Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A New Theory Explains How Consciousness Evolved

Consciousness Arose as a Solution

Michael Graziano’s piece on how consciousness evolved in today’s Atlantic has a strange beginning:

Ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has been the grand unifying theory of biology. Yet one of our most important biological traits, consciousness, is rarely studied in the context of evolution

Perhaps it’s just me, but how can evolution be the grand unifying theory of biology if it doesn’t explain one of the most important biological traits?

Perhaps this doesn’t bother Graziano because he is about to announce that this particular shortcoming is coming to an end:

The Attention Schema Theory (AST), developed over the past five years, may be able to answer those questions. The theory suggests that consciousness arises as a solution to one of the most fundamental problems facing any nervous system: Too much information constantly flows in to be fully processed. The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and in the AST, consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence.

So maybe evolution wasn’t so grand, but that is now changing. A new sub hypothesis, the Attention Schema Theory (AST), might just explain how consciousness arose. Of course by “explain” evolutionists mean something along the lines of “and then a miracle occurred.”

For example, Graziano explains that a special neuron action called selective signal enhancement “probably evolved sometime between hydras and arthropods—between about 700 and 600 million years ago.” And how do evolutionists know that? Well because arthropods had it and hydras didn’t. So it must have evolved between them. After all, selective signal enhancement had to have evolved at some point. Didn’t it?

That is often what passes for an explanation in evolutionary theory.

Then there is the part of the brain called the tectum which “probably evolved around then [520 million years ago], during the so-called Cambrian Explosion.” Because, well, why not?

One reason explanations come so easily to evolutionists is that, though the theory technically is restricted to aimless mechanisms, in fact the thinking is teleological. Look at the explanation above for example. Consciousness, the professor explains, arose “as a solution” to the problem of too much information.

As a solution for a problem? That is teleological thinking.

Somewhere Aristotle is smiling.

And again, the brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms “for deeply processing” a few select signals.

For deeply processing? That, in this strange language we call English, is another version of the infinitive form. And as we have seen many times, when it comes to origins, the infinitive form is the essence of teleological language.

Religion drives science, and it matters.


  1. "Of course by 'explain' evolutionists mean something along the lines of “and then a miracle occurred." Priceless!

    1. I think you'll find that "evolutionists" do not posit miracles for their hypothesis'... that would be theists...

  2. Ha! Michael Graziano, another brain-dead pathological liar for Darwin heard from. LOL

    I study intelligence and the brain. I can assure Graziano that attention is not consciousness but a mechanism at the service of consciousness. The way it works in the human brain is that knowledge is organized hierarchically like a tree. Each branch of the tree is a different area of knowledge. The brain can only pay attention to only one branch at a time. This means that the overwhelming majority of the brain is asleep or unconscious at any one time.

    At any moment, the conscious entity (not the brain) is presented with a number of branches that require attention. It is up to the conscious entity to decide which one to activate. The brain is wired such that a branch can only remain active (awake) only about 12 seconds before going back to sleep. Then another branch must wake up to take its place. It takes the brain about 35 milliseconds to switch from one branch to another.

    How does it work in animals? The attention mechanism works the same way in animals except that there is no conscious entity to select a branch for attention. The attention mechanism in animals is driven entirely by their genetically pre-programmed motivational system. This is true even if the animal appears uncannily conscious. In the not too distant future, we will develop robots that will also behave as if they were conscious. This will happen in your lifetimes. Wait for it.

    How do I know that there is a non-material conscious entity in the brain? Well, to deny the existence of the supernatural soul is to stop believing your eyes. The amazing colorful 3D vista you think you see in front of your eyes is totally supernatural. Why? Because there is no 3D vista in your visual cortex or anywhere else. Your visual cortex and your entire brain are just a bunch of firing neurons. You certainly don't sense biochemicals and electric spikes flowing through your axons, synapses and dendrites. You see a fabulous, dynamic model of the world in glorious 3D. Something translated those neuronal firings into a colorful 3D vista. Call it spirit, soul or whatever. But it certainly exists and it is not material, a billion brain-dead materialists foaming at the mouth and claiming otherwise notwithstanding.

    Just saying.

    1. Louis Savain, I mostly agree with you.

      However you say, "The attention mechanism works the same way in animals except that there is no conscious entity to select a branch for attention." How do you know this? How do you know that animals do not have a conscious entity? How the heck do animals manage the signals of the different branches without a conscious entity?

    2. bFast:

      How do you know that animals do not have a conscious entity? How the heck do animals manage the signals of the different branches without a conscious entity?

      The way I understand it, in both animals and humans, every branch of the knowledge tree is assigned a motivational importance or strength. This strength can be either innate (pre-programmed) or learned via operant and classical conditioning. Since most branches are asleep, they cannot decide when to wake up on their own. There must be a very small number of specialised branches that are always awake and are assigned the job of deciding which of the many other branches should wake up at any given time.

      Normally, the branches with the highest motivational strengths and the highest sensory inputs are candidates for activation. So, there are always a small number of candidates competing for attention.

      In humans, the decision to wake up a candidate branch is up the consciousness or spirit. We decide what we are interested in. This is known as free will. This is the reason that we do things that animals will never do. We love things that only a spirit can love, such as the arts and sciences. I hypothesize that some people with certain brain disorders, such as savants, have a hard time moving their attention away from certain branches of their tree of knowledge. So they keep exercising the same branches over and over. This is how they become savants in narrow domains.

      Animals are also, in a sense, savants. They are extremely well adapted to certain areas of knowledge (e.g., hunting or foraging for food) because their motivational system will not allow them to focus on anything else. The branch with the highest motivational strength always wakes up.

      So an intelligent system does not need a spirit to be intelligent. Consciousness is not synonymous with intelligence. Intelligence is at the service of motivation and consciousness. In an animal, intelligence is strictly at the service of motivation, nothing else.

      There is another reason that I believe that animals are unconscious (i.e., they have no souls or spirits). It has to do with my faith as a Christian. I have faith in God's love. I don't believe he would deliberately create animals to consciously suffer. Humans, OTOH, must suffer because this is part of our initiation into eternal life. Pain and suffering are part of reality because we live in a Yin-Yang universe. There can be no Yin without Yang.

  3. Cornelius Hunter: And how do evolutionists know that? Well because arthropods had it and hydras didn’t.

    Common descent means that they shared a common ancestor, so if it appears in one branch and not the other, then that dates the innovation.

  4. I love how easy it is to mock those with such a deep, abiding faith in evolution. Bravo!