Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 227–247 | Cite as

Consciousness or the Art of Foul Play

  • Bob Bermond


The psychological literature about consciousness has been analyzed. It is argued that:

1) Only the higher symbolic cognitive powers like the ability to keep secrets, knowledge of self or self-consciousness, a long-term view on the future, the ability to determine long-term goals, and to freely plan future behavior, add positive fitness-value to consciousness. Without these higher intellectual abilities consciousness will have only negative fitness value and no positive one. The intellectual powers mentioned may therefore be considered as prerequisites for consciousness. Consciousness may therefore only be expected in those animal species that show these capacities in their behavior. So far these capacities have only been described for the anthropoid apes and humans. For the time being, they are therefore the only species in which consciousness may be expected.

2) Consciousness is not synchronous with real time. Human consciousness is, in as well in the perception of stimuli as in the experience of free will to act, most times running after the facts.

3) Consciousness has to be viewed as an instinct that has been developed late in evolution. It is partially based upon primarily innate neural circuits, fulfilling specialized cognitive functions by which information is interpreted and inferences are made, in a more or less automatical way.

4) Most information processing concerning daily decisions,is done by parallel non-consciously functioning neural modules using ‘sloppy logic’, and only the end-product of these modules can be pushed forwards to consciousness. For this reason consciousness will, most times, lack the necessary information to come to the correct inferences about the evaluations on which the decision is based. Therefore, only rarely will people have insight into their cognitive processes or the real sources of their behavior. When asked why they behaved as they did, they will produce confabulations. However, people's erroneous reports are not capricious, but regular and systematic in such a way that they will fit the pre-existing ideas and beliefs. The contents of these reports are therefore not based upon introspection, but, most times, on (sub)culturally accepted ideas.

Consciousness fitness-value and foul play 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bob Bermond
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of PsychologyUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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