Brigman's idea about the evolution of consciousness is attractive firstly because it postulates that consciousness is the product of a seamless evolutionary path which began with fundamental mechanisms and secondly because human language is presented as a continuation along this path. However, the idea is less an explanation of consciousness than it is an interpretation of some of the essential properties of consciousness. I would urge that our rapidly advancing knowledge of the neural mechanisms described by Bridgeman should lead us to see them as a good place to search for the roots of consciousness, rather than as an answer to the problem of consciousness.
1.2 It should be recognized, however, that Bridgeman's attractive idea is less an explanation of consciousness than it is an interpretation of some of the essential properties of consciousness within the framework of currently available psychobiological knowledge. The difference between an essentialist interpretation and an explanation cannot be well stated in an area in which a first-order approximation to an explanation is still lacking. But the difference can be ostensively defined by pointing to comparable cases in other disciplines where a genuine explanation has been developed.
1.3 Consider, for example, the comparable biological problem: What is life? At one time, all that could be given by way of answer were essentialist interpretations, along the lines of the following statement: The essence of life is X. In the view of one commentator, X would be reproduction. For another, it might have been animation, and for perhaps yet another, metabolism, etc. And many of the essential properties of living organisms were simulated by clever devices which had, we now know, little relation to real life.
1.4 It was the research program of molecular biology, however, that actually explained life. As a result, we now know that life is basically a manifestation of the activities of certain key molecules. The nature and properties of these key molecules had to be determined largely by programmatic investigations, carried out over a period of decades, which produced cumulative, orderly advances in understanding. It can now be said that some of the properties of these key molecules are concordant with the central elements of earlier essentialist interpretations. For example, the essence of reproduction might now be explained by appealing to the replication of DNA. But essentialist interpretations cannot be said to have anticipated the important discoveries made by molecular biology, nor do they have they much place in contemporary accounts.
1.5 We can learn from the example of the molecular biologists by taking to heart the "essence" of their research strategy. They did not try to solve the puzzle of life by frontal assaults. Instead, they banked on two propositions: One, they frankly admitted that although they did not know exactly what life was, they did know that certain molecules were always found in living organisms. Two, they knew that advances in the natural sciences had provided them with the necessary tools to investigate these molecules.
1.6 In our case, we can take a similar tack by recognizing the validity of two comparable propositions: One, wherever mind is found, certain key cellular organizations are found. Two, advances in neuroscience technique have given us the necessary tools to investigate such cellular organizations.
1.7 So I would urge that our rapidly advancing knowledge of the neural mechanisms described by Bridgeman should lead us to see them as a good place to search for the roots of consciousness, rather than as an answer to the problem of consciousness.
Bridgeman, Bruce (1992) On the Evolution of Consciousness and Language. PSYCOLOQUY 3(15) consciousness.1