Monday, November 1, 2010

Adaptive value and causal role of consciousness

Jack Dikian
November 2010

A week or two ago I was flicking through an Anatomy text when my boss walked past me and causally asked if I was reading about the Human body. My answer was more telling of what I was thinking (been thinking about for many years) rather than what I could have said – that I was simply captivated by the colour plates.

What was I thinking?

How could something so immensely complex have developed through random mutations and natural selection, even with sufficient time. And the real irony, I was flicking through the pages illustrating the eye - Something even Darwin acknowledged from the start that, that would be a difficult case for his new theory to explain.

As she was walked away from me, it was almost like she read my mind. We talked about complexity, brain wiring, and the question of consciousness. We both asked – does consciousness have a causal role in survival.

We learned at school that the two main processes that cause variants to become more or less in a population is through. One is natural selection and genetic drift. We learned, for example, that traits that aid survival and reproduction become more common, while traits that hinder survival and reproduction become rarer. Over many generations, heritable variation in traits is filtered by natural selection and the beneficial changes are successively retained through differential survival and reproduction.

Traits that become better suited to an organism's environment such as our eyes, for example, is said to have an adaptive function (adaptations).

Theories of the genies of life itself is well documented in the works of Harvard biochemist George Wald, Nobel laureate Christian de Duve, the materialist Richard Dawkins, to name just a few.

But what of the question of the adaptive value and causal role of consciousness in human (and nonhuman organisms). Is evolution blind to the difference between a conscious organism and a functionally equivalent non-conscious organism.

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