This thread will serve as a critique of Daniel Dennett's book entitled "Consciousness Explained" (more specifically, it will focus on his explanation for the emergence of consciousness as found on pages 173-176 of Chapter 7)
I have asked repeatedly for materialists on this particular forum to explain to me how insentient bits of matter in motion give rise to sentient bits of matter in motion. The standard response is: "Consciousness is an emergent property." But this isn't really a scientific theory or a materialistic explanation. It's simply an evasive tactic. I would simply prefer the honest reply: "I don't know how. My belief in materialism is ultimately based on a faith commitment."
In his book entitled "Consciousness Explained," philosopher Daniel Dennett states that if your model of consciousness requires that "you have to say "then a miracle" occurs you haven't begun to explain what consciousness is." pg. 455
I basically agree with this sentiment. However, I would hasten to add one qualification: this holds true only for those who would seek to explain the emergence of consciousness based on a strictly materialistic worldview. Certainly, there are explanations based on other worldviews where miracles can be invoked. You may not find such a tactic to be a very compelling argument. But, nevertheless, it is an explanation. Also, there are other worldviews where consciousness is posited simply as a brute fact of existence or as a fundamental aspect of nature; and therefore, it does not require an explanation. In other words, consciousness simply is. This is the view that I personally subscribe to. Now, if you take issue with this, then I would argue that materialists make the same assumption for the existence of the physical world. And if you counter this by arguing: "No, they don't, " then I will kindly ask you to explain to me how and from whence did the physical world emerge.
Dennett stated that his purpose for writing the book was to give a materialistic account of consciousness. In my opinion, he didn't achieve his objective. To put it bluntly, he failed miserably. His arguments were deliberately evasive, specious, and contradictory. At times, he appeared to be arguing for what can only be described as a form of panpsychism (the view that minds or conscious experiences constitute the fundamental units of reality). This is not materialism. At other times, he seemed to be denying the very exisentence of consciousness itself. This is materialism, and it is a particular pernicious form of it known as "eliminative materialism." To say that his arguments were simply bizzare would be a gross understatement. They were convoluted, intentionally vague, and just plain unintelligible. In the following I will focus on one egregious example of this obscurantism.
In Chapter 7 (entitled "The Evolution of Consciousness" ), Dennett makes a spurious argument for the emergence of consciousness in the evolutionary process. He simply ascribes self-awareness to the first replicators (i.e. the self-replicating molecular systems in the primordial soup).
But, as we have seen, the point of view of a conscious observer is not identical to, but a sophisticated descendent of, the primordial points of view of the first replicators who divided their worlds into good and bad. (After all, even plants have points of view in this primordial sense.)
(source: pg. 176, "Consciousness Explained" by Daniel Dennett)
What is his "scientific" and "materialistic" explanation for how the first replicators acquired these "points of view?"
"The first reasons preexisted their own recognition. Indeed, the first problem faced by the first problem-facers was to learn how to recognize and act on the reasons that their very existence brought into existence."
(source: pg. 174, "Consciousness Explained" by Daniel Dennett)
Just in case you didn't get it, I will break down the statement for you. The first problem-facers (i.e. the first self-replicating molecular systems) had a problem to solve. And what exactly was this problem? Answer: "To learn how to recognize and act on the reasons that their very existence brought into existence." <== Does anyone here actually think this qualifies as an adequate explanation for the emergence of consciousness? Puhlease! This is where I would insert "then a MIRACLE occurs!" What makes this so laughable is that he has boldly and audaciously proclaimed that he will explain consciousness in materialistic terms. Four-hundred and sixty-eight painfully tedious pages of self-absorbed reflections and bloviated meanderings and this is the nearest thing he offers to the reader as a materialistic explanation for the emergence of consicousness. It's pathetic!
Also, I feel obligated to point out one glaring fact. Ascribing sentience to the first replicators is flirting dangerously with panpsychism. True, he did not ascribe conscious awareness to subatomic particles and molecules. But this compels me to ask the question: Why not? Why not ascribe conscious awareness to the fundamental building blocks of nature? This is what David Bohm (eminent quantum physicist) did. And I would argue that his explanation actually has the backing of science, namely quantum theory.
"Even an electron has at least a rudimentary mental pole, resperesented mathematically by the quantum potential."
(source: pg. 387 "The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory" by David Bohm and B.J. Hiley)
Moreover, there are eminent scientists (e.g. Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose, and Henry Stapp) who have formulated quantum mind theories which are based not only on quantum theory and neuroscience but also on the process metaphysics (one form of panpsychism) of A. N. Whitehead (mathematician and physicist who co-authored the "Principia Mathematica" with Bertrand Russell).
Now, if we assume that consciousness is fundamental, then it doesn't take much imagination to craft a hypothesis how the first replicators formed self-awareness. Subatomic particles emerge from the quantum void (a field of consciousness) with a rudimentary form of mentality. Atoms (which are composed of the basic subparticles) constitute the next level of consciousness. Molecules and macromolecules constitute the next levels. And if we invoke autocatalytic sets and the self-organizing principle based on the mathematics of chaos theory, we can easily imagine how a higher-level mind known affectionately as a "replicator" emerged from lower-level minds (i.e. molecules in the primordial soup).
"Scientists animated by the purpose of proving they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study." - Alfred North Whitehead