The Privatization of Sensation

Humphrey, Nicholas (2000) The Privatization of Sensation. [Book Chapter]

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It is the ambition of evolutionary psychology to explain how the basic features of human mental life came to be selected because of their contribution to biological survival. Counted among the most basic must be the subjective qualities of conscious sensory experience: the felt redness we experience on looking at a ripe tomato, the felt saltiness on tasting an anchovy, the felt pain on being pricked by a thorn. But, as many theorists acknowledge, with these qualia, the ambition of evolutionary psychology may have met its match. Everyone agrees that a trait can only contribute to an organism's biological survival in so far as it operates in the public domain. Yet almost everyone also agrees that the subjective quality of sensory experience is (at least for all practical purposes) private and without external influence. Then, maybe we must either concede that the subjective quality of sensations cannot after all have been determined by selection (even if this is theoretically depressing) or else demonstrate that the quality of sensations is not as private as it seems to be (even if this is intuitively unconvincing). No. I believe neither of these solutions to the puzzle is in fact the right one. I argue instead that the truth is that the quality of sensations has indeed been shaped by selection in the past, despite the fact that it is today effectively private. And this situation has come about as a result of a remarkable evolutionary progression, whereby the primitive activity of sensing slowly became "privatized" - that is to say, removed from the domain of overt public behavior and transformed into a mental activity that is now, in humans, largely if not exclusively internal to the subject's mind.

Item Type:Book Chapter
Keywords:sensations, qualia, consciousness, evolution
Subjects:Biology > Animal Cognition
Biology > Evolution
Psychology > Cognitive Psychology
Philosophy > Philosophy of Mind
Psychology > Perceptual Cognitive Psychology
Psychology > Evolutionary Psychology
ID Code:2868
Deposited By: Humphrey, Nicholas
Deposited On:15 Apr 2003
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:55

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