a developmental plane where genes interact with the environment. Biology is a process of change, not a predetermined fixity. For instance, Dupré cites this example. We know a male has XX chromosomes and that a female has XY. But there are variants of XYY (male) and XXY and XO (female) breaking this paradigm. Even with the variants, Dupré seems to question the sex attributions. There is a false dichotomy established by culture, not by nature; and, in development, chromosomes might not ultimately matter.

Not to get off track, but I’d be interested to know Dupré’s take on the famous David Reimer case. The boy was born male but, because of tragic circumstances after his birth, was raised female on the advice of Dr. John Money (at Johns Hopkins) circa 1967. Money was convinced because of his research that gender was completely constructed, so while “Bruce” was raised as a girl, “Brenda,” and was anatomically on the outside “corrected” in that way, his internal mechanisms (chromosomes, hormones, body chemicals) were all male, and at some point he came to realize he was a man. No one, least of all me, would discount the tremendous impact of parents, peers, and culture, but the Bruce/Brenda case raises questions about what we might otherwise call plasticity. I don’t know for sure, but here’s a good example where biology and philosophy should meet.

I think Dupré stresses, more, the plasticity of the chromosomes which, in turn, can be dramatically affected by developmental influencers. That is, there are tendencies and not necessarily determinants in genes; no one gene acts alone, and many factors can influence if genes are turned on/off. The genome sequence might be static, but the genome is not fixed (242).

Luc Faucher, drawing from some extent on Machery (and providing a nice complement to Dupré), writes about the biophilosophy of race. There is not all that much genetic variability between “racial” groups (more within a group), so that someone in group A over here might actually be more genetically similar to an outsider in group D over there. These scientific facts fly in the face of those who tried to establish racial essences. So Faucher makes the nice distinction between the truth of scientific “race,” which finds variability within a group and not outside of it, and folk ideas concerning race, which are culturally constructed and might have some basis in evolutionary psychology. The concept of race has its roots in local identity and distinguishing oneself and his/her group from the others. Can cultural time change one’s perception of others? Maybe, but Faucher seems skeptical since ethnic distinctions served our ancestors and are to some degree built in us. There might have been an evolutionary advantage (e.g., control of resources) to generalize about others, emotionally, but of course that led to typecasting, a downside. We can see some of this developmentally: children make very few distinctions about “race” and only do so later because of information or instruction from adults.

Finally, Richard Boyd promotes the antireductionist idea that complexity might be an aggregation of other complexes, e.g., species. His chapter is, albeit difficult, a fitting conclusion. He tries to get us to the non-reductionist from the reductionist. In other words, biology teaches us that phenomena are processes of other operations. I’ve heard philosophers complain that “science” is reductive. Is it? Rather, it seems to burst open possibilities. Think how, relatively speaking, nature was fixed before Darwin; but with is ideas, and that one simple graph in On the Origin of Species of speciation as a branching tree, the notion of fluid change in fits and starts and interchange mixing and matching traits among organisms came about. A common, popular cultural misconception, for instance, is that human beings evolved in a linear fashion. You have, no doubt, seen the silhouette “progression” of an ape walking to be a human. Nothing could be further from the truth, since we are a composite of many hominin species long gone who, in turn, shared a common ancestor with great apes. Are we closer to chimpanzees or bonobos? We share characteristics of both, and yet they are very distant from us in evolutionary time.

As I was finishing my reading of Professor Smith’s book, news broke that paleoanthropologists Jean-Jacques Hublin and Daniel Richter and their teams dated hominin fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco to at least 300kya. These are virtually anatomically modern humans and strikingly show that our species of Homo sapiens evolved from many others and not a few coming only out of East Africa. What were these people’s thoughts and habits and do their artifacts reveal how much like us they were? I don’t think only paleoanthropologists need to be involved in answering such questions that crucially impact on our history. If not established already, places of learning (i.e., colleges) should launch interdisciplinary centers that encourage conversations, like those in Professor Smith’s book, between the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanistic disciplines.


- Gregory F. Tague, Ph.D. St. Francis College. Author of Making Mind: Moral Sense and Consciousness (Rodopi 2014) and Evolution and Human Culture (Brill 2016).

Copyright c. Gregory F. Tague 2017 All Rights Reserved

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Moral Sense Colloquium III

We held our Moral Sense Colloquium III at St. Francis College on 2 June 2017. There were over 45 conference attendees. Keynote was Dr. Robert Trivers. Plenary was Dr. David C. Lahti. There were 3 panels with 11 speakers. Full program on the MSC tab of this website. Addenda: D. Pal and L. Delescu could not attend; instead of D. Pal Dr. Alison Dell presented on the cover art she especially created for the program cover - inspired by a chart from a paper by Richard D. Alexander. Here are some photos.

Registration with Dr. Dell

Breakfast

Registration bags

Dr. Alison Dell


Panel One: Dugan, Nolan, Freeman, and Hoque

Dr. David C. Lahti

Lunch

Attendees in the Afternoon

Dr. Robert Trivers

Panel Two: Sparks, Shoppa, and Garrera-Tolbert

Dr. Christopher Jensen

Panel Three: Kim, Goodman, Jensen, and Godoy

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Inborn Knowledge - Book Review

Colin McGinn. Inborn Knowledge: The Mystery Within. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015. 9780262029391. 152 pages. $32U.S. Hardcover.

Colin McGinn’s book Inborn Knowledge offers a succinct and easy-to-read introduction to what evolutionary psychologists have known for quite some time: innate concepts are inherited over generations and knowledge is not re-learned anew with each individual. I would not, however, classify McGinn’s book as science, much less as evolutionary or cognitive science. He writes as a philosopher for philosophers, and that’s where the great value of his book lies. Philosophers who might resist evolutionary approaches to the human mind will find comfort in McGinn’s lucid and organized style, discovering that, contrary to what preconceived notions they might have, biological evolution does not equate to determinism nor does it eliminate free will and individuality. To a large extent, McGinn sets out in this very short work to delineate how the brain can help to explain the mind.

The key question concerns the provenance of ideas. From early on, McGinn makes clear that his argument will demonstrate how we are born with ideas, a nativist approach, and that we do not simply acquire ideas from objects, an empiricist approach. I suppose it’s worth noting that an evolutionist might quibble with parts of McGinn’s title, once his claim is staked. It might not be wholly fair or accurate to say that we are born with knowledge per se, and certainly from a biological perspective any innate capacities for applying concepts from within the mind to the outside word is not really a mystery. While McGinn knows his subject, from both the philosophical and evolutionary sides,  I notice that his bibliography is very light, leans more to philosophy, and includes Jerry Fodor and Noam Chomsky, not known as mighty defenders of evolutionary approaches where continuities are shared among human beings, great apes, and other primates. But based on my reading of McGinn’s book, he has absorbed and is able to transmit much scientific thinking not necessarily represented in his bibliography.

Nativists, or those who see ideas as internal, include Plato, Descartes, and Leibniz. There is an innate, inner nature. Empiricists, or those who see ideas as external, include Aristotle, Aquinas, and especially, Locke. The mind is, according to Locke’s famous dictum, a tabula rasa or blank slate onto which sensations from objects inscribe ideas. Not surprisingly, McGinn spends much time discussing Locke, from beginning to end, who insists that all of our knowledge is founded in experience, in our observation of items external to us. For Locke, the source of ideas comes from things, from the objects themselves that create subjective impressions.

McGinn makes a further subtle distinction between internal and external empiricism. For the internal empiricist, ideas do not depend so much on external causes but more on our subjective impressions. McGinn says that Hume might fit into this category. For the external empiricist, however, ideas indeed stem direct from physical things. For Locke, external objects generate impressions and ideas on the mind. Therefore everything ideational and all qualities come down to physical objects. Our interaction with things is what creates our impressions and ideas. A Cartesian nativist would say ideas are innate – put there by God. Others might say that ideas derive externally not from objects but from what others tell us.

There could be combinations of impression/idea-nativism and idea/impression-empiricism, raising questions about whether innate ideas are (or not) from external impressions. Locke is a proponent of both ideas and impressions as rooted in objects. Hume sees impressions as originating from within the mind. If impressions are internal, and if ideas come from impressions, then ideas too are internal, notes McGinn. Empiricists would say, however, that simple and not complex ideas come from the senses. All of this reminds me of how Emerson says nature is to soul as seal is to print. But while Emerson is transcendental, Locke is mechanistic. For Locke, there is no mystery in how ideas are formed. For the nativist, senses help evoke what is innate; sense does not simply manufacture ideas.

McGinn offers easy examples to follow, but he spends much time on color, a secondary quality, and the view is a bit anthropocentric. A chimpanzee does not know the difference between what we call yellow and black, only that ripe fruit looks a certain way. We don’t need any linguistic labels to know that a color is different from one we’ve seen before. Understanding is inborn. As the philosopher Schopenhauer says, perception is the product of understanding, not sensation. The primate brain knows to avoid putrid looking food resources. McGinn also talks about where geometric ideas come from and whether one can have the idea of a triangle by seeing only a straight line. An empiricist says no but a nativist says yes. I might add that we consider how Homo habilis created stone tools. A simple idea can become more complex in mind without external stimuli, since the mind is a maker. Just as there is a straight edge, if one can mentally see a straight edge in a round stone, the mind has created the tool before it is physically manufactured.

And of course Australopithecines prior to Homo may have made tools, so the idea was floating around literally and physically. As only a philosopher can do, McGinn has a long riff about a brain in a vat and what it’s capable of or not. But brains did not evolve to be in vats but in bodies in the world. Of course McGinn knows this; his argument is against ideas stemming only empirically, for he says that a brain in a vat can be stimulated to have impressions and to generate ideas. Not until page twenty does McGinn use the word gene, as a source of ideas, and he does not utter the word evolution or refer to Darwin until pages thirty six and thirty eight.

I can understand what McGinn says about a purely mental life of ideas as not necessarily deriving from the physicality of things, but we evolved to live in and interact with a world of objects, other persons, and events. Many of our ideas are about things; most of our ideas are about people. McGinn appears to denigrate ideas coming via social empiricism, but we evolved to be in large groups. We imitate and learn from others as an adaptive shortcut. If we tried to have all ideas about everything on our own we’d not survive. But McGinn seems to focus his anti-empiricist criticism on linguistic learning. Yet in our evolved past, seen too in other species, there is no need for grammatical language to interact, perceive, and have ideas. See, for example, early work done by Wolfgang Köhler and Robert Yerkes who conducted experiments with great apes. He says, for instance, “Concepts are detachable from...extraneous conditions” (21). Okay, maybe so, but that might be abstracting a bit too much from our evolved capacities and abilities. While we can be philosophical, we did not evolve to be philosophers. We use ideas to explain things. Using ideas to explain other ideas is a much more recent development, no doubt.

McGinn finds a contradiction in Locke. Ideas come from objects themselves but yet secondary qualities like color are projected onto an object from within the subjective storehouse of the mind. So how, according to Locke could the mind be a blank slate if it has the inborn ability to color the world? McGinn says impressions of primary and secondary qualities cannot be separated, though Locke does so.

McGinn supports Chomsky and how the mind already has the elements to enable language, but we know Chomsky presents a human uniqueness angle. McGinn’s point is how stimuli are not potent enough in themselves, in spite of what empiricists say, to generate ideas. Descartes, he notes, was at least correct to say how the world is made of scattered bits of information that our mind assembles. In other words, Locke is wrong to say ideas move wholesale from objects to minds. McGinn does acknowledge that each species processes the world differently according to its biological requirements, but no species copies the external world as idea into the brain.

Concerning the empiricist position, McGinn rightly asks how we move from the particular to the universal. How does the empiricist account for abstract ideas? How do we generate large, general ideas from small and particular things? Empiricists cannot account for such general ideas, only particular. The empiricist claims that the mind has an ability to abstract, but that would be innate. McGinn tells us how Locke did not believe animals capable of mentally abstracting, but that leaves open the problem of why infants do in fact have ideas, to say nothing of the continuity between us and apes. One cannot say that particulars give rise to impressions and that the mind later abstracts because of the particular. The mind can abstract, innately, on its own.

Empiricists seem to say that the furnishings of consciousness, not the actual mind itself, come from perceptible particulars in the world. Consider how from birth all species have intent and agency. Todd Feinberg and Jon Mallat, in The Ancient Origins of Consciousness (MIT 2016), have recently demonstrated that sensory consciousness is widespread across species and evolutionarily very old. Species evolve to fit into a niche and so have different ways of perceiving the world. A fish on the bottom of the ocean need not see and so is blind. A bat that swoops in darkness needs echolocation in spite of blindness. Species evolve behaviors linked to a consciousness of the environment. McGinn’s point, no secret to biologists, is that different species’ responses prove their minds are not blank at birth. But instead of adaptation he uses the odd expression original endowment. The mind is conscious from birth, and so blank-mind empiricists cannot account for instincts and drives. In many ways, also not necessarily a new thought, consciousness across species is cognitive and the mind is inherently working towards physical and social survival, not on instincts alone. McGinn wonders why species do not inter-mate (36). That is the subject of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. But McGinn understands that there are species specific and cross species cognitive ideas about actions built into animal minds.

Darwin comes into McGinn’s picture in terms of inheritance, and there is quite a nice précis, including some comments about the adapted mind, beginning on page thirty eight. I do believe, though, that McGinn should have cued his readers much sooner, perhaps in his Preface, to his evolutionary leanings. Simply by using, in a philosophical way, the word nativist in the first thirty five pages is misleading. McGinn’s affirmation of biology could have been better foreshadowed. That the book makes an essentially scientific claim means some of its grounding ideas could have been cataloged sooner. Nods to Descartes and others might confuse readers into thinking there is, in fact, creative evolution.

The pillars of Darwin’s natural selection are variation, competition, and inheritance. There is no spiritus mundi, no élan vital, and nothing mysterious. McGinn spends a little time on variation when he talks about individuality, ignores competition, but does cover inheritance. Locke and Hume think consciousness but not its content is innate; contents are acquired and accumulate. Knowledge can vary across cultures over time but there is an innate mental structure for cultural knowledge. Some knowledge is acquired and becomes a memory. There is other knowledge we are born with, such as the concepts of addition and subtraction.  The nature of mind is that it is both innate and acquired: the external environment of objects, places, and events only stimulates the mind to form impressions. Why should we be surprised to find intelligence, emotions, and sentience in other animals?

At this point in his discussion McGinn claims that nativism is unintelligible and a mystery (60-61). But it is not. On his bibliography, while he includes Pinker, he cites The Language Instinct but not How the Mind Works. Without going down the list, there are a number of cognitive or evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists who could have been marshaled to demonstrate how this is not a mystery. Granted the author says, early on, he does not want to write a heavily researched book, but credible backing would have helped his claims about why knowledge is innate and how this is physically and evolutionarily so. I suppose, though, one of the virtues of McGinn’s book is its simple directness.

Essentially, McGinn is circumventing the so-called hard problem. Certainly, how do consciousness and thought arise from molecules? That too has been addressed by, among others, Feinberg and Mallat. By using the word mystery McGinn is making somewhat supernatural a natural process that has evolved over time, much as the complexity of the eye has evolved from a simple photoreceptor cell. Like his delay to invoke evolution, this language undercuts his central argument. We know apes have ideas of things. Chimpanzees and orangutans will try to figure out how something mechanical works. Creationists make a special case for human uniqueness, so how then to explain theory of mind and intelligence of apes. Why would God have made a chimpanzee as smart as a four-year-old child? McGinn relies here on Chomsky who claims human uniqueness in terms of language, but meantime apes can use and understand our sign language, so say nothing about their own sophisticated forms of bodily and vocal communication.

And why would the inheritance of ideas, according to McGinn, be any more mysterious? Consider how mating preferences that require mentality get passed on. It is not only instinctual but cultural, seen too in the generational evolution of bird songs. He says that “Thinking is not an organic process...”(65). But has not that been his whole argument, the organic nature of the mind? Thinking and consciousness are organic, because when one dies they stop. McGinn might be looking for answers not so much in gene coding but in gene switching, so-called junk DNA. So while we are ninety-nine percent similar to chimpanzees genetically, there is a massive amount of switching genes that accounts, perhaps, for our significant differences. This does not make us special, only different in how the ecological niche we have filled is much larger and required new forms of gene expression. In others words, it’s not a supernatural mystery. There really is no mind/body problem, as he suggests (70) since the mind is part of the body, almost as one. The brain in the vat is still embodied – eighty five billion neural cells and a trillion or so neural connections are as one body.

McGinn’s book is a valuable primer for philosophers who are interested in non-metaphysical theories about the mind. Because of its small size and limited scope, there is much not covered, including mutation, drift, and sexual or social selection. There is no mention of cultural evolution, also an important component related to primate evolution. There are many hominid and hominin species that have not survived. This does not give us or chimpanzees special status. On average, Neanderthals had brains larger than ours. Adaptations are a matter of selection pressures. At some point near the end of the book McGinn talks about human nature, but such terminology can be problematic. We have not been so created, with a human nature. Rather, we have evolved, and have survived over other species like ours, in a way that seems to make us appear to have a human nature. While there are continuities across species, there is also something distinct about a species. We human beings are a composite of multiple dimensions of evolution that have channeled adaptations from all our preceding primate ancestors and organisms before them.

Towards the end of the book McGinn suggests an important point that needs more emphasis in today’s culture.  Many great ideas in human history are completely external but have become manifest through innate, inherited parts, what Michael Tomasello would call the ratchet effect. Scientific thinking, then, is not wholly objective but contains at least a soupçon of innate ideas. Just as we need philosophers like McGinn to shed scientific light on philosophy, we need scientists to acknowledge how some big ideas come from within, contrary to a purely scientific method. That is, there is a certain amount of creativity and imagination involved in scientific thinking. McGinn handily covers this by noting how we are “born referring” (88). Reference is built into us (or at least the ability) and not dependent on external stimulus. We can make complex ideas from basic, innate ideas. And in reverse, as McGinn proves, an able writer can render complex ideas through history understandable.

- Gregory F. Tague, Ph.D., Professor, St. Francis College, N.Y. Author: Making Mind: Moral Sense and Consciousness (2014) and Evolution and Human Culture (2016)

Copyright©2016 Gregory F. Tague – All Rights Reserved

Published courtesy of the Consciousness, Literature and the Arts journal, Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe, editor

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Passion, Logic, and Thinking

Pretending and Lying: The Nature of Humankind and Rhetorical Theory Choices

Alexandra Glynn

Working Paper October 2016

When Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrects-Tyteca begin their New Rhetoric, they assume that people do not argue about the obvious. Perelman and Olbrects-Tyteca make the case that the scientific and intellectual revolutions of the Enlightenment have brought about a situation in which facts reign, and the reign of facts has spread out to most of the sciences and most of the departments in the universities, and therefore, why argue? One needs to only assert facts. “What is important to the partisans of the experimental and inductive sciences is not so much the necessity of propositions as their truth, their conformity with facts” (2, italics in original). Now I take Perelman and Olbrects-Tyteca to mean the realm of science more than the realm of ideology but they do mean both. Basically, they are saying that since Descartes, non-mathematical/formal logic reasoning and argumentation have been pushed further and further away from the public discussions. You could almost say that what someone who is not in an obviously scientific/mathematical discipline (a hard science) is encouraged to do to win rhetorically is to scentificize/mathematemetize, get categorized as a fact discipline and thereby never have to argue anything. One in such a position only needs to assert facts. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca take issue with this overwhelming reign of “facts” and see a place for non-mathematical/formal logic reasoning and argumentation, because our thought processes do not make the distinction between passion and formal logic, or imagination and evidence, that the post-Cartesian world-view suggests they do.

Now I would not disagree with Perelman and Olbrects-Tyteca’s description of our current situation and the reasons for it. For they say, “It is the idea of self-evidence as characteristic of reason, which we must assail, if we are to make place for theory of argumentation that will acknowledge the use of reason in directing our own actions and influencing those of others. Self-evidence is conceived both as a force to which every normal mind must yield and as a sign of the truth of that which imposes itself because it is self-evident” (3, italics in original). I only would like to emphasize that Perelman and Olbrects-Tyteca assume normal minds yield to self-evident truths. This might be true, for the most part, in science, and I lay the hard sciences aside and devote myself exclusively to the realm of ideology. And it may be true that even in ideological realms normal minds yield to self-evident truths. However, do they confess them? There may be a great gulf between what is thought in the mind and what is spoken as self-evident truth. Perelman and Olbrects-Tyteca go on, “the object of the theory of argumentation is the study of the discursive techniques allowing us to induce or to increase the mind’s adherence to the theses presented for its assent” (4, italics in original).

In other words, I accept that Descartes is acceptable to take in terms of his discussion of self-evidence. I only argue that Perelman and Olbrects-Tyteca are leaving something out—the element of deceit. If people do adhere to self-evident truths, but they do not like to admit them to themselves, then argumentation and rhetoric are not about trying to increase any adherence to a thesis. Argumentation and rhetoric assume that in the realm of ideology, the major theses are already adhered to on some level in each person. However, people do not articulate them. They speak other ideologies other than the ones that they know to be true. People hold these “solid beliefs” that are “admitted without proof [and] very often not even made explicit” (8), but they do not admit them. To believe is not the same as to teach.

Poets and novelists have a reputation as truth-tellers precisely because they assert truths that are self-evident but that people do not necessarily like to confess. Indeed, the more self-evident and deeply held the truth, the less likely people are to want to confess it, in many cases, especially ideologically charged cases. People like to hide.

One truth-teller, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote a whole book on the topic, we might say. For in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it is said of one of the main characters, Gabriel John Utterson, in the second line of the novel that “something eminently human beaconed from his eye” (1). So the lawyer Utterson is characterized as human. But very shortly after this, when we find out about the evil act that Mr. Hyde committed, Mr. Enfield says “I saw that Sawbones turned sick and white with the desire to kill [Hyde]. I knew what was in his mind, just as he knew what was in mine; and killing being out of the question, we did the next best” (3). You begin to be suspicious of yourself when you read this, that you are human, you are Hyde. But we all don’t like to talk about this, as Mr. Enfield says, we also say, “I feel very strongly about putting questions; it partakes too much of the style of the day of judgment. You start a question, and it’s like starting a stone. You sit quietly on the top of a hill; and away the stone goes, starting others; and presently some bland old bird (the last you would have thought of) is knocked on the head in his own back garden, and the family have to change their name. no, sir, I make it a rule of mine: the more it looks like Queer Street, the less I ask” (4).

We all may have a “volume of some dry divinity” on our reading desks (6), but we, like Utterson, are human. And therefore when Hyde is described as that “human Juggernaut” that hurt a child (8), we are all also possibly that kind of human, not necessarily the Utterson kind, if there is such a kind. For of Utterson we find that it can be to him as it was for Hyde that “lo! there would stand by his side a figure to whom power was given, and even at that dead hour, he must rise and do its bidding” (8). We, like Utterson, care about and are in touch with our “fellow creatures” (28), in good times and bad because we are both Jekyll and Hyde.

Throughout the book the characters struggle with whether or not they should call Mr Hyde human. For example it says “God bless me, the man seems hardly human! Something troglodytic, shall we say?” (10). Hyde is described as trampling “with ape-like fury” (15). He cries out “like a rat” (30). He jumps “like a monkey” (32). He is said to have “ape-like spite” (54). Hyde is called “it” but then they say they heard “it weeping” and “weeping like a woman or a lost soul” (32).

So the fact remains, Mr. Hyde is Mr. Jekyll. And Mr. Hyde is likely to be human, and so is Mr. Utterson, and therefore we are likely also to be Mr. Hyde, if we are human, whether we wish to think of ourselves as Gabriel John Utterson or Dr. Jekyll. Utterson describes Dr. Jekyll in sympathetic terms because it is familiar to himself, and to all of us, “[Jekyll] was wild when he was young; a long while ago…Ah, it must be that; the ghost of some old sin, the cancer of some concealed disgrace; punishment coming pede claudo, years after memory has forgotten and self-love condoned the fault” (11). Now the book seems to imply that “the majority of men” are a little higher than Hyde, (42), that the “vast majority of my fellows” would choose to do the right thing, not the wrong thing, in most cases (49). But by whatever percentage, Hyde is there.

The book, we can say, is in places religious in its allusions. For example, it says, “if ever I read Satan’s signature upon a face” (10). Jekyll also in one place quotes Apostle Paul, saying “I am the chief of sinners” (23; 1 Timothy 1:15). But the book tries to understand man in a way that is beyond religion, in a sort of natural law way. The book talks about “man’s dual nature” in almost a Freudian sense, saying they “contended in the field of my consciousness” (43). But in this context there is again the allusion to Paul’s “war among my members” (42, Romans 7). And in another case there is the reference to Daniel; Jekyll says, “This inexplicable incident, this reversal of my previous experience, seemed, like the Babylonian finger on the wall, to be spelling out the letters of my judgement” (48). I would call the book ideological in its truth-telling.

So, why are poets truth-tellers? Because they will tell truths that others, we regular people, who like to hide, do not wish to tell. This obviously has implications for rhetoric and the teaching of rhetoric. To go back to Perelman and Olbrects-Tyteca,

It is to be observed that where rational self-evidence comes into play, the adherence of the mind seems to be suspended to a compelling truth, and no role is played by the processes of argumentation. The individual, with his freedom of deliberation and of choice, defers to the constraining force of reason, which takes from him all possibility of doubt. Thus, maximally efficacious rhetoric, in the case of a universal audience, is rhetoric employing nothing but logical proofs (32).

But what if the individual is not doubting, what if he is submitting to the logical proofs, or the assertions of what is self-evident, but he will not admit them? This makes the role of rhetoric not to persuade but to gain a confession. It strikes me in this 500 year anniversary of the Reformation to notice that Martin Luther had this kind of view of rhetoric’s role. And Luther is “the man about whom more has been written than any other western figure of the Common Era except Jesus Christ” (Leroux 1-2). And Luther, in The Bondage of the Will, repeatedly claims that Erasmus, his opponent, actually agrees with him, Luther, but will not admit it. Luther says right in the second paragraph, “I thought it outrageous [for you, Erasmus] to convey material of so low a quality in the trappings of such rare eloquence; it is like using gold or silver dishes to carry garden rubbish or dung. You seem to have had more than an inkling of this yourself, for you were reluctant to undertake the task of writing; because, I suppose, your conscience warned you that, whatever literary resources you might bring with you into the fray, you would not be able to impose on me, but I should see through all your meretricious verbiage to the vile stuff beneath” (Luther 63). And again, “But, as I said, let the words go; for the moment, I acquit your heart; but you must write no more in this strain. Fear the Spirit of God, who searches the reins and heart, and is not deceived by stupid speeches. I say this in order that from now on you may stop accusing our side of obstinacy and stubbornness. By so doing, you merely let us see that in your heart…” (Luther 70). In other words, Luther asserts that Erasmus thinks one thing but says another. Erasmus pretends. Indeed, Luther uses this very word: “This bombshell knocks ‘free-will’ flat, and utterly shatters it; so that those who want to assert it must either deny my bombshell, or pretend not to notice it…” (Luther 80). And it isn’t just Erasmus, but all the people who disagree with Luther, who are pretending. “But those who wished to seem wise argued themselves out of it till their hearts grew dark and they became fools, as Rom 1 says (vv 21-22), and denied, or pretended not to know, things which the poets, and the common people, and even their own consciences held as being most familiar, most certain, and most true” (Luther 83).
As the above quote from Luther marks, there are truths that people know but argue against. And if you agree with me that this is the case, then you must also agree with me that there is a problem in teaching rhetoric as “persuasion” or telling students to write a paper that “grabs the reader’s attention” in order to convince them of a truth that they do not know. To do rhetoric is, as poets know, to tell truths to people in ways that remind them and stick with them and haunt them.
Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca say, “The very nature of deliberation and argumentation is opposed to necessity and self-evidence, since no one deliberates where the solution is necessary or argues against what is self-evident” (1). I don’t think so. I think more like Locke,
It is evident how much men love to deceive and be deceived, since rhetoric, that powerful instrument of error and deceit, has its established professors, is publicly taught, and has always been had in great reputation: and I doubt not but it will be thought great boldness, if not brutality, in me to have said thus much against it. Eloquence, like the fair sex, has too prevailing beauties in it to suffer itself ever to be spoken against. And it is in vain to find fault with those arts of deceiving, wherein men find pleasure to be deceived” (Locke 827).
If the discipline of rhetoric is in tatters because people who use rhetoric on audiences so often do so deceitfully, then why don’t we not only question the rhetorician but the audience? If the rhetoricians are liars, why are the audiences always characterized as so pure? Why aren’t they liars too?

Aristotle said in his Rhetoric, “that which is true and better is naturally always easier to prove and more likely to persuade” (13. Book 1.12). Indeed. Aristotle also said in “On Sophistical Refutations” that,

Furthermore, you should seek for paradoxes in men’s wishes and professed opinions. For they do not wish the same things as they declare that they wish, but they give utterance to the most becoming sentiments, whereas they desire what they think is to their interest. They declare, for example, that a noble death ought to be preferred to a pleasurable life and honorable poverty to discreditable wealth; but their wishes are the opposite of their words ([172b] Loeb 71).

Indeed. And one only need to go to our criminal justice systems and notice that almost all incarcerated criminals claim that they are not guilty. Or at least, that they are Dr. Jekyll and that Mr. Hyde did it. But the vast majority of them are truly guilty. And so the persuasion is not to get them to learn the truth, but to get a confession of it.


REFERENCES

Aristotle. “On Sophistical Refutations [4th century BC],” in On Sophistical Refutations, On Coming-to-be and Passing Away, On the Cosmos. E. S. Forster (transl 1955) Loeb 1955. Pp 11-155.
Aristotle. Rhetoric [4th century BC]. John H Freese (transl 1939). Loeb 2006.
Leroux, Neil. “Luther’s Am Neujahrstage: Style as Argument,” Rhetorica. 12:1, Winter 1994. Pp 1-42.
Locke, John. “From An Essay Concerning Human Understanding [1689],” in The Rhetorical Tradition. 2nd ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg (eds). Bedford/St Martin’s 2001. Pp 817-827.
Luther, Martin. The Bondage of the Will [1524]. J. I Packer & O. R. Johnston (transls). Baker 2009.
Perelman, Chaim, and L. Olbreects-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation [1958]. University of Notre Dame Press 1971.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [1884]. Dover 1991.


- Alexandra Glynn lives in Minnesota. She has a Master's in Old Testament Theology and a Master's in English Literature.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Can $5 send a student to college and save rain forests? Yes!

Dear Friends:

We’re campaigning to raise funds for a single 4-year scholarship for a deserving Indonesian student as part of the successful Orangutan Caring Scholarship Program through The Orang Utan Republik Foundation. The purpose of the program is to award tuition funding to talented and needy Indonesian students on a competitive basis enabling them to attend local universities in the fields of Forestry, Biology and Veterinary Science.

We ask that you make a donation of $5-$10 dollars and that you share this funding campaign on social media. Our goal is to raise $1500 by January 2017.

We are participating in this program since it aligns with a number of our core beliefs:
1. Education is the most powerful way to impact culture positively;
2. Deserving and qualified young people should have an education that helps them improve their community;
3. Climate change is a distressing reality that must be acknowledged and addressed on a local as well as a governmental level;
4. Rain forest protection is vital to the wellbeing of future generations globally;
5. Sustainable farming in some regions is a realistic goal;
6. No species, especially not one as close to us as the orangutan, should have become critically endangered because of its habitat loss at our hands.

If you agree with any of these principles, please consider making a donation and sharing our request on social media.

To make a donation to the scholarship fund, go HERE.

For more information about The Orang Utan Republik Foundation, go here: http://www.orangutanrepublik.org/

Sincerely,
Gregory F. Tague, Ph.D.
Founder, Evolutionary Studies Collaborative
Editor, ASEBL Journal
General Editor, Bibliotekos

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Origins of Consciousness and the Hard Problem

Todd E. Feinberg and Jon M. Mallat. The Ancient Origins of Consciousness: How the Brain Created Experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016. ISBN: 9780262034333. Hardcover. $35U.S. 392 pages. Illustrated.

As I write this review, an old story has been circulating on social media about a Frenchman who has 50-75% less than a normal size brain, an IQ of 75, and who yet functions normally, has a family, and is employed. [1] That is, he has all the requisite brain parts, but each one has been miniaturized. How is it possible for someone with so little brain to function normally? To some extent neurologist Todd E. Feinberg and biologist Jon M. Mallat address this fascinating question in their book, The Ancient Origins of Consciousness. Organisms do not need overly complex brains to survive. In fact, sensory consciousness dates back to as long as 560 million years ago (mya) in tiny brains, according to these authors.

Of course the subject of Feinberg and Mallat’s book is not so straightforward. Indeed, they tackle philosopher David Chalmers’ hard problem of consciousness: How do the functions and mechanisms of the brain result in phenomenal, subjective experience? How is being in function? Here is a book by research scientists laden with data about, at base, philosophy of mind. On the spectrum of 1 to 10, where at 1 sit those who claim consciousness from material properties to 10 where we find the non-materialist metaphysicians, these authors clearly lean to 1. They claim to have cracked Chalmers’ hard problem, which won’t sit well with many near the 10 spectrum.

The Ancient Origins of Consciousness is a copiously illustrated with figures and tables, fairly easy to read for the non-specialist, well organized in ten chapters, and offers a cogent argument for the early origin of primary consciousness. The book includes a comprehensive index and boasts a robust bibliography. It is important to emphasize that their angle is on sensory consciousness and the authors are careful to state on a number of occasions that their mission is not to find the origins of, for instance, theory of mind (or other high functions of mind like reflection or intelligence). They do not claim that higher order consciousness is 500 million years old. Instead, they chart a careful and precise genealogy of primary consciousness using fossil evidence and research data. There’s nothing to dislike about this book, and it is worth owning for anyone interested in evolutionary or consciousness studies.

The authors rightly begin with Thomas Nagel, and his notion of something it is like to be. Phenomenal experience or qualia don’t depend on super intelligence or large brains, they assert; and contrary to Chalmers, they set out to prove that they can detail objectively neural pathways and so explain subjective, primary consciousness. And they do. In terms of the evolution of sensory consciousness Feinberg and Mallat go beyond qualia and explain referral or the projection of neural states, mental unity via massive neuronal activity, and mental causation or how neurons effect action. In essence, the authors are looking for both the origin of affective consciousness and the hard problem itself – how the emergent what it is to be like is reducible to its components. The stages of consciousness run from the biological aspects of all organisms, to reflexes in the nervous system, to attention, which is more specialized and from which consciousness eventually arose.

Consciousness is embodied – it needs the physicality of a particular brain to exist. Consciousness is a lively process of brain functions – it is not a structure. They quote Evan Thompson: “‘A living being is not sheer exteriority...but instead embodies a kind of interiority, that of its own immanent purposiveness’” (19). While a reflex is not consciousness, in the neural reactions we find the beginnings of the connections that will form consciousness. Reflexes constitute different cell types where neurons differ in types and functions, and the growing complexity, speed, and cellular diversity in turn created hierarchies (27). An example of a hierarchy would be how the function of the skin (touch) is represented in the brain or how the external visual field is mapped (i.e., various sense stimuli are taken together) in the brain. These mental sensations become part of what it is like to be.

The explosive proliferation of animal life in the Cambrian Period is crucial to the argument presented by Feinberg and Mallat. However, they are keen to point out that before the Cambrian a very small brain had evolved in the predecessors to vertebrates. These non-vertebrate chordate ocean feeders, such as amphioxus, were able to detect chemicals and had a touch sense. While extraordinarily small, the brain of the amphioxus includes a forebrain, neurons, and primitive brain regions that control different functions. This brain is a precursor to that found in vertebrates. The neurons in amphioxus are not connected in synapses with neurotransmitters but use chemicals that modulate neurons, and this is the model for a simple, primitive pre-vertebrate brain. Not until the evolution of sense perceivers in vertebrates (eyes and ears) is there more complex sensory processing in the brain. Nonetheless, we see in the pre-Cambrian the birth of the brain.

The Cambrian explosion runs from about 560-520mya and introduces vertebrates which then evolve complex nervous systems. Predation began in the period before the Cambrian, the precursor to the evolution of senses for defense and elusiveness, and these in turn became more complex behaviors and system in terrestrial vertebrates with the environment’s wealth of oxygen and more opportunities for foraging better types of resources. The cost of evolving such mental sensory maps was high in terms of energy needs, and only the clades of arthropods (mostly predators) and vertebrates (in Cambrian early fish) evolved sensory systems; it was less costly for others not to evolve complex systems, and this explains why we still have, for instance, clams (64).

Even before the Cambrian, sensory consciousness was possible, as with the amphioxus. It’s just that in vertebrates the brain parts become not only larger but also more precise in segmentation and neural hierarchies. As the vertebrate brain evolved, so did its cerebrum and cortex, areas dealing with, among others, memory and decision making. Eyes went from forming images to forming spatial images, and any complex mental images needed to be processed and interpreted across several brain regions. Sensory processing of images, smells, and sounds are recalled, referenced to, and modified as necessary with new inputs. While the hippocampus brain region (memory and selective attention) is not apparent until the vertebrates, the genes to express it existed much earlier. Furthermore, the authors go as far as saying that in the Cambrian vertebrate brain not only were predictions made but simulations, that is, the manipulation of mental images.

Based on the foregoing, Feinberg and Mallat move to sentience (and devote two chapters to the subject). Sentience is “when an organism becomes consciously aware of its own internal bodily and affective feelings,” like pleasure or pain (129). The affective limbic system, not in contact with the environment, is involved in attraction (pleasure), aversion (displeasure) and so employs valence; there is self, good/bad feelings, sadness and joy, and fear; there are motives. Affective consciousness (compared to exteroceptive, external mental images, and interoceptive, visceral pain), is found in subcortical limbic areas going back 560mya. That is, they do not find affective consciousness originating in cortical regions, which come later.

What are the behavioral criteria for affective consciousness, they ask. Beyond any reflex response, the answer would include any non-reflexive response of valence, a decision about cost/benefit, frustration, and self-medication (as in awareness of acute pain so as to alleviate it). They insist, however, that some goal-driven rewards could reflect an unconscious behavior (153). Simple affective neuro-structures can be found in lampreys (still present but of ancient origin) and other fish.

Must an organism have a backbone to experience simple consciousness? What about insects, mollusks, flatworms, etc.? The authors set out criteria for consciousness: 1. Complexity. Insect brains are too tiny. 2. Multisensory neuronal hierarchies. We do find this in insects. 3. Isomorphic (topographical/physical) sense pathways. Yes for insects. 4. Reciprocal neural interactions. They say yes for insects but debatable for other organisms without a backbone. 5. Separate sense pathways that merge in a brain for unity of experience. This is highly debatable in insects. 6. Memory. Yes for insects. 7. Selective attention. Also yes for insects. In all, insect consciousness is debatable. However, they claim the main criterion of sensory consciousness is mental image formation, and this is evident in bumble bees and so therefore in other arthropods. Clearly consciousness evolved to benefit vertebrates more than other organisms.

The final chapter is a mega-conclusion that reiterates and pulls together much of what came before. They offer and discuss in detail three postulates. 1. Sensory consciousness is emergent with emphasis on the hierarchy of sense modes across and in network with brain areas. 2. Consciousness arrives through a continuum of species and adaptations. There is a diversity of consciousness (i.e. no single emergent process) in the brain and interaction among: exteroceptive consciousness (images/sensation, distance senses); interoceptive consciousness (mental images/body senses); affective consciousness (inner feelings). 3. Concerning the hard problem, consciousness and mental unity are adaptive. Behavioral choices spring from unified mental maps that evolved over time and selection pressures to benefit certain organisms. Others did not evolve consciousness since it is costly, and they were able to survive without it.

In terms of the hard problem, the authors are clear to emphasize that no machine can explain (since it only observes) one’s subjective what it is like experience. While an adaptation, consciousness is a process and “not a material thing” since it does not reside in one brain area (224). But there is no hard problem, because the brain does create personal experience and how the brain does so is explainable by virtue of scattered but interlocking physical matter.

Notes
[1] See “Man with tiny brain shocks doctors.” New Scientist, 20 July 2007. Web. The article reports on findings from the journal Lancet.


- GregoryF. Tague, Ph.D. is professor of English at St. Francis College, N.Y., and the author of Evolution and Human Culture (Brill 2016) and Making Mind: Moral Sense and Consciousness (Rodopi 2014). Copyright©Gregory F. Tague 2016. Reprinted courtesy Consciousness, Literature and the Arts journal, August 2016.