Posted: Aug 11, 2017 9:06 am
by zoon
GrahamH wrote:
romansh wrote:
That would imply qualia are a relativity new development in the evolutionary time scale ... developed with language to tell stories. I am reminded of Jayne's Bicameral Mind.

edit added new

I would assume it's much older than humans or language but maybe it's related to living in social groups. A theory of mind seems like a handy trait to have in social groups (heards, troupes etc) for finding effective behaviour. It might be that an organism needs be able to work out what others sense know or intend before such an understanding of self is useful and the mechanisms of doing that could become adapted to self modeling. Zoon posts about this a lot. Read Graziano on attribution of consciousness.

Thanks for the opening, I was planning to jump in with that point. It has become apparent that human brains are heavily wired for social thinking. Hominin brains have tripled in size over the last few million years, and humans are far more intensely social than our nearest living relatives, it would be surprising if those facts were not connected. As Graziano says on his Princeton website here (in connection with his own theory of attributing attention):
Another use of an internal model of attention is to model the attentional state of other individuals to gain better prediction of their behavior. We suggest that in the human brain, similar and partly overlapping mechanisms attribute awareness to oneself and attribute awareness to others.

It is not clear when in evolution the social attribution of awareness began to emerge. The accompanying diagram places it at the start of primate evolution, 65 million years ago (MYA), but it could have begun much earlier. Perhaps most birds and mammals have some ability to attribute awareness to each other. Another possibility is that the social use of awareness expanded much later with hominins, beginning about 6 MYA. Now, in humans, consciousness plays a major role in social and cultural capability. We paint the world with perceived consciousness. Family, friends, pets, spirits, gods, these are all suffused with attributions of consciousness.

Social neuroscience is now a scientific discipline in its own right, teasing out the many brain processes involved. Many of these processes are automatic, the mirror system is not a separate part of a human brain, it’s all over it, and experiments show how immediately our brains’ understanding of other people’s thinking affects our responses, as discussed for example in a 2016 book chapter here, “The social function of the human mirror system: a motor chauvinist view.”

For humans, effective social interaction involves tracking what other individuals are thinking, remembering who knows (or believes) what and updating it in real time. It seems to me that this is where qualia come in, when we see a red bus in a busy street, we’re not just seeing the bus, our brains are also tracking the other people seeing the bus, it’s not just about the bus-in-itself, but the way other people are likely to respond to it. For example, the colour red may attract attention more than other colours, as described in a 2015 article here, "The color red attracts attention in an emotional context. An ERP study." As a human, I have inside information that other people are likely to have the same extra response to red that I have, this isn’t something I need to consider, my brain comes to that conclusion automatically. As I see it, a red quale comes with heightened attention, this is useful when thinking about what other people are likely to do. The extra jolt of attention attached to a red quale is not directly to do with the wavelength of light or the physical properties of the bus, it’s the human reaction, and it’s one that human brains have evolved to track because it improves social effectiveness.