"I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in human evolution. We became too self aware; nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody’s nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal."

-Rustin Cole, True Detective series one

Was consciousness a mistake? Can we do without it? Which philosophers and what philosophy addresses this?

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    Dogs are self aware. They know their name; they have a sense of identity. They know the name of any other dog in the household too. They know who is who. I think this is right off-beam. "We are creatures that should not exist by natural law" is an arrogant statement, almost as though the speaker "created" a so-called natural law to suit their own reasoning. It speaks of someone out of touch with supposed reality. "The honorable thing is to die out"? Pshaw! Utter nonsense. Aug 3, 2023 at 22:09
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    ... the fact that we do exist means that the speaker's idea of "natural law" is a fantasy. Aug 3, 2023 at 22:14
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    There's a lot to unpack in this quote, the very least of which is that most humans aren't particularly self aware. I think it's safe to say that self awareness is actually quite rare in our species. You need to make a distinction between 'aware' and 'self awareness'. A person can be relatively aware, but there may be a mountain of knowledge that they're not aware of.
    – Cdn_Dev
    Aug 3, 2023 at 23:28
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    Rust Cohle reprises arguments of a Norwegian philosopher Peter Zapffe, who wrote in The Last Messiah (1933) of the "tragedy of a species becoming unfit for life by over-evolving one ability", taking inspiration from Schopenhauer and his existential pessimism. As presented by Cohle, the argument is overtly sophistic, listing all the bads and omitting all the goods, like joys of life and ability to choose that awareness also brings about. For a philosophical critique of Cohle's (Zapffe's) arguments see Woolfe's essay.
    – Conifold
    Aug 4, 2023 at 3:55
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    A nice bit of dialogue, possibly intended less by the writer as an accurate portrayal of reality than as an insight into Cohle's despair; his deeply troubled past. Aug 4, 2023 at 4:01

3 Answers 3


Was consciousness a mistake?

This question is incorrect first of all.

A "mistake" does not apply to the process of evolution. Evolution is an unguided natural process without intentions or goals. Describing any of its products as "mistakes" imposes a teleological viewpoint that doesn't make sense in this context.

  • Right. But 99% of species so far were "wrong attempts" or something.
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 8, 2023 at 10:40
  • I'm sorry but mosquitos are most certainly a mistake. 😉
    – user64314
    Aug 9, 2023 at 4:07

Good question and not one we can easily dismiss! Consciousness is miniaturized in the grand scheme of things. Consciousness, or what philosopher Alfred North Whitehead calls in his philosophical cosmology the "higher phases of experience," is an exception in experience, more than the rule. Deleuze and Guattari concur. As Whitehead makes abundantly clear in Process and Reality, “The principle that I am adopting is that consciousness presupposes experience, and not experience consciousness. It is a special element in the subjective forms of some feelings. Thus an actual entity may, or may not, be conscious of some part of its experience. Its experience is its complete formal constitution, including its consciousness, if any” (1978, 53).

Consciousness presupposes experience, but not vice versa. This makes consciousness a rarity or exception in the universe, which means it is both a blessing and curse. The Manhattan Project under Oppenheimer's supervision or apocolyptic hysteria around Open AI wiping out humanity quickly bring to mind how human consciousness can be self-destructive or cannibalizing to all species. Not to mention, we have been recently demystified about our cognitive powers, especially when it comes to memory and recall while residing in the technosphere.

Perhaps consciousness is a pathology or cancer of the cosmos. This is all speculation, but we live in the dusk of human consciousness as philosophers, psychologists, and pastors have known or understood it over the past several hundred years. We are unraveling new mysteries about emerging consciousness that will finally give us more opportunities to develop contrasts and take on more computing competitors, in the race for hyper-cognition.

  • Ego is and always has been the problem, not consciousness.
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 8, 2023 at 10:38
  • @ScottRowe: Aren't they linked? Doesn't ego reify self, & flow states negate it? Doesn't unconscious competance show we could do without self-consciousness..?
    – CriglCragl
    Aug 8, 2023 at 20:30
  • @CriglCragl We need ego sometimes, but it shouldn't be allowed to try to do everything, because it can't.
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 8, 2023 at 23:15
  1. Without consciousness there can be neither philosophy nor philosophers.

  2. Rustin is a fictitious character played by an actor in a TV series who is reading a script created by a team of professional fiction writers.

This is as far as I think I need to go with this.

  • We keep hearing about these 'actor' people who do all these bad things. Something should be done about it.
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 8, 2023 at 10:41

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