An evaluation of means of inquiry into the biological evolution of consciousness
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
How can the biological evolution and functions of consciousness be studied? The purpose of this thesis was to determine not only what means of inquiry are available to do so but also how good they are or, more specifically, how promising they are with respect to the research goal of giving a scientifically respectable evolutionary explanation of consciousness. Because no suitable or easily adaptable evaluation system or set of evaluative criteria was available, I constructed a systematic tool for evaluating the promise of means of inquiry. The evaluation tool has three dimensions--relevance, efficacy, and practicality--with two criteria each, which are assessed independently (except for the relevance criteria) and synthesised into dimensional and promise scores. This tool served to evaluate, and advise on, 23 means of inquiry that have been used in the investigation of the evolution of consciousness, including its adaptation status and evolutionary functions.
The core of the thesis is formed by the evaluation tool and its application. After establishing the need for an evaluation of means of inquiry in this area and presenting the evaluation tool constructed for this purpose, I apply the tool to arguments that consciousness is an evolutionary adaptation, to general reasoning strategies, and to evolutionary strategies. This thesis core is preceded by a contextual introduction to consciousness and evolutionary theory and by the dismissal of some sceptical positions. It is followed by a comparative review of the evaluation results and an evaluation of the evaluation tool. The main contributions of this research consist of the promise evaluation tool for means of inquiry, which is underpinned by a new evaluative theory and available for use by other researchers; and, through the tool's application, an improved understanding of means of inquiry and recommendations about which of them to use for the present research goal.