Evolution for whom?

David J. Hosken
2012 Trends in Ecology & Evolution  
There is now a huge amount of interest in consciousness among scientists as well as philosophers, yet there is so much confusion and ambiguity in all the claims and counter-claims that it is hard to tell whether any progress is being made. This "position paper" suggests that we can make progress by temporarily putting to one side questions about what consciousness is or which animals or machines have it or how it evolved. Instead we should focus on questions about the sorts of architectures
more » ... are possible for behaving systems and ask what sorts of capabilities, states and processes, might be supported by different sorts of architectures. We can then ask which organisms and machines have which sorts of architectures. This combines the standpoint of philosopher, biologist and engineer. If we can find a general theory of the variety of possible architectures (a characterisation of "design-space") and the variety of environments, tasks and roles to which such architectures are well suited (a characterisation of "niche-space") we may be able to use such a theory as a basis for formulating new more precisely defined concepts with which to articulate less ambiguous questions about the space of possible minds. For instance our initially ill-defined concept ("consciousness") might split into a collection of more precisely defined concepts which can be used to ask unambiguous questions with definite answers. As a first step this paper explores a collection of conjectures regarding architectures and their evolution. In particular we explore architectures involving a combination of coexisting architectural levels including: (a) reactive mechanisms which evolved very early, (b) deliberative mechanisms which evolved later in response to pressures on information processing resources and (c) meta-management mechanisms that can explicitly inspect evaluate and modify some of the contents of various "internal" information structures. It is conjectured that in response to the needs of these layers, perceptual and action subsystems also developed layers, and also that an "alarm" system which initially existed only within the reactive layer may have become increasingly sophisticated and extensive as its inputs and outputs were linked to the newer layers. Processes involving the meta-management layer in the architecture could explain the origin of the notion of "qualia". Processes involving the "alarm" mechanism and mechanisms concerned with resource limits in the second and third layers gives us an explanation of three main forms of emotion, helping to account for some of the ambiguities which have bedevilled the study of emotion. Theoretical and practical benefits may come from further work based on this designbased approach to consciousness. A deeper longer term implication is the possibility of a new science investigating laws governing possible trajectories in design-space and niche-space, as these form parts of high order feedback loops in the biosphere.
doi:10.1016/j.tree.2011.10.003 fatcat:5xwy4ytwcnfpfgtwqtvk4zivy4