Archive for February, 2009

Week 7: Conciousness //matt robertson

Monday, February 23rd, 2009
    When I was 17, while in the hospital, my heart stopped for about 21 seconds. I remember everything fading to nothing and then waking up very suddenly (my heart had been chemically started with epinephrine). I had no conception of time between when I went out and when I woke up; a seemingly infinite amount of time had passed between before and after. I felt as if I hadn’t existed and was recreated after the event. This has led me to believe that my sentience merely appears to exist to justify my actions and explain complicated behavior.

    There is evidence of animals being aware of themselves. This evidence largely hangs upon the observed behaviors of elephants and octopodes. The problem with trying to prove self awareness is that we can only observe behaviors which seem like sentience. While it is true that animals appear be aware of themselves to some extent, I do not believe that the qualia of being an elephant or an octopus compares in anyway to that of being a human. 

    In a course I took on psycho-biology, we studied how evolution can create organisms that appear to be self-sacrificial. This relies on the fact that organisms that are self-sacrificial save the lives of other organisms that are self-sacrificial (which share their genes), resulting in an increase of the genetic factors that bring about that kind of behavior. Along the same lines, appearing to be self aware can have many benefits. Furthermore, monogamous relationships between animals can be beneficial for their survival and (more importantly) the survival of their genes. This does not mean that there is a mythical force causing animals to fall in love with one another. Many insects and arachnids eat their partner after mating. While evolution is a well known concept in the field of biology, it does not seem to be applied to collectives as often as it is to organisms.

Week 7: Attitudes toward the Lives of Animals by Ryan Andre Magsino

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Week 7: Attitudes toward the Lives of Animals by Ryan Andre Magsino

Given the ability to reason and conceptualize, humans claim themselves as cognitive beings with a conscious. However, what of non-human animals? Do non-human animals exhibit any sense of consciousness or cognitive thought? If so/not, how should they be treated? Should they have the same living rights as a human? All these questions have arisen from analysis of this past week’s topic, “Consciousness & Memory,” and an insightful talk by guest speaker Siddharth Ramakrishnan. He prompted us to consider the connection between consciousness and living organisms. Specifically, he contends the existence of cognitive thinking or consciousness in non-human animals. Ramakrishnan utilized examples such as a cephalopod’s ability to cloak itself depending on the circumstances and how an elephant could recognize its reflection in a mirror as a means to justify his point of view. Ramakrishnan’s perspective is not necessarily the correct one nor is it the only one.

There are multitudes of viewpoints which address these imposing, over-arching questions. One common viewpoint is the recognition of consciousness in non-human animals. However, they are considered to have a smaller cognitive capacity in relation to humans. Therefore, humans are dominant over them and thus reserve the right to control them to their liking or not (Man’s Dominion View). Another viewpoint, the Animal-machine view, contends that non-human animals are like machines without souls and are thereby unable to think cognitively. Thus, humans are again entitled to use them as instruments to fulfill their purposes – whether it be their meat for food, their coats for clothing or even their companionship as pets.

A dog may be exhibit cognitive thinking, but is it thinking equal to or greater than that of a human?

A dog may be exhibit cognitive thinking, but is it thinking equal to or greater than that of a human?

Some perspectives choose to stress proper treatment while disregarding whether a non-human animal is consciously aware or not. Such a pro-life view would consider all forms of life as sacred. Therefore, humans should never have control over animals’ lives. Such thought was actually implemented in 17th century Japan when the shogun at the time, Tsuna-yoshi Tokugawa, actually made it illegal to intentionally harm any other living animal. Similarly though not as extreme, an animal right’s viewpoint would advocate for equality in treatment. One possible reasoning is the immeasurability of the level of conscious thought. By acknowledging both humans and non-human animals retain some cognitive thought, they should be considered equals.

As for philosophically backed viewpoints, we could look at either the Utilitarian or Kantian train of thought. According to a Utilitarian outlook, the basis of morality is sympathy and consideration for someone’s suffering and pleasure. If anyone, whether they are human or non-human, is suffering or feeling pain, we should try to reduce their suffering or pain. As for animals who have almost equal or clearer self-consciousness  compared with human newborns such as dolphins and primates, it is cruel to make them suffer just as it is cruel to make human babies suffer. Taking this point further, our viewpoints determine the way we perceive things. The following is a video on how such behavior affects how we determine whether an a non-human animal is cute or not: The Science of Cute. As for a Kantian approach, we must recognize the bad effects mistreatment would have on the human psychology. By treating non-human animals nicely, we avoid inciting cruelty into our own consciousness which could lead to offensive behavior to fellow humans.

Week 7 Memory and Consciousness_Long Lau

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Guest lecturer Dr. Ramakrishnan discussed about the consciousness of animals; he argues that humans always neglect animals’ ability to understand the environment and themselves. Being arrogant and selfish, humans seem to purposely regard animals as inferior beings, justifying themselves by labeling animals as not having consciousness. Dr. Ramakrishnan provided examples of octopi and bees, both of which are invertebrates, to show that at least some animals have the ability to react to environmental stimuli in complicated ways. For the octopus example, he showed us that its ability to disguise itself using both color change and texture change is clearly beyond the normal camouflage ability such as the strips of a zebra. Passive camouflage such as the strips of a zebra or the stick resemblance of a walking stick are the results of natural selection against those individuals who are more likely to be preyed upon due to their lack of ability to blend in with the environment. The cephalopods, however, utilize active camouflage in which the animal itself has to receive ambient information and react to them by actively changing its own physiological processes. Some scientists argue that most octopi, being colorblind, change their colors and patterns using epidermal cells that reflect light from the environment. However, the fact that octopi can not only change their patterns and colors but also their textures should be enough to convince people that they are indeed conscious of their surroundings as well as themselves. As for bees with their ability to convey directional codes within their dances, it is clear that a certain level of social awareness, communication sophistication, and collective intelligence must be achieved.

walking stick

I think it is difficult as a human to explore the consciousness of animals not only because of the ambiguity of the the definition of consciousness itself but also because of the inherent inability of empathizing with animals. I remember reading Franz Kafka’s short story “A Report to an Academy” in which the narrator is an ape that gives a speech to human audience about his painful transformation from an animal to a human. He said something like this ” through my training of becoming a human, I have lost the ability to express myself in terms of an ape and I cease to understand how it felt to be an ape because I find that no word in the human vocabulary is enough to capture the feelings of an animal.” It seems that language, which is a human invention, is a reflection of the anthropocentricity that humans take as a worldview for the things around them. As ironic as it may seem, perhaps we may never understand what it is like to be an animal even though we ourselves are animals. As such, we may never find out the actual extent of animal consciousness.

Weel 7 - Animla Consciousness by Isaac Arjonilla

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

As explained in lecture, consciousness is defined as a mental state where one distinguishes the relationship between an individual and the world surrounding us. This week’s lectures explained consciousness, and presented the questions that have risen from this topic. After an explanation of consciousness from a human point of view, there was a guest speaker that introduced us to animal consciousness. Dr. Siddharth Ramakrishnan gave his presentation on animal consciousness, where he explained how animals have the ability to think and become aware of their surroundings just as humans do. Because of common belief, most people would think that animals are not conscious. Ramakrishnan believes that animals have the capacity to show consciousness the same way that humans do. One of the examples that he gave during class was about Happy, the elephant. The experiment involved a young elephant, with a white “X” marked on the top of its head, when placed in front of a mirror, scientists would see if the elephant would either ignore the marking, or try and remove it. Surprisingly, the elephant recognized itself in the mirror and proceeded to remove the marking. ( This discovery showed that animals indeed are capable of being conscious.


Most people assume that animals are not conscious because they do not have characteristics that would label them as intelligent. But as Ramakrishnan explained using an octopus as an example, they are very capable of showing intelligence. When an octopus changes its texture, colors and patterns, it is not a simple reflex, but rather, a response to its surroundings using their highly developed and complex nervous system, that allows the octopus to control all these changes. This shows that not only can octopuses manage a complex nervous system, but they are also aware of their surroundings. In order to survive, it is imperative for octopuses to show their level of consciousness, because this is what allows them to be such great predators. Another amazing skill that has been shown by octopuses is the ability to solve problems, such as mazes.


People often dismiss animals as having consciousness because we expect them to have the same abilities as we do. Ramakrishnan also continued to give an explanation on Anthropomorphism, meaning that animals or non human creatures are given human characteristics. Like the white rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, there are many animals that show human qualities. Another topic brought up was emotion. However, since we will never really know what an animal sees, or what it feels, we are forced to continue to make experiments that will hopefully, lead us to more answers about their level of consciousness and behavior.


Dr. Ramakrishnan’s lecture was very enlightening. Sadly, I would have not thought that animals could posses such a high level of consciousness. I’ve realized that if we are to continue to understand how animlas behave this way and why they do, we must stop underestimating them. We must stop thinking that we are the only living being on this planet that has consciousness, and rather focus on how animals and humans show similar cognitive traits.

By - Isaac Arjonilla

week 7- the universe

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

The topic of animal consciousness is one that is hard to approach without hypocrisy, which makes it all the more multifacted and interesting.

The hypocrisy becomes clear when we examine the discussion of animals as sentient, thinking beings on a cohesive level. The speaker last week spoke at length about the different ways in which animals perceive the world based on their evolutionary adaptations to focus on different aspects of their environments immediate ecology.  The bees see ultravioltet, because to them ultraviolet is ultrayummy. Astrophysicist Richard Dawkins limns this point in his stunning TEDtalk entitled, “Queerer than We Can Suppose: The Strangeness of Science.”

He discusses the farthest reach of the universe, from the unfathomably large (like measuring the vastness of the universe) to the very, very small (like understanding the nature of quantum mechanics).  He poses the question: is the universe queerer than we can suppose?  Are there aspects of the universe that operate on levels which we cannot humanly fathom? In elucidating the current ideas of how large the universe may be, he points out the outrageously small amount of matter that exists.  Compared to the amount of space in the universe, there is an almost neglibile number of atoms.  The fact that those atoms can together in such a way that they interplay in a self-sustaining chemical reaction called Life, and that one form of life can reflect on it’s own being, is truly astounding.  The fact that we are here is absolutely dumbfounding.  And then he draws our attention inward, to examine the amount of space that exists even in things that are solid.  If we could see an atom, the nucleus would be the size of a baseball, and an electron would proportionally be the size and distance as a fly on the outer rim of the stadium.  So there is not only a ridiculous of space between clumps of atoms called plantets, but there is very little of anything in atoms themselves. They are mostly empty.  However, he sheds light on this fact in his explanation of what he calls: The Middle World.  We have evolved to operate on the Middle Level of perception, rather than the quantum or jumbo, because these interactions are what we need to know to function.  In this way, we have evolved to develop sensory organs that pick up on relevant information, such as wavelengths of reflected light rays (color) or vibrations of moving objects (sound) or subliming matter (smell), just as bats have evolved to detect color with their ears, dolphins have developed the ability to understand the relations of sound, echo, and distance for travel, and bees have that ability to detect ultraviolet light. We have these sense because those are the things that are most relevent to successfully surviving in our reality given our physical needs.  However, Dawkins also points to the idea that our very ability to comprehend our senses and our place in the swirling infinite is limited as we have only the brain capacity to understand that which is vital for us: a Middle World perspective.    It seems oddly unsettling and beautiful that while we are in control of our thoughts, those thoughts are in the bathwater of a limited capacity for perception.

You think you may be in charge, but that only goes so far.

Given all of this, we can turn our attention to the idea of animal rights, which seems to be the practical application of understanding animal consciousness.  We can group the entire universe into two categories: living things, and non-living.  Mutually exclusive.  And there is such an outrageously small amount of matter, and such a small percentage of that is living, that it seems like appreciation and awe is to be assigned to all life.  Of it it isn’t, then regard should not be shown to any living thing.  Because it doesn’t seem like the number of brain connections or the beauty or the friendliness or the complexity of a living thing should be the core criterion of ellicting respect; rather, it seems that any life at all should be treated equally, because the very fact that it is living is an outrageous miracle.  In the way that Kant describes how morality, if it is to be had, should be accessible and right and unwavering in all situations: if something is right, then it is always the right thing to do.  In the same way, if we are to come to a conclusion about the way that animals should be treated based on the fact that they too are conscious, it should seem that all animals have the same shot at love or mistreatment and damnation.

However, this idea is rarely applied in everyday life, even when talking about this topic directly. Many people will spout off about the ethical treatment of animals in movies or science or research, belaying the masses to appreciate life, and to save those poor cute animals.  Those intelligent, strangely human orangutans with dinner plate eyes and said gramma faces.  Those adorable flourescent bunnies or undifferentiated stem cells.  Its life, man.

But few stop to look beyond the sensationalized PITA compaigns and look at their own actions.  They march in the anti-animal cruelty parades in their leather shoes and celebrate a good days work with a hamburger, entirely ignoring the glittering fact that their consumer choices support the systemic massacre of animals every day.  Because, well, its life man. And that life, to me, seems like the miracle worth preserving, rather than just the life we deem to be somehow more miraculous than the simpler forms.  Given the vastness of the unvierse, it only seems fair.  Given the vastness of the ignorant empty abyss hiding in their heads, I doubt the hypocrisy will diminish anytime soon.

allie gates.

week_7 On consciousness by Nikola Kondov

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

We humans have always put ourselves above every other living being that inhabits planet Earth. And we do so because we tend to consider Homo sapiens the most intelligent and self-conscious species on the planet. But what is intelligence? People often associate being intelligent with having a lot of knowledge about the surrounding world. Usually, the boundaries of this knowledge is defined by society - one is considered an intelligent person when he or she is familiar with  math, sciences, art. Getting straight A-s and going to college sounds like a “must” for being  successful. And, failing to achieve this objective automatically puts a person into a “lower” category. More or less those people are considered “stupid”. They usually do the cleaning, repair, construction work, etc. BUT how many college “geniuses” know how to set up their own telephone line. Or to fix their TV if it breaks. Or to install a satellite dish, for example. I know that if I try to do such a thing I would probably fail to do so, and would probably destroy expensive equipment. Whereas every one of  those guys that we see every day around campus  walking around in a uniform and  carrying a toolbox could just do it in less than an hour. Then, compared to them , am I smarter, just because I go to UCLA and got a B- in a biology course, for example? If we consider being “intelligent” doing reasonably well in college, then maybe. But if the ability to perform a technical task means being “intelligent” then I am, in  fact, a “dumbass”. And the ability to perform their job conforms with the definition of being intelligent mentioned earlier. Such examples are obvious almost everywhere. I have personally known a lot of kids who are geniuses behind the computer. They do stuff that I haven’t even heard about. Yet if they try to do something completely different yet probably mundane and usual for an every-day person , they simply fail to do so. So are they intelligent or are they “dumb”? This question will remain unanswered simply because a definiton of intelligence does not exist. I can be a genius in one area but a complete failiure in another one. This controversy points to one conclusion -  there isn’t a single scientifically correct definition of intelligence. We can define most of the things that exist in the universe. A dog is a subspecies of the grey wolf belonging to the species Canis lupus which belongs to the class Mammalia, which in turn belongs to the kingdom Animalia. A star is simply a giant space body made of plasma that is held together by its own gravity. The biggest controversy that we see in nature is the nature of light -  it conforms to the definition of a stream of particles and to the definition of a wave at the same time. But intelligence is even more complicated. As mentioned earlier, one can be really intelligent in one particular area and not intelligent in another area. And when two people are compared (which happens a lot) someone cannot be “more intelligent” than the other just because actually two different areas are being compared. Just like speed and time cannot be compared, two person’s intelligences also cannot be compared.

And  just as intelligence is undefined, so is consciousness. Just as we have seen in the lecture on Tuesday, the term consciousness has a quite ambiguous definition in the dictionary. I would not comment the first part, which describes the term consciuosness as the “state or condition of being conscious”. If we analyze the second definition of the term, which is “a sence of one’s personal or collective identity, including the attitudes, beliefs, and sensitivities held by or considered characteristic of an individual or a group “, the term seems to get a definition.  As mentioned earlier, people tend to put themselves in a higher position than any other animal because they consider themselves more intelligent and conscious. As it has been logically inferred, intelligence is an undefined term, much like infinity. But what if we consider consciousness a quality that is not solely attributed to individuals of the species Homo sapiens. All we need is to prove that the null hypothesis, that is, that being conscious is a quality that is exclusively attributed to human beings, is wrong. But how can I say that another animal actually is conscious. If I take the definition of the term, and give an example of another animal showing behavior that conforms to that definition, then I would render a hypothesis that has been the basis of human consciousness, that is “our collective belief, that defines us” obsolete. The first animal that I would like to analyze is the domesticated dog, Canis lupus familiaris.They, of course, have derived from the gray wolf, which is known as a social species that hunts in packs and uses a unique and very successful hunting technique that depends on collective action from all members of the pack. This means, that wolves are able to hunt because they are organized well and use communication in order to set up an attack. Not only are they able to get a sense of personal identity, but they are able to get a sense of collective identity. They recognize members from their pack and would gladly fight off any intruder. But, of course, this statement could be easily countered by critics just by pointing out that they may act as an instinct, that all the individuals know is the members of their own pack and they may have learned that by imprinting just like ducklings recognize the first thing they see after they hatch as their mother, even though it could be a researcher’s rubber boots. As far as my competence on wolf behavior goes, I cannot state whether wolves recognize other members of their pack just because they have an “imprinting” instinct or not. But I can analyze their direct descendant, the domesticated dog. I have had the ability to observe a lot of “homeless” dogs in my hometown. Most of them have been born on the street and have not had any direct contact with people. More or less, they have considered people another animals in the concrete “forest”. What struck me during my observations, is their unique organization. They clearly have a distinguished hierarchy. I have seen “leaders” and “fighters”. There are two reasons why I could infer that some dogs had a specific role. Every morning, on my way to school, I could see certain individuals that I was able to recognize because they sat still on the exact same spot every single day, in an unnatural position. They almost looked like security guards to me, and they clearly had a specific assignment. Each one of them was monitoring a specific area of the street, while the other dogs were sleeping in the formed “square”, much like in the picture below:


Clearly, the dogs that were guarding were covering a 360-degree radius and could easily alarm the rest of the pack if something dangerous happened. They had a responsibility toward the group, which means that they have a sense of personal and collective identity. As no research that was known to me has been conducted, my observations are yet to be confirmed. But, as far as I have seen, they clearly depict rational behavior, that goes beyond what  people have normally seen in domestic dogs that have been raised under “normal” circumstances. This is just one example that confronts the hypothesis that consciousness is exclusively reserved for human beings.

As prof. Ramakrishnan has mentioned on Thursday, bees exhibit a specific behavior, that is unique to them. They are able to recognize a “spy” wasp in their hive and “fry” it alive just by moving their bodies. They have the knowledge that  moving their bodies together and using  friction leads to an increase in temperature just one degree below their heat tolerance, which is enough to kill the intruder. The same bees exhibit a specific behavior that points to the location of a food source -  a specific dance, that varies with distance and direction to the food source. So not only are the bees able to recognize themselves and the individuals of their group, but they are able to interpret the location of a food source by reading the code that the bee scouts show to them by their dance. This is, in fact, a complicated language, because they are able to locate a food source miles away just by interpreting the frequency of the vibration of the bees. I am positive that if an average person finds a note saying that there is a food store  five miles somewhere to the right, they could get lost, or at least have some trouble finding it. So by no means is the bee less intelligent or have less consciousness than a human being. Yes, bees cannot build skyscrapers, invent the Internet, write, read, create machines that make their everyday lives easier, but , as prof. Ramakrishnan has pointed out, they simply don’t need to do that in order to survive. They would find our technology as unnecessary as we find the stamens and the pistils of the flowers unnecessary. And if a language is what makes us different from the animal world, we are wrong again. The way octopi and squid change their colors in order to convey a message is so elaborate and complex, that it is , in my opinion, a language as elaborate as ours. The bee dances mentioned earlier are also a form of communication that is just as complex as our vocal or visual communication. There is even a species of parasitic fungi that infects the brain of a species of ants and performs “brain control” on them. The “zombie” ants simply climb to a high location where the fungus’s reproductive part simply burst from the ant’s body (much like the parasite in the movie Alien) and releases spores. So, if a species of fungi knows what chemicals to release in order to control another living being’s brain, then where do we people stand? The answer is simple : every organism is conscious for itself, it just does not exhibit it in a way that other organisms can sense their consciousness. Much like different species are unable to mate and produce an offspring, seeing another species’s consciousness looks impossible because this consciousness is exhibited at a different level. We do not need to read the bee’s signs because we do not consume flower nectar. Bees do not care about us because our lives are not connected to them (except if someone sticks his or her hand into the hive, which will trigger a defensive response in the bee community).

Some people accociate consciousness with the ability to perceive the surrounding world and use the senses in order to reproduce an image within the brain- much like a memory.  But sometimes unsuspected things happen. One would infer that if a blind person who has never seen the surrounding world could never depict an accurate picture of it, because he or she would not be conscious enough about the visual world. Of course, that couldn’t be more wrong, as it is visible in this case:

Esref Armagan - a blind painter with a perception of perspective

Terms such as intelligence, consciousness, perception are just too broad to be given an exact definition, yet they are used within our society to describe supremacy that actually does not exist anywhere but our own minds.

by Nikola Kondov

memory by joseph hernandez

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Memory and consciousness are very interesting concepts that effect everyone on a daily basis. I find it really interesting how the brain prioritizes what is important for memory and then there is just a giant category of miscellaneous information that is just completely forgotten. What is it that compels the brain to forget certain information? I have a “memory box” where I keep a lot of important personal artifacts. It’s interesting because whatever I want to keep in there is because I feel like those are pieces of art in my life. They are my own pieces of art that I keep in my own personal museum. I have altered my possibility of what my brain will remember because I have created that for myself. Art is something that is really important but art can still be forgettable; museums can do the same thing and alter the possibility of an individual’s memory and leaving a lasting effect of art on people’s minds. <img src=”×226.jpg” alt=”museum” title=”museum” width=”300″ height=”226″ class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-1606″ />

Week 7 – “Memory + Consciousness” by Derek Spitters

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Siddharth Ramakrishnan asked us to look at consciousness from an alternative perspective. As a society we take a largely anthropocentric view of consciousness, however, it is clear that many animals have the capacity to become self-aware as well.  Dr. Ramakrishnan gave several examples of animals that seemed to be aware of both their surroundings and of themselves. One of these examples was the elephant that touched the mark on its face when it saw the blemish in a mirror. This shows that the elephant had a certain self-image, and it was conscious that its appearance had been altered. Furthermore, pods of whales will go through a greeting process when they encounter one another before they begin any other interactions. This is significant because it shows that these whales are able to differentiate between themselves, other whales from their group, and whales from other groups. Clearly whales have a complex form of society in addition to their well-documented communicative abilities. Another animal Dr. Ramakrishnan mentioned was the octopus. Many cephalopods have the ability to camouflage their appearance, an ability that demonstrates both knowledge of self and surroundings. Octopi can consciously alter their physical appearance. Finally, Dr Ramakrishnan mentioned a different level of consciousness, love, or the consciousness of another’s body. Love can be seen in the animal kingdom as well as in the human sphere. Many species of animals, such as the prairie vole, hold lifelong monogamous relationships with their partners.

One of the most interesting points that I thought Dr. Ramakrishnan brought up was that we often have no problem considering large animals such as dogs, whales, dolphins, and elephants to be conscious. It is more difficult for us to assign consciousness to smaller animals. Clearly, there must be some limit to what life forms have a consciousness. Few would dispute the fact that single celled organisms are not conscious, but where do we draw the line? The answer is that at this point we cannot determine where the boundary of consciousness exists in the animal kingdom. There is currently no scientific way of determining the level of consciousness of a living creature. This is a problem that science has not been able to address, and therefore it has remained largely ignored by the scientific community. Therefore, it is very important that the artistic community helps bring some of these issues to light. Projects such as the “GFB Bunny” bring these issues to the public forum. On the other hand, some people argue that transgenic art itself disregards animal rights. In fact, many biogenetics labs have been targeted by ecoterrorists. Nevertheless, it remains important that these artists continue with their vision, as long as they are mindful of their impact on the animals they use in their artwork.

Another topic that was mentioned in the lectures was altered states of consciousness. Drugs can cause people to lose their sense of consciousness or can at least change it in a very dramatic way. Along a different train of thought, dreams are also an altered state of consciousness. Thus, the question remains, do animals experience changes in their state of consciousness? Do animals dream or is this a purely human phenomenon?

Animal Consciousness:

Altered Consciousness:

–Derek Spitters

Week_7 Animal Consciousness by Richard Jin

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Contrasting some of the blogs written before me, I did not find Siddharth Ramakrishnan’s lecture on animal consciousness very surprising. While many considered the possibility of animal consciousness a novel notion, I felt it was only natural to assume animals have consciousness. Although there are various levels of consciousness, I believe to assume human beings are the only living organisms to possess consciousness and have the ability to be aware of our surroundings, sensations, and thoughts is a narrow and pretentious view. Siddharth Ramakrishnan provided multiple examples from the animal kingdom that support this assertion of an animal consciousness, however, as previous theories on animal consciousness reveal, a number of scholars have contested my seemingly “only natural” view of animal consciousness.

Such theories challenging the existence of an animal consciousness include Descartes’s denial of animal speech, language, and rationality. Similarly, Davidson in 1975 denied the existence of “intentional states” in animals. However, I believe these “intentional states” are fundamental abilities necessary for survival. Without the ability to communicate, organisms would quickly die out as predators would easily prey on the weak individual. Looking at organisms such as gorillas and wolves, without speech and language, their heard/pack mentality would not be present and as a result, they would become easy prey. Likewise, examining Ramakrishnan’s example of the bee’s forming a sphere around a wasp scout and beating their wings at a high enough frequency to burn the wasp to death, without communication, such group coordination would not be possible. Even on the most elementary level, prokaryotes communicate through chemical signals. Likewise, without rationality, the extinction of organisms would be inevitable. When animals see warning colors signaling the aggression of another organism (e.g. red and yellow), without rationality, they would not have a fight or flight reaction, they would not be able to reason between the two options.

Survival is a feat of consciousness.

I think now a days we credit too much of an organisms behaviors to “reflex” and “autonomic responses.” For instance, Ramakrishnan’s example of the octopi; while from our elementary biology classes we would describe the ability to camouflage as an automatic response to its surroundings, as Ramakrishnan described, the ability to camouflage is a conscious behavior necessary for its survival.

After reflecting on his lecture, I started to form my own theory on consciousness – despite my limited knowledge in life and ecological systems. My claim is that all homeostatic behaviors (e.g. breathing and sweating) are unconscious behaviors, while all behaviors are done so on a conscious and intentional basis. While homeostatic behaviors are enough to keep an organism alive, it is not enough to ensure the survival of the organism. Conscious and intentional behaviors allow for the survival of the organism (e.g. hunting, communication, and hiding). Conversely if an organism has survived through natural selection, it is due to its consciousness –consciously using the advantage it has obtained through random genetic mutation. According to this theory – however fundamentally unsound it is – animal consciousness is logical and “only natural.” <– Animal Communication  <–Human-animal communication?

By Richard Jin

wk7—-animal has consciousness— shiyang zheng

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Cogito, ergo sum” (English: “I think, therefore I am”) is a philosophical statement in Latin used by René Descartes, which became a foundational element of Western philosophy. Descartes examines his beliefs to see if any have survived the doubt. In his belief in his own existence he finds it is impossible to doubt that he exists. Even if there were a deceiving god (or an evil demon, the tool he uses to stop himself sliding back into ungrounded beliefs), his belief in his own existence would be secure, for how could he be deceived unless he existed in order to be deceived. Through his ability to think, Descartes realized his consciousness, and thus knew his own mental existence.

The consciousness we discussed in the class remains me of a topic I discussed in philosophy class in high school: whether the life is reality or the dream is reality? In the dream, we have feeling, sentiment, emotion, and more important we can think as well, like playing a drama in another world with all kinds of possibility. Except physical movement, there is no difference between dreaming and day-life. There is a movie called “Waking Life” directed by Richard Linklater and made in 2001.Waking Life is about a young man in a persistent lucid dream-like state. The film follows its protagonist as he initially observes and later participates in philosophical discussions that weave together issues like reality, free will, our relationships with others, and the meaning of life. Along the way the film touches on other topics including existentialism, situationist politics, posthumanity, the film theory of André Bazin, and on lucid dreaming itself. There is also a novel called Sophie’s World, a novel by Jostein Gaarder, published in 1991. In the novel, it also raises the question whether dream is reality or not? It’s true that we have consciousness in our daily life because we think; it’s also true we can feel our consciousness in the dream. We do not know which is the reality, but there is one thing we are sure: we are alive because we know we are.
Everyone knows his/her thinking, but not others. As we know, it’s impossible to fully understand and to know what is other thinking about. On the same deduction, it’s impossible for a human being to know the thinking of the animal. It’s even more challenging when we cannot speak animal language. So, does animal have consciousness? According to Descartes, if we can think and we are thinking, we have consciousness. So, can animal think? As an outside of animal community, we know little about their mental world.

There is another question: does other people and animal have consciouness? In linguistics, linguist believes the existence of A universal language that is to be spoken and understood by all or most of the world’s population; or, in some circles, is said to be understood by all living things, beings, and objects alike. This is hypothetic, however, I believe it as well. I remember when I traveled to Japan I had great experience with geisha though I don’t speak Japanese. We made gesture, funny sounds and facial expression. For my dogs at home, we train and give command by physical gestures and special sounds. So, I believe it possible to build new language with dogs. If dog can communicate and understand the sign we make as a certain command to do a certain movement, dog certainly has intelligence and ability to think, and thus draw the connection between the sign and requested movement. If dog has ability to think, according to consciousness definition, it means dog has consciousness.

Definiation of Consciousness: is a type of mental state, a way of perceiving, particularly the perception of a relationship between self and other.