ISBN: 9780262351096 | 640 pp. | February 2019

The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul

Learning and the Origins of Consciousness

What marked the evolutionary transition from organisms that lacked consciousness to those with consciousness—to minimal subjective experiencing, or, as Aristotle described it, “the sensitive soul”? In this book, Simona Ginsburg and Eva Jablonka propose a new theory about the origin of consciousness that finds learning to be the driving force in the transition to basic consciousness. Using a methodology similar to that used by scientists when they identified the transition from non-life to life, Ginsburg and Jablonka suggest a set of criteria, identify a marker for the transition to minimal consciousness, and explore the far-reaching biological, psychological, and philosophical implications.
After presenting the historical, neurobiological, and philosophical foundations of their analysis, Ginsburg and Jablonka propose that the evolutionary marker of basic or minimal consciousness is a complex form of associative learning, which they term unlimited associative learning (UAL). UAL enables an organism to ascribe motivational value to a novel, compound, non-reflex-inducing stimulus or action, and use it as the basis for future learning. Associative learning, Ginsburg and Jablonka argue, drove the Cambrian explosion and its massive diversification of organisms. Finally, Ginsburg and Jablonka propose symbolic language as a similar type of marker for the evolutionary transition to human rationality—to Aristotle’s “rational soul.”

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
  2. Acknowledgments
  3. Figure Credits
  4. I. Introduction to Part I: Rationale and Foundations
  5. 1. Goal-Directed Systems: An Evolutionary Approach to Life and Consciousness
  6. 2. The Organization and Evolution of the Mind: From Lamarck to the Neuroscience of Consciousness
  7. 3. The Emergentist Consensus: Neurobiological Perspectives
  8. 4. A Biological Bridge across the Qualia Gap?
  9. 5. The Distribution Question: Which Animals Are Conscious?
  10. II. Introduction to Part II: Major Transitions in the Evolution of the Mind
  11. 6. The Neural Transition and the Building Blocks of Minimal Consciousness
  12. 7. The Transition to Associative Learning: The First Stage
  13. 8. The Transition to Unlimited Associative Learning: How the Dice Became Loaded
  14. 9. The Cambrian Explosion and Its Soulful Ramifications
  15. 10. The Golem's Predicament
  16. Notes
  17. References
  18. Index