The project of rigidly correlating consciousness with brain states has met with many refutations. But I have never heard of one that refers to one of the simplest physical facts about consciousness.

No matter how defined, we have no examples of "consciousness" that did not arise out of the generational horizon of sexual reproduction, fertilization, gestation, and birth. Moreover, the most fundamental operations of consciousness seek to return it to this cellular continuum, the only space in which it can be preserved against entropy.

Yet in attempting a material monism or what is called a "physicalist" modeling of consciousness and brain states, the "model" is invariably isolated or "lifted out" of this physical continuum. This itself smacks of the very Cartesian dualism the physical models wish to avoid.

Shouldn't any definition of "consciousness" entail the necessity of its own reproduction and cellular preservation? In failing to do so, are "brain state" theories actually dualist? Is this inseparability from a cellular continuum, in itself, a defensible argument against mind-brain reductions?

(And, if I may add, is there some clearer way in the mind-body literature to sort out what I'm trying to ask? I am always scandalized by the absence of the sexual continuum in philosophy, but never sure how to insert it into arguments, hence the "feminism" tag.)

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    The jump from observing that "all known consciousnesses are generated by brains are in advanced animals and animals have finite lifespan and those brainy ones reproduce sexually" to "necessity of reproduction and cellular preservation" seems unwarranted. Yes, it happened this way this time. Why should we think this is essential rather than incidental? Why not add warm-bloodedness or containing peroxisomes?
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 3:58
  • Lacan was a reviver of Freud who was known for his psycho-sexual theories of the structure of consciousness as it is for us; he posits reflection of an Other - his mirror-stage. Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 6:45
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    Hehe, I have to think of Schopenhauer, who essentially makes the point that conciessness necessarily includes the Will to Live (and therefore sexual reproduction)
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 13:02
  • "However defined" is unwarranted. The first two definitions that come to mind, escape that. Consciousness can be tied to tracking time (I am conscious when awake, and unconscious when not), which ants seem to do, and they are oviparous. Or it can be tied to purpose-driven adaptation (I make a conscious choice to do X), which, it seems to me, the genome itself does. So you can't escape giving us a definition.
    – user9166
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 14:19
  • @PhilipKlöcking In that same vein, drown an ant and see whether it has a will to live. But it will not sexually reproduce.
    – user9166
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 14:25

3 Answers 3


I don't have an answer for you, but some thoughts that might prompt a better answer.

I suppose this question can be split into two:

1) is reproduction neccessary for consciousness

2) is this reproduction neccesarily sexual.

Reproduction seems to be a neccessity for continued existence given all things 'wear out' eventually - even AI in silicon were it possible.

Reproduction can only happen in the following three situations:

A) asexually

B) sexually

C) or by some intermediary (ie for an AI, a factory of a kind is what I mean by an intermediary)

To show your thesis we need to knock out A) and C).

Evolutionary theory suggests that A) admits less genetic drift than B) and therefore B) is more likely.

Life in its first instance must be autonomous so that knocks out C)

This of course doesn't explore to what extent the first person and immediate sensuality aspect of sexuality is neccessary to consciousness rather than to sexual/gender identity.

  • I wanted to suggest the inseparability of "consciousness" from a continuum beyond discreet brains. From our best physical evidence, sex appears a precondition for that level of complexity. The gender dichotomy becomes interesting. I don't think it can be overcome even with machine-supported sperm-egg banks, since entropy overtakes the air-conditioning, etc. Life itself is our only "perpetual motion machine." This would leave "sexual continuum" and even "gender division" as, thus far, irreducible aspects of "consciousness," yet never even mentioned in so-called "physicalist" models. Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 15:29
  • @Nelson Alexander: it's where physicalists are indulging in a little smuggled in ad-hoc metaphysics; and discounting or ignoring the very strong empirically situated observed data. Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 19:44

To get away from our animal roots when talking about thinking, you really need to get away from brains altogether.

There are a range of approaches that afford 'consciousness' to evolution itself. (This is clearly proposed in Hermes Tresmagistus and the Zohar, and explicitly extrapolated forward by folks with pantheistic eschatologies like Terrence McKenna or Alan Watts). The main forms of that opinion are part of perennial religious philosophies, and are recaptured in a philosophical form by Hegel.

They are thus much older than Mendel and Darwin, and take less defensible forms. But modern genetics clarifies them. Genes solve problems. These are not just apparent problems. Evolution resolves things that limit species range, or that create imbalances that threaten systems.

Life endures in the face of real obstacles, and adapts to its situation in a way distinct from the way other parts of the environment, e.g. the geography, seem to 'solve problems' or 'preserve themselves' by reacting passively to predetermined forces. Something lives on, in situations where, without change, nothing would.

God aside (for otherwise He is a much more direct example of asexual consciousness) those problems to be solved are not posed to it by another intelligence, as we pose problems to a computer. They are taken up at random by the process itself. And solving them involves somehow being aware of them, no matter how indirectly.

So each species constitutes some kind of independent consciousness. And even those species whose members reproduce sexually does not itself do so, it reproduces by splintering off new subpopulations fitted for different problem domains.

To that extent, we are aware of consciousness that is not itself passed on by reproduction -- at least the sex, reproduction, and birth part. In the oldest forms of life, conjugating bacteria and the like, this problem-solving does not involve sexual reproduction even indirectly, only direct recombination of determinant material. All bacteria are homosexual.

  • Voted back up the down-vote since I always appreciate an answer. However, I am really addressing a narrower discussion of "brain-state" or IIT models of human "consciousness." According to our best physical and historical evidence, see my comment above, gendered sex is a prerequisite to our level of "complexity," (though I am uneasy with that term). Yet so called "physicalist" models never entail this "physical" prerequisite, never treat "mind" as inevitably self-continuing and "gendered" in some way. Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 15:38
  • In what way are you, individually, more complex than the collection of all the mice in the world? You may somehow be equal in complexity to the whole species of a simple virus, or something. That virus, who may easily be your equal, is non-gendered. This is a very broad false-cause fallacy, and it can only be described, much less addressed by backing way off and dropping human arrogance as to our own uniqueness. We are unique only in our level of concentration, not complexity or degree, surely not kind. And we need to get used to that.
    – user9166
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 16:48
  • From a gay point of view, memes are as good as genes as far as reproduction goes, or we would not all be OK with adoptive parents. Meanwhile, the difference between the sexes is insanely overstated. Women vary less, but men and women are on average very much the same mentally. We find numerous small difference that are statistically significant only due to sample sizes being large because the distinction is easy to make, and we exaggerate them for social convenience.
    – user9166
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 16:55
  • I do not disagree with such arguments. Compared to the sheer biomass, history, and diversity of bacteria we and our so-called "complexity" are a statistical blip. But with gender I disagree, see my comment above on "sperm-egg" banks and perpetuity. And I am not talking about the "psychology" of men and women. I am talking about consciousness as a continuum and thus necessarily bivalent or "gendered." Maybe I should qualify that as "human consciousness." I am saying that this "physical" fact is omitted by the many "physicalist" or mathematical models of consciousness. Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 17:22
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    You still need a definition of consciousness I cannot understand before any of that makes sense. I have given mine, yours remains, to me, confused nonsense. Since you state you don't disagree, above, with the idea that there are proper definitions of consciousness that make the statement false, how do we rule them out to tell what you mean?
    – user9166
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 17:26

I'm reading Daniel Dennett's "Kinds of Minds" right now and from what I read he has an answer to your question. While he doesn't make the claim that consciousness is caused by sexual reproduction per-se, he does show how consciousness arises from the properties of self-replicating DNA and RNA, i.e conciseness arises from biological systems' urge for reproduction in general. That it happens to come from sexual reproduction and not asexual reproduction is not discussed explicitly. His reasoning is the following:

  1. The ability of macromolecules (DNA and RNA) to self replicate led to the appearance of agency. To be able to self replicate, these macromolecules would move towards and absorb the resources that they needed to duplicate themselves. This tendency to move towards the resources they required became the first instance of agency, of a system showing goal seeking behavior and moving autonomously towards resources.
  2. The ability to process outside information gradually evolved to allow these agency equipped systems to better seek out resources. Eventually they developed sensing equipment such as eyes, ears, noses, etc...
  3. Later, an ability to internally store representations of the resources they were seeking developed, as this allowed them to improve their chances of replication.
  4. This ability to internally store representations of outside objects eventually included the ability to perceive themselves and not just the outside world, which in turn evolved into full fledged consciousness.

To summarise: Self-replicating -> agency -> processing outside information -> perception and self sensing -> consciousness.

The specific role of sexual reproduction isn't discussed explicitly. It is easy however to argue that since the process is driven by evolution, and sexual reproduction provides more efficient and faster evolution than asexual reproduction, sexual reproduction will lead to consciousness before asexual reproduction does.

P.S: * I have not completed the entire book, so this is my interpretation of what I am reading so far, things might change later. ** Moreover, further in the book Dennett explains how language plays a crucial role in how human minds evolved, but I haven't gotten there yet. *** You might want to check Douglas Hofstadter for more details on how self-perception evolved into consciousness. **** Dennett's main ideas are explained in further detail in his more famous books "Consciousness Explained" and "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", but I haven't read either of those yet.

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    Thanks. I read "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" but later lost interest in Dennett and his endless toy "models." I should look again. He does attempt to be a consistent, persistent naturalist. I am still trying to grasp at some sort of Cartesian contradiction here. We still tend to speak of "consciousness" as some abstract enlargement of an "individual" mind correlated to an individual brain. In physical fact, it is a phenomenon always distributed between "three or more" minds in a continuum of regeneration. Even while tracking the biology there seems to me something amiss at the conceptual level. Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 14:00

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