Consciousness and Lesser States: the evolutionary foothills of the mind

Grant Gillett 


Consciousness and its relation to the unconscious mind have long been debated in philosophy. I develop the thesis that consciousness and its contents reflect the highest elaboration of a set of abilities to respond to the environment realized in more primitive organisms and brain circuits. The contents of the states lesser than consciousness are, however, intrinsically dubious and indeterminate as it is the role of the discursive skills we use to construct conscious contents that lends articulation and clarity to the mental acts which cumulatively make up our mental lives. I lay out a tripartite structure for the formation of mind in which the ongoing interaction between brain and world, the formative effect of socio-cultural context and the self production of a relatively coherent narrative all play an important part in making a mind. The latter two influences clearly transcend biological science and suggest that human minds have features which broadly align with certain Freudian insights but do not support the reification of the causally structured unconscious that Freud envisaged.