Published on Tue Aug 18 2020

On the Evolution of Subjective Experience

Jerome A. Feldman

Subjective Experience (SE) is part of the ancient mind-body problem, which continues to be one of deepest mysteries of science. Despite major advances in many fields, there is still no plausible causal link between SE and itsrealization in the body.

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Abstract

Subjective Experience (SE) is part of the ancient mind-body problem, which continues to be one of deepest mysteries of science. Despite major advances in many fields, there is still no plausible causal link between SE and its realization in the body. The core issue is the incompatibility of objective (3rd person) public science with subjective (1st person) private experience. Any scientific approach to SE assumes that it arose from extended evolutionary processes and that examining evolutionary history should help us understand it. While the core mystery remains, converging evidence from theoretical, experimental, and computational studies yields strong constraints on SE and some suggestions for further research. All animals confront many of the same fitness challenges. They all need some kind of internal model to relate their life goals and actionable sensed information to action. We understand the evolution of the bodily aspects of human perception and emotion, but not the SE. The first evolutionary evidence for SE appears in vertebrates and much of its neural substrate and simulation mechanism is preserved in mammals and humans. People exhibit the same phenomena, but there are remaining mysteries of everyday experience that are demonstrably incompatible with current neuroscience. In spite of this limitation, there is considerable progress on understanding the role of SE in the success of prostheses.

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