Genetics and Evolution
Resources

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
A Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Mind So RareA Natural History of RapeAcquiring GenomesAdapting MindsAgeing, Health and CareAlas, Poor DarwinAn Introduction to Evolutionary EthicsAncient Bodies, Modern LivesAnimal ArchitectsAping MankindAre We Hardwired?Bang!BehavingBeyond EvolutionBeyond GeneticsBlood MattersBody BazaarBoneBrain Evolution and CognitionBrain StormBrave New BrainBrave New WorldsChoosing ChildrenCloneCloningConceptual Issues in Evolutionary BiologyConsciousness EvolvingContemporary Debates in Philosophy of BiologyControlling Our DestiniesCooperation and Its EvolutionCreatures of AccidentDarwin Loves YouDarwin's Brave New WorldDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin's UniverseDarwin's WormsDarwinian ConservatismDarwinian PsychiatryDarwinism and its DiscontentsDarwinism as ReligionDebating DesignDecoding DarknessDefenders of the TruthDo We Still Need Doctors?Doubting Darwin?Early WarningEngineering the Human GermlineEnhancing EvolutionEnoughEntwined LivesEthical Issues in Human CloningEthical Issues in the New GeneticsEvil GenesEvolutionEvolutionEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorEvolution and LearningEvolution and ReligionEvolution and the Human MindEvolution in MindEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolution: The Modern SynthesisEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Origins of MoralityEvolutionary PsychiatryEvolutionary PsychologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolutionary Psychology as Maladapted PsychologyExploding the Gene MythFaces of Huntington'sFlesh of My FleshFrom Chance to ChoiceFrom Darwin to HitlerGenesGenes in ConflictGenes on the CouchGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Women, EqualityGenetic Nature/CultureGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetic SecretsGenetics of Criminal and Antisocial BehaviourGenetics of Mental DisordersGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenomeGenomeGenome: Updated EditionGenomes and What to Make of ThemGlowing GenesHow Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So StoriesHuman CloningHuman Evolution, Reproduction, and MoralityImproving Nature?In Our Own ImageIn Pursuit of the GeneIn the Name of GodIngenious GenesInheritanceInside the Human GenomeInside the O'BriensIntegrating Evolution and DevelopmentIntelligence, Race, and GeneticsIs Human Nature Obsolete?Language OriginsLess Than HumanLiberal EugenicsLiving with Our GenesMaking Genes, Making WavesMaking Sense of EvolutionMan As The PrayerMean GenesMenMood GenesMoral OriginsMothers and OthersNature Via NurtureNever Let Me GoNot By Genes AloneOf Flies, Mice, and MenOn the Origin of StoriesOrigin of MindOrigins of Human NatureOrigins of PsychopathologyOur Posthuman FuturePhilosophy of BiologyPlaying God?Playing God?Portraits of Huntington'sPrimates and PhilosophersPromiscuityPsychiatric Genetics and GenomicsPsychologyQuality of Life and Human DifferenceRe-creating MedicineRedesigning HumansResearch Advances in Genetics and GenomicsResponsible GeneticsResponsible GeneticsScience, Seeds and CyborgsSex and WarSociological Perspectives on the New GeneticsStrange BedfellowsStrange BehaviorSubjects of the WorldSubordination and DefeatThe Age of EmpathyThe Agile GeneThe Ape and the Sushi MasterThe Biotech CenturyThe Blank SlateThe Book of LifeThe Bridge to HumanityThe Case Against PerfectionThe Case for PerfectionThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Century of the GeneThe Common ThreadThe Concept of the Gene in Development and EvolutionThe Debated MindThe Double-Edged HelixThe Epidemiology of SchizophreniaThe Ethics of Human CloningThe Evolution of CooperationThe Evolution of MindThe Evolution of MindThe Evolved ApprenticeThe Evolving WorldThe Fact of EvolutionThe Folly of FoolsThe Future of Human NatureThe God GeneThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Impact of the GeneThe Innate MindThe Innate MindThe Innate Mind: Volume 3The Limits and Lies of Human Genetic ResearchThe Lives of the BrainThe Maladapted MindThe Meme MachineThe Misunderstood GeneThe Moral, Social, and Commercial Imperatives of Genetic Testing and ScreeningThe Most Dangerous AnimalThe New Genetic MedicineThe Nurture AssumptionThe Origin and Evolution of CulturesThe Origins of FairnessThe Paradoxical PrimateThe Perfect BabyThe Robot's RebellionThe Selfish GeneThe Shape of ThoughtThe Shattered SelfThe Stem Cell ControversyThe Story WithinThe Stuff of LifeThe Talking ApeThe Temperamental ThreadThe Terrible GiftThe Theory of OptionsThe Top 10 Myths About EvolutionThe Triple HelixThe Triumph of SociobiologyThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaTwinsUnderstanding CloningUnderstanding the GenomeUnnatural SelectionUnto OthersUp From DragonsWar Against the WeakWhat Genes Can't DoWhat It Means to Be 98 Percent ChimpanzeeWho Owns YouWhose View of Life?Why Evolution Is TrueWhy Think? WondergenesWrestling with Behavioral GeneticsYour Genetic Destiny

Related Topics
Consciousness EvolvingReview - Consciousness Evolving
Advances in Consciousness Research, volume 34.
by James H. Fetzer (Editor)
John Benjamins, 2002
Review by Paul Gatto
Feb 27th 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 9)

Consciousness Evolving is a collection of essays purportedly on the evolution of consciousness. The introduction to this volume begins with the sentence, “An adequate understanding of the evolution of consciousness presupposes an adequate understanding of evolution, on the one hand, and of consciousness, on the other.”  It continues, “The former, alas, appears to be more readily achieved than the latter.”  It is certainly the case that evolution is more clearly defined and understood, theoretically and practically, than consciousness, for which we have no adequate definition much less a theory.  One result of this, I think, is that Consciousness Evolving is a collection of good essays, but not a particularly good collection of essays.

What’s the difference?  All eleven academic essays included in this collection (I am including the contributions mysteriously called the “Prologue” and “Epilogue”) are well-written and interesting to varying degrees.  In that, they are good essays, meriting publication in academic journals, for example.  However, as a collection, in which a variety of perspectives on the relations between evolution and consciousness are offered in a coherent fashion, this book is poor.  It fails to give its essays a principled structure, such that they are grouped around pivotal issues regarding the evolution of consciousness.

What structure it does have looks like this: there are three sections, of three essays each, entitled “Part I: Natural consciousness,” “Part II: Special adaptations,” and “Part III:  Artificial consciousness.”  Part I is concerned with the sort of consciousness which might have been produced by natural selection, whereas Part III considers the prospects for artificially selected for consciousness; i.e., the possibility of consciousness in robots.  Part II, curiously placed between the other sections, does not seem to me, at least, to have a unifying theme (though it is described on the book’s back cover as concerning “special capacities involving language, creativity, and mentality as candidates for evolved adaptations”).  These essays are, in turn, concerned with: 

(1) the prospects for classical theories of mind by examining the “evolvability” of a “language of thought”—which is a notion pivotal to classical, computational theories of mind (which hold that the mind is functionally equivalent to software being run on our gray matter hardware) (James Garson’s “Evolution, Consciousness, and the Language of Thought”);

(2) the development of creativity as a solution to the puzzle of why phenomenal consciousness (subjective experience) evolved (Bringsjord and Noel’s “Why did Evolution Engineer Consciousness?”); and, (3) an argument for idealism over dualism and materialism (Stephen Clark’s “Nothing without Mind”).

These sections are flanked by contributed essays called “Prologue” and “Epilogue,” all of which is preceded by a brief introduction from the editor.  Ordinarily, the editor’s introduction should serve to provide a context for the contributor’s essays—relating them to each other, to specific issues, and to the literature in the field—and explicating the structure of their presentation, thereby providing a coherent picture of the contribution to the field made by the collection’s disparate essays.  Here, the editor’s introduction absolutely fails to perform any of these functions, instead mere summarizing the essays, often with their author’s own words (though, inexplicably, the authors are not often credited for those words).  The Prologue and Epilogue should likewise serve functions similar to that of the introduction, though here are simply two more essays.  Stevan Harnad’s essay “Turing Indistinguishability and the Blind Watchmaker” (here the Prologue) belongs in Part I, and Neil Tennant’s “The Future with Cloning: On the Possibility of Serial Immortality” (here the Epilogue) with fit more comfortably in Part III, if indeed it belongs anywhere in this volume.

One reason for the poverty of this collection’s scattered contribution to our understanding of the evolution of consciousness, perhaps the principal reason, is intimated in the above quotes from the introduction.  Consciousness means many things, ranging from simple awareness to robust phenomenological experience.  It is considered an obvious fact about us by some and an illusion by others.  And, it is significantly less well understood than evolution.  As a result, many of the essays contained herein concern themselves with consciousness—detailing various influential theories, different ways to define and understand consciousness, and so on—to the detriment of its relation to evolution. 

While it is true that no essay fails to discuss (or at least reference) evolution during its discussion of consciousness (though Graham and Horgan’s “Sensations and Grain Processes,” David Cole’s “The Function of Consciousness,” and Clark’s essay come close), many of the essays’ discussions of evolution in relation to consciousness are perfunctory.  If it were removed entirely, very little would be lost.  Exceptions to this include the aforementioned essays by Harnad, Garson, and Bringsjord and Noel, as well as Inman Harvey’s “Evolving Robot Consciousness: The Easy Problems and the Rest,” and Polger and Flanagan’s “Consciousness, Adaptation and Epiphenomenalism.”

Two of the three essays in “Part III: Artificial Consciousness”—Nolfi and Miglino’s “The Emergence of Grounded Representations: The Power and Limits of Sensory-Motor Coordination” and Dario Floreano’s “Ago Ergo Sum”—also provide limited discussion of the relation between consciousness and evolution, but in a different way.  Both of these interesting and provocative articles are concerned with new approaches robotics—behavior-based and evolutionary robotics—and the possibility of the development of consciousness in robots.  In this, these new approaches to robotics provide fascinating case studies for the evolutionary development of consciousness.  However, they concern themselves with very low-level consciousness (Floreano distinguishes this by calling it “proto-consciousness”), which is quite different from the robust and problematic phenomenal consciousness discussed by the other authors in this collection.  While this approach is sensible and responsible, it makes for a disconnection between these and the other essays in this volume.

Finally, Tennant’s closing essay on the possibility of immortality through serial cloning deserves special mention.  While this essay is called the “Epilogue,” it does nothing to provide closure or to otherwise tie together the disparate strands of this collection.  It also does not suffer the problem of emphasizing the puzzle of consciousness to the detriment of evolution.  On the contrary, it does not emphasize, or even consider, consciousness at all.  The very word “consciousness” appears once in the entire essay, in a sentence which, if it were removed from the essay, would not be missed.  Tennant’s musings on the evolutionary consequences of widespread reproductive cloning are thought provoking and entertaining, but their presence in this volume, let alone as its epilogue, is utterly mysterious.

This is not a criticism of Tennant’s essay.  Indeed, I have no qualms with any of these articles as such.  I may agree or disagree with the authors’ contentions, but they are typically well presented and worthwhile.  Some are excellent.  However, it remains unclear to me why they have been gathered together and presented as a discussion about the evolution of consciousness.

 

© 2003 Paul Gatto

 

Paul Gatto is completing his doctoral work at UC San Diego in epistemology and the philosophy of mind.


Share

Welcome to MHN's unique book review site Metapsychology. We feature over 7800 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than thirty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'


Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!


Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716