Archive for the ‘week7_consciousness’ Category

Week 7 / Consciousness and Memory / Erum Farooque

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Consciousness is a difficult concept to define since it can mean so many different things. Personally, when I hear consciousness I think of being aware of surroundings, but usually, and more specifically I think of consciousness as being awake vs unconsciousness, the state of being asleep. So, I thought of course, animals have consciousness, they all sleep too. Humans are not the only beings to go into a state of slumber. But then I thought about how consciousness is about being aware of one’s surroundings, presence, and state of being. It is like the idea of ”What is real? and Am I real?”. Reality is a topic discussed in The Matrix, as we saw in class. If we are not consciousness of ourselves, our environment, and reality, who knows what dire consequences can result. In The Matrix we lose touch of everything and don’t even live in the “real” world anymore and live in a virtual simulation of the world to protect us from the truth. We must be and stay consciousness of everything, including “we”. We is society and the people surrounding us and in our lives in general. We affects our consciousness and memory, depending up on how much we let it. The more conscious we are, the more we will remember and the more we remember, more specifically what we remember, will affect how “we” will affect us.  Surroundings definitely greatly effect the shaping of a person. When we talk about consciousness, the “we” we are talking about is society and people in general. Consciousness contributes to memory, obviously. For example a drunk person’s state of consciousness is very low so the person remembers very little of that time later on. It is important to be conscious of one’s surroundings, an idea The Matrix demonstrates very clearly. My dad told me a story about how aware the Mesopotamians were of their environment. He said an angel slipped the thinnest piece of paper under one leg of a chair a man was sitting on and working and he immediately reacted and moved, feeling that he was out of balance and the chair was no longer level. Being that conscious uses more brain power than the average human. People only use 10% o f their actual brain power. Doesn’t that make you wonder, how about the rest, the MAJORITY of the brain that is wasted. The Mesopotamians probably use more than that mere about. If we used more than 10%, I’ve been told we could do amazing things like fly and telekinesis. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Consciousness depends on your perspective. It is defined as “a type of mental state, a way of perceiving, particularly the perception of a relationship between self and other. It has been described as a point of view…” How people view their consciousness, living and being depends on each individual person. People see life and search for the meaning of it and look for a purpose. People turn to spiritual means to fill this void sometimes.

This video illustrates how people’s consciousness work. It is like a neat chronicle of the circle of life. It shows how people want to be separated and independent at first but when they become conscious of this they want to be together with others that “we” I discussed earlier. They try to join the we, even worship it, and always have that feeling of belonging. Their emotions change their consciousness and how they try to survive and these emotions also change their memories. Memory and consciousness can be explained through science as brain waves and chemicals and the such, but art is linked to memory and consciousness too. Memory has a great effect on consciousness and how people view life, right? Well, memories are shaped by art, visual images and beauty leave a greater impression than a lackluster boring experience. Happy art will cause someone to have a happy conscious state while disturbing images and ideas through art can produce a depressed individual. Sometimes being too conscious of one’s surroundings can have negatives results like depression or can have the opposite effect. People want to know the truth and are sometimes happier when they know, on the other hand, knowing too much can make one think how horribel things really are. As in the matrix, Neo was perffectly happy in the fabricated world, but when became consciosu of the horrible reality of machines abusing humans, he was clearly disturbed.

I watched the video about Daniel Dennet speaking and he was very interesting. His point in the video in which the squares changed color but no one noticed is interesting as it relates to my point of memory and consciousness. Perspectives shape what you are conscious of and end up remembering. Also, another interesting point made by him was that you do not know how you do something, but you just know that you do it. I do not know exactly how I am conscious, of what I am conscious of even, but I know that I am conscious.

~Erum Farooque

Week 7: Are Animals Just as Conscious as Human? By Claudia Zapien

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
The lecture regarding consciousness asked the question of how do we know who is truly conscious. The problem with that question is that a lot of people believe that they are aware of what being conscious means, but truthfully if they really see the definition of conscious doesn’t just regard humans, but it includes a much larger scale that include a lot of organic beings such as animals.
The definition of consciousness is a state of mind, a way of perceiving, especially the relationship between ones self and others. Consciousness gives to the idea of there being thoughts, sensations, perceptions, dreams, self awareness. Something that is conscious is always looking to retain and maximize their survival, such as food, safety, family, such as mates and offspring. When it comes to the concept of procreation, being that can create offspring will usually find a mate or various mates in order to carry along the process. Males are wired to spread their seeds around as much as possible to maximize the number of offspring they can produce. The size of testes are a major factor in whether a male will most likely be monogamous or not. When it comes to females they have to be very selective since they can only produce a limited number of offspring at a given time. They have to make sure that the mate(s) they have chosen will give them healthy and desirable offspring. This is why females are more leaning towards monogamy  and males are not, of course in all generalizations there are exceptions
The primary function of sexual behavior in all animals is to procreate which is why the topic of gay animals being monogamous is something that doesn’t follow the evolutionary pattern and cannot be explain unless there is further analysis. Why is it that these animals that are hotwired to spread their seeds so that they can reproduce as many offspring as possible limiting themselves by picking a mate for life that cannot reproduce offspring for them? This questions is something much more complicated, but it is a very obvious example of how conscious these animals are of their selves and those around them. They have decided to limit or better yet eliminate their possibilities of offspring due to a bond towards another animal that is unable to help them reach one of their biological needs. Just like humans, it is talked about that the reason why there animals choose to be monogamous is due to jealousy. Now an animal that isn’t conscious wouldn’t be aware of this concept of jealous because that required the animals to have feelings, thoughts, dreams, and to be aware that he or she isn’t the only one in their environment.
Something else that give us a good provide sufficient evidence that these animals are aware and conscious of everything around them is that fact that even if biologically they aren’t the sex that physically gives life they still have these wants to have children and care for them. A perfect very public example of this were Roy and Silo, the gay monogamous penguins in the New Your Zoo. The couple began making a nest to incubate their egg, since they did not have a real egg they used a rock and acted as if it was an egg and kept it warm just like if the couple was a typical heterosexual pair. The second time, they couple was given a simulation egg and the couple was able to provide the same excellent care that a heterosexual couple would provide. Finally, in 2002 there was a couple that did not want to incubate their egg properly so the egg was given to Roy and Silo and they are not proud parents of a girl penguin named Tango.
Obviously sex and having a mate and family isn’t just to fulfill a biological and evolutionary purpose, but it is also a way to identify you’re self as a unique, conscious being. Another example that we can actually see and have tangible evidence. In rodents, scientist were able to scan the brain of rodents. There were two groups, the one who were in somewhat monogamous relationship and those who did not have a particular mate, but had different one. They identified that there are neural transmitters that are released by the brain when animals including us human have a meaningful, physical, sexual interaction with our mate. The group that was still sexually active did not show this concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain and that is because they are aware that there are different type of relationships, those that are just to fulfill your procreation purpose and those that are more emotional.
Truthfully, these are only a few example of how it is completely obvious that animals are conscious even if we don’t feel like they are as advanced as we are, they might be and even more. We have to place ourselves in the environment of these animals to fully understand the complexity of these animals. We cannot judge an animal by human criteria because we are completely different and something that is important for animals might be very insignificant for us human even if it has to do with the same basic needs in life which are safety, survival and procreation. We need realize that we cannot judge the every situation by our own umwelt, which is the way you personally view  the world due to your surrounds.
By Claudia Zapien

Week 7/ Stream of Unconsciousness/ Ariel Alter

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Oftentimes when I’m trying to explain something, I mumble and attempt to verbally delineate a logic in my thinking, bringing up characters in this grand narrative that arise immaculately like Athena out of Zeus’s head. However, the only modicum of resemblance these characters have to Athena is that they simply arise. Oftentimes, my ideas don’t communicate to the person I’m talking to, even though I’m gesticulating and wavering like a rotoscoped animation in Waking Life.

Then, when the person I’m talking to doesn’t understand my incoherent gibberish, I realize that I am not explaining whatever I am trying to explain inside my mind properly (I take it whatever is going on in there resembles this). I get confused and angry and often enraged, like a chimp that can only communicate its anger for being caged and tortured his entire life by ripping off a lady’s face, or a zookeeper’s testicles. Thus, there is a rupture between how I communicate to myself and its verbal manifestation. But then I joke to the confused and maimed listener, “Sorry, I don’t have theory of mind.” HO HA HE HA HO.

Theory of mind is the ability to recognize that someone has a different state of consciousness, or “beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.” other than one’s own. In Siddharth Ramakrishnan’s lecture on Thursday, he explored this fascinating facet of consciousness. Humans, being considered- by humans- as the most clever of beasts, exhibit their ability to anticipate another’s perceptions and adjust their behavior accordingly, perfect purveyors of theory of mind. Animals are often distinguished (by humans, once again, imposing their umvelt on every facet of existence) as not having a higher state of consciousness, if higher consciousness is the ability to stop and reflect about oneself situated in one’s environment. However, theory of mind seems to exist fervently in nature, exhibited in the cephalopod’s hyper/ photo-realistic mimicry of its surroundings to evade predators. The cephalopod changes into an exact replica of elements in its environment, provoking gasps from an audience of a scientific lecturer on TED (gasps that haven’t been around since PT Barnum sewed a chimp’s torso to a fish’s tail and called it a mermaid). That means the cephalopod perceives its environment, and recognizes that other creatures perceive their environment. Anyway, enough of my semi-conscious stream of conscious recount, I thought that I would end with a more discursive analysis of the Siddharth Ramakrishnan lecture:

Animals are smarter than you think and shit. Like I saw this thing on youtube, and it was a crow and he like, made this hook and got a basket out of a bottle. I know, I paint a good picture with words, a word portrait if you will. So anyways, this neuroscience guy was all like, “yo look at this octopus.” and I was like, “that guy is lying, that ain’t no octopus!” But after I stood up and called him out in the middle of the slide show he was like, “Damn gurl, settle down, it’s only pretendin’ to be a thing of seaweed.” And I was like, “really?” and he was all, “yeah, you can put the broken bottle down now.”

    So I was like, yo that octopus was not only able to change its skin color, but it was all like, hey I’m gonna change the texture of my skin and stuff, to look like some seaweed. That shit is smart.

    I then woke up to bees incinerating a W.A.S.P. to death.

    week7/consciousness and memory/paige marton

    Monday, February 23rd, 2009

    Unfortunately I was absent for the guest speaker, so instead I’ll discuss what we went over during Tuesdays lecture Consciousness and Memory. It was without a doubt one of my favorite and most inspiring lectures. Our conscious and subconscious mind has always been an interest of mine and I tried to explore it further with my midterm proposal. Relating consciousness back to philosophy was a very interesting way to contemplate the life we live. The saying “The only thing we know for certain is that nothing is for certain” relates back to the ideas of Socrates and Plato. Specifically, Plato’s allegory of the cave. Questions such as: how do we release ourselves from bounds we are not aware of? and what if the life we lead is not the totality of what is possible? relate back to the allegory of the cave. In the allegory of the cave Plato explores human nature through a type of experiment. Prisoners are chained and watch shadows created by fire and puppets behind them; this is the only reality they know. If one discovers that there is more to life than this, will they leave the cave, and will others follow? We discussed the similarities between these thoughts and the ideas behind The Matrix. The Matrix is by far one of the best movies of the 20th century and the ideas explored throughout it are really worth contemplation. What is real and how do we define it? We only have access to the content of our own minds. This relates back to Camillo’s Memory Theater and the idea that we can access information from a database; which is now tangible with the world wide web. We discussed the fragility of memory that creates distortion and illusions. Which lead us to discuss the phenomenon of phantom limbs. While examining one patient it was found that whenever his face was touched he felt the presence of his amputated hand. It was discovered that in the brain, the face sensor is located directly next to the hand sensor, and once you loose a hand the face sensor takes over that area. Therefore, when the patients face was touched, he felt his phantom limb as well. The power of the brain and its memory is just as strong as what is happening in reality. The phenomenon of phantom limbs really amazed me and efficiently illustrates the distortion that can occur. I found some great websites that further explore the theories brought up in lecture. Check them out!

     -paige marton

    Week 7/More Guppies/Connor Petty

    Monday, February 23rd, 2009

    Guppies are simple minded fish; they eat, mate, and that’s about it. While those things are the biggest things on their minds, it is the lesser things that I have observed that I find startling. In my fish tank I have about 15 or so guppies that I feed two or three times everyday. Every time I walk up to the tank to feed them all of the guppies would spontaneously rise to the surface before I even sprinkled their food in. This shows that guppies are smart enough to correlate the action of me approaching the tank to food appearing on the surface. One of the more curious behaviors that I have stumbled upon occurs when I go about catching the guppies in fishnets. For any guppy that has been caught and transferred between tanks the net it an enemy. And logically whenever they see the net they will dash to the other side of the tank in order to be as far away from it as possible. However, if a guppy has never been captured with the net, he will not run away from the net. This can be attributed to the fact that they have no reason to be afraid of the net because they have never seen it before. What I find striking is the fact that guppies that are born and raised alongside guppies that have been transferred before will also run away from the net! This could only be possible if the young guppies and the old guppies were communicating somehow. The only form of communication I have seen from these fish are through their mating rituals that involve the male guppy fanning out his tail in front of the female guppies. A funny thing about this ritual is that the male guppies will do it to any guppy that isn’t an overtly male guppy. This means that they will often do this mating ritual on immature male guppies since they look similar to mature females. It may not be the greatest display of their intelligence, but it certainly is funny. It’s not just the adults that I have noticed intelligent behavior from the newly born fry as well.  Less than a second after birth, a newborn fry will dash into the gravel to hide from the adult guppies that would most likely eat them. The very fact that they know that they should hide the instant they are born is quite remarkable considering their size. Newborn fry tend to be about 7mm long and have a brain no larger than 1 sq mm. They have such small brains yet the instant they are born they already know how to swim and hide; essentially they are born knowing how to survive. In my tank, it is often observed that the guppies will form groups and occupy layers based on size. The fry will tend to hang out next to plants at the bottom of the tank, the 2 weeks olds will cruise the bottom, and anything older than that will occupy the rest of the space. Whether these behaviors can be attributed to intelligence or instinct I don’t know, but hope to discover more about these puzzling behaviors in the future.

    Week 7/Cephalopods/Joseph Racca

    Monday, February 23rd, 2009

    This week I will focus on how cephalopods, as special guest speaker Siddarth Ramakrishnan covered in his presentation, adapt to the environment in which they are in.

    The Indonesian Mimic Octopus

    Cephalopods, squids, octopus, and cuttlefish included, really are artists in disguise masking themselves from the predators that prey on them, but looking at it from the standpoint of two cultures, they use science as their mechanisms of defense.  They use a technique which many, such as the U.S. military, and little children, and chameleons, use today to ‘hide’ and protect themselves from others, it is a technique called camouflage.  Camouflage is a chemical process that requires the consciousness of a cephalopod.  In Roger Hanlon’s piece “Cephalopod dynamic camouflage” he mentions: “The cephalopod ability to change appropriately requires a visual system that can rapidly assess complex visual scenes and produce the motor output - the neurally controlled body patterns - that achieves camouflage.”   As with the video shown in  class, this change in skin pigmentation makes the octopus virtually undetectable to the human eye.  It puts a twist on the saying “It’s only skin deep” and to an extent disproves that saying.  The process of changing/altering skin pigmentation takes brain power, also know as consciousness, which Ramakrishnan focused his presentation on.

    cephalopods: octopus, cuttlefish, and squid

     It takes a true artist, such as the cephalopod, to be able to change the colors and patterns of it’s body.  Although sometimes they can’t alter their body patterns to exactly match their surroundings, they do a extraordinary job of ‘painting’ or rather ‘re-painting’ themselves in order to protect themselves.  Hanlon says, “[W]ith their keen vision and sophisticated skin - with direct neural control for rapid change and fine-tuned optical diversity - they move where they wish and can adapt their body pattern for appropriate camouflage against a staggering array of visual backgrounds.”  Sophisticated skin, as Hanlon calls it, whereas I see the cephalopod’s skin as a canvas, that can perpetually have a new work of art on it in a blink of the eye.

    Rapid Adaptive Camouflage

    What was interesting that I found on YouTube was that some cephalopods not only can alter their skin pigmentation, but they can also mimic other sea creatures.  For example in this YouTube video (The Indonesian Mimic Octopus), the Indonesion Mimic Octopus mimics a sea snake, and two fish.  ”This octopus is able to copy the physical likeness and movement of more than fifteen different species, including sea snakes, lionfish, flatfish, brittle stars, giant crabs, sea shells, stingrays, jellyfish, sea anemones, and mantis shrimp.”  This shows that the cephalopods, specifically the mimic octopus of Indonesia, are even more conscious of their surroundings and have better adapted to mimicking in order to protect themselves.

    An Artist Disguised in Science

    And considering the two cultures, the sciences and the arts, the cephalopods are the perfect example of taking the two cultures and using them as one, using them separately, and using them in increments together.  And even though camouflage, as used by the cephalopod as a method of concealment from potential threats, visually to me, the work of the cephalopods, a masterpiece even, are appealing and mind-boggling at the same time.

    - - -

    Crash Octopus
    Just a little side note, artists also use cephalopods in art as their subjects and many examples or on the blog called Crash Octopus.
    “Cephalopod Dynamic Camoflauge” by Roger Hanlon

    Week 7/Consciousness - Extra Credit/Section D

    Monday, February 23rd, 2009

    Seeking Self-Consciousness – Extra Credit Blog

    Based on this week’s earlier blog, I decided that I could not accurately state what self-consciousness was until I completely understood what defines self-consciousness.  Curious, I decided to see if I could, first of all, understand was self-consciousness was.  Then I would see if I could personally experience such comprehension.

    I had a good lead to work off of, being the current connotation of the phrase: “self-conscious.”  Normally this bears a less than positive meaning, implying that an individual sees some flaw or imperfection that makes the said individual aware of him or herself.  Although this could very well be used to prove that humans are capable of understanding and comprehending their own existence, I felt that this answer would be too simple.

    Why?  Humans surely change their appearance because they feel that their current state is imperfect and requires change.

    So do animals.  Especially during mating season.

    Countless species groom themselves and go through a number of aesthetic changes to prepare for and woo their potential mates.  Take, for instance, the Frigate Bird.  When attempting to court a mate, a male will inflate a pouch in its throat to look like a massive juicy strawberry.  (link provided below)

    Strange?  Yes.

    Does it work?  The species is still around last I checked.

    What does this mean?

    It simply means that these creatures undergo a series of strange changes, both natural and forced, in order to beat natural selection.  Humans do the same thing.  Why do girls fear looking fat?  Simply (and bluntly, forgive me) stated, they want to look sensually appealing to the opposite sex, and the same applies to the male gender.  If sex was not on our minds, we would probably look much worse than most overweight and out-of-shape people do now.  Deeper research into many tropical creatures furthers this reasoning.  In lush places where food is naturally abundant, many species do not have to spend extended durations of time seeking for it.  This gives them much more time to be “self-conscious.”  As a result, there are amazingly beautiful creatures in the tropics.   Why?  Natural selection.

    As a result, self-consciousness could be reasoned to be nothing more than a subtle beauty directive built into the minds of people and animals.  That defeats the purpose though.  One more way of proving our “self-consciousness” has been defeated.  So what makes people, or anything, self-conscious, and how do you experience it?

    Devoid of any more leads, I decided to attempt to contemplate self-consciousness by attempting to contemplate who I was.  Years ago, I recall looking in a mirror and beginning to question who it was looking back at me.  The question awoke my mind and forced me to think.

    Who is that looking back at me?

    Of course it’s me!

    But who am I?

    Nathan Reynolds.

    No, you don’t understand, who am I?

    I could not answer that question.  I could not put a finger on who I was.  I don’t know why.  Maybe that is the answer to experiencing true self-consciousness that I was looking for.  Not the answer, but the question.  When you can answer the question, it can be reasoned out as a directive or a mental code built into an individual, like a line of code in a computer program.

    Until I can find a better reason behind the experience of self-consciousness, my answer, is not an answer, but a question: Who is that looking back at me?

    Week 7 / The Bicameral Mind / Stephany Howard

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

    Siddharth Ramakrishnan’s talk on Thursday got me thinking about our definitions of consciousness and how we apply these notions to ourselves and other species.  Before Thursday I had never heard of the term Umwelt and it has allowed me to articulate for myself some of the ways in which we as humans oversimplify the entire phenomenon of consciousness.  We seem to take our own consciousness (let’s say it’s self awareness for now) for granted, just as we take for granted the apparent lack of awareness in all other species. Ramakrishnan’s description of Cephalopod behavior and his social commentary about monkeys illuminates the ways we underestimate subjectivity in other species—we automatically project our own experiences of our intentionality, deliberation, and social awareness onto other animals.  An Umwelt in concept points to how inappropriate it is for us to make these projections—monkeys exist in an entirely different kind of self-centered world, and it is possible that they have awareness in a way that we cannot articulate in human language.

    The talk also got me thinking about this relatively old idea that I heard about only recently of the Bicameral Mind. I decided to look into the theory of Bicameralism in order to consider some of the possibilities for how human consciousness arose—perhaps we once lived with consciousness resembling that of other species (we are animals too after all), perhaps we didn’t always have the refined self-awareness that we clearly take for granted now.

    Psychologist Julian Jaynes introduced his idea of Bicameralism in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.  Jaynes makes the case that “At one time, human nature was split in two, an executive part called a god, and a follower part called a man. Neither part was Consciously aware.”1

    He argues that as late as 3000 years ago, humans experienced not the sense of self we have today, but rather something resembling schizophrenia—a segmented awareness created by the conversation between two totally distinct parts of the brain.  Humans in a Bicameral state of awareness supposedly may have experienced auditory hallucinations (produced by the right hemisphere) which the left hemisphere’s language centers described as an external voice, or voice of “god.”  Jaynes uses ancient writings like the Iliad and Old Testament to simultaneously point out the numerous accounts of said “voice of god” speaking to people, as well as an apparent lack of introspection or self-awareness in the authors and characters of these stories.  These early (possibly bicameral) characters differ from later characters in Homer’s Odyssey, which illuminates the possible emergence of an early kind of consciousness in the intervening period between these monumental works–we can supposedly see this drastic change just by reading and comparing the Iliad and Odyssey.

    Another clue that humans may have lacked consciousness in ancient civilization shows itself in the countless accounts of dead bodies being treated in ancient society as if they were still alive (that is, dead bodies being seated, dressed, and fed like living humans). We might explain these accounts—according to Jaynes—with humans’ auditory hallucinations of voices (produced in theory by the separate hemispheres of the brain).  The theory also explains why our notions of God have consistently been so anthropomorphic rather than otherworldly or totally supernatural—this seemingly external voice is actually the human brain speaking to itself.

    Jaynes proposes that Consciousness arose as this Bicameral mind broke down over time.  This breakdown seems to have happened when “stresses in the second millennium B.C. forced the two halves of the brain to merge into unicamerality. (This was a cultural, rather than a biological, transformation, Jaynes notes.) The stresses might have included natural disasters (the story of the Flood comes to mind), population growth, forced migrations, warfare, trade, and the development of writing. A common denominator among all these is the introduction of complexity and difference, things the bicameral mind deals with only with difficulty. Jaynes suggests, among other things, that traders in contact with other cultures might have been forced to develop a ‘protosubjective consciousness’ to cope with the gods of unfamiliar people.”2

    As history progressed and human survival required more complex mental processes, bicamerality ceased to suffice and a unified self became necessary in maneuvering a new social landscape.  Jaynes imagines that at this moment people stopped hearing the “voice of god” (and perhaps prayer arose at this time in order to compensate for the missing connection to this voice). Sumerian peoples apparently described on stone tablets their sensed loss of God in a newly subjective tone. Instead of hallucinating the voice of God, the voice in their heads became incorporated into the rest of the mind, giving rise to self-awareness. I find it a beautiful notion to imagine humans existing at one point with such a simple kind of mental experience and to imagine religion and schizophrenia as potential leftovers from such a simple time, before humans perceived themselves as “I”, separate from their environment.

    1 Soza, Shari. “An Owner’s Manual: A Basic Erector Set of the Bicameral Mind”.


    Stephany Howard

    Week 7\Consciousness\Amy Chen

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009


    Naked Mole Rats.

    Naked Mole Rats.



    I thought the presentation we had by Siddarth Ramakrishnan on Thursday was very interesting.  He showed examples of consciousness in a wide range of animals, one of the more interesting subjects were about the naked mole-rat.  Essentially, the idea of consciousness is the awareness of being, be that of one’s self or of one’s surroundings. 

    Although blind, naked mole-rats are hyper-sensitive to their surroundings and to each other.  The eusociality of the naked mole-rat is interesting because being mammals, (one random thing I thought of) one tends to think Darwin’s idea of “Survival of the Fittest.”  If they were to help each other, there seems to be no dominant characteristic that enables them to develop/mutate into “fitter” organisms.  But it’s interesting because of the altruistic nature of these animals, they prolong all their lives…which seems to claim that eusociality rules over individual survival…basically a stratch my back and I’ll stratch yours mentality.   The fact that they are at a disadvantage - being blind and unable to create enough warmth for themselves, propagates their dependence on each other and shows that they are aware of each other.  Their reliance on each other and specific jobs is an example of their consciousness as well.  Because they are part of a society, scientists have even done experiments trying to take care of just one mole-rat.  A mole-rat in insolation are likely to die.  They work together to the fact that when a predator approaches, one will attack and sacrifice him or herself so that the colony has a better chance for survival.   Ramakrishnan described the naked mole rats as a collective whole - each one operating with a specific job in mind, be it collecting food or taking care of the young, they all contribute together to form a whole.  A good example is their method of digging tunnels.  Each worker mole-rat is part of a system similar to that of a conveyer belt, one digs through the new dirt, others kick it back until one mole-rat near the surface of the ground kicks the dirt out.  The simple fact that they come together to keep each other warm is already a good example of their consciousness of others (despite being blind).  On further research, the stability of their society is crucial to their own individual survival.  Naked Mole-Rats are even conscious of the death or disappearance of their own queen as once this happens, females will battle to the death even to become the next queen.  Another interesting fact is that even the Queens are hyper-sensitive to any other females with the possibility of becoming the future queen.  Supposedly when this happens, female naked mole-rats will start undergoing hormonal changes and the Queen herself will start becoming more aggressive towards these ‘hopefuls.’  The Queen rules fiercely and will even venture around the burrows, if a tunnel has collapsed or there is a deficit in food, she’ll use her nose to force workers into action.  Their consciousness even goes so far that at one point, once or twice a year both the male and females will break up from their colony to try and prevent incest from occurring.  These new groups of unrelated mole-rats eventually start their own colonies.

    Week 7/Induced Monogamy/Mark Signaigo

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

    I was most interested this week in the information about the voles and the pairings to create monogamist tendencies. If we can isolate genetic causes for such feelings, the applications for humans are really interesting. We could have gene therapies, procedures, maybe one day even pills, which can create monogamist feelings in people. Somebody having relationship troubles would be able to go to the corner drug store and buy the solution to their marriage in a bottle. Experiments with oxytocin, the chemical which creates monogamy in the voles, have not produced similar results in humans yet. However, it owuld strongly suggest that there would be a similar chemical present in human physiology which could create singular attachment between people. If this could eventually be expanded beyond just monogamy and into other mindsets and emotions as well, the consequences are far reaching indeed. It would simply be a process of narrowing down the root genetic or chemical cause for any given emotion or disposition.
    Actors on TV, in movies and on the stage wouldn’t need to act anymore. You could open a bottle of emotion pills and create the mood your character is playing without training or skill. THinking of the best actors in Hollywood today, you can think of there strongest, most emotional scenes and understand why they are the best. They are able to tap into their own deepest feelings to bring that power to the screen. Imagine, however, if instead of personal control and emotional contact that actor had simply taken a pill which creates an automatic emotional feeling of the desired kind. Pain, sorrow, joy, bloodlust; all these emotions would now be swallowed or injected into the actor before a scene. Singers could sound much more passionate about their music without really being connected to it. Writers suffering from writer’s block could induce an emotional state to match the story they are trying to create. Art would require a lesser degree of getting in touch with yourself, and need only the time it take to send yourself on an ‘emotional trip.’
    Artists already undergo criticism for using too much technology in their work. Movies are said to have too many special effects, singers’ voices are altered in the studio, and computer design removes the subtle emotional beauty that can only be delivered by a human. Added to this list would be the fact that actors would no longer be acting, but instead simply mixing a pre-measured recipe of feelings. People might never be able to watch a movie again and know if what they saw on screen was genuine emotion or just “cookie-cutter feelings.”

    Week7/ dancing bees!/James Martin

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

    The presentation by Siddharth Ramakrishnan about consciousness was very interesting and enlightening. I definitely appreciate him giving his time for us because it was well worth it. A very interesting topic that he brought up was about dancing bees and how they communicate amongst each other. A question was raised about how bees were able to communicate about where flowers and other necessities for bees were located. The man who found the answer was Karl von Frisch. He found that the main source of communicating to other bees about food sources was by dancing. This was previously unheard of and is a very unique way of communication for bees. A scout bee goes out and finds the source and communicates its findings by dancing. The scout does its dance and the other bees try and mimic the scout. As they dance, they note and try to collect the fragrance of the scout bee to hopefully be able to find the source. Depending on the type of dance the scout bee does, it lets the other bees know the approximate distance of the source. Also, since the bees have the scent and the distance they are all able to find the source and find more food for the rest of the hive. The language of the bees is truly remarkable. However there are many skeptics of the dancing bee because to some, dancing does not seem like a plausible way of communication. Personally from what I have read and seen, I do believe that the bees communicate this way. Bees are truly a remarkable species and speak amongst themselves in a truly unique way. Many new ideas can come from the way of the bee but we need time to slowly learn more and more about them.

    Another interesting topic was infrared sensing in some animals particularly snakes. There is recent information suggesting that the pit organs in snakes help with thermoregulation. The test that scientists set up to test this hypothesis was by placing snakes with refrigerators and seeing how the snakes would react. Certain snakes were able to locate something very quickly due to the pit organs and the thermoregulatory decisions. Other snakes were unable to find things that suggested that only some snakes with the pit organs were able to have the thermo sensing and that these snakes had pit organs. The only snake that has the pit organ is the pitviper. They have the special ability and advantage of having the pit organs that give them special sensing abilities. Both bees and the pit viper are truly extraordinary species and take advantage of what they do. They both communicate and react in special ways.

    Siddharth Ramakrishnan was a very fresh break from the normal lecture and I am very glad he was able to take the time out and speak with our class. He gave us some very interesting insight on many different topics of consciousness. This brought up the idea of what exactly is it and how does it work. I hope as we progress as a society that we will uncover the truth about this foreign topic.

    Week 7/ Consciousness / Andrew Curnow

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

    Consciousness. What is it? How can one determine if another is ‘conscious’? These topics were all covered in Siddharth Ramakrishnan’s lecture. However in my own mind, I truly still had questions as to what IS consciousness? This brought me back to the topic we learned about involving Bees and their form of sight and navigation. A bees navigational system is near extraordinaire, allowing them to position and navigate utilizing polarized light while  giving precise directions utilizing ‘bee dances’.  To an average person, for example me before I researched the topic, I would assume the Bee as a creature nearly ignorant to the world, simply doing the job of pollination. However, this was in my own perspective, and excluding the possibilities of the bee itself. This was my fallacy from the start, I was observing and deducing the Bee’s mentality from my own point of view. Simply thinking on another tangent, in the bees point of view, could allow humans as not being conscious due to or lack of natural navigational skill.

                    The fact that Bees are able to process light on a completely different level, given the ability to analyze more wavelengths of light than the human eye brought forth another question. If bees, which are small insects that seemingly live a routine life, are conscious, then at what point to we deem a creature ‘unconscious’?  Of course many people have determined that other mammals such as dogs and cats are conscious, as they search for food, respond to touch, have sight and smell, and even the debatable term ‘feelings’, but what about smaller less understood organisms? Does this constitute animals with a nervous system are then conscious? I looked through various sources concerning this question, finding that there is no answer, only opinion. Peter Russell wrote online in ‘The Spirit of Now’ concerning such a topic. Are creatures such as single celled bacteria conscious? They undoubtedly serve purposes, some more important than others, and have developed attributes that assist them through life, but whether they are actually conscious of their surroundings is debatable. For instance, certain phytoplankton in the ocean are readily observed changes location and habits in order to better feed, the question as to whether this is considered consciousness or simply natural instinct at its simplest is left unanswered.

    Of course the argument of whether humans possess true intelligence and conscious as opposed to simple natural instinct is another argument in itself. It’s obvious certain animals are conscious, but the fact that humans openly communicate and share obscure ideas and knowledge automatically places us above other animal species, or so certain people claim. Once again the fact of the matter truly falls under the topic of discussed by Siddharth Ramakrishnan, the idea of umwelt, that consciousness falls under the point of view and perception of each individual creature.  Through all of this, my questions remained unanswered, however I developed an insight that no one can truly distinguish what consciousness is, it is dependent on the view point.


    Week 7/Animal Self Awareness/Jay Park

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

    I have a dog named Georgie. He’s a three-year-old black and white mini schnauzer and he has been in many of my experiments. Don’t go off to call PETA yet though, as I can assure you that no harm came to my dear Georgie. I’ve done two self awareness experiments on Georgie—I had previously vested interest in these sorts of things from my biopsychology class. To test his self awareness, I applied a red dotted sticker on his forehead, and then placed him in front of a mirror. He momentarily looked at his reflection on the closet mirror and trotted away. Either he didn’t notice, or he had no problem. As a second test, I placed him in front of the closet mirror, and stood behind him while waving a treat in the air. His head would follow the treat with his eyes. When I gave the signal that he can have the treat, he immediately turned around and gobbled it up. Traditional assumptions of the self awareness test using mirrors would indicate that my dog is unaware in the first test, and aware in the second test. The contradiction leads me to believe that the analysis of the mirror test is inconclusive either by design or interpretation of the experiment.  Does my dog, who is very intelligent for its kind, not feel self-aware? Why would I first think to defend the dog’s intelligence when inquiring his self-awareness aptitude? Well, higher forms of intelligence can develop more sophisticated forms of self awareness. Reacting to one’s image by “recognizing one’s self in the mirror is the act of certain types of intelligent thinking processes, not self awareness.”

    To understand the delineation better, the definition of self awareness must be solidified. Dot-on-forehead testers define self awareness as the ability to identify images of self from a reflection, which is conclusive evidence of spacial awareness and the individual’s participation in that dimension. Self awareness, in contemporary understanding, is “the many behavioral patterns which animals exhibit which suggest, without the shadow of a doubt, the possessions of certain mental stimuli; some of which are: status, pride, self esteem, territoriality, self punishment, self love, supremacy, and submission.” Those animals that do get irritated by the dot through the mirror in the first experiment would not have conclusively indicated their self awareness, but rather would have implicated existences of sophisticated mental stimuli—namely those safeguarding self-appearance. The animal could be reacting due to the scare of a potential new threat, or feel embarrassed of the alteration in its appearance. Whatever it may be, it is folly to attribute the causality of the irritation exclusively to self awareness. Georgie, though reacting to the second test, did not react accordingly to the first test, leaving the dot in place. Assuming that self awareness wouldn’t just disappear and reappear in a conscience, I can only explain Georgie’s “lack” of self awareness in the first test to be inconclusive in terms of traditional assumptions. The contemporary belief of self awareness can easily explain the distinct results. Georgie possibly felt no need to react to his altered image, as it did not affect any of his mental stimuli to the extent that warranted action. Considering that he has proven his clear understanding of his image and spacial occupancy in the second experiment, he must be unresponsive to dot in his head because of an intelligent assessment he made that considered the dot irrelevant.

    During the winter shopping season, my sister managed to find a sale on dog clothes. Bags of new pink collars, sweaters, socks, and shoes filled the doggie closet. For some reason, maybe because he’s my boy, Georgie always disliked being dressed up in pink. The blue complimentary bandanas from the Petco barber didn’t bother him, but the red ones did. The same apparel, weight, and discomfort, didn’t seem to matter to Georgie. This peculiar distaste for a certain color pervades the assumption that self awareness is a form of objective consciousness. If self-awareness is determined by the automatic reaction to a contradiction in the mentally formulated image of self to the mirrored reflection of self, than there should be no room for subjective rationalization for the contradiction. There shouldn’t be a choice between approval and disapproval. There should only be a contradiction that profoundly disturbs the individual’s consciousness. But, this is not the case. Many animals can have many kinds of expressions for the contradictions—dogs can feel embarrassment over a close-shave haircut and lack of covering fur. The multitudes of reactions to the image contradiction act as a trail of clues to the higher mental stimuli at work, assessing the spacial-cognitive inconsistency.

    Of course, the possible revisiting trauma caused by my mom and sister dressing him up every day in pink when he was a puppy, or–I’d like to think—the possible assimilation of the cultural ideal “blue for boy, pink for girl” (where he picked up on the sense of embarrassment for a boy dog to wear pink from the  tone of my voice when quarrelling with my family over his subjection to cross-dressing) can be socio-culturally affecting his behavior in the experiments. After all, dogs are based on social hierarchies and sense how they “fit” amongst the other animals. Maybe Georgie isn’t the fashion fanatic type. He hates baths and loves the mud. It would be interesting to take him to the dog park and see if he’s still willing to keep the red dot around all the other dogs while he shows off his Frisbee-catching skills.

    I find a contradiction in my interpretation of Georgie’s affinity for certain colors that leaves me in questioning the context of which I assumed Georgie’s self awareness in the first experiment. The dot in the first experiment was red, a color he removes in contrast to other colors, like blue. Despite all the possibly secondary interpretation for any of these results, it remains quite clear in my mind that self awareness is something very difficult to grasp, because it is barely understandable amongst ourselves. Like love or faith or the notion of luck, explaining self awareness can only be qualified as much as we qualify our interpretation of what self awareness exactly is. It will ultimately require an arbitrated understanding of the concept, which will be explicated until the next movement in though comes to change our perspective on it once again.


    Self Consciousness_Jillian Cross

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

                    This past week, Siddharth Ramakrishnan gave a guest lecture on the topic of consciousness and the evidence of such consciousness in animals. While the traditional definition of consciousness is “a type of mental state, a way of perceiving, particularly the perception of a relationship between self and other,” I found that a more evolutionary definition of consciousness also related to Siddharth’s lecture. “Consciousness can be viewed from the evolutionary biology approach as an adaptation because it is a trait that increases fitness.” The animals that Siddharth discussed that most exhibited consciousness as an adaptation were the naked mole rates and the cephalopods (i.e. octopuses).

                    I found the discussion on the naked mole rats to be the most intriguing; partially because I have not heard much about them beforehand, and also I am very fascinated by the eusocial society in which they live. While Darwin’s theory (survival of the fittest) would suggest that the naked mole rats should strive to increase both their fitness and their reproduction success, the naked mole rats choose instead to facilitate the most dominant males and females in their quest for reproduction. Below the queen mole rat and those select few males who reproduce with her is a sort of hierarchy of the rest of the mole rats. However, they all work together to keep the queen and her mates happy. The entire structure of the mole rats’ habitat is made up of many tunnels centering on the main chamber where the queen and the babies stay. The mole rats are more beneficial to their society by helping the queen care for her babies than they would be by reproducing themselves (this is shown in first half of the national geographic video found here:

                    This seems to be a level of consciousness I did not realize animals possessed. The naked mole rats are conscious enough of their family to be self sacrificing in order to ensure the success of the colony as a whole. This consciousness is also evident in the way they keep each other warm at night. Siddharth showed several pictures of the naked mole rats “hugging” each other (aka piling on top of one another to share heat). The naked mole rats seem aware or conscious of others in their society and use that awareness to help keep it running successfully.

                    Bees and ants also share this same eusocial society; however, naked mole rats are the only mammals who run their colonies in this manner. A brief rundown of a naked mole rat colony can be found here:

                    Another type of animal that uses its consciousness as an adaptation is a cephalopod. Siddharth specifically spoke about octopuses and their ability to change color and the way they move based on their environment. The octopus is aware enough of its environment to change its appearance to blend in.

                    Besides using consciousness as an adaptation, animals are also surprisingly aware of themselves. Siddharth demonstrated this when he spoke about the experiment with the elephant and the “X” on its forehead. The elephant had an “X” taped onto its forehead and it was placed in front of a mirror. The elephant was aware enough of itself to know that the elephant in the mirror was not a different animal, but in fact an image of itself. The elephant immediately reached for the “x” on its own forehead, demonstrating what I found to be a surprising amount of self awareness.

                    Siddharth opened my eyes to the concept of consciousness as a whole and how I view consciousness. I am conscious of myself and the things I need to do to coexist peacefully, but what does that really mean? Where do I really get this sense of self? I used to judge my sense of self based on those around me. This can fit in to the definition of consciousness as “the perception of a relationship between self and other.” For example, if other people liked me, I would consider myself friendly. If other people reacted to me a certain way, I would use that to judge my own behavior and my self-awareness. But Siddharth’s lecture on the innate sense of self these animals feel made me wonder how I would really know what my own self consciousness is. It’s definitely something to consider. Do I act this way because of an adaptation? Have I molded myself to my culture? Or is my consciousness and who I am embedded in me at birth? I believe that my self-consciousness is a combination of all of these things.





    Week 7 / Brain Chemistry by Marie De Austria

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

    Last Thursday, Siddharth Ramakrishnan gave a lecture on the meaning of consciousness. The dictionary defines consciousness as the ability to be aware of one’s thoughts, actions, and surroundings as well as those of others. Ramakrishnan opened my mind to a whole new way of looking at consciousness.

    Ramakrishnan mentioned that brain chemistry changes after a monogamous pairing in rodents. I read an article that talks about an experiment related to what Ramakrishnan talked about. In the article, nine rats were separated from their mates and then subjected to different kinds of stressful situations so that the scientists could see how well they cope with them. After subjecting the rats to a pool of water and suspending them in air by their tails, they concluded that the rats are depressed due to their lack of struggle. They found elevated levels of a chemical called CRF in the rats’ brains and the scientists believe that this is the cause of the “grieving” period after the lost of a loved one. When some rats were separated from their siblings, they did not exhibit the same kind of “depression.” This means that there is something special about a monogamous bonding that changes an organism’s brain chemistry.

    I would like to think that thoughts and emotions are sanctuaries of one’s consciousness; things that are independent of science; something that is untouched by the mechanical workings of the world. I would like to believe in what Descartes said, “cogito, ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.” But from what I have been learning in my classes, it seems “I am filled with chemicals, therefore I think, and this is how I am” is more fitting. In short, the more I learn about how the brain works, the more I think thoughts and emotions are nothing but just chemicals in the brain. My Evolutionary Medicine professor emphasized that everything we feel and think about is the result of different chemicals being released in the brain and affecting an organism’s physiology. The amount and the type of chemicals that are released depend largely on the genetic makeup of as well as environmental influences on the organism. It makes me wonder if everything organisms, especially humans, have done is due mainly to the programming of their genes and their environment. Are we, then, slaves to our genetic composition and our societal environment? Does this not redefine the meaning of individuality? Are we unique only because no one else has our genetic makeup? What then makes us different from robots whose actions are constricted by their programming? Just like Will Smith’s movie, I Robot, where Sonny, an Artificial Intelligence robot, is given an unusual ability to transcend a stereotypical machine, express emotions, and disobey programmed protocol in order to do something, ironically, humane. But Sonny was the exception. All the other robots “think” or “feel” in the philosophical way.

    If our consciousness is controlled by the chemicals in the brain, do humans, and other organisms, do what they do and feel the way they do because of their chemical composition? Is the search for enlightenment that Ramakrishnan was talking about in the beginning of his lecture just an effort to balance the chemicals in the brain? Or are humans more than that?

    Week 7/ Complex Infrared Imaging “Eyes”/ Kelly Tseng

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

    I especially enjoyed this week’s presentation by Siddharth Ramakrishnan, for I felt it touched upon very familiar topics that I studied before in a “Cells, Tissues, and Biology” class I took last quarter. Take, for example, his talk about rattlesnakes and how they utilize their specialized pit organs that are unique to their species, to sense the environment around them. It is quite amazing that these reptiles can “see” radiant heat at wavelengths ranging from 5 to 30 micrometers, which is much different from the range of sight for humans—400 to 700 nanometers. We may think that because our species are the most complex and developed species that is in existence, that animals such as snakes have sensory systems that are far less advanced than ours. However, one must accept the notion that an area of great complexity is balanced by another that is much less complex. What I mean by this is that snakes use their pit organs, which Ramakrishnan mentioned were their highly complex sensory organs, as detectors of prey and thermoregulators. A rattlesnake, which is physically blind, can locate and target their prey in the exact areas that will knock their prey out. In comparison, humans may have the highest mental capacity known compared to all living organisms on earth, but our vision is quite reduced compared to the “vision” of snakes. I found this link: quite interesting as it discusses the extraordinary capabilities of snakes’ infrared imaging systems. Because they are so sensitive and provide greater absolute sensitivity than the highly advanced devices made today, scientists study these infrared imaging systems and use them as guides for the development of “novel biomimetic infrared sensor technologies”. Thus, this leads me to the conclusion that the idea of consciousness and being aware is, in a way, the same throughout all living species, but the ways in which species are conscious or rather “experience” consciousness differs greatly from species to species. Rattlesnakes, for example, must rely on their pit organs to not only view the world around them but to stay alive. Humans, rely on other means, such as our mental capacity to subsist. Therefore, I more than agree on the claim presented in class, that when studying animals we must first understand consciousness because the very unique ways in which organisms are conscious of everything is what truly sets them apart. The above image shows the infrared image of heat sensitive rattlesnakes as they perceive a squirrel in their vicinity.

    Week 7\Naked Mole Rats\Marian Portugal

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

    Out of all of the different topics Siddharth Ramakrishnan discussed about consciousness, his section about naked mole rats and eusociality interested me the most.  I remember touching upon the subject of eusociality in high school, but I came across it again until this lecture. 

    According to some research I did on eusociality on the internet, eusociality consists of three defining characteristics:  reproductive division of labor (with our without sterile castes), overlapping generations, and cooperative care of the young.  After reading about eusociality, I realized that naked mole rats are not the only animals that have this way of life.  Other animals are eusocial, including ants and bees. 

    I remember Ramakrishnan mentioning how the naked mole rats just naturally go into the roles they are supposed to play, including the queen, male reproducers, and workers.  There are different types of workers, which can be tunnellers (to expand their burrow system), and soldiers (to protect their underground community from predators).  I thought it was interesting how, technically, they do not “discuss” with one another about who should play what role in the society; they just naturally become the producer or the worker, while being conscious of the other roles being played by the other different mole rats.

    One part of the lifestyle of these naked mole rats that I wanted to learn about but could not find information about is whether or not they are aware of the roles they are playing, and if they are allowed to switch roles freely.  I am sure that no female mole rat has the freedom to become the queen, but I am specifically interested in the worker mole rats.  I want to know if they become tunnellers or soldiers based on the need of the community, their physical limitations and abilities, or if they get to choose what role they play. 

     I also found it intriguing to learn that these naked mole rats are almost completely blind.  After millions of years of spending almost their entire lives in the dark, their eyes have adapted to shrink to such a small size that they can barely see anything.  I would only expect their consciousness and awareness of their surroundings to be impaired, but apparently it is not, seeing how successful their communities are.  I learned that when one or more of your five senses are impaired, the other ones become stronger.  This may also apply to the naked mole rats, in which they are almost completely blind, but their sense of touch is extremely sensitive.  Their sense of vibrations in the ground, accompanied by their whiskers, helps them sense their surroundings.  They also have learned to use their eyes for other purposes other than sight.  They can use them to sense air currents in the tunnels.  This can help them with avoiding predators.  If a predator smashes through the ground and into the one of the tunnels, they may sense the air breaking through the open soil, and avoid that part of their home.

    I find naked mole rats extremely interesting animals because of their eusocial characteristics combined with their limited senses.  It is impressive to see how conscious and aware they are of their surroundings and the roles they play.  Despite the limited senses they have adapted to over the years, they are able to change the way they use these senses to help make their able senses stronger, which allows them to create extremely complex living systems.



    Week 7-Umwelt-Gindy Nagabayashi

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

    When guest speaker Siddharth Ramakrishnan mentioned Umwelt, it caught my attention. Umwelt, as he described is a “self-centered world” of organisms. An organism is only going to be conscious of what is relevant to its survival. This idea prompted me to do further research.

    John Deely wrote in “Umwelt”, “Each biological life-form, by reason of its distinctive bodily constitution (its ‘biological heritage’, as we may say), is suited only to certain parts and aspects of the vast physical universe. And when this ‘suitedness to’ takes the bodily form of cognitive organs, such as are our own senses, or the often quite different sensory modalities discovered in other lifeforms, then those aspects and only those aspects of the physical environment which are proportioned to those modalities become ‘objectified’, that is to say, made present not merely physically but cognitively as well.”

    In other words, an organism’s body form will influence how it experiences its physical environment. This got me thinking about the human umwelt. People have evolved from believing the world was flat to now exploring space, the ocean, and cellular organisms. Unlike other organisms, humans are unique in our ability to explore outside of our Umwelt.

    The irony is that even with this in mind, there are different umwelts that people experience due to the accessibility of education and different opportunities. For a person in rural Kenya, their umwelt differs from a person from New York City, which brings up the question, are the themes of the art and music from people around the world drastically different due to their environment?

    No. Looking at the themes artists and musicians explore from around the world, often express love, family, despair, loneliness, hope, Mother Nature, and society in their works. It can be said that the mediums used to express these themes may be different, but overall the messages are not.

    I found an interesting video Playing for Change: Songs Around the World “Stand By Me”

    Taking the classic song “Stand by Me” originally by Ben E. King, the group PlayingforChange has different musicians from around the world add their twist. It’s a beautiful piece of work. This piece of work suggests that although people from different parts of the world have a different perspectives of their world, the issues they address in art and music are not so different.

    PlayingforChange: Song Around the World \”Stand by Me\”

    week 7/Consciousness in human and animals,// Yu Hsiao

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

    Our guest speaker Siddharth Ramakrishnan brought up many interesting points. The first point was perspective. Ramakrishnan discussed Alice in the Wonderland, where Alice felt that it was weird for the caterpillar to transform into a butterfly, and she asked if it was weird for the caterpillar itself. The caterpillar responded by saying, what are you? Alice and the caterpillar have very different perspectives, and they see the world, and the world to them is very different. Their consciousness, or awareness is defined very differently as well. It’s like telling stories, in the first person point of view, or third person point of view, or omniscient. Each point of view has the person’s attitudes, backgrounds, feelings, and objectivity into the way the story is conveyed. Therefore, when we speak of animals, most of the time, we would find a lot of their behaviors odd, fascinating, or disgusting. But to them, we might seem very peculiar as well.  It’s wrong for us, to regard animals, as living things without soul, or mind. But in fact, they might be very conscious, and their own form of intelligence that we might not be able to immediately understand.  The elephant that was pointing the “x” on its forehead is a strong sign that animals are aware of changes on themselves. As Ramarkishnan said, those are the signs that they’re conscious. But I found an interesting report, where an elephant and dog have an intimate relationship.

    You might think that the elephant and the dog are oblivious to their identities. But the elephant, Tarra knows that the dog, Bella isn’t an elephant, and the Bella knows that the elephant isn’t a dog. Normally, you would see elephants be with each other of their own kind, and dogs be with their own kind as well. But here we have a case, where two very different kinds of animals, one very large, and the other one very small, having a friendly and intimate relationship. Their difference in how they look or how they are doesn’t matter to them. You could almost compare their relationship, to humans, where we have inter-racial friendships or marriages. To some people, they might be aware of the differences, and they just could not accept having a relationship with someone so different. But to some other people, like us here in America, interacting with variety of cultures, and different people is very normal. The people here, at least here in California, are used the melting pot, and we are able to look past our differences and have regular relationship here. The same with Tarra and Bella, they are conscious of their differences, but they are able to look past it, and accept each other, as friends. From this, we can see that consciousness does exist in those two rare animals.

    Tarra and Bella’s relationship is an example for consciousness that’s similar to our consciousness. As to say, this case is something that we can relate to. But consciousness exist in other animals in different forms. I just learned that after the guest speaker, that bees dance to communicate. As a kid, and I’m sure many other kids would think the same way, that we found it weird that animals can’t talk. I always wondered, if they don’t talk, then how do they communicate amongst themselves? It is the same idea with the different perspectives. It’s just that the world is different to the bees, and they have their different way of communicating. It is true that their world is different to them than to us, because vision, as the guest speaker mentioned, is also different from our vision. They can see polarized light, which enables them to notice things that they need to notice, such as flowers.

    When we define “we”, we have to look at our consciousness first. Consciousness means what we’re aware of, and what we need. Sometimes we might overlook the consciousness that also exist in animals, because their perspective is different and their needs are also different as well. We’ve learned that, they are aware of themselves, and they are also aware of the differences among different animal, such as the case with Tarra and Bella. Different environments, needs, awareness leads to different consciousness, but all of us, animals, have it, and without consciousness, we can’t define ourselves.   

    Week7/ Is Being Gay OK?/ Lam Tran

    Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

    We all remember Prop 8.

    Lots of signs saying NO on Prop 8. on campus and the protests that happened afterwards when it passed. Although California maybe very tolerant of homosexuality, it is not so for the rest of the nation. Probably the main reasons why it is so hard for others to accept such people are because they do not have enough interaction with gays and let media brainwash them or because of their religion. After all, God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Earl.

    Here’s an article about the gay penguins. This is evidence that shows that homosexuality is not a choice. This is sort of like how choosing your race, it is not really your choice. So is it OK? Does seeing it in nature, making seem natural, make it acceptable? Will our mentality change? The article continues to point out that penguins are not the only ones that have been studied to exhibit some sort of gay gene. What seems to be more compelling is the Bonobo Ape. First off, these are primates that are very close to humans while penguins are considered birds. The bonobo ape population are almost all bisexual regardless of whether they are in the wild or in captivity. This location aspect is evidence to help prove that it could be genetic and not a social aspect that only wild bonobos have. Two years after this book, Bruce Bagemihl published a study that says that about 450 species that have a gay population in it. More examples of this are the rhesus macaques (a monkey) and bottlenose dolphin.

    So if it exists in nature, does it make it natural and socially acceptable?

    Now… back to the penguins…

    Turns out that Silo, one of the two gay penguins in New York Central Park  Zoo, is not really gay at all. He has apparently gone straight. Now this sparks up more questions. Is being gay a choice or genetic? Do all animals have a preference of choosing the same sex instead of opposite? This then goes to Reparative Therapy.

    Apparently there is a therapy that you can undergo to become straight if you are gay. The doctor on that link is a psychologist so he only deals with human perception and consciousness. There is no gene therapy involved or anything bio medically scientific involved.  Whether or not this treatment actually works is sort of debatable. If you wish to enter in this therapy, then that should mean that you are ashamed of yourself and reject your homosexual feelings. Perhaps it isn’t all therapy but mostly yourself wanting to change and then it eventually happens with some outside help. Regardless, this is sort of further proof that gay is a choice. Whenever a person makes that choice probably has to do with their unique set of memories that made them choose.