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

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.   

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