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Developmental Consciousness

The mind is composed of virtual machines, which nest and interact in complex ways. Think of the mind as software for making and installing more software. Roughly speaking, we are born like a computer without much installed. We have a bare-bones operating system, which allows installation of more software.[1] The user illusion we have been talking about and the Cartesian theater—those software packages are installed later. The newborn has no stream of consciousness because, to have that, it needs the user illusion. Dennett believes that infants, prelinguistic children, and animals lack consciousness (Dennett 1995a, p. 703). The prelinguistic child needs more software to become conscious and, in particular, language. Animals never become conscious, not even chimpanzees,[2] because they never get the appropriate software installed; they are mechanical machines without consciousness, just as Descartes thought. How is consciousness to be understood in terms of software? Let us look closer at what Dennett has in mind with virtual machines.

  • [1] In the chapter “The Evolution of Consciousness,” Dennett (1991) discusses how software programs installed in the form of memes (see more on these in section “Putting the Stream ofConsciousness Together”) “transform the operating system or computational architecture of thehuman brain” . See also Dennett (1995b, p. 343) from where the above citation comes.
  • [2] See Dennett’s “Two Steps closer on Consciousness” in Keeley (2006, p. 205) for an analysis ofwhy chimpanzees are not conscious.
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