Nicholas Humphrey discusses consciousness and performance in the San Francisco Chronicle

Nicholas Humphrey, author of Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness, spoke to journalist Kenneth Baker about his original view on consciousness: Humphrey claims that vivid consciousness makes us happy to be alive. This perspective is a result of Humphrey’s specific approach to the “consciousness problem”:

I’ve tried to understand the function of consciousness. Let’s not think about it as a cognitive skill but as a kind of theater, something we lay on in our own heads about who we are and the world in which we’re living. Let’s ask how does consciousness as we experience it affect people’s attitudes toward life… I say that consciousness is a performance we put on, and philosophers who have disparaged the so-called Cartesian theater of the mind have misunderstood the nature of theater. I think the world we make is in no way a simulacrum of the world.

Humphrey also explains the role of natural selection in human consciousness, arguing that vivid consciousness must have effects that lead to reproductive success, but that these effects cannot necessarily be “seen” or quantified:

Conscious awareness gives animals a pleasure in affirming their existence in ways that are life-enhancing. In getting more out of it, you prolong your life. You engage with the world, fall in love with it. The great success of our species has been that creative relation with the world that we have produced from out of our own consciousness. We find the world engaging partly because it’s singing our song, because its qualities are those we’ve imbued it with. In humans, what really changed is that we began to engage in reflection.

Read the rest of the article, including Humphrey’s views on suffering, here: