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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Abstract

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.

Author's Profile

Stanley Bernard Klein
University of California, Santa Barbara

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