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The Pragmatic TurnToward Action-Oriented Views in Cognitive Science$
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Andreas K. Engel, Karl J. Friston, and Danica Kragic

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780262034326

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262034326.001.0001

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What’s the Use of Consciousness?

What’s the Use of Consciousness?

How the Stab of Conscience Made Us Really Conscious

(p.193) 12 What’s the Use of Consciousness?
The Pragmatic Turn

Chris D. Frith

Thomas Metzinger

The MIT Press

The starting assumption is that consciousness (subjective experience), rather than being an epiphenomenon, has a causal role in the optimization of certain human behaviors. This chapter reviews empirical studies that demonstrate how much can be achieved in the way of action and decision making in the absence of relevant conscious experience. It considers, in detail, the experience of action and suggests that this has two key components: the experience of being an agent, which causes events in the world, and the belief that we could have done otherwise. Such experiences enable us to justify our behavior to ourselves and to others and, in the longer term, to create a cultural narrative about responsibility. Finally, the experience of regret is explored. Regret is a powerful, negative emotion that is suggested to integrate group norms and preferences with those of the individual. The transparent and embodied nature of the experience of regret ensures that cultural norms become an inescapable part of the self-narrative. The conclusion is that conscious experience is necessary for optimizing flexible intrapersonal interactions and for the emergence of cumulative culture.

Keywords:   Strüngmann Forum Reports, consciousness, cultural norms, mental agency, regret, self-narrative

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