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Science is afraid of animal consciousness?


From Drake Baer at New York Mag:

Maybe it’s built into the structure of science itself. Oxford zoologist Antone Martinho makes the case in a new essay for Aeon. Martinho’s lab studies ducklings, while at home, he’s just adopted a pair of “celestial parrotlets,” a sublimely named species of mini-parrot indigenous to South America and suitable for a professorial apartment. As a pet owner, Martinho thinks that his new companions think, but he’d never say that as a scientist, even as his ducklings crane their necks at a new stimulus, in the classic body language of a confused dog.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room: Science can’t infer much about animal consciousness — if it’s there — since it hasn’t yet gotten to the core of the human correlate, what brain scientists and philosophers call the Hard Problem of Consciousness (the capitals denote the gravitas), coined by the philosopher David Chalmers in the 1990s. It’s the modern framing of a question that’s beguiled sages for a couple thousand years: how does a thoughtful, self-reflective experience arise from this physical form?

Okay, let’s take a think break: Is there some reason animal behaviourists can’t just go ahead and apply crackpot theories to animal consciousness, the way they routinely apply them to human consciousness? Are higher standards are required for animals? Good thing, that, but…

Indeed, given the staggering array of species out there, saying there’s only one form of consciousness sounds awfully reductive. Like the philosopher Daniel Dennett told The New Yorker in 2013, “the idea that there is a bright line, with real comprehension and real minds on the far side of the chasm, and animals or plants on the other—that’s an archaic myth.” More.

Actually, the “bright line” is not an “archaic myth.” It is stupid, stunned obvious and it should be a “please-waste-no-more-of-our-time” test for people presuming to write on the subject of consciousness. We write about animal consciousness and animals cannot begin to comprehend ours.

Of course, many animals have some form of consciousness,, not necessarily related to their brains.

Which poses an additional problem, of course. Does consciousness really reside in their brains?

Oh, never mind. There are probably crackpot theories banked up all through January.

See also: Consciousness as a state of matter

What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness

Would we give up naturalism to solve the hard problem of consciousness?


Animal minds: In search of the minimal self

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Typical example of animal consciousness:

Note: Cat does not go on to develop theory of human psychology. 


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