IEET > Rights > CognitiveLiberty > Contributors > Kris Notaro
Correlation and Resemblance Between Human and Animal Consciousness (CRHAC)
Kris Notaro   May 2, 2012   Ethical Technology  

A rough draft of a proposal for a book about the ethical treatment of animals based on current and future philosophy and science.

I. Introduction: Brains, Feelings, Empathy, and Evolution

In the United States we are fortunate enough to choose from a vast array of foods and products derived from all sorts of animals and plants. Most of our animal products do not come from our back yards however, instead they come from factory farms which have been shown to treat animals as if they are commodities or manufactured goods like cell phones or baseball bats.  There may be concern for alarm however because these “manufactured goods” possess brains. My goal is to formulate some kind of argument out of an agnostic, philosophical and scientific attitude in relation to animal brains and the need for a moratorium on using animals as commodities, food, and experimental objects.

Genetic data has shown that the instructions for all living things are contained within DNA, we contain DNA which all life, from plants and trees, to bacteria, amphibians, mammals, etc contain as their genetic blueprint. We know that animals and plants have instructions contained in the order of four nucleotides to explain how the physical plant or animal will function. Humans share 97.5% DNA with mice, and 99% with Chimpanzees. Mice are actually used to research the human mind because the structural characteristics of our brains with their’s are so similar. Not only do we share the same genes in most cases found in other mammals, but we also share so much more; air, water, food, brain structure, body structure, and maybe, just maybe some feelings.

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The psychological comparison, which is often made between humans and animals, is known as personification and anthropomorphism, but to what degree are they relevant, if at all? To what extent have we been influenced by cartoons, movies, art, literature, and myths that utilize personification and anthropomorphism? It is obvious that when we think of animal characteristics, we often think about humans as well and in some cases apply human characteristics to animals, but is this a driving force for veganism, vegetarianism and anti-lab experimentation?

I want to focus here on science and philosophy, and examine correlations and resemblances of animals to humans, as thorough as possible, without making the same mistakes of personification and anthropomorphism.

Some questions I want to start to explore: if brain characteristics between animals and humans are physically similar, does that mean that animals think, feel, love, ponder, strive to be better, strive for civilization, make art, etc - properties which are usually associated with just humans? At what level are they experiencing reality compared to us? Is it more reasonable to think, given their structural similarities, but apparent lack of rationality and abstract thinking, that they share more innate features of being a brain, only in color, smell, touch, taste, and hearing?

Obviously they do see, hear, taste, smell, and touch, but to what degree relative to humans? What happens to that sense data once it comes into consciousness? To what degree do we want to apply ethical practices to beings which experience innate feelings? Is the ability to simply experience, enough to raise major ethical concerns? What are “innate” feelings? What is the difference between awareness, forming concepts, and rational thought? What do we know about consciousness? Is it dualistic, materialist, or somewhere in between? Do animals have consciousness, and how do we know they have or do not have it?  I will try to touch on all these questions and use all available resources at my disposal to come to some sort of rationale for making “ethical” claims for the protection of animals, if that’s where it leads me. I want to start looking into the animal testing industry along with the food industry a little, which supplies billions of animals each year to people’s plates. I will also look into health and environmental benefits of not eating meat.

II. Lack of Evidence: Consciousness, Ethics, and Uncertainty: Correlation and Resemblance between Human and Animal Consciousness (CRHAC) (Appropriate Brain/Mind Debate where ethical concern is applicable)

For me, this is the most important reason why I am vegetarian/vegan. The conclusion to be “compassionate” towards animals for me is similar to how I arrived at the conclusion that being Agnostic is relevant when concerning the existence of god, or any claim to a meaning or reason for existence – being agnostic simply makes sense in our world today.  Over the years I have, from, not only reading expert opinions including scientific and philosophical works, but also simple questioning and conversation with people about god, found that others really don’t know for sure if god exists or not – some even believe that we may be living in a computer simulation, or one of millions of dimensions or overlapping universes. The ones, who believe in god, have faith in god and in some cases may be suffering from delusions or hallucinations.

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A simple reading of the word faith in a dictionary tells us that faith does not know, it is a belief at best. Faith in god seems to be a naive form of hope and lying to oneself and others. It is also obvious that Atheists also back up their claims from similar faith based like evidence, somewhat like the religious populace do, evidence that nonetheless I have also been influenced greatly from, but, it seems that in the end, atheists have faith in the nonexistence of god (for good reason). I agree it is very unlikely however that the possibility of a Christian, Jewish, Hindu Muslim, etc, god(s) exists, and if “he” or they do, I don’t know if I would necessarily want to live in their world, but that is for another paper.

Similarly, I have questioned many people whether they know if animals can feel, experience pain, have a sense of “I”, can reason, communicate, think, etc. Here too the opinions are scattered. The reason I choose to compare the ethical treatment of animals with religious belief is two fold.  First, religion most likely is a societal construct centered on what it means to be a conscious mind, a brain, in yet still an undefined reality.

There are many arguments suggesting that vegetarianism is also a social construct, a construct though, like religion, which aims at a way of living/coexisting in a world with other brains. One gives a reason for existence, and how to live, the other also considers how to live (not eating/killing/harming animals) and also touches on the very essence of being alive. I am not agnostic about whether one should like chocolate or vanilla ice cream, instead I am indifferent, or apathetic to such a value system.

I am not so much apathetic or indifferent to the idea of agnosticism, when concerning religious or moral stances, because religious and moral stances seem to make sense when dealing with religion purely in an agnostic attitude. Both religion and vegetarianism are about brains and about human’s place in the world and universe. Animals have brains that operate similar to people, but we can ask questions about meaning in which we can then carry out investigations relating to meaning, which seems like a huge difference, but one which is still about brains, not about rocks, cell phones, tin cans, or mountains, respectfully.

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Second, if being agnostic makes sense today when dealing with religion, seeing how both topics are about brains, and the nature of such brains, it seems important when considering meaning and ethics when one can associate feelings, concepts, religion, etc to brains. Obviously if animals could communicate and reason on par with humans, we would have probably been aware of such by now, but what I want to stress is that we don’t know what it is like for the animals, if its like anything at all, and we just don’t know how truly similar our experience of reality is (or can be) with other species.  Several animals come to mind when thinking about intelligence, emotions, rationality, and pain/suffering - pigs, bears, gorillas, monkeys, dogs, horses, cows, chickens, dolphins, whales, wolves, and elephants. We just don’t know how these animals experience experiencing, we don’t know what it is like for them to feel pain, if they experience emotions at any level like humans, etc.  Asking questions about how other brains experience is, in my opinion, and I hope others, completely rational.

The Correlation and Resemblance between Human and Animal Consciousness (CRHAC) remains ambiguous and vague and at this time of writing. One thing remains obvious however, is that in virtue of animals containing brains, CRHAC potentially points to several important properties which back up claims of similarity, very much the same way science and critical thinking have essentially argued for the nonexistence of many of the popular human-created gods.

Questions of the existence of consciousness are valid ones however, just like questions of ontology and epistemology seem extremely valid. In both cases; ontology of existence and of CRHAC, we are talking about everything in which we are, we are brains, we are mind, we are consciousness, yet the agnostic attitude for our time and place seems to be rational, for both god’s existence, and the nature of animal consciousness. It would seem irrational for one to utilize the scientific method and all the current tools of science to investigate whether or not a rock is of great parallel nature with a human mind/brain.  On the flip side, it does however seem rational to investigate the CRHAC, especially where brain structure and DNA is of indisputable similarity. So, for me, because it seems that the nature of consciousness in animals is tremendously worthy of debate, followed from this, I make 3 claims:

1. Veganism from agnosticism/uncertainty. We should remain agnostic to whether animals feel pain, experience emotions, experience experiencing similar to humans for it is clear that we don’t have all the answers as of now, so lets be honest and realize that this is something worthy of investigation and worthy of major ethical analysis.

2. Experienced set of possible innate feelings (qualia) Set of simple-to-formulate concepts. If we put any kind of ethical or ontological value on innate conscious experiences like seeing red, hearing a sound, using sonar to navigate like bats; If we do the same for feelings like smelling, feeling your heart pump, tasting, knowing when you had enough to eat, touch, and using chemicals to communicate like ants;  If we do the same for spatial recognition, love, pain, ability to balance ones body, ability to utter information in the form of signals, language, and/or chemicals;  If we put emphasis on rationality, awareness, information manipulation, conceptual blending, sense of mineness (the “I”) and ability to remember a great deal of information and experiences, then, at what “level” or complexity of consciousness do we draw the line and utter something along the lines of “this consciousness, lets say the consciousness of a duck, does not feel redness or color experience, knows what it is like for us to feel pain at a 40 percentile rating of CRHAC, can “feel” ones own body at a 80 percentile, has the ability to experience emotions (of Set {a,b,c} but not {x,y,z}) at a 20% CRHAC, has a 10% CRHAC of the feeling of mineness, etc, etc.”

I postulate here that we need definitions of the richness of conscious experience, and a clear formulation of how, why, and what it means to experience innate feelings to complex feelings, we need a nature of the richness and complexity of feelings like mineness, conceptual blending, memory, etc. At what degree do we start to blend ethical concerns in our human consciousness to rationalize and “compute” a rational ethical concern according to a CRHAC rating or percentile?

To answer this, as stated above, I think requires further investigation. I have to be honest with myself that a system of this nature probably requires much more knowledge of the nature of consciousness/mind/brain than that which is present today.While I may not claim today that killing ducks while hunting is of major ethical concern purely based on the proposed CRHAC of ducks, I am forced to withhold judgment out of necessity. This is another reason why as of today, without a CRHAC rating utilizing the most sophisticated ethical theories, scientific tools, theories of consciousness, genetics, ontology, epistemology, and neuroscience, I must remain agnostic whether or not to take extra precautions in my life for the existence of ducks and other “lower” species. I believe an honest rational person would agree with me here, and possibly have a whisper in their minds, “I wonder what the CRHAC rating of a cow, an ape, chicken, fish, a dog, etc would be?”  If such is the case, I would infer that if this is a rational concern and argument, we might want to stick with a moratorium of killing and exploiting animals in which it seems obvious at this point would have a higher CRHAC, but again I want to stress it is up for debate.

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3. We already use a CRHAC model. The nature of consciousness, it’s ontological and epistemic values remain unknown as of 2012.  If we don’t even know what consciousness is, why it exists, how it exists, why then should we make ignorant assumptions about how animals might experience consciousness, to what degree they are conscious and aware and to what degree they are experiencing elements of consciousness found in humans - so that we can continue to treat them like cell phones or tin cans riding along on the assembly line? This conception of CRHAC can be used to argue for and against the use of animals in experiments, fur, and food production, which is why I choose to withhold judgment, remain agnostic, and apply what we call compassion to animals where debate necessarily exists.

We have CRHAC being utilized in the above example, where someone chooses exploitation over compassion, with an inadequate but reasonable understanding of CRHAC at its basic nature – this is why I take the moratorium and agnostic compassionate approach. To make assumptions proposing the exploitation of animals, using a mode of thinking which can also compare rocks to humans if you like (here something tells me rocks would fall very low on the scale) is to make an uninformed, ignorance from choice, type of ethical claim, a claim which is missing the point.

For anyone who is for the exploitation of animals because they believe those who choose compassion for animals comes purely from naive personification and anthropomorphism is necessarily using a CRHAC model themselves. If one is to make the same assumptions about minimal degrees and lack of correlates of arguably reasonably higher consciousness containing animals like pigs they are in the opposite direction of my proposed agnosticism or moratorium.

I believe we first have to admit we are using a CRHAC model, and will then have to show clear evidence as to why this assumption/conclusion at this stage of the game clearly shows that it is ethically reasonable to exploit such animals. If we as humans are what consciousness is, and we don’t even have a theory of consciousness, doesn’t it seem sensible to at the very least to put a moratorium on the exploitation of animals, beings which may have many elements of consciousness? The point is, simply: We just don’t know, yet it seems that it is drastically different then asking should we not “exploit” the rock because it might feel pain? This topic, of being compassionate towards animals, is not of a rock, but instead of beings in which the Correlation and Resemblance between Human and Animal Consciousness is debatable, creditable, and rational.

In the end, I remain agnostic on whether or not animals experience reality similar to how we do.  I choose the moratorium approach in my own life for the simple reason that we just don’t know yet. If it is the case that animals are clearly more rock like in nature, and we humans experience reality so drastically different on nearly all levels of any attempt at making a correlation, then perhaps I will eat meat again, but for now I must remain mostly agnostic on the animal consciousness debate. I feel strongly that if we don’t have the answers, nevertheless the questions are rational. It seems that if I am going to put any emphasis on ethical concern for the experiences of human consciousness, I must also do so for animals, at least at this point by withholding judgment, being rational and honest, and by taking a moratorium approach to the exploitation of most animals. We simply do not know yet.

III. Concepts, Language, and “what it is like”

I think that language needs to be understood from what I call a modern phenomenological LAD or Universal Language theory with emphasis on the possibility of a priori concepts, relevant genome-to-concept brain patterns (so-called instincts), possible emerged paradigmatic concepts-from-universals or concepts created from the blending, mixing, evolution and devolution from those universals, in the context of both LAD and emerged evolved neural patterns – and the potential of brains to form them. So lets take the case of chimpanzees, which Chomsky would argue, does not contain LAD, LAD is not part of the genome of chimpanzees, I think he would still claim the same today as far as I know.

I think that with the help of humans (or possible conditioning) the neural patterns, neural firing may be able to form patterns equivalent to some human based patterns of language previously assumed not possible in chimpanzees. Take for example people who suffer from strokes or brain injuries. There have been many cases that have shown when one pushes themselves to learn, to acquire the brain features they have lost, they can in fact re-connect, re-direct patterns in the brain to recover from such injury with enough work, enough thinking. I an adequate metaphor or comparison from the above example of neural malleability in humans to the neural malleability in animals can be shown if we take the example of healthy chimpanzees where language is concerned, that if they are pushed to alter their brain patterns in potential ways, previously thought of as impossible - relevant neural patterns may emerge, where language and meaning is concerned relative to a 5-7 year old human.

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I arrive at this assumption from a thought experiment I came up with a few years ago: Thomas Nagel in his What it is like to be a bat essay postulated that we can never know what it is like to be a bat, what it is overall like to be a bat.  This implies emerged feelings of the uniteness nature of consciousness within the aware or feeling part of the mind of being itself – mind and body, what it is like to be that particular mind/body experiencing itself, being itself.  I am skeptical however and would like to claim that if the human brain, with its potential of emergence of the amount of possible neuronal states weer able to produce that pattern of “batness” accidentally from drugs or like, we would know “what it is like” to be the bat. To put it more simply, you force a blind persons brain to see color or perhaps the neurons fire accidentally for some reason, perhaps drugs or like. The brain may accidentally produce color, from the collate patterns of color experience. What I mean by “accidentally producing color experience” is any color experience within the mind NOT directly attributed to previously felt color experiences, and any color experience in the mind not attributed to sense data being sent to the brain via normal channels like a an eye or artificial eye.

The richness of the color experience may be minimal, but if the Mary problem of qualia has any significance, this may be a coherent mind experiment as well. In the case of a blind person accidentally experiencing color experience several things may be going on.  First color experience may be like basic language ability, where basic concepts are fine-tuned in the brain, from the genome, and may be used by whatever organism that contains a LAD type of setup.  But elements of LAD and language, may also be like color experience, in that the patterns which are crucial for LAD to operate the way the genome intended, or potentialized, can exist in some form in other brains, though, I admit it is probably of a higher order consciousness ability than innate color experience, but symbols of communication are not necessarily of the complexity of lets say the human mind conceptualizing space-time within a black hole and then communicating it’s findings.

So we need to know what the potential for brains are to produce patterns required for certain experiences, and for this to be relevant to this paper, we have to decide if this is true, at what degree of simple potential do we then want to attribute to our ethics, as apposed to actual “experiences” felt by animals in the real world. Do we push animals to form certain patterns of experience, neural connections, and neural networks to only claim, that a particular animal has the potential to experience such and such?  My conundrum here is that thinking of the significance of human cognitive potential, as apposed to animal cognitive potential.  Do we need to decide, from examination of mere complexity, the value of potential experience itself? Do we want to put value on potential complexity (in animals?)

IV. Philosophical CRHAC

There are many “theories of consciousness” floating around out there.  Here I will try to remain as simple as possible, first giving a brief introduction to modern Philosophy of Mind, and then applying what we know to animal consciousness.  A warning however: modern philosophy of mind has not really tackled the issue of either ethics or animal consciousness yet. This topic I will save for a later date.

Briefly, we can use in this case is an analysis of theories of consciousness and applying them to animal consciousness, along with general ideas of philosophers who have talked about animal rights or the lack of, such as Buddha, Descartes, Kant, Hume, and Singer.  In order for correlations and similarities to remain significant in their suggestive manner, we will have to formulate counter arguments for the working of CRHAC. The nature of consciousness presented by David Chalmers, Jaegwon Kim, Joseph Levine, Frank Jackson, Donald Davidson, and Ned Block to name a few can be utilized to formulate a CRHAC model, again I will save this for a later date.

A current trend in intellectual elitism, human’s can be found in various notions concerning our ability to form abstract ideas and concepts which paradigmatically operate on superior grounds when compared to prior paradigms of concepts. Simply put, people learn through education, where “information” they learn comes from modern “knowledge” usually at it’s highest respectability and authority through the almost universal trust and respect of Academia and/or the ruling class.

Strictly speaking, humans seem to have an ability to intellectually “evolve” concepts and ideas at unprecedented levels compared to other organisms. These ideas however can be claimed by authoritative figures to be of vast significance. It can be argued on this basis alone, that this unique feature of humans is all we really need to consider when dealing with the ethical treatment of animals. This argument however has some obvious flaws.

First, when we talk about human intellectualism we are usually talking about the potential for experts in philosophic and scientific fields to formulate theories which lead to a new paradigm of thinking. According to Kuhn, each paradigm is better then the last in explaining various phenomena. So, is this ability to evolve concepts away from prior human-found/created concepts relevant enough to form an ethics?  Let’s take the mind of a 50 year old PhD still working in research and development in some field for the sake of human knowledge, and compare them to a poor refugee from pick-your-country.

In what ways are they compared?  In our country, are they considered in reality both human?  I know plenty of people who are fed up with societies not valuing human life of the Other in virtue of them simply being human. In the case of the Iraq war we find that people here might value the life of an American more then they do the Iraqi.  What is the nature of this value system?

I have talked with countless of pacifist leftists who try to sway away from this mode of thinking, and try to value just human life itself, without using a CRHAC like model applied to only humans.  I fear that introducing the CRHAC model the way I have it here can lead people to want to deny its existence if they really start to think about CRHAC being applied to only humans, and the implications of such.  This I believe, may be one reasons - unfortunately what makes it easier to kill the Nazi instead of the peaceful Buddhist monk. Killing people may be out of self-defense and out of popular ethical claims for war. After all the Nazi is a consciousness that has either been brain washed out of fear, or a person who actually has the ability to critically think, having intentions sprung up from concepts which make no sense at all, and applying these concepts to their own body and philosophy, either hurting many people or educating wrongly many people.

If we except that we do put value on concepts because of the power concepts have, and we are willing to kill the fragile flesh these concepts are contained in, something is going on here.  Whether or not you are a pacifist, a revolutionary, an Iraqi, an American, a vegan, a meat eater, the chances that you apply value to concepts is very high.  In the human case however, we also put value on human action.  This is where a CRHAC model applied to only humans within the human domain gets very tricky, but one which is of fascinating concern and for later debate.

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Peter Singer elaborates:

“In a dispute between members of a cohesive group of reasoning beings, the demand for a reason is a demand for a justification that can be accepted by the group as a whole.” Thus, consideration of others’ interests has long been a necessary part of the human experience. Singer believes that contemplative analysis may now guide one to accept a broader utilitarianism:   “If I have seen that from an ethical point of view I am just one person among the many in my society, and my interests are no more important, from the point of view of the whole, than the similar interests of others within my society, I am ready to see that, from a still larger point of view, my society is just one among other societies, and the interests of members of my society are no more important, from that larger perspective, than the similar interests of members of other societies… Taking the impartial element in ethical reasoning to its logical conclusion means, first, accepting that we ought to have equal concern for all human beings.” Singer elaborates that viewing oneself as equal to others in one’s society and at the same time viewing one’s society as fundamentally superior to other societies may cause an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance. This is the sense in which he means that reason may push people to accept a broader utilitarian stance.”[1]

V. Scientific CRHAC

This section will be dedicated to an entirely non-dualistic, non-metaphysical material account of consciousness and the brain because of the popular and rather appropriate claims by materialists that “dualism is rendered improbable because the explanatory framework of psychology and neuroscience, though incomplete, and embedded within the larger framework of physics, chemistry, and evolutionary biology, is much more powerful then any dualist competitor.  This could change, but so far the empirical evidence does not point that way.” [2] Fields such as psychology, genetics, neurobiology, ecology, and sociology have accomplished a great deal of research dealing with animal’s intelligence and physical abilities.

Neurobiology and genetics have shown us that at the very level of the neuron all the way down to DNA, animals function very similar to humans. However, here it may be of immense significance to look at the important unique physical structure of specialized neurons, and the physical networks required for specific brain patterns and functions, along with neuronal plasticity and malleability.

Psychologists, sociologists, and ecologists have shown that animals have different “personalities,” fears, and mannerisms on the individual level, the ability to form sustainable complex communities, can learn from errors, etc. Here the natural physical processes that make up animals will be compared to humans as clearly and carefully as possible, in the end suggesting that either humans are above and beyond in complex physical biological processes, or that humans are nonetheless rather physically similar to many animals to degrees which are to say the least very relevant.

However, showing these correlates and similarities is not enough to argue for the compassion of animals. We must look into why ethicists, politicians, and the general public are concerned with matters of cooperation, sustainability, respect for other people’s freedom, and the psychology of ego, will to live, selfishness, and subjective and collective sense of significance.  By confining the human brain to psychology and evolutionary biology we will look at reasons why people, being what appear to be the highest evolved and adapted species on earth are indeed similar to animals.

VI. Materialist/Physicalist Ethics

I will talk about ethics relating to Kant, Mill and many others, and discuss why if we leave out mind, consciousness, and phenomenological mineness we may be missing some rather important aspects of being alive as human beings.  We will look at the ethical consequences of the rationale of remaining in a materialist doctrine and applying only Mill’s ethics to biological states of homeostasis and adaptability to environment, and will consider if there is any room for species outside of the human domain to be considered for applicability to our materialist ethics.

VII. Human Health

-Red meat contains chemicals that increase “bad” cholesterol.

-Fish contain dangerous levels of mercury (except for sea water Alaskan pink salmon) and other environmental toxins. 

-Red meat contains more omega-6 fatty acids than fish and vegetables.

-Fish and meat from China have been shown to contain vast amounts of preservatives, chemicals, and antibiotics.

-Vegetarians have fewer cases of cancer and heart disease. 

Numerous instances of e. coli, mad cow disease, animal waste in farm feed and meat products.

-Excessive levels of hormones.

VIII. Environment and Ecosystem

-Gas from factory farms

-Runoff

-Rain-forest destruction

-Resources like wheat being used as feed for animals instead of humans

References

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Singer
[2] Churchland, Patricia. Brain-Wise: Studies in Neurophilosophy. United States: The MIT Press, 2002. Print.

Photos:

http://browse.deviantart.com/?q=animal%20science&order=9&offset=48#/dt9fqk
http://browse.deviantart.com/?q=personification%20animals&order=9&offset=48#/dry95q
http://browse.deviantart.com/?qh=&section=&q=ducks+people#/d3f7s2t
http://browse.deviantart.com/?qh=&section=&q=anthropomorphism#/d61p8i
http://browse.deviantart.com/?q=anthropomorphism&order=9&offset=24#/d4vvxkl
http://browse.deviantart.com/?q=factory%20farm&order=9&offset=48#/dzps66
http://browse.deviantart.com/?qh=&section=&q=brain#/d39rg5l
http://browse.deviantart.com/?q=brain&order=9&offset=72#/d7s6gf
http://browse.deviantart.com/?q=consciousness&order=9&offset=96#/d1f1yjx

 

Kris Notaro, a former IEET intern, served as the IEET's Managing Director from 2012 through 2015. He is currently an IEET Program Director. He earned his BS in Philosophy from Charter Oak State College in Connecticut. He is currently the Bertrand Russell Society’s Vice-President for Website Technology. He has worked with the Bertrand Russell A/V Project at Central Connecticut State University, producing multimedia materials related to philosophy and ethics for classroom use. His major passions are in the technological advances in the areas of neuroscience, consciousness, brain, and mind.



COMMENTS

Kris, the argument seems to stall until you can define what a concept is.  By definition, once a concept is “contained in fragile flesh” it is no longer a concept, but a phantasm.  The concept of a tripod is immaterial, and must be, because it applies to all tripods real or hypothetical.  Dogs can learn what a “tripod” looks like, and recognize its subsequent instances, but this is a perceptual abstraction; dogs demonstrate no understanding of the proposition:  “no tripod is that which wobbles”, and if they did understand it, there leaves little to recommend about their intelligence if they would hide such understanding from our view and voluntarily become pets.

“[F]aith does not know, it is a belief at best.”  That is exactly what you are purporting to do with agnosticism.  You “believe” agnosticism accommodates modern reality, but with no proof.  Before asking about animal consciousness, how can one be sure that other human beings have a subjective consciousness?  This cannot in any way be empirically proven.  For example, to claim that another’s outward bodily behaviors indicate subjectivity (e.g. I wince when I feel pain, therefore he winces when he feels pain,) is to beg the question:  “he is there because he winces”.  Invalid.  You mention that we “put value on human action”; why not equally value animal action?

Thus both the residency of concepts in the physical brain and the subjectivity of other minds are suspect.  Your insight into why people value the U.S. citizen over the Iraqi is interesting, but I’m not sure the Ph.D and refugee would fall on different levels of the CRHAC.  Consciousness is always consciousness “of something,” so if comparing consciousness of perceptions, man and ape may rate 90%; if comparing consciousness of what a tripod is in itself, anything other than man always scores 0.00%.  What the Ph.D. and refugee have in common is that if they discern a stick is useful for fishing, they might mass-produce the stick; apes have yet to do something so insightful.

Lastly, what of knowledge that is impossible to convey by language or sensation, but only by inter-subjective experience?  Love would be an example of this.  I can read all the novels and receive all the lectures I wish, I can boost my endorphins and come into contact with others, but what of the inter-subjective experience of “love,” that beckons to me, that I can pursue or reject, that which always remains a mystery and can hardly undergo replication, even at will?  In love I submit myself to the mercy of transcendent laws; it is not sensed; it is experienced.  If animals experience it, they ought to try harder at writing poems.

@ Henry
After thinking about your comment for a few weeks, my when dealing with pure Husserlian Phenomenological consciousness, one should never compare one human to another.

With that said, watching my rats build thier nests, jump to me if they are held by another person, and the concentration that goes into thier thinking process sometimes, I would have to say that they conscious. very conscious. Are there degrees of consciousness? I dont know, but that is what this article was hinting at.

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