Publication 4259

Schilhab T. S. S. (1998) Why did subjective experiences develop? Evolution and Cognition 4(1): 63–69. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/4259
Theories based on the Darwinian idea of “selection” as an evolutionary driving force may help to understand the workings and functions of human consciousness. The philosopher Daniel C. Dennett has argued that consciousness was developed as a means to increase the rate of survival. However, it is one of the central features of consciousness that it “feels like something” to exist. Thus there seems to be a subjective quality of conscious experience. In philosophy of mind, this has traditionally been termed “qualia”, and the term refers to for instance the sensation of red as opposed to the sensation of blue, or the complex feelings of pain or love. Any theory of consciousness must provide a satisfactory explanation of this phenomenon. Dennett claims that from a scientific perspective there is no problem of qualia. In our ancestors, qualia developed as a discriminative ability in order to structure the outside world, and did not entail any subjective qualities. In humans, however, the subjective qualities came along with linguistic abilities, because these provide man with the possibility to relate to himself as an agent, i.e. regard himself from the outside. Eventhough the discussion of qualia on this account can be dissolved, the question remains, whether Dennett has succeeded in explaining why there is a subjective quality of conscious experience, i.e. why it “feels” like something to be conscious.

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