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Evolution, cognition and consciousness

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It is suggested that the evolutionary advantage of consciousness lies in its mediating the acquisition of novel context-specific reflexes, particularly when the context has temporally varying components. Such acquisition is conjectured to require evaluation of feedback stimuli evoked by the animal's self-paced probing of its environment, or by memories of the outcome of previous such probings, and the evaluation is postulated to be predicated on attention. It is argued that such an approach automatically incorporates sensation into the phenomenon, sensation arising from an interplay between the nervous system and the skeletal musculature, and not from the nervous system alone. This theory avoids the increasingly untenable view that consciousness is part of the normal chain of events linking unprovoked stimuli in the outside world with immediate voluntary reactions to them. The theory should prove attractive to those who might otherwise feel compelled by neurophysiology to embrace epiphenomenalism. It also provides a means of bridging the explanatory gap, and of resolving the celebrated hard problem of consciousness.
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Keywords: Consciousness; attention; autism; awareness; cognition; conscious unity; creativity; efferent copy; explanatory gap; gamma oscillations; hard problem; intelligence; mirror neurons; phantom limbs; qualia; schemata; self-tickling; thought

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Biophysics, Building 307, Danish Technical University, 2800 Lyngby, Denmark.

Publication date: 2001-02-01

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