On the Necessity of Consciousness for Sophisticated Human Action
AuthorBaumeister, RF; Lau, S; Maranges, HM; Clark, CJ
Source TitleFrontiers in Psychology
PublisherFRONTIERS MEDIA SA
University of Melbourne Author/sBaumeister, Roy
AffiliationMelbourne Graduate School of Education
Document TypeJournal Article
CitationsBaumeister, R. F., Lau, S., Maranges, H. M. & Clark, C. J. (2018). On the Necessity of Consciousness for Sophisticated Human Action. FRONTIERS IN PSYCHOLOGY, 9 (OCT), https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01925.
Access StatusOpen Access
In this essay, we aim to counter and qualify the epiphenomenalist challenge proposed in this special issue on the grounds of empirical and theoretical arguments. The current body of scientific knowledge strongly indicates that conscious thought is a necessary condition for many human behaviors, and therefore, consciousness qualifies as a cause of those behaviors. We review illustrative experimental evidence for the causal power of conscious thought while also acknowledging its natural limitations. We argue that it is implausible that the metabolic costs inherent to conscious processes would have evolved in humans without any adaptive benefits. Moreover, we discuss the relevance of conscious thought to the issue of freedom. Many accounts hold conscious thought as necessary and conducive to naturalistic conceptions of personal freedom. Apart from these theories, we show that the conscious perception of freedom and the belief in free will provide sources of interesting findings, beneficial behavioral effects, and new avenues for research. We close by proposing our own challenge via outlining the gaps that have yet to be filled to establish hard evidence of an epiphenomenal model of consciousness. To be sure, we appreciate the epiphenomenalist challenge as it promotes critical thinking and inspires rigorous research. However, we see no merit in downplaying the causal significance of consciousness a priori. Instead, we believe it more worthwhile to focus on the complex interplay between conscious and other causal processes.
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