Abstract Details

The Case Against Consciousness  Keith Frankish (Adjunct Professor, The Brain and Mind Program, The University of Crete, Honorary Reader In Philosophy, The University of Sheffield, UK, Sheffield UK and Heraklion, Cr, Greece)   PL2

The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of understanding the relation between physical processes in the brain and phenomenal consciousness. Donald Hoffman uses evolutionary considerations to argue for a radical solution. He argues that natural selection shaped our perceptual abilities to promote fitness rather than veridical representation, and that the world we experience is merely an interface on a more fundamental reality, which consists of a community of consciousnesses. There is therefore no problem of how consciousness arises from the physical: consciousness is fundamental, and the physical world is an adaptive illusion generated by it. Now, I strongly agree with Hoffman that we should approach the problem of consciousness from an evolutionary perspective, but I shall argue that such considerations motivate a very different conclusion. The key point is that introspection, too, is an evolved ability and that we should no more expect it to produce veridical representation for its own sake than we expect exteroception to do so. Our beliefs about our own consciousness, I shall argue, are the product of mechanisms of self-monitoring and self-modelling that are designed to serve specific adaptive purposes. Following Daniel Dennett, I shall employ a version of the same metaphor that Hoffman uses. We can think of consciousness as an evolved neural interface, a user illusion, which provides the brain with distorted, highly schematic information about its own processes, adapted to the needs of control and communication. Our sense that we have a mysterious, non-physical form of consciousness (phenomenal consciousness) is a side-effect of these internal informational processes, coupled with some natural but misguided philosophical reflection on them. This offers a solution to the hard problem that is the inverse of Hoffman?s: there is no problem of explaining how phenomenal consciousness is produced by the physical brain, since it is illusory. Despite this radical difference, however, I shall conclude by stressing a second fundamental point of agreement between Hoffman and me. We both agree that we cannot solve the hard problem on the cheap, while holding onto our pre-theoretical intuitions about both the physical world and consciousness. Something has to give. What is it to be?