Consciousness as a Cognitive Resource Manager. An Evolutionary Hypothesis on the Proper Function of Consciousness

E. Onnis


For any biological trait, developing a good evolutionary explanation presents remarkable difficulties in relation to the adopted methodology, or definition of adaptation [1], and the frequent scarcity of empirical data [2; 3]. Furthermore, as far as mental phenomena are concerned, some philosophical theories such as Conscious Inessentialism [4], or the By-product Accident View [5] deny that the property of being conscious could have conferred any real selective advantage to organisms, making its evolutionary explanation even more arduous. Nonetheless, consciousness can reasonably be viewed as a useful tool that, from some point of phylogenesis onwards, contributed in some way to the fitness of its bearers. The main purpose of this paper, therefore, is to propose an evolutionary hypothesis about the proper function of consciousness. We will firstly define the notions of proper function and adaptive value. Then we will examine why having something like a conscious control core, no matter how basic or minimal, could be adaptively valuable, and we will do so through an analogy between this core and a digital resource manager (the operating system of advanced digital electronic devices). Finally, and in conclusion, we will formulate our hypothesis, which suggests that at some point of phylogenesis, cognitive unity emerged, and without it, no handling of complexity — and production of goal-directed behaviours — would appear to be possible.


consciousness; functions of consciousness; minimal consciousness; behaviour; environment; adaptivity; resource manager

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