Living and Experiencing: Response to Commentaries

Eva Jablonka, Simona Ginsburg

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


In our target article, “Learning and the evolution of conscious agents” we outlined an evolutionary approach to consciousness, arguing that the evolution of a form of open-ended, representational, and generative learning (unlimited associative learning, UAL) drove the evolution of consciousness. Our view highlights the dynamics and functions of consciousness, delineates its taxonomic distribution and suggests a framework for exploring its developmental and evolutionary modifications. The approach we offer resonates with biosemioticians’ views, but as the responses to our target article show, our proposal also faces challenges and has led to suggestions that extend, develop and qualify it. Our response to the 14 varied and rich commentaries starts with the recurring and deep question raised by many of them – the relation between life and sentience. We explore this question by introducing and expanding on “vivaciousness”, a term we coined to describe the turbulent, flexible exploration-stabilization processes inherent in the living condition, as well as addressing the related concepts of Umwelt and selfhood. We then consider the question of the adequacy of unlimited associative learning (UAL) as an evolutionary transition marker (ETM) of minimal consciousness (rather than as a marker of a complex form of sentience), and the possible precursors of sentience. The engagement with these broad themes is entangled with a discussion of evolutionary transitions, constitutive emergence and the function/s of consciousness. The suggestions of our commentators, urging us to explore new concepts and new avenues of research within the framework of a richer view of evolution are then discussed. We end by briefly considering what we regard as a conceptual lacuna, which is leading to the indiscriminate use of the term “sentience” and which awaits further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


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