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Are newborn babies really not conscious?


From philosopher Bernardo Kastrup at Scientific American:

An article on the neuroscience of infant consciousness, which attracted some interest a few years ago, asked: “When does your baby become conscious?” The premise, of course, was that babies aren’t born conscious but, instead, develop consciousness at some point. (According to the article, it is about five months of age). Yet, it is hard to think that there is nothing it feels like to be a newborn.

The question seems to turn on the ability to recognize and represent one’s own consciousness to onself or others.

By mistaking meta-consciousness for consciousness, we create two significant problems: First, we fail to distinguish between conscious processes that lack re-representation and truly unconscious processes. After all, both are equally unreportable to self and others. This misleads us to conclude there is a mental unconscious when, in reality, there may always be something it feels like to have each and every mental process in our psyche. Second, we fail to see our partial and tentative explanations for the alleged rise of consciousness may concern merely the rise of metacognition.

This is liable to create the illusion we are making progress toward solving the “hard problem of consciousness” when, in fact, we are bypassing it altogether: Mechanisms of metacognition are entirely unrelated to the problem of how the qualities of experience could arise from physical arrangements.More.

Nice to see someone thinking through the problem and not just proposing yet another gimcrack fix (see many entries below). This question, consciousness vs. the ability to recognize and report it, is relevant to animal consciousness as well. See Animal minds: In search of the minimal self.

Note: Light news posting till later today due to O’Leary for News’s alternate day job.

See also: Large numbers of atheists doubt that evolution explains human consciousness

Roger Penrose: Somehow, our consciousness is the reason the universe is here.

One can’t help wondering if this is suckerbait. Challenged, will Penrose retreat back to the safe little warren of nonsense theories about consciousness? A few are offered below, just to get you started, but we don’t especially recommend it. On the other hand, just for fun, start with, Claim: Science is afraid of animal consciousness. Why? Won’t crackpot theories work as well as they do for human consciousness? What’s different?

Aired on BBC: Consciousness no different than our ability to digest

Thomas Nagel: Daniel Dennett “maintaining a thesis at all costs” in Bacteria to Bach and Back

Physicist: Regrettably, materialism can’t explain mind

Split brain does NOT lead to split consciousness? What? After all the naturalist pop psych lectures we paid good money for at the U? Well, suckers r’ us.

Does the ability to “split” our brains help us understand consciousness? (Apparently not.)

What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness

Or else: Consciousness as a state of matter

Rocks have minds?

Researcher: Never mind the “hard problem of consciousness”: The real one is… “Our experiences of being and having a body are ‘controlled hallucinations’ of a very distinctive kind”

Searle on Consciousness “Emerging” from a Computer: “Miracles are always possible.”

Psychology Today: Latest new theory of consciousness A different one from the above.

Evolution bred a sense of reality out of us

Claim: Science is afraid of animal consciousness. Why? Won’t crackpot theories work as well as they do for human consciousness?

So then: Question: Would we give up naturalism to solve the hard problem of consciousness?

Neuroscience tried wholly embracing naturalism, but then the brain got away

Really? And what is your first memory? Mine was the clear memory at the age of 2years and 5months, as I sat with my family watching the Apollo moon landings. Before that I had zero memories, and equally zero self awreness, and zero mind. Am I suggesting infanticide is OK? No! Birth is the natural point at which parents see, and love their child, even though the child is completely oblivious to its own existance. Try this. If you have niece or nephew, or son or daughter, or friend of the family with a newborn. Every day after about two months hold them close to a large mirror. You will find, as the researchers assert, that at around 5-7 months they finally see their reflection, they are aware it is their reflection, and they usually smile at themselves. This is called 'self awareness', and it is at this point that neural connections are sufficiently strong for the child to realise, 'that is I'. rvb8
Hi Dean Of O, I posted question to you in an UD article about zero. Wondering if you could reply sometime. Thanks Juwilker juwilker
I've got a little question for our highly intelligent betters at Scientific American Take some guy who is a patient in major surgery and has been knocked out by anesthetics. Now, using your concept of "consciousness" (as opposed to "meta-conscious"), he is not conscious. Just as an unborn child (Mrs Clintons' term) is not conscious. Next, let's say his existence is inconvenient. Is it okay to kill him, like you can kill an unborn child? If not, why not? If so, what other innocent human beings (conscious, meta-conscious, unconscious, or whatever) is it okay to kill, just like you can kill an unborn child? chris haynes
Baby humans are Aware well before they're born. And if they have a twin, well, then they even have someone to play with before Birth Day. I can't imagine anyone who has held a newly born baby, felt her hold you finger with her whole hand, and felt her stare into your eyes can believe she's just some lump of clay. And every single HOUR of her life on the outside she spends trying to figure out what's going on. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZAqTzOxzj8 Yeah, it's a commercial, but it's also an Irish folksong. vmahuna
I don't remember being conscious as a newborn... but I don't remember being conscious this morning either before I have had my coffee...lol J-Mac
No need to get meta. Everyone who stops to examine the question has ALWAYS understood the distinction between the waking world and the sleeping world. The waking world switches on around age 3. Most of our CURRENT knowledge and memory is inaccessible to the waking world but available in dreams. Memories before the switchon point are often seen in dreams. Kastrup is quoting the mysterious and totally meaningless phrase "there is something that it feels like", which seems to be a common coin among "philosophers" lately. Gresham's Law works with word coins. A valueless phrase that passes as a legitimate argument swamps and replaces meaningful arguments. See an earlier use of the bad coin: http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2015/11/13/455731022/you-are-not-just-your-brain polistra
Plus, parents talking to the child, playing music, poking it, etc. all help the baby develop while in the womb. If it is not conscious, why would that make any difference? I even heard an account of a baby in the womb that woke its mother when it noticed the father had stopped breathing. How's that for not conscious? Essentially, they are equating self centeredness with consciousness. And since babies are incapable of slipping to the depraved levels of full grown adults they are considered unconscious. EricMH
It seems to me that consciousness should at least mean relating to the world as a subject of experience. We KNOW that infants do so because they can suffer serious, long term psychological damage from emotional neglect (institutional baby syndrome) during periods when some might say they were "not conscious." News
Good, now we can kill the babies after they are born too, since they don't know they're being killed. For that matter, kill anyone who's asleep, it's alright. If anyone complains, kill them in their sleep too, and then they won't suffer anymore. It's the only compassionate thing to do. EricMH

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