Week 7- Consciousness and Umwelt

To start things off, I really enjoyed Ramakrishnan’s presentation. Although it was at the end of class and my last class of the day, I wanted class to just end already. But as Ramakrishnan spoke about what it meant to have consciousness and how animals from bees to naked mole rats at least have some sense of consciousness, I really got intrigued. His presentation reminded me of my life science classes, but with less intense science and instead interesting case studies on animals’ consciousness. From my understanding, it seems like science does not give non-human organisms enough credit for having consciousness. It seems as if all animals, besides us of course, live their lives through instinct and reflexes. I never really found that true at all and now much less so after hearing Ramakrishnan’s presentation. First off, I think the best way to figure out whether animals have a sense of consciousness or not, or somewhere in the between, I think its best what defines consciousness. Consciousness, from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is defined as a state of awareness, especially concern for some social or political cause. I guess the question to me right now is what separates reflexive and instinctual behavior from conscious behaviors. I think the edge we have on animals is that we are much more intelligent and can think through logic. Our superiority is what distinguishes us from animals. From an evolutionary point of view, we are descendants of primates. Have we involved into consciousness and are now on another level form “lesser” species? To answer what has consciousness is a combination of philosophy, biology, and psychology.

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Ramakrishnan argues that animals do have consciousness. Even more primitive organisms such as octopuses have a sense of consciousness, that they do understand their environment and not all of their choices are reflexive base. Ramakrishnan ended his presentation with the idea of umwelt. An umwelt is translated as “self-centered world”. (To understand more about umwelt, try going to http://web.archive.org/web/20060221134707/http://www.ut.ee/SOSE/deely.htm). What I got out of umwelt is the idea of perspective. That maybe from our umwelt or perspective, we see no consciousness in animals because they don’t behave or think the way we do. My neighbor had a dog and I use to always like playing with it as a child. When I would be near the dog, it would wag its tail and come over to me. It’s hard for me to grasp that this is a non-conscious response; that the dog is just doing this out of instinct. If maximizing your utility is an instinctual reaction than all of our choices as humans would also be categorized as instinctual. Now that I think of it, I never really understood why there was a common conventional wisdom that animals did not have consciousness. We all live in hopes of surviving one way or another and a lot of our actions if not all are through that basis. When we decide to go entertain ourselves in whatever way, this is to reduce stress, to have fun and feel good. We do this because we think it is bettering ourselves, or else we wouldn’t do it. So what makes this not instinctual? I think it might just have been a misunderstanding and an over dosage of egotism that made humans believe that they were special and were the only ones with consciousness. In the end, it seems based on perspective on determining what has consciousness and what doesn’t.

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By Arthur To

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