Sentience as a System Property: Learning Complexity and the Evolution of Consciousness

Eva Jablonka, Simona Ginsburg

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


Veit suggests that the challenge of coordinating movement in multicellular organisms led to the evolution of a prioritizing value system, which rendered organisms complex enough to be sentient and drove the Cambrian explosion, while the absence of this evaluation system led to the demise of Ediacaran animals. In this commentary we criticize Veit’s terminology and evolutionary proposals, arguing that his terminology and evolutionary scenarios are problematic, and put forward alternative proposals. We suggest that sentience is a system property, and that the evolution of sentience was the outcome of the evolution of open-ended associative learning, which included the coevolution of sensory, motor, memory, and value subsystems. We suggest that these coevolutionary system dynamics were a factor in the Cambrian explosion and contributed to the extinction of the Ediacaran biota.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-196
Number of pages6
JournalBiological Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research.


  • Cambrian explosion
  • Ediacaran extinction
  • Pathological complexity
  • Value systems


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