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Primitive consciousness and the ‘hard problem’

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[opening paragraph]: If we think intuitively and non-professionally about the evolution of consciousness, the following is a compelling thought. What the emergence of consciousness made possible, uniquely in the natural world, was the capacity for representing the world, and, hence, for acquiring knowledge about it. This is the kind of thought that surfaces when, for example, we make explicit what lies behind wondering whether a frog, as compared to a dog, say, is conscious. The thought that it might not be is closely bound up with doubts about whether there is a world out there for it. Such doubts are reinforced by neurophysiological and psychological theories to the effect that its purpose-specific, bug-detecting input does not provide for a connected spatial representation of the environment. Or rather there is no need to postulate such a representation in order to explain its tongue lashing out to catch the bug. Reflecting further, it seems that something else critical is lacking, or not necessarily present, in the explanation of the movement of the frog's tongue, namely the kind of appeal we normally make to another major feature we think consciousness introduced into world -- wants, emotions, desires, or, more generally, affective states and events. Without their existence, the intuition is, all we have are, at most, non-conscious information processing mechanisms. And when we ask what is required for desires and the like to be in play, we seem to come full circle. For whether or not it is correct to speak of individual desires for specific things in the world seems to have some kind of dependence on whether the organism in question is capable of representing those things, which in turn seems to depend on whether there is a world out there for it. And finally we tend to think that it is only when we have in play this kind of explanation of movement that action and agency appear on the scene.

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Philosophy, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK.

Publication date: 2000-04-01

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