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animal consciousness

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Brian
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« on: June 23, 2016, 16:07:46 PM »

It is generally posited that what differentiates humans from animals is that we are the only beings that are conscious of our consciousness, while animals are not. I am not referring to Freire's critical consciousness theory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedagogy of_the_Oppressed) but rather the awareness that we are 'conscious'. Are animals aware that they are conscious too? The Cambridge Declaration does not quite state this:  The scientists went as far as to write up what's called The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness that basically declares that this prominent international group of scientists agree that "Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates." They could also have included fish,...

David Hume, known for championing skepticism generally, wrote that “no truth appears to me more evident, than that beasts are endow'd with thought and reason as well as men” (1888 p 176, reproduced in Jamieson 1998). For an exhaustive study of the issue read http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness-animal/

This whole issue arose quite simply this afternoon: My dog "Major" was lying in my office sleeping. He exhibited the normal dreams' symptoms of small yelps and jerking of the legs, but then he growled deeply while fast asleep. he was clearly visualising some threat or exciting vision that created his instinctive response of warning/attack. I then asked myself; "Can he visualise?" Obviously Yes: "then if he visualises, was he responding instinctively or was he thinking/considering (maybe sub-consciously) about an appropriate response"....

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"There remains great uncertainty about the metaphysics of phenomenal consciousness and its precise relations to intentionality, to the brain, to behavior, etc. It is beyond the scope of this article to survey the strong attacks that have been mounted against the various accounts of consciousness in these terms, but it is safe to say that none of them seems secure enough to hang a decisive endorsement or denial of animal consciousness upon it."
qf Stanford article above.
 
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brianvds
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« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2016, 17:07:29 PM »

It seems to me that "consciousness" is perhaps a bit fuzzily defined in the first place. Secondly, I have no way of knowing for sure whether YOU are conscious, let alone animals.

My personal observations of animals suggest that they are on the whole dumb as toast and don't spend a great deal of time thinking about anything at all. Except cats, of course. :-)
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Mefiante
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« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2016, 17:48:39 PM »

There are far too many pertinent questions that remain open in this area of enquiry, and so any answers are perforce speculative.  Still, there appear to be very strong positive correlations among self-reflection/introspection (especially in the area of “thinking about thinking”), aptitude for abstract concept formation/processing, and language propensity/proficiency.  These relationships are observable and, to a degree, quantifiable in human subjects.  Since it is safe to say that animals’ capacities for language and abstraction are at the lower end of the spectrum, it is also safe to conclude that their level of self-awareness regarding thoughts or instincts will be fairly low.  Another probably germane point to bear in mind (pun intended) is that all neural processes involving consciousness appear to be threshold dependent—that is, there’s some minimal level of neural activity of a given type must be exceeded before the attendant awareness is kicked awake.  Pain is an archetype of this phenomenon.

(Disclaimer:  This is not my area of expertise.  But I know cats.  T’s & C’s apply.)

'Luthon64
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brianvds
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« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2016, 05:45:15 AM »

  Since it is safe to say that animals’ capacities for language and abstraction are at the lower end of the spectrum, it is also safe to conclude that their level of self-awareness regarding thoughts or instincts will be fairly low.

The language thing is crucial. In short, no animals have it. Not even chimps - they can learn a lot of vocabulary, but they never get grammar. A chimp apparently doesn't get the difference between "I sit on chair" and "Chair sit on I." This hugely limits animals' capacity for abstract thought.

Another question: are any animals aware of their own mortality? My guess is they are not.

Just how little thinking capacity they have I saw illustrated years ago when I read about a case where a barn caught fire. There were horses inside, so the farmer opened the doors for the animals to get out. They refused. He eventually managed to chase out most of them. And then, incredibly, they ran straight back into the inferno and many got fried.

Why? Because horses don't think at all. They did not realize it was the fire that caused their pain. All they knew was that there was big trouble, and the barn was the one place where they always felt safe.

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  Another probably germane point to bear in mind (pun intended) is that all neural processes involving consciousness appear to be threshold dependent—that is, there’s some minimal level of neural activity of a given type must be exceeded before the attendant awareness is kicked awake.  Pain is an archetype of this phenomenon.

Yes, one does get the impression that it is something that turns on quite suddenly. It also seems like it can be turned off by hormones - that would explain why teens (especially boys) often act like animals with no self-awareness. :-)
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Faerie
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« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2016, 06:48:49 AM »



Another question: are any animals aware of their own mortality? My guess is they are not.


I suspect they are. One of my cats were struck and killed by a car a few weeks ago. My siamese witnessed it and has become seemingly depressed as a result. He (and the other 3 which included 2 kittens) kept a vigil in the room we kept the deceased for the day as it was early morning and we didnt have time to bury him immediately. All of them spent the day in the room with him and the siamese have not left the yard since and he used to be a wanderer of note.

That said, it could mean anything or nothing as any cat owner would admit to humanise (sic) their animals.
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brianvds
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« Reply #5 on: June 24, 2016, 13:04:26 PM »


I suspect they are. One of my cats were struck and killed by a car a few weeks ago. My siamese witnessed it and has become seemingly depressed as a result. He (and the other 3 which included 2 kittens) kept a vigil in the room we kept the deceased for the day as it was early morning and we didnt have time to bury him immediately. All of them spent the day in the room with him and the siamese have not left the yard since and he used to be a wanderer of note.

They know something is wrong, and they miss their friend. But do they know that sooner or later, they will follow the deceased to the grave? I doubt that very much.

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That said, it could mean anything or nothing as any cat owner would admit to humanise (sic) their animals.

We really should stop insulting cats in this way. ;-)
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BoogieMonster
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« Reply #6 on: June 24, 2016, 13:50:56 PM »

Another question: are any animals aware of their own mortality? My guess is they are not.

Very much doubt it as well.

IMHO Humans are, to a large extent quite predictable. We like to suggest that we have free will and self-awareness etc. But 99% of the time they do things like make stats up on the spot. The other 99% of the time we behave in well defined predictable ways. Basically when I observe humans I wonder whether I myself am conscious. You may argue I have to be conscious to be able to wonder that, but I'll tell you to freck off. Tongue

What I actually think we've created a convenient category with a nice clear line whereas in nature no such convenient line exists. I even wonder if "consciousness" has any usefulness as a metric or as a psychological construct at all.

That said, it could mean anything or nothing as any cat owner would admit to humanise (sic) their animals.

Don't anthropomorphize cats, they hate it when you do that.
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Brian
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« Reply #7 on: June 24, 2016, 15:52:08 PM »

Research tends to indicate that the human construct of consciousness as measured/observed/analysed/expressed through language is a major deterrent in assessing animal consciousness, but that this does not mean they have no consciousness. We as humans are highly visual creatures, and, as Nagel (1974) argued, we face considerable hurdles in imagining (again, a visual metaphor) the subjective experiences of creatures in modalities in which humans are weak or completely unendowed (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness-animal/): the references to cats though in lighter vein, is a case in point (do they really sense evil???)

Quote
In the literature on human cognition, awareness of what one knows is called “metacognition” and it is associated with a “feeling of knowing”. Smith and colleagues claim that investigating metacognition in animals could provide information about the relation of self-awareness to other-awareness (theory of mind), and that their results already show that “animals have functional features of or parallels to human conscious cognition” (Smith et al. 2003; Smith 2009).
(ibid)

but as Mefiante states:
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Yet there remain critics from both sides: on the one hand are those who still think that subjective phenomena are beyond the pale of scientific research, and on the other are those who think that science and philosophy have not moved far enough or fast enough to recognize animal consciousness. The arguments on both sides are by no means exhausted.
(ibid)
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Faerie
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« Reply #8 on: June 24, 2016, 17:15:05 PM »


anthropomorphize


Yes, the big word I couldnt spell and was too lazy too look it up.
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