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Is Consciousness a Spandrel?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 June 2015



Determining the biological function of phenomenal consciousness appears necessary to explain its origin: evolution by natural selection operates on organisms’ traits based on the biological functions they fulfill. But identifying the function of phenomenal consciousness has proven difficult. Some have proposed that the function of phenomenal consciousness is to facilitate mental processes such as reasoning or learning. But mental processes such as reasoning and learning seem to be possible in the absence of phenomenal consciousness. It is difficult to pinpoint in what way phenomenal consciousness enhances these processes or others like them. In this paper, we explore a possibility that has been neglected to date. Perhaps phenomenal consciousness has no function of its own because it is either a by-product of other traits or a (functionless) accident. If so, then phenomenal consciousness has an evolutionary explanation even though it fulfills no biological function.

Copyright © American Philosophical Association 2015 

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