Learning, memory mechanisms and the evolutionary transition to consciousness

6 December 2019

Eva Jablonka
Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas
Tel-Aviv University, Israel


I will discuss joint work with Simona Ginsburg in the Department of Natural Science at the Open University of Israel. We suggest that the evolution of learning drove the evolutionary transition to basic consciousness. We outline the methodology we employ, which is inspired by that used when scientists identified the transition from non-life to life. We present a set of criteria and identify an evolutionary marker for the transition to minimal consciousness: a complex form of associative learning, which we call unlimited associative learning (UAL). We show that UAL entails the properties attributed to subjective experiencing, point to its taxonomic distribution and suggest that it drove the Cambrian diversification of animals. We end by speculating about the role of the molecular-epigenetic mechanisms of learning and memory in the evolution of UAL and in the more complex forms of learning that evolved on its basis.


current theory lunch schedule