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Insects have minds?

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From UK Independent:

Insects have a form of consciousness, according to a new paper that might show us how our own began.

Brain scans of insects appear to indicate that they have the capacity to be conscious and show egocentric behaviour, apparently indicating that they have such a thing as subjective experience.

Clearly, the specific make-up of the insect brain means that their experience of consciousness is going to be different from that of a human.

“Their experience of the world is not as rich or as detailed as our experience – our big neocortex adds something to life!” the scientists wrote recently. “But it still feels like something to be a bee.” More.

Modern evolutionary theory has reached a state where insects have minds but people don’t.

Nobel Prize in offing?

The paper probably won’t show us anything about how our own thoughts began. In fact, to the extent that there is no tree of intelligence, focusing intently on insects will provide us with valuable information about insects with uncertain relevance to human beings.

See also: Intelligence in a single cell

Study: Ravens, crows as smart as chimps: We do not know the source of intelligence as yet, but common descent is not turning out to be much of a help.


Does intelligence depend on a specific type of brain? Hint: No. So then what is intelligence?

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3 Replies to “Insects have minds?

  1. 1
    Robert Byers says:

    Whats mind? Whats thoughts? I think bugs are thoughtful. Not mere robots.
    let the bible teaches the Mind is not the source of thought. Its the soul and then the heart. The mind is just the memory connecting all things.

  2. 2
    Bob O'H says:

    Modern evolutionary theory has reached a state where insects have minds but people don’t.

    The link on “people don’t” leads to a story that says nothing about whether humans have minds. Was it the wrong link?

  3. 3
    vjtorley says:

    Hi News,

    I did a bit of sleuthing, and found an article in The Conversation which elaborates the views of Andrew Barron and Colin Klein, who were cited in the UK Independent in support of the claim that insects are conscious (incidentally, it’s a pity that the author of that article didn’t bother to link to the piece in The Conversation or to list the title of Barron and Klein’s article in PNAS – abstract available here).

    To cut a long story short, Barron and Klein’s argument boils down to three claims:

    (i) the basis of phenomenal consciousness [i.e. the subjective feeling of “what it is like” to experience something] consists in an animal’s having an “integrated and egocentric representation of the world,” which simulates “the state of the mobile animal in space.” In other words, phenomenal consciousness is simply what underlies an animal’s ability to navigate its way around its world and select an appropriate course of action (i.e. decide where to go next), based on the information it receives about its environment in real time;

    (ii) the mid-brain (not the neocortex) is the seat of phenomenal consciousness. The authors cite the work of neuroscientist Bjorn Merker in support of this claim;

    (iii) insects possess a “central complex” which integrates information in the same way as the vertebrate mid-brain does; hence it is rational to infer that they are phenomenally conscious. As Nagel would put it, there is something that it is like to be a bee.

    I disagree with claim (i), because the ability to navigate does not require subjectivity, in the phenomenal sense of the word. Phenomenal consciousness is more than mere wakefulness, or the ability to respond to changes in one’s surroundings in real time. I discussed this issue at length in my thesis.

    I disagree with claim (ii), because there is a wealth of data indicating that primary consciousness – which neuroscientists have traditionally defined in terms of the ability to give an accurate report (either verbal or manual) on one’s surroundings – requires a functioning thalamocortical system. Merkel’s proposal that the superior colliculus plays a vital role in consciousness, and that the seat of phenomenal consciousness resides in an “upper brainstem system, which extends from the roof of the midbrain to the basal diencephalon,” has been critiqued in the critical commentaries to his article, starting on page 81 – especially those by Behrendt, Coenen, Collerton & Perry, Doesberg & Ward, Edelman, Morin, Schlag, and Watkins & Rees.

    I do not contest claim (iii).

    The evidence that the neocortex is necessary for consciousness is summarized in James Rose’s 2002 article, The Neurobehavioral Nature of Fishes and the Question of Awareness and Pain and in a 2012 paper which he co-authored, titled, Can fish really feel pain?

    I don’t wish to claim, however, that insects are mindless. They are very clever creatures. Despite lacking phenomenal consciousness, there is a real sense in which insects, with their highly sophisticated discriminatory, learning and navigational abilities, can be described as having a simple mind. In fact, I described four different kinds of simple minds occurring in animals which lack phenomenal consciousness, in my thesis.

    Finally, I should state that I was once very sympathetic to the view that insects (and fish) feel pain, but after corresponding with neuroscientists working in the field, ten years ago, I changed my views.

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