Adaptive complexity and phenomenal consciousness

Shaun Nichols, Todd Grantham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Arguments about the evolutionary function of phenomenal consciousness are beset by the problem of epiphenomenalism. For if it is not clear whether phenomenal consciousness has a causal role, then it is difficult to begin an argument for the evolutionary role of phenomenal consciousness. We argue that complexity arguments offer a way around this problem. According to evolutionary biology, the structural complexity of a given organ can provide evidence that the organ is an adaptation, even if nothing is known about the causal role of the organ. Evidence from cognitive neuropsychology suggests that phenomenal consciousness is structurally complex in the relevant way, and this provides prima facie evidence that phenomenal consciousness is an adaptation. Furthermore, we argue that the complexity of phenomenal consciousness might also provide clues about the causal role of phenomenal consciousness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)648-670
Number of pages23
JournalPhilosophy of Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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