•  110
    Recently developed extensions of evolutionary theory are used to explain the human self as an evolved, unitary, and purposeful phenomenon. A basic mechanism that can generate life's agency and goal-directedness is combined with mechanisms that can account for awareness by and of the self, and for the social characteristics of humans. The new theory is largely consistent with major existing theories of the self, in particular theories centred on self-esteem, self-determination theory, and terror …Read more
  •  104
    A Unifying Theory of Biological Function
    Biological Theory 12 (2): 112-126. 2017.
    A new theory that naturalizes biological function is explained and compared with earlier etiological and causal role theories. Etiological theories explain functions from how they are caused over their evolutionary history. Causal role theories analyze how functional mechanisms serve the current capacities of their containing system. The new proposal unifies the key notions of both kinds of theories, but goes beyond them by explaining how functions in an organism can exist as factors with autono…Read more
  •  89
    A recently developed computational and neurobiological theory of phenomenal consciousness is applied to a series of persistent philosophical problems of consciousness (in recent formulations by Tye, Searle, and Chalmers). Each problem has a clear solution, as is briefly explained here.
  •  82
    The origin and development of consciousness is poorly understood. Although it is clearly a naturalistic phenomenon evolved through Darwinian evolution, explaining it in terms of physicochemical, neural, or symbolic mechanisms remains elusive. Here I propose that two steps had to be taken in its evolution. First, living systems evolved an intrinsic goal-directedness by internalizing Darwinian fitness as a self-estimated fitness. The self-estimated fitness participates in a feedback loop that effe…Read more
  •  68
    The origin of agency, consciousness, and free will
    Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 14 (4): 979-1000. 2015.
    Living organisms appear to have agency, the ability to act freely, and humans appear to have free will, the ability to rationally decide what to do. However, it is not clear how such properties can be produced by naturalistic processes, and there are indeed neuroscientific measurements that cast doubt on the existence of free will. Here I present a naturalistic theory of agency, consciousness, and free will. Elementary forms of agency evolved very early in the evolution of life, utilizing an ext…Read more
  •  23
    The Natural Emergence of (Bio)Semiosic Phenomena
    Biosemiotics 8 (3): 403-419. 2015.
    Biological organisms appear to have agency, goals, and meaningful behaviour. One possibility is that this is mere appearance, where such properties are not real, but only ‘as if’ consequences of the physiological structure of organisms. Another possibility is that these properties are real, as emerging from the organism's structure and from how the organism interacts with its environment. Here I will discuss a recent theory showing that the latter position is most likely correct, and argue that …Read more
  •  22
    A Clear and Understood Case of Strong Emergence
    Biosemiotics 10 (1): 5-7. 2017.
    This Letter to the Editor is a comment on a paper by Rodríguez Higuera (Biosemiotics 9, 155–167, 2016) that refers to a paper by van Hateren (Biosemiotics 8, 403–419, 2015). The comment argues that semiosis (i.e., the making of meaning) has biological roots in an internal process X occurring within all forms of life. This internal process produces, in effect, an approximation (i.e., an estimate) of the fitness of an organism. X subsequently drives a purely stochastic process of structural change…Read more
  •  18
    The causal structure of Darwinian evolution by natural selection is investigated. Its basic scheme is reproduction resulting from a feedback loop driven by internal and external causes. Causation internal to the loop connects genotype, development, phenotype, and fitness, with environmental constraints on the latter preventing runaway reproduction. External causes driving the core loop are environmental change and genetic change. This basic causal structure is complicated by modern additions suc…Read more
  •  12
    The bumpy road of evolutionary science (review)
    Metascience 25 (2): 209-211. 2016.
    Invited book review of R. P. Thompson, A remarkable journey: The story of evolution (Reaktion Books, 2015)