But this is where the advocates of physical determinism for animal action are hoist by their own petard: if cat behavior is entirely automatic and physically deterministic—which in the cat’s case means entirely causally explainable by physiological processes, particularly neural processes--then why does the cat consciously feel pleasure and pain? Why does the cat have such conscious experiences--since the brain can react automatically, differentially, and deterministically to noxious stimuli perfectly well without them.
No it can't because the pleasure/pain mechanism IS the "entirely automatic and physically deterministic" MEANS by which physiological processes are translated, automatically, into life-preserving actions.
Ayn Rand explained the automatic function of the pleasure-pain mechanism in lower animals this way:
This method [of a concrete-bound, perceptual level mentality], of course, is as near to a perceptual level of epistemology as a conceptual, human consciousness can come. It consists of treating memories as percepts, as "package-deal" irreducible primaries, and of forming value judgments by a primitive, animal-like standard of "pleasurable'' or "painful," these two standing for "good" or "bad," without any further analysis or understanding, without any knowledge of why something is good or bad, why something was pleasurable or painful. This is exactly what an animal's "pleasure-pain mechanism" would do. In the case of an animal, this mechanism works as an immediate response to immediate concretes and is assisted by memory. An animal's memory is purely associational, and thus an animal can be trained by a repetition of pleasurable or painful experiences, of rewards or punishments (the repetition makes the animal memorize or associate).
To continue with Lee's post --
They have no possible causal role in a physically deterministic system. It is not necessary for the execution of the “wired in” automatic functions of the nervous system that the animal consciously feel pain, or have any other feeling (note that reactions to painful stimuli often occur before the conscious experience of pain, e.g., one removes one’s finger from the top of a hot stove before feeling the pain of burning).
The pleasure/pain mechanism is necessary so that an animal's automatically stored and retained past perceptions -- i.e., memories -- can automatically guide the animal in the here and now.
There is no sensible explanation within the physically deterministic theory for the occurrence of conscious experience.
The pleasure/pain mechanism is the automatic causal mechanism by which past perceptions can automatically generate self-sustaining, self-generated actions in the present.
So, then, what are conscious experiences for? They are crucial for the guidance of actions outside the realm of the physically determined, namely, consciously chosen actions.
But that only pertains to human beings as far as we have any evidence for.
The one causal efficacy of consciousness that we humans know from our own direct experience is conscious choice. Such choice includes not only the choice to think, but also the choice to look at something, to scrutinize something, to actively listen to something, to actively touch something, to smell something, to taste something--and all of these choices are informed by conscious experience. (The neural processes that are involved in the pickup of perceptual information from the environment are automatic, but there is more to perception than automatic neural processes.) Conscious animals do not have our power of conceptual thought, but they do share the power of perception ...
That is not being argued or disputed.
Arguably, they can choose to attend to one object of perception rather than another on the basis of their conscious experiences, and that attention can in turn lead to the selection of one action rather than another. If they could not do that, their conscious experiences would be superfluous.
The biologically built-in pleasure/pain mechanism combined with stored memories leads an animal to attend to one object rather than another in his current environment automatically
without any need for choice.