Is Consciousness Just an Illusion or an Evolutionary Advantage?

Nicholas Humphrey posted this thought-provoking article nearly a year ago on Seed Magazine, and although it initially sounds a little out-of-whack, and too flippant for real scientific consideration, after a second thought it does pose a potentially useful thesis and alternative viewpoint (which are certainly needed right now!) for how to approach the understanding of our conscious experience.

As human beings we all experience some form of “magical mystery” in our brains. It’s absolutely not clear what it is, how it is formed, or why it’s there, but there does seem to besomething. Neuroscience would love to provide a thorough explanation of the “NCC”–the neural correlate of consciousness–but the notion of consciousness still seems to be buried deep in the confines of philosophical reasoning and a wide variety of non-specific, generalized notions of mental states and “qualia.”

But, it does seem interesting to ask the question: maybe the magic coming from our brain isn’t really magical at all. Maybe there really isn’t a specific physical correlate to what we consider the conscious experience, but it is rather only an illusion, of sorts, that we somehow sense only as a perception from some as-of-yet unexplainable result of the high level of complexity in our brain’s system.

Remember, the neuron networks comprising your brain is unbelievably complex. There is a structure to the system, but we really have no idea as to the nature of the structure and how this can affect the functioning of the system. We know so much about stars and galaxies billions of light years away, but there is so much still unknown about the closest physical structure to ourselves.

Understanding the nature of consciousness–and if there is even any nature of sorts to understand!–is critically important for neurotechnological developments in the long term. In particular, how will integrated neuron devices affect our perceptions, conscious reasoning, emotions, and overall network function in our brain? If we plug in a few neurons into the back of our heads, will the front of our heads flip out? We really have no idea at this point, and we barely have the ability to write down the best questions to ask to even begin addressing the issue.

Finally, Mr. Humphrey proposes a final idea that suggests that even if a physical nature of consciousness is only a perceived illusion, it is still an experienced illusion that we all have and this could have developed as an evolutionary advantage for our species. Consider the notion that you actually enjoy living life because you sense consciousness; that you might even feel that life is worth living because you sense consciousness. If consciousness is an illusion of a vastly complex neural network, it might have been the key evolutionary survival skill required to insure that our species actually wanted to keep on keeping on when times got rough.

Even if you think these considerations are entirely incorrect, it is certainly still an important approach to cracking consciousness and must be addressed and entertained. We have a long way to go to empirically understand our conscious selves, and we need to work through all of the questions that might be put on the table…

“Questioning Consciousness” :: Seed Magazine :: January 28, 2008 :: [ READ ]

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Last updated October 26, 2021