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The assertion that consciousness is a property of certain individuals and not

The assertion that consciousness is a property of certain individuals and not others--rather than of the entire universe--implies a very special moment in the ontogeny of those individuals. This is the moment of individual consciousness origination, before which the individual (e.g., a gestating human) is not conscious, and after which it is. Would anyone disagree that this moment is implied by most theories of mind given merit in academia? By consciousness I mean nothing vague but quite simply "the subjective character of experience," a no-nonsense definition as worded by Thomas Nagel. In light of that implication, a physical theory of consciousness must either: (a) address the nature of that moment, describing a physical arrangement that gives rise spontaneously to consciousness; or (b) deny such a moment's existence and ascribe consciousness to the entire universe (some sort of pan-psychism). While (b) is typically considered the mystical and unacceptable stance, as a naturalist I find (a) to seem...

This is a very important and difficult question: how do we get from no consciousness to (our) consciousness? You've put the question in terms of ontogeny (or development), but the same sort of question arises in terms of phylogeny (or evolution)--which animals are conscious and which are not, and how did the latter evolve from the former?

The panpsychist alternative (b) may help, and it is advanced by contemporary philosophers such as Galen Strawson (and more tentatively, by David Chalmers). Despite that answer having to assert the seemingly weird claim that rocks have some sort of proto-conscious capacities, it is also unclear if panpsychism helps to answer the problem you raise, since we still need to know what organization of the proto-conscious material parts allows for the more complex consciousness we recognize in some animals and in humans. How do we get from paramecium (or blastocysts) made up of parts that have both physical and conscious properties to monkeys (or babies) that are made up of the same parts but organized in a way that clearly allows a sort of consciousness not shared by the paramecium and blastocysts?

There is no good answer to these questions yet, since we still lack a physicalist theory of consciousness--but when we have such a theory, the questions about development and evolution should become much less mysterious. For now, I think the best way to think about it is to recognize that consciousness comes in degrees and the jump from none to a very tiny bit may be no more mysterious than the vague jump from a non-heap to a heap, or the (less vague) state transitions from gas to liquid to solid or the transitions among species during evolution.

One reason the jump may look so radical may be a sort of illusion imposed by memory and/or self-awareness. When we transition from sleep state to conscious waking state (or from conscious to anesthetized unconsciousness), we don't notice a fuzzy boundary, but we may still go through one gradual transitions and simply be unable to be aware of them, remember them, or report on them. (Sorry if this bit sounds like a Dennettian evasion, but I think it's on the right track). Similarly, we can't easily get information from a newborn or fetus (or grasshopper?) about what it is like to be just a tiny bit conscious.

I hope this helps at least a tiny bit.

This is a very important and difficult question: how do we get from no consciousness to (our) consciousness? You've put the question in terms of ontogeny (or development), but the same sort of question arises in terms of phylogeny (or evolution)--which animals are conscious and which are not, and how did the latter evolve from the former? The panpsychist alternative (b) may help, and it is advanced by contemporary philosophers such as Galen Strawson (and more tentatively, by David Chalmers). Despite that answer having to assert the seemingly weird claim that rocks have some sort of proto-conscious capacities, it is also unclear if panpsychism helps to answer the problem you raise, since we still need to know what organization of the proto-conscious material parts allows for the more complex consciousness we recognize in some animals and in humans. How do we get from paramecium (or blastocysts) made up of parts that have both physical and conscious properties to monkeys (or babies) that are...

To my understanding, organisms evolve in order to adapt to their environment and

To my understanding, organisms evolve in order to adapt to their environment and its pressures. If that is the case, how come we are conscious? It seems like consciousness is an unnecessary add-on. Why aren't we p-zombies? P-zombies can do the same thing any other organism can, right? Or is it possible that consciousness is an illusion?

Suppose there are two mutations that would allow a species of plant to gather more sunlight for energy, one that would make it grow taller than competing plants and another than would make it grow wider. The species happens to evolve to grow taller. It is true that it might have achieved the adaptive function of gathering more energy without growing taller (i.e., by growing wider instead). So, growing taller was not necessary (i.e., the only way) to achieve this function. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to say that the plant's height is causally irrelevant to its capacities to gather energy from sunlight.

Similarly, it might be that a species (call them p-zombies) might have evolved that could gather and synthesize information about various features of its environment just as well as us but without being phenomenally conscious. But the possibility of such a species tells us nothing about whether phenomenal consciousness in us (and other animals) plays a causal role in gathering and synthesizing information about our environment. Consciousness may have been selected for even if p-zombies are possible. Consciousness may be the particular way (among many possible ways) that our ancestral species solved the challenge of gathering and synthesizing information about the environment and using it to guide adaptive behavior.

If your p-zombies are physically identical to us in every way, then we might wonder why consciousness evolved. But this already assumes that consciousness plays no causal role, since that's the only way that a physical duplicate of us without consciousness could still behave just like us. Once we recognize this, the conceivability of p-zombies becomes much more dubious (at least to me). I have a hard time conceiving of conscious states as causally inert, in part because I assume conscious properties are essential properties of certain underlying neural states.

(Another possibility is that consciousness was not selected for but was a side-effect of some other adaptation, but this still allows that consciousness eventually took on important roles in our behavior.)

Suppose there are two mutations that would allow a species of plant to gather more sunlight for energy, one that would make it grow taller than competing plants and another than would make it grow wider. The species happens to evolve to grow taller. It is true that it might have achieved the adaptive function of gathering more energy without growing taller (i.e., by growing wider instead). So, growing taller was not necessary (i.e., the only way) to achieve this function. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to say that the plant's height is causally irrelevant to its capacities to gather energy from sunlight. Similarly, it might be that a species (call them p-zombies) might have evolved that could gather and synthesize information about various features of its environment just as well as us but without being phenomenally conscious. But the possibility of such a species tells us nothing about whether phenomenal consciousness in us (and other animals) plays a causal role in gathering and...

Why doesn't knowledge of the obvious causal relationship between consciousness

Why doesn't knowledge of the obvious causal relationship between consciousness and brains destroy any ideas of an afterlife?

The fact that one thing causes another does not mean than the second could not exist without the first. Consider the case of a forest fire, for example. A carelessly flung match could be the cause, and yet (a) the fire could continue even after the match is destroyed, and (b) other things, such as a bolt of lightning, could substitute for the match as cause of the fire. Similarly, one could think (a) that brain activity causes consciousness, but consciousness can continue even after the brain is destroyed, or (b) that things other than brain activity, e.g. cosmic vibrations, could also cause consciousness. Without evidence to support these possibilities, they remain mere possibilities; but they do show why the causal relation you cite does not "destroy an ideas of an afterlife".

If you think that an individual's consciousness is not just caused by the activity of her brain but is identical with it, then that consciousness must indeed cease when the activity of that brain ceases. But many who agree that there is an "obvious" causal relationship between consciousness and the brain do not think that consciousness is identical with the brain.

It doesn't. There are several possibilities here. One is that there is a causal relationship between the physical brain and a non-physical mind, which can still make sense of the idea that when alcohol is coursing through your veins into your brain it causes your conscious experiences to be funky or when a part of your brain is lesioned it causes mental disorders. This view is Descartes' dualism. If it is true, then presumably your non-physical mind (or soul) can survive after your physical body dies (though it's hard to imagine how things would be for your bodiless soul in "heaven"--e.g., how do you find grandma? and what would you do for fun?). This view becomes less plausible the stronger the correlations between brain states and mental states become (the soul seems to have nothing left to do). So, supposing such dualism is implausible and we assume this evidence of a causal relationship between brains and consciousness is evidence of a physicalist view, one that says the mind just ...