Of recent date consciousness has leapt into respectability as a topic for scientific research, despite still appearing to be the kind of mystery which leads some people to look for the transcendent. My own philosophical habit has been not to look for the transcendent in particular, but not to scorn it should it emerge from the mess we all make. So where my consciousness is concerned, I have no problem with the neuroscientists being able to map the activities in my brain accompanying my conscious states, and I suppose any deliberate actions I undertake while that goes on will give a little transcendence in the literal sense of ‘going beyond’.

At the same time, it never seemed to me strange that consciousness should develop – progressively indeed – in living organisms and that we should have it as well as inherited instinct. We are often told that instinctual (unconscious) response is rapid, but that is not the whole story. The New Scientist put the point when they suggest that consciousness (being aware of experience) helps us to learn quickly in a changing world. If I may, as a philosopher rather than scientist myself, offer a criticism, it is that many (not least atheists) forget about change and adaptation when talking about (or even studying) unconscious response and training. That is fine when things are not changing, and then natural selection will deal with slow, or even not so slow, change – still without calling consciousness into action. But the faster the change, and the more unpredictable it is, the more likely the organism will have to learn fast, i.e., within its own lifetime. We humans now set ourselves the challenge of learning new all the time and our poor conscious minds struggle desperately to cope. OK, that still leaves the mystery of exactly how the mush inside our heads actually generates conscious experience, but I suggest that explains simply why the mush needs that capability!

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