Consciousness is not computation

June 17, 2022

Spend enough time in the tech world and you will sooner or later find that it is a common article of faith that computers will one day gain consciousness. With powerful enough computers and sophisticated enough AI, the reasoning goes, it is inevitable that computers will eventually become conscious just as we are. In fact, some are even bolder and claim that this isn’t just something that will happen off in the distant future, but that the age of sentient computers is upon us already. David Chalmers famously argued that we must be open to the idea that any feedback system — even one as simple as a thermostat — is conscious, even if in a limited way. Recently AI researcher Ilya Sutskever speculated that today’s large neural networks may be “slightly conscious.” And a few months later Google engineer Blake Lemoine was fired after going public with his concerns that the LaMDA language model is sentient.

The idea that consciousness is fundamentally computational is admittedly attractive. At the core of the philosophy of mind is what Chalmers called “the hard problem of consciousness.” How can purely physical processes give rise to the apparently subjective experience of consciousness? This problem has bedeviled philosophers since the time of Descartes, and I think a fair (tongue-in-cheek) assessment of their centuries of collective effort is that the time would have been better spent abiding by Hume’s counsel of playing backgammon and enjoying the company of friends instead.

But as computers developed in the 20th century, a promising idea emerged. It went like this: Perhaps the brain is like a computer and the mind is like a computer program. What is important, then, is not so much the specific hardware of the brain, but the computer program that the brain is running. This idea seemed to break the stranglehold of physical matter on consciousness and introduced an abstract, non-physical entity that sits on top of the hardware, which seems to neatly correspond to the way that consciousness seems to sit on top of the brain. [1] After centuries of fruitless efforts by philosophers at explaining the origin of consciousness, it’s easy to see why those who worked with these new machines latched onto this revolutionary paradigm, especially as this idea began to be represented in science fiction and, as the decades progressed, computers started to surpass humans in a variety of tasks.

But we must resist the allure of this seductive idea. The theory that consciousness is nothing but running the right kind of computer program is wrong. Computation alone is insufficient to produce consciousness.

This is, as I understand it, not a radical position among philosophers of the mind these days. Back in the 1980s John Searle cast doubt on the computational theory of consciousness with the Chinese Room argument, and today it seems that most philosophers accept its validity. But this position is not universal. Some philosophers have raised a number of objections to Searle’s argument. And it certainly does not appear that the consensus within the tech world matches the consensus among philosophers, since the notion that computers will one day attain consciousness is still popular.

My purpose in this blog post is to outline another argument against the idea that consciousness can be reduced to computation. This is the so-called “triviality argument.” It is less famous than the Chinese Room argument (perhaps because the name is not as catchy), but I think it refutes the computational theory of consciousness at a more fundamental level.

Some preliminaries

What I mean by “consciousness”

Before getting too deep we need a working definition of consciousness. This is a tricky concept to define rigorously since it seems that a rigorous definition of consciousness practically requires a theory of consciousness itself. To make matters worse, in these kinds of discussions it oftentimes gets mingled with related ideas like self-awareness, intelligence, and executive function. But in this post I am interested only in consciousness as a sort of perception or sentience — an awareness of being, or, more loosely, “what it feels like to be something.”

This aspect of consciousness is sometimes called “qualia.” [2] I won’t rehearse the classic arguments for the existence of qualia since, like Descartes, I regard my own qualia as an empirical fact — perhaps the only empirical fact that I can know for certain. [3] Of course given any position in philosophy you can find some philosopher who has made the case for it [4], and Daniel Dennett has made the case that qualia does not exist. But I will take it as an axiom that qualia and consciousness exist.

So if we accept that qualia exists (which, after all, seems intuitively sensible), we are burdened with the apparently impossible task of explaining how consciousness can be generated by physical processes. This is the crux of the “hard problem of consciousness.”

Consciousness is observer independent

It’s worth pausing here and noting one property of consciousness that will be of use to us later: consciousness is independent of external observers. By this I mean that the existence of my consciousness does not depend on other observers perceiving me to be conscious. Even if everyone else in the universe should deny that I am conscious — or if those other observers did not exist at all — this would have no bearing on my own consciousness. If, in a terrible catastrophe all life on Earth should perish, except by some strange fortune my own, my consciousness would not suddenly dissolve into the ether.

What is computation?

We also need a working definition of computation. Fortunately here we are on much firmer ground. Computation, in the broadest sense, is the manipulation of symbols according to an algorithm. The largest and most important category of computation is the set of algorithms which can, in principle, be executed on a Turing machine. As far as we know, every algorithm that can be run on a physical computer can also be run on a Turing machine. [5]

What is a computer?

There is then the follow-up question of what exactly constitutes a computer. Now, a Turing machine is a purely mathematical abstraction, like a circle or a fractal. We can create or identify things in the real world which can be well modeled by a circle, but the abstract idea of a circle is distinct from a drawing of a circle.

Likewise we can build an object in the real world which can model the behavior of the abstract Turing machine. And, more practically, we can build devices whose behavior, while not identical to that of a Turing machine, can compute the same things. We call such devices computers.

A little more formally, we can define a computer to be a device which has physical states, and whose physical states map onto the states of a Turing machine. The computer is then the instantiation of that abstract Turing machine in the physical world. We can, for example, make a correspondence between the voltage levels in a CPU register with the state of the Turing machine; likewise we can make a correspondence between the magnetic moments of sections of a hard drive with the states of the Turing machine’s ticker tape.

How accurate does a computer need to be?

We generally expect computers to be deterministic. If we run the same program twice, the computer should generate the same results. [6] But achieving complete determinism is impossible. Sometimes, very rarely, the computer will make a mistake — a cosmic ray, for example, will fly through and flip a bit somewhere. [7] If we decide that a machine is not a computer simply because it ever makes any errors, we will have to conclude that there are no computers at all in the real world. And if computers don’t exist, then consciousness cannot be computation.

But it’s not necessary to impose such a strict requirement. We don’t need to demand that the computer never make a mistake. We only need to require that the computer not make a mistake when we run our program. If, during the program’s execution, every abstract state of the ideal Turing machine can be mapped on to a physical state of the system, we can say that the system is computing the algorithm. If it makes a mistake somewhere and breaks that correspondence, then it stops being a computer for the time being, at least for our purposes.

This definition of a computer as a mapping between the physical states of a system and the abstract states of a Turing machine is powerful because it abstracts away the internal mechanics of the computer. The computer can use transistors or vacuum tubes or something else entirely, and we can just focus just on what the abstract Turing machine is doing. Computer scientists don’t need to know anything about Kirchhoff’s laws or semiconductor physics to determine whether \(P = NP\).

Consciousness in a field of rocks

Since computation is independent of the physical mechanism it uses to transform its states and produce outputs, we can imagine (impractical) computers that are made out of things other than electronics. We can create mechanical computers out of Legos or balls tumbling down a pegboard. A wonderful cartoon from XKCD imagined an individual who finds himself in a vast desert filled with rocks. To allay his boredom, he manipulates the rocks on the desert to produce a computer, and in so doing, simulates the entire universe, instant by instant.

Now, if consciousness were a consequence of pure computation, it would be possible to write a clever computer program (let’s call it consciousness.exe) that, when executed on a big enough computer, produces a conscious being. But computation is independent from the physical substrate that the computation is performed on. So if a powerful supercomputer can produce consciousness by running consciousness.exe, we should also be able to produce a conscious being by running the same consciousness.exe program with enough Legos or by manipulating enough rocks in a desert.

It already seems implausible to me that a vast desert of rocks being manipulated into various patterns is conscious. What exactly is conscious here? What happens if I accidentally kick a rock to the side — have I killed whatever ghostly being inhabits these rocks? Nevertheless, I think we can do better than simply asserting its implausibility. Sure, it is hard to imagine what it means for this vast desert of rocks to be conscious, but there are lots of unintuitive things in this world. We shouldn’t let our prejudices as to what substrate consciousness should exist in prevent us from accepting that it could very well exist in a substrate which is unfamiliar to us. [8]

Does iron become conscious when it’s hot?

So let’s follow where this argument takes us. Rather than manipulating rocks in a desert, let’s imagine a bar of iron heated past the Curie temperature. Each atom in the bar has a magnetic moment which points either up or down, and because the bar is so hot, the magnetic moment of each atom is randomly flipping between up and down. Moreover, by an ingenious detector, we have the means to observe whether the magnetic moment of every atom in the bar is up or down at any given time.

I want to determine if this bar of iron is conscious, so I examine its atoms to see if it is running the consciousness.exe computer program. I designate the first \(P\) atoms to be input bits, another \(N\) atoms to be internal states of the Turing machine, and then another \(Q\) atoms to be outputs. Then I look at the magnetic moments of those atoms sampled at different time steps and see if they correspond to the inputs, outputs, and intermediate states of the corresponding Turing machine by designating a moment pointing up as a 1 and a moment pointing down as a 0. Naturally, there is no correspondence so I conclude that the bar of iron is not conscious.

Simultaneously, however, my friend Alice performs the same observation. But rather than designating moments pointing up as a 1 and a moment pointing down as a 0, she considers an atom pointing up to be a 1, unless it’s the first atom in the bar, in which case it’s a 0. Naturally, she, too, observes no correspondence with consciousness.exe and concludes that the bar of iron is not conscious.

But another friend of mine, Bob, makes the same observation, though using a slightly different encoding. He considers an atom pointing up to be a 1, unless it’s the second atom in the bar, in which case it’s a 0. Similarly Carl performs the same observation, but in his encoding, an atom pointing up is a 1 unless it’s the third atom, and so on. Eventually we get to Ada, who encodes an atom pointing up as a 1 unless it’s the first or second in which case it’s a 0. Then Barbara, who encodes an atom pointing up as a 1 unless it’s the first or third.

Continuing this, we can imagine an enormous crowd of observers staring at this iron bar, each using a unique encoding of atomic states to bits. With a sufficiently large number of observers, the encodings of all possible Turing machines of the given size are represented. This means that one of these observers will, by chance, happen to observe that the states of the atoms correspond exactly to the bits of a Turing machine computing consciousness.exe. This observer will then conclude that the bar of iron is a computer running consciousness.exe and is therefore conscious.

But! If a single observer can correctly determine that the bar of iron is conscious, we must conclude that the bar of iron is conscious for everybody, because consciousness is observer independent. If true, honest-to-God consciousness is just a matter of running consciousness.exe, we have indeed found someone who has correctly observed that the bar of iron is running consciousness.exe and we must conclude that the bar of iron really is conscious.

To go further, I have not specified what consciousness.exe is, and presumably there are many possible consciousness.exe programs. There is alices_consciousness.exe, bobs_consciousness.exe, along with joes_consciousness.exe and your_consciousness.exe, which are the programs that generate Alice’s, Bob’s, my own, and your consciousnesses, respectively. The bar of iron is running all of them. So not only is the bar of iron conscious, it contains my consciousness, your consciousness, and all possible consciousnesses.

And of course there’s nothing special about the iron itself. We could make the same argument with any system where we can map states to bits. We could imagine doing the same thing with the locations of molecules in a pail of water or on the wall of a room, or in a brick. In all cases we are forced to conclude that a sufficiently large system contains all possible consciousnesses. So the proposition that consciousness is computation leads quite inevitably to an extreme panpsychism. Even if we could stomach a traditional conception of panpsychism that posits that all things are conscious in some primitive way, this goes far beyond that. We are forced to conclude that all things aren’t just vaguely conscious, but they contain all consciousnesses, including our own!

(Some) computers could (possibly) still be conscious!

Now I want to be quite clear about this position. By saying that consciousness is not computation, I am not claiming that computers are not or never can be conscious. We could imagine a world in which consciousness is produced by electric fields that fluctuate in the right patterns, for example. Perhaps, in such a world, my laptop running consciousness.exe produces the right patterns just as the neurons in the brain do, and becomes conscious.

But in this world, consciousness is, at root, a physical phenomenon, not a purely computational phenomenon. Computation may be necessary to produce consciousness, but it cannot be sufficient. So in such a world I can run consciousness.exe on a digital computer and produce a conscious being, but if I run the same program on the “rocks in a desert” computer or the “hot iron bar” computer, I will not. In this case consciousness is hardware-dependent. If we claim, for example, that a GPU running GPT-3 is conscious, we have to explain what it is about this particular physical equipment that is generating consciousness, and an argument that GPT-3 running on an NVIDIA GPU is conscious would not necessarily generalize to that same neural network running on an AMD GPU.

Furthermore, to be very clear, none of this is to say that computers cannot behave in intelligent ways. It is entirely possible that a computer running a clever enough program could have an intelligent conversation with a human or design a research protocol to cure cancer. We could fairly say that such a program is intelligent. But it is still not conscious.

Syntax is not semantics

The triviality argument can be reduced to its bare bones like this:

  1. To say that a physical system is a computer requires an external observer to map the physical states of that system onto the abstract states of a Turing machine.
  2. Consciousness does not require an external observer to exist.
  3. Therefore, consciousness cannot be reduced to computation.

But if we were to sum up the argument even further into a single slogan it would be this: syntax is not semantics. All computers can do is shuffle lumps of matter around by following the rules of an algorithm (a syntax), whether that matter be rocks in a vast desert, or electrons on a silicon wafer. But these lumps of matter have no intrinsic meaning (no semantics). The only reason we call a box with a CPU in it a “computer” is because we happen to have a simple mapping between the voltage levels across different parts of the CPU to a set of bits we have defined, and when these voltages interact they do so according to the rules of a set of logical operations which we have also defined. But there is no meaning to the physical system apart from what we, as external observers, have imposed on it.

Of course it is simplest to build a computer where the high voltage states correspond to 1s and the low voltages states 0s or vice versa. But there is no requirement that we build our computers that way. We could build a perfectly valid computer where the high voltage states of even valued registers correspond to 1s and where they correspond to 0s in the odd valued registers, or a computer where the mapping flips on every 13th clock cycle. The system only “computes” because of the way we have encoded information. [9]

So computer simulations can never produce the entity they are simulating since the “simulation” is not an independent system. It is only defined in terms of its relation to an external observer. A simulation of a brain cannot produce consciousness any more than a simulation of the weather can produce rain.

Should this conclusion worry us?

This “triviality argument” has been presented by a number of philosophers, among them Ian Hinckfuss, John Searle, Hilary Putnam, and David Chalmers. But as with any philosophical argument it is not universally accepted. The principal objection is that it assumes too loose a definition of computation. The counterargument goes like this: Well of course if we assume an expansive definition of computation, then everything from bricks to buckets of water becomes a computer. But shouldn’t this be an indication that we ought to reconsider what it means to be a computer?

Now, a major downside of tightening our definition of a computer is that it is much less obvious what an appropriate definition is. Our original definition was that anything is a computer as long as we can make a mapping from physical states to the abstract states of a Turing machine. This definition has the virtues of being precise and objective. I can tell you my mapping and then you can look at the system and say with certainty whether or not it is computing a given Turing machine. But if we try to tighten this definition by requiring, for instance, that the mapping be “simple,” then we will lose objectivity in the definition, because there’s no clear metric for what constitutes a simple encoding.

Nevertheless, our original definition of a computer engenders another thorny problem. In this post I’ve been promoting the “anti-realist” position, namely that computation is only defined in terms of its relation to us. We happen to call certain objects in this world “computers” because there is a convenient and reliable mapping between their physical states and the abstract states of a Turing machine (though in principle any mapping will do). But without an external observer present to call the object a computer, it’s just a lump of matter obeying the laws of physics, just like any other lump of matter in universe. So computation, in this definition, necessitates external observers. Without an external observer to say “that box is a computer,” computers don’t exist, and by extension, no computation occurs.

The problem is that surely the mind computes in some way. When I do a crossword, it feels like I am computing something. But if that’s so, what is the “observer” that is making the mapping from physical states to abstract states? It can’t be myself because my mind is not external to me, nor can it be anyone else because I can still do a crossword when no one is around to observe me. You might say that there’s no real problem here, one part of the mind just observes another part of the mind computing. But this is just the homunculus fallacy. Can this “inner eye” compute as well? If it can’t compute, it doesn’t seem as though it can think. [10] But if it can compute, what is the external observer that is interpreting its activity as a computer?

Since there is no definition of computation without reference to an external observer, a system in isolation just cannot compute, which suggests that a conscious being cannot compute. Maybe parts of the brain can compute with respect to other parts, but no computation is possible in the mind taken as a whole. Unfortunately in arguing that consciousness is not computation, we end up struggling to imagine how the mind can compute anything at all.

So what is consciousness then?

The idea that consciousness comes from computing a particular kind of program is seductive because it lays out a clear path toward understanding where consciousness comes from. If only we could write a clever enough computer program, we could figure it out. But the triviality argument has convinced me at least that a computational theory of consciousness is not the path forward.

But if consciousness is not computation, then what is it? Of course that’s the hard question, and I don’t claim to have a solution. But there are a few properties of consciousness that we have to explain if we want a good theory of consciousness.

Consciousness is in the brain

It hardly seems worth mentioning, but one thing we can be quite sure of is that consciousness as we know it is very closely linked to the brain. This had been suspected since antiquity but modern neuroscience backs up our intuition. My consciousness does not fall off my body when I clip off a fingernail nor even if I chop off my arm. But if a neurosurgeon slices off a piece of my brain, or severs some neural connections, my consciousness may radically alter.

The brain is a large mass of neurons, and when those neurons cease firing I die and cease being conscious. So clearly consciousness has something to do with the activity of neurons. But consciousness cannot be an inherent feature of neurons in general because the cerebellum contains four or five times as many neurons as the cerebral cortex but does not seem to be relevant for consciousness. On rare occasions people can be born without a cerebellum, and by all appearances seem to be conscious (and often lead remarkably ordinary lives all things considering).

So any theory of consciousness needs to explain the connection between what is going on in the cerebral cortex and sentience. And additionally, it needs to explain why the rest of the body (some of which is also made of neurons) is apparently not conscious. There is something special going on in the cerebral cortex, and only the cerebral cortex, that seems to produce consciousness (as far as we can tell).

Consciousness is a unified, integrated whole

The second important property of consciousness that any theory needs to explain is that consciousness is a single, cohesive experience. My consciousness is of my entire self. It is not of half of myself, nor is it some superposition of you and me. Somehow, whatever is going on in my brain to produce my consciousness contains all the neurons of my brain, not just a subset of them. There are not multiple consciousnesses in my brain, it’s just me in there.

Some individuals with severe epilepsy have to have their corpus callosum severed, which separates their left and right hemispheres. After this procedure these individuals often seem to exhibit two consciousnesses rather than one. The right side of the brain seems to be surprised when the left side of the brain decides to raise the right arm, and vice versa. But this is never the case in an individual with a connected corpus callosum. Every time I decide to raise my arm (left or right), my arm goes up and it only goes up when I decide to raise it.

This is important because any theory of consciousness needs to account for the boundaries of consciousness. Evidently consciousness includes all the neurons in the cerebral cortex. We might suppose that any tightly integrated network of neurons will become conscious. But if that’s the case then why is the cerebellum not conscious? Evidently the topology of this network must be relevant.

New biology or new physics?

The “hard problem of consciousness” is that there appears to be what Chalmers has called an “explanatory gap” between a purely physical description of the universe and the subjective experience of qualia. How do you go from the motions of atoms in electromagnetic fields to sentience? There seem to be no scientific tools available to us to bridge this gap. But maybe the answer to these questions lies in currently undiscovered biological effects or even new physics.

John Searle is one of the better known proponents of “biological naturalism” and has argued that the only reason that we can’t explain consciousness is that we just don’t know enough about the biology of the brain. After all, vicious philosophical debates in the past have been resolved and later quietly forgotten as scientists have come to a better understanding of biology. The origin of species was at one point a philosophical problem that was ultimately solved by biology. And in the late 1800s there were heated philosophical debates about whether life required a mysterious “vital force” or if it could be produced through ordinary physical interactions. As biochemists learned more about the chemistry of life they found that it was the latter and before long everyone forgot that this was even a question that had ever been debated. Perhaps the same will be true of consciousness. As we learn more about neurobiology, maybe we will come to see that consciousness is just generated as a biological process “in the same way that the stomach produces digestion,” in Searle’s words. Then these centuries of speculation about the “hard problem of consciousness” will be viewed by our descendants to be as quaint as the debates about vitalism.

But perhaps new biology is not enough. Roger Penrose has argued that an explanation of consciousness does not simply require new biology, but new physics as well. I have to confess that as far-fetched an idea as it is, I am somewhat partial to the idea. The concept of a quantum state has the useful property that it is attached to physical objects but nevertheless extends across a finite space as a cohesive unit, much like consciousness.

Furthermore, this idea has the advantage of providing a connection to one of the more mysterious features of quantum mechanics — the collapse of the wavefunction. This feature has always sat uncomfortably within the orthodox Copenhagen interpretation because it is a little vague on what constitutes an “observation” that triggers the collapse. Eugene Wigner, among others, argued that it is only a conscious observer who can trigger the collapse of a wavefunction. It is an admittedly odd idea, but occasionally odd ideas turn out to be true.

But I will concede that, intriguing though it is to speculate about, resorting to quantum mechanics or new physics is the last refuge of scoundrels. The brain is a warm and noisy environment, and as far as we know a quantum state is just too delicate to be maintained in the brain for any length of time.

So where does this leave us? I suspect that for the foreseeable future we will be stuck with apophatic approaches to the hard problem of consciousness. Just as it’s easier to say what God is not rather than what God is, we may not be able to say much about what consciousness is, but we can at least learn something by saying what it is not. And here we can be confident in saying that consciousness is not computation.


  1. The formal name for this theory is “functionalism,” and the basic idea is that the physical constituents aren’t relevant to a mental state — all that matters is that the system functions appropriately. In the case of a computer program, it doesn’t matter what computer you run the program on, the important thing is the behavior of the program itself. 

  2. Strictly speaking, “qualia” refers to individual conscious experiences — the sensation of hearing a bell, for example — whereas consciousness is the unified collection of all qualia that a conscious being experiences. In fact this makes the problem of consciousness harder than qualia on its own, because a theory of consciousness needs to explain not only individual perception experiences, but how a collection of these experiences across space and time can be unified into single, coherent experience of being. 

  3. The classic argument that qualia exists is due to Frank Jackson in the article “What Mary Didn’t Know.” I encourage you to read the original article (and the Wikipedia article is quite good, too), but in brief, the argument proposes a thought experiment: Suppose there is a scientist named Mary. Through extensive study, she has learned all there is to know about the physics of color, the physiology of the eye, and the neurology of the brain. Given some stimulus like looking at a red rose, she knows exactly how the light impacts the eye, how the image forms on the retina, how this produces a signal along the optical nerve, and how the brain processes this signal. However, Mary has lived her entire life within a black and white room and has never perceived color herself. One day, she leaves the room and looks at a red rose. Does she learn anything new from this experience? If she does, we are forced to conclude that qualia exists — that an experience is distinct from perfect knowledge of how the brain reacts to the stimuli that produced that experience. 

  4. According to John Searle there is one exception. No serious philosopher has defended solipsism, the idea that no other being in the universe besides oneself is conscious. But then, if one were a true solipsist, there would be no point in spending any time convincing anyone else of your position since no one else exists. 

  5. The statement that this is true for all algorithms is known as the Church-Turing Thesis. Some algorithms can be exponentially faster if they are run on a quantum computer than if they are run on a Turing machine, which is inherently classical. Nevertheless, for our purposes the algorithmic efficiency isn’t relevant. As far as we know, anything that can be computed by a quantum computer can also be computed by a Turing machine, and it is only the question of computability that matters to us. 

  6. It was for good reason that the authors of Numerical Recipes described random number generation as a “perverse” use of a computer. A machine which is designed to be deterministic is not well suited to behaving randomly! 

  7. This happens more frequently than you might think. You can actually run an app on your smartphone that uses the camera as a cosmic ray detector. 

  8. This is, in essence, the so-called “systems response” to John Searle’s Chinese Room argument, though presented in an oblique way. The argument is that while the rocks themselves might not be conscious, the whole system of the rocks being manipulated is conscious. In Searle’s thought experiment the computation being performed was an individual in a room manipulating symbols according to rules in a book rather than rocks in a desert, but the underlying idea is the same. 

  9. An active field of research is homomorphic encryption in which computation is performed on encrypted data. In this case the mapping between the physical states of the system and the abstract states of the Turing machine is not nearly so straightforward. Sometimes high voltage states correspond to 1s and other times 0s. Only with the appropriate key can you determine what the mapping is. Nevertheless, the mapping exists, so you can claim that the system is computing. 

  10. One risky way out, rejected by most philosophers, is epiphenomenalism. This is the notion that consciousness has no causal effects on the material world, but is just “along for the ride.” Our consciousness simply sits on top of the brain and passively watches it chug along. Different neural activations produce different sensations of consciousness, but our conscious thought never changes our behavior. Any belief we have that we are consciously making decisions is an illusion — in reality the brain is blindly chugging along, and our consciousness is interpreting these neural states as the sensation of making decisions even no conscious decision making is happening. I will admit to having some sympathy for epiphenomenalism, but it does pose challenges. When I hit my thumb with a hammer and feel pain, why do I find that sensation unpleasant? Why do I find the sensation of eating a freshly picked strawberry pleasant? If epiphenomenalism is wrong and my conscious states can influence my actions there is a good explanation — natural selection has evolved the sensation of pain so that I avoid things that will hurt me, and similarly it has evolved the sensation of pleasure so that I seek out things that help me to survive. But in the epiphenomenalist picture there is no causal connection between the conscious perception and any physical actions. It makes no difference how my consciousness perceives these things. So why does there just so happen to be a tight correspondence between the conscious perception and my survival?