John Searle opens the proceedings with a philosophical introduction to the still-elusive question of consciousness. To discuss the eventual scientific approach to a theory of mind (ToM), the author analyzes the relationships between subjective feelings, such as mental issues, and objective (i.e., scientific) approaches to them. Distinguishing between ontologic and epistemic approaches to the subjectivity/objectivity issue, Searle holds that mental issues, such as consciousness, can be scientifically reached, concluding in this way: “I think the future of this entire discussion we have been having [in the colloquium] lies in a better understanding of the brain.” Indeed, this is the objective that initially led to the organization of this Sackler Colloquium.
ToM is also the approach chosen by Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney in Chapter 2. As the authors state, a subconscious, reflexive appreciation of others’ intentions, emotions, and perspectives lies at the roots of human ToM. The adaptive advantages of an attribution of thoughts and intentions to predict others’ behavior mainly consist of helping to form strong, permanent social bonds. Empirical study of monkeys’ relationships shows these bonds. Following this point, Seyfarth and Cheney give data on different kinds of social challenges among female baboons that are better solved by means of affiliative behavior.
Even if ToM is a good hypothesis to link close social relationships to mental constructs and reproductive success, an eventual border might separate human consciousness from nonhuman primates’ more “instinctive” behaviors. George Mashour and Michael Alkire focus on this even-
tual difference in Chapter 3. On the grounds of a comparative review of neurobiology, psychology, and anesthesiology, the authors hold that the basic neurophysiologic mechanisms supporting consciousness in humans are found at the earliest points of vertebrate brain evolution. Mashour and Alkire propose to study this evolution by means of models coming from the recovery of consciousness after general anesthesia in animals.