Weel 7 - Animla Consciousness by Isaac Arjonilla

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. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6100430.stm) This discovery showed that animals indeed are capable of being conscious.

happy-elephant

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.

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8cf7tPoN5o&feature=related)

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.

white_rabbit_by_kyoht

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

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