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consciousness

Eugene Khutoryansky ekhutory at glibm8.cen.uiuc.edu
Thu May 22 19:10:18 EST 1997



Oops, I accidentally posted the following to only bionet.general.  I 
meant to post it to both groups.  (So for those in bionet.general, here it 
is again). 

On Thu, 22 May 1997, Eugene Khutoryansky wrote:

> 
> 
> On 22 May 1997, Richard Hall wrote:
> 
> > According to three dictionaries, now buried under piles of exams recently
> > graded, consciousness is essentially the state of awareness of one's
> > surroundings.  That can mean many things since animals use numerous sensory
> > systems to monitor their immediate environs. Since butterflies find their
> > flowers and worms find their holes they qualify as conscious.  When animals
> > are distracted they become dinner.
> 
> Running to the dictionaries is the not the way to answer scientific or 
> philosophical questions.  Our language is inherently biased, and checking 
> literal definitions is not going to get us anywhere in debates such 
> as these.  Under the definition you mentioned, an electric bell would be 
> conscious, due to the fact that it is "aware" of whether or not someone 
> is signaling for it to ring (which has to do with the bell's surroundings).  
> But, of course, that is not what we really 
> mean by "conscious".  As I stated in my first post, I believe that it is 
> inherently impossible to define consciousness (at least for now).  It is 
> only by being aware of our own consciousness that we come to understand 
> what it is.
> 
> > 
> > There are some psychological uses of consciousness that confuse the
> > issue...and then many folks tend to interpert animal behaviors in human
> > terms, doing injustice to the animals by implying human like motives to
> > critters doing what critters simply must do.  How could we design
> > experiments to devine the symbolic logic used by voles in their relentless
> > pursuit of tasty worms and grubs?  Would worms and voles find a common
> > ground in their love of fresh loose dirt?
> >
> 
> Saying that we interpret animal behavior in "human terms" is itself 
> biased.  What I (and others) are saying is that these characteristics are 
> not unique to our own species.  In other words, they are not "human 
> terms", they in fact are "animal terms", which we humans happen to share 
> due to the fact that we are animals.  What others have done is to assume 
> that they apply only to humans, labeled them "human terms", and then 
> claimed that it is silly to assume that other animals possess "human 
> characteristics".
> 
> The preceding paragraph does not actually make an argument one way or the 
> other.  It just points out that the language you use is biased and 
> already implies a position simply in its usage.  Even though you may not 
> realize it, calling these characteristics and terms "human 
> characteristics" and "human terms" already presupposes an answer.
> 
> As far as animals such as worms are concerned, it should be pointed out 
> that the differences between humans and rats are infinitesimal when 
> compared to the differences between rats and worms.  It is a mistake to 
> lump worms together with animals like rats, and view humans as somehow 
> "separate" from them when discussing consciousness.  It is far more 
> reasonable to believe that rats are just as conscious as human beings, 
> but that worms are not (or that both worms and rats are just as 
> conscious as human beings) than it is to believe that rats are somehow 
> "less conscious" than humans due to comparisons with worms.  (This 
> paragraph is not directed at the post I am responding to, it is just a 
> comment I felt like making).
> 
> 





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