Wildman, Wesley J.
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CitationWesley, J. Wildman, “Conciousness Expanded,” in Science and metaphysics : a discussion on consciousness and genetics proceedings of the international seminar on science and metaphysics, held at Bangalore during 24 - 27 June 2001, ed. Sangeetha Menon (Bangalore: National Institute of Advanced Studies, 2002).
Many kinds of human states of consciousness have been distinguished, including colourful or anomalous experiences that are felt to have spiritual significance by most people who have them. The neurosciences have isolated brain-state correlates for some of these colourful states of consciousness, thereby strengthening the hypothesis that these experiences are mediated by the brain. This result both challenges metaphysically dualist accounts of human nature and suggests that any adequate causal explanation of colourful experiences would have to make detailed reference to the evolutionary and genetic conditions that give rise to brains capable of such conscious phenomena. This paper quickly surveys types of conscious states and neurological interpretations of them. In order to deal with the question of the significance of such experiences, the paper then attempts to identify evolutionary and genetic constraints on proposals for causal explanations of such experiences. The conclusion is that a properly sensitive evolutionary account of human consciousness supports a rebuttal of the argument that the cognitive content of colourful experiences is pure delusion, but that this evolutionary account also heavily constrains what might be inferred theologically from such experiences. They are not necessarily delusory, therefore, but they are often highly misleading. Their significance must be construed consistently with this conclusion.