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consciousness

Eugene Khutoryansky ekhutory at glibm6.cen.uiuc.edu
Tue May 27 18:31:03 EST 1997



I hope that you do not mind that I am replying to both groups, even 
though you only posted to bionet.general (and I snipped much of your post).


rlh writes:

> Actually I see no bias in a definition of consciousness that is based on
> awareness of one's environment...it works for worms, it works for me.

The problem with this definition is that under it, thermometers and smoke 
detectors are conscious.


The bias can be explained in many ways.  Here is one.  No one claims that 
we have an obligation to act morally towards thermometers and smoke 
detectors.  Even though they are "aware of their environment" they do not 
feel pain or suffering the way we do.  Therefore, by giving worms the same 
linguistic status as thermometers and smoke detectors, the terminology 
seems to imply that they also do not feel pain or suffering.

Another example is if you want to debate whether or not something similar 
to a "soul" exists.  Some people believe that "consciousness" is the 
result of the existence of a soul, and can never be the product of just a 
complex congregation of atoms and molecules.  However, by defining 
"consciousness" as simply responding to the environment, you have shoved 
aside their beliefs simply through your terminology.  


> >I do not know it with 100% certainty.  In exactly the same manner, I do
> >not know with 100% certainty that you are conscious.  As I explained in a
> >previous post, I believe that animals other than myself (including humans)
> >are conscious through INDUCTIVE REASONING.  I know that I am conscious.
> >Other animals (including humans) share many visible characteristics with
> >me. Therefore, I conclude that the characteristic which is not visible,
> >that of consciousness, is also probably the same in other animals as it is
> >in myself.  This is the reason I believe that other
> >species are conscious, and this is the reason I  believe that other
> >humans are conscious.  I have equal reason for believing in the
> >consciousness of other humans and of other species.
> 
> rlh writes:
> 
> A few sentences ago you (eugenK) rejected a dictionary based definition of
> consciousness because it was intrinsically biased, NOW you say that by YOUR
> INDUCTIVE REASONING other species are conscious...YOUR bias is showing.  


I agree that I was showing my bias, but this is because I was asked why "I" 
believe that other beings are conscious.  

> I
> have no problems accepting that animals with nervous systems can be
> considered conscious, but no amount of arm chair philosophizing will
> strengthen or weaken that opinion.
> 

How is thinking about philosophy while sitting in an arm chair 
different from thinking about philosophy while sitting on a different 
object?

Actually, opinions can be shown false when they are shown to be 
inconsistent.  For example, many people have such a rigorous standard 
for consciousness that they exclude many species.  However, what 
they do not realize is that many humans, who they believe are conscious, 
do not satisfy the criteria either, examples include infants, the 
severely mentally retarded, or elderly people who's minds have 
deteriorated.  So their opinions are shown false in the sense that they 
are not consistent.








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