Am I missing something here? If contra-causal free will does not exist–and most non-dualist philosophers and scientists insist that it doesn’t, then how did consciousness ever evolve?
It’s logically possible that we could all be zombies–though we’re not–without the least harm to our survival as a species, running complex behavioral algorithms without being conscious of what we’re doing, as bees and ants and computers do. If free will is an illusion–if what’s really going on in the cosmos is just determinate atoms jostling positions from moment to moment, what’s consciousness doing, but hitching a ride?
From an evolutionary vantage, what could consciousness possibly be for if it has no pre-existing terrain of mind or matter on which to adapt itself, assisting the survival of Homo sapiens? (Perhaps I’m sounding too Platonic here.)
Natural selection needs an environment for its organisms to adapt to. Wings need wind to adapt to, fins water, feet land, eyes light, etc. You don’t evolve wings in a vacuum, or feet absent land, or armor absent war. But what terrain has awareness been adapting to in primates and becoming ever more acute in navigating (especially if, again, we don’t have contra-causal free will)?
Awareness is not adapting to social interaction because, if we have no free will, all our social interactions are being orchestrated by algorithms beneath conscious awareness, prior to conscious acts of will. We become aware of conscious states and desires already worked out beneath awareness.
This is from Don DeLillo’s novel, White Noise:
Who knows what I want to do? Who knows what anyone wants to do? How can you be sure about something like that? Isn’t it all a question of brain chemistry, signals going back and forth, electrical energy in the cortex? How do you know whether something is really what you want to do or just some kind of nerve impulse in the brain? Some minor little activity takes place somewhere in this unimportant place in one of the brain hemispheres and suddenly I want to go to Montana or I don’t want to go to Montana.
How did so helpless a creature as DeLillo perfectly captures (that is, all of us) ever reach consciousness? Our bodies and brains, it would seem, are fully capable of making decisions and acting as they do with or without consciousness. Consciousness is an apologist for what matter does, not its conductor. Again, we might just as well be zombies. And yet here we are. Consciousness evolved.
Or perhaps it is a total fluke that consciousness emerged–a fluke of complexity–and it is here absent natural selection, a stunning accident.
But wait. Maybe contra-causal free will is a real phenomenon after all, making the evolution of consciousness more plausible. How is it, for example, that physics deals with mind as a “quantum enigma” that seems to effect the outcome of material experiments (as in the Schrodinger’s Cat-type experiments)? And why do we have what may be the illusion of free will, but which seems for all the world to us like our minds are moving material things around, that we are “wills in the world?”
And, of course, there’s the issue of qualia. How on earth did the inner experience of red evolve? Did such a conscious experience simply jump into existence out of nowhere, or did it slowly evolve? What good is a vague conscious experience of red to an organism if contra-causal free will does not exist; if information can be exchange among chemical reactions without benefit of a mental experience? Why would a configuration of atoms outside the skull meeting a configuration of atoms in the skull give you the conscious experience of red? Did natural selection achieve this slowly, or is it just in the nature of things to pop into existence (as water is consciously experienced from H20 molecules in a particular concentration)?
Again, whence consciousness in a strictly material, non-dual world?
A determinate material universe with a mind popping out of it–any mind at all–is stunning. And a consciousness that is actually not doing anything that impacts the course of living matter, and yet still exists, is more stunning still. The questions raised by it are difficult (to say the least).
Maybe the physicist Andrei Linde is right. According to Discover magazine, Linde is reported to entertain a mind dependent cosmos:
[C]onsciousness may be a fundamental component of the universe, much like space and time. He [Linde] wonders whether the physical universe, its laws, and conscious observers might form an integrated whole. A complete description of reality, he says, could require all three of those components, which he posits emerged simultaneously.
If Linde is correct, what does this mean for our understanding of the evolution of mind in animals? If mind is not a fluke of matter, but something that has always been “in the air” from the beginning with space and time, then the evolution of animals with awareness may be akin to the evolution of land animals and migratory birds. Things that already exist–land, magnetic north, mind–are being discovered and exploited by life.
In other words, just as land-dwelling animals do not create land, and migratory birds do not create magnetic north, perhaps the human brain does not generate mind, but stumbles upon it–taps into it–and so makes use of its existence as a strategy for survival.
Below are two videos: one of Madonna singing “Material Girl” and the other of Marina, of Marina and the Diamonds, singing (apparently ignorantly, if most physicists and biologists are to be believed) “I Am Not a Robot.” If consciousness is not, along with space and time, a “fundamental component of the universe,” and we live in a completely material world and are in fact robots–machines driven by determinate chemical reactions consisting of determinate physical atoms–then how could we have ever evolved awareness?