Terrence Deacon (1997: 458) proposes two empirical factors that support the notion that “we genuinely are self-determining and intentional creatures”:
- Operations in the brain are evolutionary rather than genetically determined. They “are not prespecified.”
- “Evolution is the one kind of process able to produce something out of nothing.”
Deacon qualifies this by stating that “adaptive structural information” in the brain is created “where none previously existed.” There is a self-referential aspect—and wholesome circularity—to this:
there is no clear dividing line between neural signal processing and neural architecture in a system where the circuits are created by patterns of neural processing.
For Deacon, recognizing that “an evolutionary process is an origination process” is the key to understanding subjective experience and self-determination: He concludes that:
we do not need to explain away the subjective experience. We are what we experience ourselves to be. Our self-experience of intentions and will are not epiphenomenal illusions. They are what we should expect an evolution-like process to feel like!
Deacon, Terrence (1997) The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. W.W Norton and Company, New York.
Edelman (2004: 11) attempts to bridge “the so-called explanatory gap” between scientifically perusable brain anatomy and physiology “in the material world” and “the properties of qualia-laden experience.” Edelman concedes (2004: 63) that:
first-person experience is not written in transferable currency that is completely negotiable by a third-person scientific observer.
Although qualia are not entirely negotiable, useful headway can be made. For Edelman (2004: 6, 63):
[T]here can be no direct or collective sharing of that individual’s unique and historical conscious experience. But this does not mean that it is impossible to isolate the salient features of that experience by observation, experiment and report.
It boils down to the powerful truism that:
The dynamic structural origin of properties, even conscious properties, need not resemble the properties it gives rise to: an explosion does not resemble an explosive.
Edelman presents a comprehensive model of brain development and functionality called Neural Darwinism—or TNGS (Theory of Neuronal Group Selection). For Edelman (2004: 24), decades of experiment and imaging evidence suggest that consciousness is entailed—rather than caused—by:
reentrant activity among cortical areas and the thalamus and by the cortex interacting with itself and with subcortical structures.
Edelman, Gerald M. (2004) Wider than the Sky: the Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
Edelman, Gerald M. (2006) Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
James, William (1904) Does 'Consciousness' Exist? Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods: 1, 477-491.