Perception and consciousness: an evolutionary approach

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The aim of this thesis is to trace the development of perceptual systems, and what we could call 'perceptual consciousness' within the wider context of an evolutionary perspective. An underlying motivation is that theories which treat perception as exclusively informational may be rendered incomplete by their failure to deal with the 'experiential' aspects of perception. It is argued that with increasing sophistication of the perceptual systems comes a complexity of behavioural repetoires such that explanations of the behaviours of complex organisms are best dealt with from an intentional stance, and that only from within an intentional stance can we meaningfully ascribe consciousness to an individual. Chapter One traces the evolution of perceptual systems from their origins in simple phototropic mechanisms to the more anatomically and functionally coMplex systems. The 'hard wiring' observed in simpler creatures preludes flexibility of response with the consequence that increased flexibility requires the 'decoupling' of perceptual from motor systems and the development of a 'representation' at the interface of those systems. Chapter Two deals with the 'evolution' of 'consciousness' and surveys the origins and the variety of contemporary uses of 'conscious' and 'consciousness'. Chapter Three discusses the claim that we should abandon these terms and replace them with a more finely grained conceptual framework. A revisionist rather than an eliminativist strategy is proposed, with the caveat that care is taken in specifying the subject of consciousness. Chapter Four takes the results of the preceding two chapters and applies them to non-humans. It is concluded that any system towards which we can adopt an intentional stance can be said to be conscious, but that this sense of 'conscious' is very liberal and somewhat uninteresting. A taxonomy that limits phenomenal perception to those individuals who are 'self- conscious' is taken to be mistaken, and that phenomenal perception falls across the border of any simple dichotomy of consciousness3 and consciousness 4.
Bibliography: p. 131-138.
Cunningham, M. N. (1986). Perception and consciousness: an evolutionary approach (Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/17076