Mittwoch, 13. April 2016

"the function of consciousness is to provide a uniquely effective foresight"

>There have been few efforts to characterize the human psyche in terms useful to those who would understand and reconstruct its functional aspects from a modern evolutionary viewpoint (but see Premack and Woodruff 1978; Griffin 1978; Savage-Rumbaugh et al. 1978, and the accompanying commentaries). I think the key argument (Humphrey 1976, 1978, 1983; Alexander 1979, 1987) is that consciousness represents a system of (1) building scenarios or constructing possible (imagined) alternatives; (2) testing and adjusting them according to different projected circumstances; and (3) eventually using them according to whatever circumstances actually arise. Earlier, I referred to such abilities as the capacity to over-ride immediate rewards and punishments in the interests of securing greater rewards visualized in the future (Alexander 1987). In this view, consciousness, cognition, and related attributes - which probably represent the core of the problem in understanding the human psyche - have their value in social matters, and the operation of consciousness can be compared to the planning that takes place in a game in which the moves of the other players cannot be known with certainty ahead of time. In other words, by this hypothesis, the function of consciousness is to provide a uniquely effective foresight, originally functional (sensu Williams 1966) in social matters, but obviously useful, eventually, in all manner of life circumstances. I will argue (below) that the emotions, linguistic ability, and personality traits are primarily communicative devices, hence, also social in their function. The above view of the psyche is compatible with that of cognitive psychologists, such as Neisser (1976). Cognitive psychologists, however, concentrate more on mechanisms than on function, and so the idea that the use of cognition might have evolved explicitly in the context of social competition seems not to have emerged in their arguments. Nevertheless, Neisser's insistence on use of the concept of 'schemata' as plans, representing what is here called scenario-building, is a close parallel to Humphrey's arguments and my own. It is clear that a merging of ideas is likely to be easy, and profitable.<

Richard D. Alexander (1989)

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