Consciousness in Primates by Danya Linsteadt

I believe there are two levels of consciousness; a lower level being the opposite of unconscious and an upper level requiring acute awareness of the surrounding world and calculated reactions to it. It is easy to determine whether or not something is conscious as opposed to unconscious. Is it responsive to external stimuli? All living things can qualify for this level of consciousness, but determining whether or not something qualifies for the upper level of consciousness is a little more difficult. For example, does the being experience emotion? Does it have hopes and goals? Does it dream? Can it control its behavior based on acknowledgment of future consequences? Does it preform reciprocal altruism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reciprocal_altruism, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/194023/ethics/60003/Kinship-and-reciprocity#ref=ref28144)? Does it manipulate the environment to serve its needs?

I don’t think cephalopods, naked mole rats, and voles qualify for this level of consciousness.They may perceive their environment and change color to match it or have similar hormonal reactions to mating, but that doesn’t mean they are conscious of these behaviors. I believe these behaviors to be an automatic instinctual response. The classification gets a little more complicated when discussing something like the chameleon, which changes color based on its “mood” (http://news.softpedia.com/news/Why-Do-Chameleons-Change-Color-47360.shtml). However, I still don’t think they qualify for the higher level of consciousness.

I do think that primates can be classified as having a higher level of consciousness. It is hard to tell whether or not something experiences emotion, but when separated from its group, a primate exhibits symptoms of depression, “monkey anaclitic depression may mirror human anaclitic depression more closely than any other specific monkey pathological state” (http://www.springerlink.com/content/x7778006l45mt528/fulltext.pdf). Primates have also been shown to exhibit reciprocal altruism (http://www.megaessays.com/viewpaper/88395.html). They manipulate their surroundings by creating and using tools (http://primatology.net/2008/01/31/non-human-primate-tool-use-gorillas-weilding-weapons-macaques-mirror-neurons/), making nests in trees (http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/77070/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0), and various other means. These behaviors fulfill most of my constraints for defining a being as having the higher level of consciousness and lead me to determine that primates have indeed attained that level of consciousness.

Hypothesizing whether or not primates have a higher level of consciousness brings up the discussion of whether or not the ability of language is required for a higher level of consciousness. Although primates have been shown to be capable of communication (http://anthro.palomar.edu/behavior/behave_4.htm), they are not considered to have a language compared to humans who have multiple spoken, written, and gesture languages. Personally, I don’t believe that a humanistic level of language is required to be considered as having a higher level of consciousness. Primates preform many humanistic actions without the use of language and communicate quite well with each other and accomplish many complicated group tasks.

One Response to “Consciousness in Primates by Danya Linsteadt”

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