Director, Institute for Prospective Cognition, Department of Psychology, Institute for Prospective Cognition, Illinois State University, Normal, IL, USA
ABSTRACT: It is becoming increasingly mainstream to claim that conscious will is an illusion. This assertion is based on a host of findings that indicate conscious will does not share an efficient-cause relationship with actions. As an alternative, the present paper will propose that conscious will is not about causing actions, but rather, about constraining action systems toward producing outcomes. In addition, it will be proposed that we generate and sustain multiple outcomes simultaneously because the multi-scale dynamics by which we do so are, themselves, self-sustaining. Finally, it will be proposed that self-sustaining dynamics entail meaning (i.e., conscious content) because they naturally and necessarily constitute embodiments of context.
While the present paper addresses the relationship between consciousness and action control, its ultimate goal is to propose that terms such as “action” and “consciousness” are scientifically inadequate and, in the end, may have to be replaced in a scientific account of what we do, how we do it, and why it has meaning. This is because, as I will argue, the current conceptual framework used in cognitive science (e.g., perception, cognition, action, attention, intention, and consciousness) is not capable of addressing the complex array of causal regularities that have been discovered in cognitive science over the past 30 years.
In addition, the current conceptual framework has yet to give rise to a scientific conception of how we do what we do that renders the phenomenon of “consciousness” a necessary aspect of the causal story. That is, consciousness is described as either identical with the physical (i.e., identity theory), emergent from the physical (i.e., emergentism), as an informational property of causal relations (i.e., functionalism), or as an aspect of reality other than the physical (i.e., double-aspect theory and property dualism). In all of these positions, consciousness is not a logically necessary aspect of the causal story. That is, the scientific, causal description of how we do what we do is able to disregard consciousness as a causal factor.
While the notion that consciousness might not be logically necessary is certainly popular, one might also take it to indicate the need for an approach to “how we do what we do” that renders consciousness causal (i.e., non-ephiphenomenal). In what follows, I present Wild Systems Theory as an approach to causality and consciousness that renders the latter logically necessary. To be sure, by the time this has been explicated, the term “consciousness” will mean something different that what is referred to via constructs such as Access Consciousness, Metacognition, and Phenomenal Consciousness (Block, 1995, 2001; Cleeremans, 2005).