The evolutionary origins of consciousness: Suggesting a transition marker

Zohar Z. Bronfman, Simona Ginsburg, Eva Jablonka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We suggest an approach to studying consciousness that focuses on its evolutionary origins. The proposed framework is inspired by the study of the transition from inanimate matter to life, which proved extremely useful for understanding what ‘life’ entails. We follow the theoretical and methodological scheme put forward by Tibor Gánti, who suggested a marker for the transition to life — an evolved feature that is sufficient for ascribing dynamic persistence to a minimal living system and that can serve as a point of departure for reconstructing it. We apply this approach to consciousness and suggest an overt behavioural trait — unlimited associative learning (UAL) — as a candidate transition marker. We show that the enabling system of UAL instantiates the set of properties that are considered jointly sufficient for minimal consciousness, and discuss the experimental predictions and the implications of our approach for the taxonomic distribution of consciousness in the animal world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-34
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Consciousness Studies
Issue number9-10
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Imprint Academic 2016.


  • Associative learning
  • Distribution problem
  • Gánti
  • Origin of life
  • Subjective experiencing


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