Week_7 Animal Consciousness by Richard Jin

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.”

http://www.necn.com/Boston/SciTech/SciTech-Animal-communication/1216850352.html <– Animal Communication

http://www.viddler.com/explore/mahalodaily/videos/53/346.683/  <–Human-animal communication?

By Richard Jin

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