The origin and function of pleasure

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Currently, most cognitive scientists view the brain as a general-purpose computer and the processes of mind as software algorithms running on this neural architecture. From this perspective, conscious feelings, like pleasure, play no functional role in controlling human behaviour. This paper proposes that such computational theories are based on a false premise; namely, that the external world is full of light, sounds, smells, and tastes that can be detected through our senses. An alternative viewpoint, evolutionary functionalism, considers the world to be composed of energy/matter and views conscious experiences, like pleasure, as evolved emergent properties of biological tissue. From this perspective, natural selection has favoured conscious experiences that serve as evaluations of (feelings), or discriminations among (sensations) those aspects of the physical and social world that are biologically relevant. Over generations, it is the functional usefulness of these emergent properties that has shaped the neural architecture that underlies them.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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