Animal minds Intelligent Design Naturalism

Confused science writer: Octopuses are conscious so consciousness is not what makes humans special

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No, we did not make this total confusion up. From Olivia Goldhill, discussing Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, andthe Deep Origins of Consciousness at Quartz:

Octopus research shows that consciousness isn’t what makes humans special

There’s some uncertainty about which precise ancestor was most recently shared by octopuses and humans, but, Godfrey-Smith says, “It was probably an animal about the size of a leech or flatworm with neurons numbering perhaps in the thousands, but not more than that.”

This means that octopuses have very little in common with humans, evolution-wise. They have developed eyes, limbs, and brains via a completely separate route, with very different ancestors, from humans. And they seem to have come by their impressive cognitive functioning—and likely consciousness—by different means.

Indeed? Where is the octopus space program?

It’s important to figure out whether consciousness is “an easily produced product of the universe” or “an insanely strange fluke, a completely weird anomalous event,” says Godfrey-Smith. Based on the current evidence, it seems that consciousness is not particularly unusual at all, but a fairly routine development in nature. “I suspect animal evolution, if were replayed again, it would produce subjectivity of a somewhat similar kind,” he adds. “You can see why it makes biological sense.” More.

Actually, the claim does not make any sense at all. Only humans have the kind of consciousness that would produce a space program.

Compared to sponges, octopuses are smart. But that does not make them anything like humans. Consciousness means only that the life form senses experiences as a unified self. Full stop. When humans are unconscious, we do not feel pain because we are not constantly assessing communications from a our unified self. We may in fact be processing previous information via dreams. What consciousness means apart from a unified self depends on the contents of the mind associated with the self. Which is why octopuses do not have a space program and humans are special.

The humans are not special claim is classic naturalist nonsense. One of the problem with science journalism today is that the pom pom wavers who practice it do not seem capable of the normal level of friendly criticism we find in other fields.

Note re non-human intelligence: We have tentatively identified some patterns. Metabolism and anatomy may play a larger role than earlier suspected. For example, reptiles can show intelligent behavior when their metabolism permits, as can invertebrates with sophisticated appendages, such as octopuses and squid.

It is even worth asking whether individual animals demonstrate more intelligence if they live with humans. For one thing, they may live much longer and in more complex environments.

Some might protest that when humans eliminate the lethal razor of natural selection, “daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest,” we cause animals to become less intelligent.

But is intelligence highly selected in nature? As engineers know all too well, new solutions to any problem are accompanied by numerous failures. The “smart crow” and “smart primate” tests, for example, are devised by humans who systematically reward the animals for carefully designed feats of intelligence, but do not destroy them for failure. Blind nature rewards and penalizes more haphazardly than that.

See also: What can we hope to learn about animal minds?

Are apes entering the Stone Age?

Furry, feathery, and finny animals speak their minds

Does intelligence depend on a specific type of brain?

and

Animal minds: In search of the minimal self

15 Replies to “Confused science writer: Octopuses are conscious so consciousness is not what makes humans special

  1. 1
    ichisan says:

    The amazing thing about materialist philosophy is that everyone of us experiences the supernatural (i.e., the non-physical) continually. Our conscious sensations of colors, tastes, sounds and beauty are proof of the supernatural since they are not physical properties. The fact that a bunch of neuronal signals (spikes) arriving at our visual cortex are converted into a fabulous 3D vista that does not exist anywhere in the physical realm is another solid refutation of materialist pseudoscience. The 3D vista can only exist in a parallel non-physical realm because it can also be evoked with the use of virtual reality goggles. I explain this further in my blog article. Why We Have a Supernatural Soul.

    PS. Rene Descarte understood this centuries ago when he proposed a famous thought experiment wherein a malicious god could manipulate his senses in such a way that he would be fooled into believing that he was living in a world that did not really exist. Except in his conscious mind, that is. He was forced to conclude, “Cogito, ergo sum.”

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    We can’t judge ANYONE’s consciousness directly. I don’t know if you’re conscious and you don’t know if I’m conscious. But we do have external signs of an advanced mind.

    You mentioned dreams… Okay, we know the external signs of dreaming. We see them in other humans and familiar mammals. We ALSO see the very same signs in cuttlefish. At various points during sleep, they move and signal in a way that’s identical to the muffled speech of dreaming humans or the muffled barking and undirected running of dreaming dogs.

    The external signs are unmistakable. We use the same external signs to impute consciousness to other humans and familiar mammals. Why not cephalopods?

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    Indeed? Where is the octopus space program?

    This reminds me of something from The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

    For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.

  4. 4
    News says:

    Would Bob O’H at 4 exchange brains with a dolphin then? Naturalism has fallen so far that it need not make any sense now, it need only try to enforce, like many collapsing empires.

  5. 5
    asauber says:

    But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.

    I think Bob O’h actually believes that dolphins are as smart as humans… thereby demonstrating there are some humans way dumber than dolphins.

    Andrew

  6. 6
    daveS says:

    Certainly homo sapiens is the only life form on Earth with the intellectual capacity (and drive) to build a space program, so we’re special in that sense. But is that an objectively good thing? Perhaps some of these intellectual pursuits are really more of a trap, and ultimately make our lives worse.

    Here’s a more provocative question: Is it really beneficial to us overall to engage in science in general? For example, there are surely benefits to engaging in medical research, but young people in the US especially seem to be in appalling shape these days. Could we improve our overall mental and physical health by abandoning some avenues of scientific research and perhaps moving toward a less science/technology oriented society?

  7. 7
    J-Mac says:

    The writer of the article seems to assume that there is a connection between cleverness and consciousness…
    That is fallacious speculation as nobody but humans can report back when they are or were conscious and others can report when they were not…

    These are pure nonsensical, materialistic assumptions to satisfy atheistic need… nothing else…

    BTW: I watched a documentary a while back by Canadian intellectual David Suzuki. Not a stupid guy who embraces himself by speculating whether octopuses can evolve and rule the earth in 500.000 years because octopus seems to be cleverer than many other oceanic creature …

    Painful to watch an intelligent man to lower himself to the very bottom of stupidity to support a baseless notion of evolution…

  8. 8
    J-Mac says:

    @ichisan,

    The amazing thing about materialist philosophy is that everyone of us experiences the supernatural (i.e., the non-physical) continually.

    How do we experience that exactly? Do atheists have the same experiences?

    Our conscious sensations of colors, tastes, sounds and beauty are proof of the supernatural since they are not physical properties.

    How do you know that animals don’t have the same sensations, such as chimps?

    The fact that a bunch of neuronal signals (spikes) arriving at our visual cortex are converted into a fabulous 3D vista that does not exist anywhere in the physical realm is another solid refutation of materialist pseudoscience. The 3D vista can only exist in a parallel non-physical realm because it can also be evoked with the use of virtual reality goggles.

    You mean an eagle doesn’t experience 3D vista? How can it focus on a pray and avoid flying into a tree for example, unless it has a 3D vision?

    I explain this further in my blog article. Why We Have a Supernatural Soul.

    How do you explain the supernatural soul in humans who are under anesthetic and therefore unconscious of anything because microtubules in brain neurons are disabled while other brain functions are normal? If humans had a supernatural soul, should it function all the time even if a part of brain’s cognitive functions is disabled?

  9. 9
    ichisan says:

    @J-Mac

    Excellent questions. Thanks for asking.

    How do we experience that exactly? Do atheists have the same experiences?

    I can only speculate that every human being has the same experience that I have. But it’s not all speculation. The fact that other humans enjoy beauty and the arts as much as I do is strong evidence that they, too, have supernatural souls.

    How do you know that animals don’t have the same sensations, such as chimps?

    I don’t believe animals have the same conscious sensations for two reasons. One, as a Christian, I doubt that God would have given the animal brain a way to connect to a soul. Without such a connection, there can be no consciousness. Giving animal bodies to souls without a path to eternal life would be a cruel thing to do. I don’t think God is cruel. Second, animals do not have to be conscious, only intelligent. An animal can certainly behave as if it feels pain or pleasure like a human but so can a computer program. Outward intelligent behavior is not necessarily a sign of consciousness.

    You mean an eagle doesn’t experience 3D vista? How can it focus on a pray and avoid flying into a tree for example, unless it has a 3D vision?

    Without consciousness (i.e., a supernatural component), there is no way we can experience distance because distance is not a physical property. It is an abstract or spiritual property. In my opinion, an eagle’s brain simply reacts to signals, not unlike computer programs. A computer program that receives signals from a camera does not see distance either. It just reacts to sensory data in a programmed manner.

    PS. If distance is assumed to exist in the physical universe, one must ask oneself, where is it and what is it made of? One day, mainstream science will wake up from its stupor and realize that distance/space is an illusion of the spirit. Everything is ONE. I predict that we will one day in the not too distant future, develop technologies that will allow us to travel instantly from anywhere to anywhere regardless of apparent distance. As an aside, there is a story in the New Testament about Jesus’s followers being instantly transported from one place to another. The Bible can be very sci-fi-like in surprising ways.

  10. 10
    ichisan says:

    @J-Mac:

    How do you explain the supernatural soul in humans who are under anesthetic and therefore unconscious of anything because microtubules in brain neurons are disabled while other brain functions are normal? If humans had a supernatural soul, should it function all the time even if a part of brain’s cognitive functions is disabled?

    Unlike most Christians, I’m a hardcore dualist. I believe that consciousness (i.e., mind) requires both a spirit and a physical brain. Removing either results in complete unconsciousness. When asleep, dead or under anesthesia, the spirit is simply unable to connect to its brain and is therefore unconscious. As soon as the appropriate connections are restored (either because the anesthetics have dissipated or because a new body is created by resurrection) the spirit regains consciousness. If the spirit/soul did not require a body, there would be no need for a resurrection. Just one man’s opinion.

  11. 11
    ichisan says:

    @asauber:

    I think Bob O’h actually believes that dolphins are as smart as humans… thereby demonstrating there are some humans way dumber than dolphins.

    LOL. Materialism and Darwinism numb the mind.

  12. 12
    J-Mac says:

    @ichian:

    Unlike most Christians, I’m a hardcore dualist. I believe that consciousness (i.e., mind) requires both a spirit and a physical brain. Removing either results in complete unconsciousness. When asleep, dead or under anesthesia, the spirit is simply unable to connect to its brain and is therefore unconscious. As soon as the appropriate connections are restored (either because the anesthetics have dissipated or because a new body is created by resurrection) the spirit regains consciousness. If the spirit/soul did not require a body, there would be no need for a resurrection. Just one man’s opinion.

    This is interesting…So what happens to the soul/spirit after death and before resurrection?

    Where does the resurrection happen? On the earth? In heaven? Or somewhere else?

  13. 13
    ichisan says:

    @J-Mac:

    This is interesting…So what happens to the soul/spirit after death and before resurrection?

    The way I understand it , entities in the spiritual realm never change and can neither be created nor destroyed. They just are. Only entities in the physical realm can change or be created and destroyed.

    Where does the resurrection happen? On the earth? In heaven? Or somewhere else?

    I have no idea. According to certain scriptures, it has already happened here on earth on a few occasions. My understanding is that the history of the entire universe is being recorded down to the minutest details. It is possible for everyone of us to be resurrected in a body identical to the one we had and with the exact same memories. Heck, it’s possible to resurrect all the extinct species of old. Nothing is lost.

  14. 14
    J-Mac says:

    @ichisan 13

    j-mac: This is interesting…So what happens to the soul/spirit after death and before resurrection?

    I:The way I understand it , entities in the spiritual realm never change and can neither be created nor destroyed. They just are. Only entities in the physical realm can change or be created and destroyed.

    j-mac: This is new…or you are getting quantum information conservation mixed up with spirit realm…

    According to quantum field theory quantum information can’t be created or destroyed…but there is a possibility that black holes can erase quantum info or make particles/waves like photons disappear…
    All this can be true if quantum field theory is accurate…

    j-mac: Where does the resurrection happen? On the earth? In heaven? Or somewhere else?

    I: I have no idea. According to certain scriptures, it has already happened here on earth on a few occasions. My understanding is that the history of the entire universe is being recorded down to the minutest details. It is possible for everyone of us to be resurrected in a body identical to the one we had and with the exact same memories. Heck, it’s possible to resurrect all the extinct species of old. Nothing is lost.

    I gotta admit ichisan I have never heard of any scriptures that would combine all of your ideas… I hope you are not a fruitcake trying to sell me your own flapdoodle…Please tell me you are not from the same church Robert Byers is…please say it ain’t so…lol

  15. 15
    J-Mac says:

    deleted

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