The local prospect theory of subjective experience: a soft solution to the hard problem of consciousness

Francis Heylighen, Shima Beigi

Research output: Working paper

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Abstract

e propose a new theory to explain the nature and function of subjective experience, phenomenal consciousness, or qualia. It assumes that subjective experience has evolved to guide the organism towards outcomes with positive valence, i.e. that are beneficial for its survival. In simple organisms, that guidance takes the form of an affect that drives the organism towards a desired end. In human consciousness, there is not a single endpoint, but a range of potential developments from which a free choice is to be made. That range can be modeled as a local field or local prospect: an abstract space of possibilities, centered around the present situation and colored by valence. Building on models of global neuronal workspace, adaptive resonance and predictive processing, we examine how such a local prospect could be implemented in neural processes. Using the thought experiment of qualia inversion, we argue that local prospect theory solves the “hard problem of consciousness”. We finally show how our interpretation of subjective experience as local prospect explains a wide range of characteristics of consciousness: subjectivity, free will, agency, transience, continuity, integration, ineffability, selectivity, and intentionality
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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