Going Out of My Head: An Evolutionary Proposal Concerning the “Why” of Sentience

Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice (forthcoming)
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Note: Paper to appear in special issue of the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, on the evolution of consciousness //// The explanatory challenge of sentience is known as the “hard problem of consciousness”: How does subjective experience arise from physical objects and their relations? Despite some optimistic claims, the perennial struggle with this question shows little evidence of imminent resolution. In this article I focus on the “why” rather than on the “how” of sentience. Specifically, why did sentience evolve in organic lifeforms? From an evolutionary perspective this question can be framed: “What adaptive problem(s) did organisms face in their evolutionary past and how were those challenges met? I argue that sentience was a critical component of the adaptive solution (i.e., adopting an agentic stance) to increasingly complex and unpredictable demands placed on vertebrates approximately 500 million years ago (the so-called Cambrian explosion). One consequence of taking an agentic stance is that it freed the organism from its neural moorings, positioning it within phenomenal space outside its brain.

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Stanley Bernard Klein
University of California, Santa Barbara


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