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The immateriality of animal consciousness: why I’m agnostic


Recently, there has been a lively exchange of views on the subject of animal rationality and animal immortality between Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart and Thomist philosopher Edward Feser. A fair-minded reader would have to conclude that Feser has gotten the better of Hart in this exchange. (For a handy summary of the arguments put forward on both sides, I would warmly recommend Professor Feser’s latest article; his earlier articles can be found here, here and here. Hart’s articles in First Things can be found here and here.)

Nevertheless, I have strong reservations about some of Feser’s arguments. In a nutshell: Feser seems to want to place a period where the available evidence – from both science and philosophy – leaves a comma. Full disclosure here: my Ph.D. thesis in philosophy was on the subject of animal minds, and I should point out that I have written several articles on Uncommon Descent (see here, here, here and here), pouring cold water on recent scientific studies purporting to show that non-human animals possess rationality and a sense of self. I should add that I’m not a great pet-lover, although I do refrain from eating meat (but not fish). Consequently, I have no particular axe to grind on the issue of whether some animals possess an immaterial sort of consciousness, making them possible candidates for immortality.

As this will be a very short post, I’d like to briefly enumerate the problems I have with Feser’s arguments, before throwing the discussion open to readers. Here goes.

1. Professor Feser assumes that the term “concept” has only one meaning, which can be applied to all of the concepts we have – including the concept of redness, the concept of same-different, the concept of triangularity, the concept of computability, the concept of gold, the concept of life, the concept of being a horse, the concept of a person, and the concept of a concept itself. To say the very least, this seems doubtful. Some of these concepts are much more refined than others, and it is hard to see what my concept of redness has in common with my (meta-)concept of a concept. The philosopher Ralph Machery has argued cogently that concepts are not a natural kind. Machery argues for a heterogeneity hypothesis, writing that “the class of concepts is divided into several kinds of considerations that have little in common.”

2. That being the case, Feser’s claim that non-human animals are incapable of forming concepts needs to be treated with caution. A strong case can be made that higher-level concepts, requiring the use of propositional language, are indeed unique to human beings. However, Feser appears to be unaware of recent experimental evidence that honeybees can acquire abstract concepts such as “same” and “different,” possession of which seems to presuppose the grasp of a rule. I describe and evaluate this evidence on pages 302 to 304 of my thesis, which Feser is welcome to have a look at. In addition, mammals and birds possess an awareness of Piagetian object constancy, or the ability to anticipate that an object which disappears behind an obstacle will subsequently re-appear. This finding would seem to indicate that these animals possess at least the basic concept of a physical object. One could therefore argue that while non-human animals are incapable of verbally articulating the primitive concepts they possess, these concepts may nonetheless be built into their natures as sentient creatures. (The next question we would need to ask is whether these primitive concepts could possibly be “hard-wired” into their brains or whether they are immaterial features of their psyches.)

3. Most cat and dog owners would vigorously contend that their pets view them as companions, and that cats and dogs can empathize with their owners when they are feeling sad, lonely or unwell. Recent psychological studies lend support to this claim, although they are far from conclusive. That being the case, one might reasonably suggest that perhaps these animals possess a primitive concept of “person” or “individual,” and that they view their owners not merely as useful objects (e.g. food-providers), but as “significant others” But as Feser would readily acknowledge, the concept of a person is not a material one. It therefore follows that if some pets are capable of genuinely loving, empathizing with or enjoying the companionship of their owners, they must be capable of performing at least one immaterial mental act. And if that be the case, then we can no longer rule out the possibility of immortality for these animals. (I should point out that by “immortality,” I do not mean “Heaven,” as the latter presupposes an explicit knowledge of God, while the former does not.)

4. It strikes me that Feser’s dichotomy of concepts (which are immaterial and which are supposedly unique to rational beings) and images (which even sub-rational animals with sensory capacities are capable of possessing) is too simplistic: it overlooks the intermediate category of a mental schema. Mental schemas have a clearly defined internal structure: for example, the concept of food is connected to the attributes of a taste (sweet, sour, salty or bitter), texture (tough, tender, lumpy, gritty or slimy), the source from which it comes (usually an animal or plant) and what you have to do in order to obtain it (hunt, scavenge or harvest). While it is true (by definition) that an image can only have a material realization, the same does not appear to hold for a mental schema: while it can certainly be represented in diagrammatic form, its reality is not exhausted by any particular physical representation of it. Mental schemas thus seem to possess a universality that mere images do not. Of course, that does not necessarily make them immaterial, and in a recent post, I have argued that humans’ (and, by extension, animals’) brains may indeed be capable of storing mental schemas as representations of objects in the external world.

(UPDATE: In another post, Feser cites an argument put forward by the philosopher Donald Davidson, that animals are incapable of having beliefs, on the basis that they are incapable of (a) having the concept of believing something, and (b) using language. This argument has been critiqued by philosophers John Searle and Peter Carruthers, neither of whom could be accused of being “pro-animal.” For a good discussion of the problems with Davidson’s argument, see here. I also discuss the argument on pages 133-134 of my thesis. Very briefly: (i) Davidson’s claim that one cannot have a belief of any sort unless one is capable of having the concept of a belief is highly contentious, to say the least (think of young children); (ii) the claim that the capacity for having a belief presupposes the capacity for language is true only if the capacity for having a concept presupposes the capacity for language, which as we have seen above is dubious; and (iii) the demand that the content of animals’ beliefs should have a sense which is precisely specifiable in human language is tantamount to imposing what Carruthers calls a co-thinking constraint on animals. I should add that Feser contradicts himself when he says in his post that even desires presuppose beliefs: no Aristotelian would say that, as Aristotle was quite happy to impute desires to animals.)

5. The term “rationality” is variously defined in the literature. On a minimal definition, it refers to the ability of an agent to select and employ suitable means in order to obtain its ends or goals. Using this definition, it is hard to see how we can deny rationality to cockatoos who can crack locks unassisted, without having to be offered a reward at each step along the way, or to New Caledonian crows, such as the amazing 007, who managed to solve a complex eight-stage puzzle in order to get some food, in the course of just three minutes. (Sadly, Feser never even mentions these extraordinary cases in his articles on animal rationality and immortality.) Perhaps, as I suggested in an article on Uncommon Descent, New Caledonian crows have an enormous mental reservoir of accumulated knowledge relating to how they can manipulate objects with their beaks (“smart moves”), and perhaps they simply draw on this when solving problems. If that is the case, then the crows wouldn’t be reasoning, but relying on their life-time experience in order to solve complex problems. But I wouldn’t bet on it. As MUSE editor Elizabeth Preston reveals in an online article titled, It Takes an 8-Year-Old to Outsmart a Crow (July 26, 2012), there are certain puzzles that New Caledonian crows appear to be incapable of solving, but it turns out that they’re the sorts of puzzles that most human children up to the age of eight can’t solve either. I doubt whether Professor Feser would want to say that seven-year-olds are incapable of reasoning.

Alternatively, the term “rationality” might be restricted to creatures who are not only capable of directing suitable means to their ends, but also capable of explaining why they chose these particular means, and not some other ones, in order to attain their ends. A crow can bend a piece of wire to get a piece of meat, but it cannot tell other crows why you should bend the wire this way, rather than that way, in order to get the meat. Such a capacity presupposes the ability to use language, which as far as we can tell is unique to human beings.

Professor Feser evidently prefers to use the term “rationality” in the second and narrower sense of the word. That is his privilege. However, he needs to explain why rationality in the first sense of the word (means-end rationality) does not require the use of any immaterial concepts, and could thus be possessed by an animal whose capacities are exclusively bodily capacities.

6. Insofar as the evidence of science does point to the existence of clear-cut differences between humans and other animals, it doesn’t draw the line in precisely the same way that Aristotelian-Thomist philosophers do.

As I pointed out in a recent online article titled, The Myth of the Continuum of Creatures: A Reply to John Jeremiah Sullivan (Part One), there is some scientific evidence that self-awareness is unique to human beings (see Derek C. Penn and Daniel J. Povinelli’s article, On the lack of evidence that non-human animals possess anything remotely resembling a ‘theory of mind” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 29 April 2007, vol. 362 no. 1480 731-744; Derek C. Penn and Daniel J. Povinelli’s 2009 paper, On Becoming Approximately Rational: The Relational Reinterpretation hypothesis in S. Watanabe, A. P. Blaisdell, L. Huber and A. P. Young (eds.), Rational animals, irrational humans, Tokyo: Keio University Press, 2009, pp. 23-44; and finally Peter Carruthers’s penetrating critique Meta-cognition in Animals: A Skeptical Look in Mind and Language, Vol. 23 No. 1, February 2008, pp. 58–89). However, all that scientists mean here is that non-human animals don’t appear to be aware of their own mental states (introspection). Nevertheless, a defender of animal rationality could still argue that non-human animals might still possess a very simple, primitive concept of “self,” which is “built into” their psyches. And even those scientists who maintain that human beings alone possess higher-order awareness tend to avoid being dogmatic about their findings: thus David B. Edelman, Bernard J. Baars and Anil K. Seth, in a 2005 article, titled, Identifying hallmarks of consciousness in non-mammalian species, write that “Higher order consciousness, which emerged as a concomitant of language, occurs in modern Homo sapiens and may or may not be unique to our species” (emphasis mine – VJT).

It is broadly agreed among scientists that language, in the strict sense of the word, is a capacity unique to human beings. But the properties which distinguish human language are defined as productivity, recursivity, and displacement, whereas on the Aristotelian-Thomistic view, it is the possession of linguistic concepts that separates humans from other animals.

Autobiographical memory also appears to be a uniquely human trait. However, even here, we should be cautious: there is tentative (but much-contested) evidence that apes announce to other apes their intentions regarding where they will go tomorrow.

In all fairness, I should mention in passing a recent study titled, New Caledonian crows reason about hidden causal agents in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1208724109, PNAS September 17, 2012) by Alex Taylor, Rachael Miller, and Russell Gray, demonstrating that crows have a tendency to attribute the movements of an inanimate object (e.g. a stick) to a causal agent whom they know to be in the vicinity, even when that agent is hidden from view, and that crows react with fear when they witness the movements of an inanimate object in the absence of any nearby causal agent. The authors of the study conclude that crows are capable of reasoning about a hidden causal agent. I debunked that study in an online post here, pointing out that one can reasonably doubt whether the crows are reasoning (as seven-month-old babies seem to possess the same ability; also, the crows may not be reasoning about causes as such, let alone causal agents or hidden causal agents.

Finally, there is also scientific evidence suggesting that only modern human beings are capable of creating symbols (see here), that only human beings can understand abstract rules (see here), and that only human beings can go deeper than mere perceptions (see here). Summing up the evidence, authors Derek C. Penn, Keith J. Holyoak and Daniel J. Povinelli write:

…[B]ased on the available empirical evidence, there appears to be a significant gap between the relational abilities of modern humans and all other extant species – a gap at least as big, we argued, as that between human and nonhuman forms of communication. Among extant species, only humans seem to be able to reason about the higher-order relations among relations in a systematic, structural, and role-based fashion. Ex hypothesi, higher-order, role-based relational reasoning appears to be a uniquely human specialization…
(Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2008, 31, 109–178; emphasis mine – VJT.)

All well and good; but what Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers contend is that only human beings are capable of reasoning at all; man is simply defined as a rational animal, full stop. The scientific picture is more nuanced; what it tells us is that certain kinds of reasoning are unique to human beings. It follows that science cannot be enlisted in support of Professor Feser’s contention that while some human mental capacities (reasoning, understanding and choosing) are non-bodily capacities which might in principle be capable of persisting after bodily death, all of the mental capacities of non-human animals are bodily capacities, which means that there can be no possibility of a hereafter for Fido.

7. Concerning the evidence from religious tradition, I’d like to quote from an online article by the lawyer Philip Johnson (not to be confused with the Intelligent Design exponent, Phillip Johnson), titled, Animals and Resurrection:

Among the pre-twentieth century voices who affirmed some kind of restoration to life for animals we find Irenaeus (c.130-202), Tertullian (c.160-225), John Bradford (1510-1555), Richard Overton (1599-1664), Thomas Draxe (died 1618), Matthew Henry (1662-1714), John Hildrop (1682-1756), Thomas Hodges (died 1688), Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752), John Wesley (1703-1791), Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778), Richard Dean (1726-1778), William Paley (1743-1805), Francis Orpen Morris (1810-1893), Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), and George MacDonald (1824-1905).

While I haven’t been able to unearth any relevant quotes from Irenaeus or Tertullian, I can attest that Johnson is right about the authors from the past 500 years who expressed openness to the notion of animal immortality.

In a separate article, Johnson describes John Wesley’s views on the possibility of a resurrection for animals:

John Wesley, who was a vegetarian in his diet, was one spearhead figure in tackling the problems associated with animal cruelty and in holding to a theology about animals. His sermon The Great Deliverance exposited Romans 8, emphasising the resurrection of animals. Wesley also exposited on the new creation of Revelation 21:5 in which he expected the whole creation to be restored. Wesley also paid attention in his journal to the writings of John Hildrop (1682-1756) who also believed in the resurrection of animals and wrote in 1742 Free Thoughts Upon the Brute Creation.

Wesley maintained that what distinguished human beings was not rationality, but the knowledge of God. By contrast, the classical Aristotelian-Thomistic view of reason (upheld by Feser) is that firstly, it is a capacity that you either possess or you lack; and secondly, that it is a universal capacity, which can be used to address any subject whatsoever. On this view, it makes no sense whatsoever to suppose that there might be bona fide rational agents who are nonetheless incapable of reasoning about God.

Who is right in this dispute? I suspect that the truth may lie somewhere in the middle. Sentient non-human animals appear to be naturally incapable of entertaining concepts which can only be defined in terms of language. Since the concept of God is one such concept, there can be no hope of a Beatific Vision for Fido. However, these animals may nonetheless be capable of possessing certain primitive concepts (such as the concept of an object or the concept of self vs. others) which they can grasp but cannot articulate. If this is the case, then these animals stand on the very bottom rung on the scale of creatures with immaterial capacities, which means that we cannot rule out the possibility that they may enjoy a limited form of immortality.

I shall stop here. What do readers think?

As far as I can tell, he hasn’t yet written a paper about his experiments with 007.
I see. So the experiment that was supposed to be in your thesis and where I obtained the link was not the basis of your claims after all? Now, I am often surprised by animal abilities myself, but the purposes of their actions - which is a distinct thing than abilities themselves - are never unclear. Similarly, I am often surprised at the rather sophisticated social gestures of some people, only to find out later that they did it all just to get booze or drugs or to steal something. The actions may be sophisticated, but the low motive determines the level of consciousness.
Regarding Professor Feser’s distinction between concepts and images: I have never questioned it. What I question is the notion that there’s nothing in between the two. I have already described a viable intermediate candidate: mental schemas,...
And this is not at all what my argument was about. My argument was about your thesis #1 where you demand a distinction into "concepts", even though later, in thesis #4, it's evident that Feser has a distinction that does the work that you require. So, yes, you acknowledge Feser's distinction between concepts and images, but you don't acknowledge the work that the distinction does. And your demand for something in between the two has the same response: The ground that you expect "mental schemas" to cover is already covered by concepts and images. The fundamental problem here is that you assume animals to be doing more than they actually do, just by reading more into their behaviour than can be objectively determined. And for what purpose? Just to end up saying you don't know who is right (and this should be somehow more acceptable than to have real answers). E.Seigner
After reading many posts and debates , I am now one hundred percent convinced that classical theism is a failure and that intelligent design stand is on the right track on the condition that it deletes probability , I mean the DNA coding system for example IS design not probable design ....till when we doubt the ultimate fact ? ......to convince atheists ? ....if not convinced by the obvious nothing will convince them . They love Hell , well , they will meet their love . So it was written So it shall be done . nad med
Of course I would never say that we stop doing science and just say god did it as atheists claim that we do , they are liars , what we say is : do as much observations , research , investigation to the deepest level you can , but please , please... do not distort it by illogical nonsense fact free arguments ... how it evolved ? what is its evolution march ? what is the step by step procedure that produced it ? and so much as such blabla .... Please do not distort what we observe by thousands of arguments , interpretations and prejudices ......all sects failed because instead of admiring the signs of GOD they spend they whole life and careers in never ending blabla !!!! We observe a miracle of fine tuned universe then every thing is distorted by vast volume of fact free fantasy just to avoid the obvious ........shame ........indeed. N. B. : Just refer to Torley -Seigner arguments in this post to see how missing the sign is so obvious .....never mind T-S about the crow , just look at the puffer fish. nad med
Dr. Torley : I am following your posts and debates with Dr. Feser , my point is : philosophical arguments never lead to agreement , just look around and you will find the proof for that... Take this post for example .. Feser reject immaterial animal mind , you do not know , every one is in endless arguments , no one is convinced of any thing !! Did Feser convince you ? Did you convince Feser ? Did you convince Coyne ? Did Coyne convice you ? see what I mean ? It is a damned circle where no one convince no one !!!! Let us go back to observation and simple obvious conclusions otherwise we will be lost in bottomless abyss of both arrogance and agnosticism !!! Just observe the puffer fish building that beautiful nest , just look at six human cell groups building the pinna , just imagine cells building the most complex structure in the universe .. The human brain ......etc. here simple observations leads to the simple obvious : a mind in action directed by a kind of active pattern generating information template ..here we reach the obvious : the feeling of awe seeing the marvels of creation of GOD . Philosophy will lead us away from that ... Did feser strugle and writings convinced any atheist ? No and never , so we must go back to observe theophanies of GOD in his creations and be humble and thankful for HIS care for us ...... It will be our grave mistake to be blinded by both scientism and philosophism and forget about all the awe inspiring marvels around and in us .....let us wake up now . N. B. : no atheist will ever be convinced by philosophy , only when he sees the obvious he will convince . So it was written So it shall be done . nad med
Hi E. Seigner, Thank you for your latest post, and thanbk you for retrieving the paper on New Caledonian crows. Unfortunately, the paper you retrieved was written in 2006, some eight or nine years before the experiment I referred to, involving a New Caledonian crow named 007. Also, your paper was written by Drs. Alex Weir and Alex Kacelnik of the Department of Zoology at Oxford University, whereas the research involving 007 was performed by Dr. Alex Taylor, of the University of Auckland, New Zealand. (Why are so many crow researchers named "Alex," by the way?) Dr. Alex Taylor's Web page is here: http://alexhtaylor.com/ As far as I can tell, he hasn't yet written a paper about his experiments with 007. However, he has co-authored an online paper (only the abstract is free) titled, "Of babies and birds: complex tool behaviours are not sufficient for the evolution of the ability to create a novel causal intervention" (Proceedings of the Royal Society B, http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2014.0837), the abstract of which identifies a cognitive ability apparently unique to human beings:
Humans are capable of simply observing a correlation between cause and effect, and then producing a novel behavioural pattern in order to recreate the same outcome. However, it is unclear how the ability to create such causal interventions evolved. Here, we show that while 24-month-old children can produce an effective, novel action after observing a correlation, tool-making New Caledonian crows cannot. These results suggest that complex tool behaviours are not sufficient for the evolution of this ability, and that causal interventions can be cognitively and evolutionarily disassociated from other types of causal understanding. (Emphases mine - VJT.)
In another online 2014 paper which Dr. Taylor co-authored (lead author Sarah Jelbert), titled, "Using the Aesop's Fable Paradigm to Investigate Causal Understanding of Water Displacement by New Caledonian Crows" (PloS One, March 2014, Volume 9, Issue 3, e92895) he claimed that New Caledonian crows possess a sophisticated, but incomplete, understanding of the causal properties of displacement, rivalling that of 5–7 year old children. That's quite impressive. If you read the paper, you will readily see that "Yummy tummy instinct" completely fails to explain the crows' remarkable abilities - or for that matter, their inabilities (they failed two more sophisticated tasks). Regarding Professor Feser's distinction between concepts and images: I have never questioned it. What I question is the notion that there's nothing in between the two. I have already described a viable intermediate candidate: mental schemas, which are discussed at further length in George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's Philosophy in the Flesh (Basic Books, 1999). The behavior of non-human animals can't be explained by images alone. vjtorley
Instead of wasting time in theoritical arguments let us just look at nature to see that animals , even fish , have immaterial minds .... Just reflect upon what this puffer fish build and here we cannot but accept that what is done is impossible without a sophisticated mind / awareness .. I challenge any materialist to explain this thru pure materialistic mechanism as here we are dealing with a 4D pattern bluprint plus 4D construction plus 4D quality control and feedback done by that cute tiny fish ... http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/amazing-underwater-crop-circles-spun-by-japanese-puffer-fish nad med
Both Dr. Torley and Dr. Feser are wrong if they require language to accept immateriality of animal minds ..... Animals have what is more that language , I mean feelings ,... not sensations but feelings as being happy for example , any animal watching -- dogs , cats , crows ....etc . --- will show you that they have a kind of feelings , every young animal that enjoy playing must have feelings even lions and tigers . It is a blatant arrogance from our side to decide any thing on the mind of animals , let us try to be humble seeing the wonders of creation . nad med
vjtorley Let's call it a tie. I have to give it to you that the journalist (not the scientist) called it an eight-stage puzzle. At the same time, I am right - quoting the journalist again - in saying it's nothing but a "meaty problem", i.e. a manifestation of the survival instinct. Moreover, there's the following discrepancy in the journalist's report as cited by you. The crow is said to have solved the eight-stage puzzle in less than three minutes. Next, it says "Over three months in captivity, the crafty crow had been trained to use individual props including rocks and sticks." Looks like the crow had been intensely prepared for the task. The scientist reports about it this way, assuming this is the right source http://users.ox.ac.uk/%7Ekgroup/publications/pdf/WeirKacelnik_06_bend_unbend.pdf
[Before the core experiments, the captive crows] were encouraged to use tools regularly by making some of their preferred food otherwise inaccessible: mealworms were placed in holes drilled into tree stumps, and occasionally pieces of pig heart were placed in clear acrylic tubes that were left in the aviaries. [...] Results The subject successfully retrieved the food on 3 of the 4 trials (described in detail in Table S3). On the first trial, she managed to squeeze together the ends of the tool to create a flattened, straight tool 4.5 cm long (Fig. 6 tool 1). Although the meat was 10 cm inside the tube, she just managed to reach and retrieve it by inserting her head and neck into the entrance of the tube. For this reason, on subsequent trials we made the U-shape broader and positioned the meat further inside the tube. On Trial 2, Betty tried for 1.5 minutes to get the reward by probing inside the tube with the unmodified U-shaped tool, but did not succeed and never showed any ‘deliberate’ attempt to modify the tool (although, presumably as a result of repeated probing attempts inside the tube, at the end of the trial the tool was flatter than at the beginning: the ends were 7.5 cm apart, with an angle between them of 75°; see Fig. 6 tool 2). On Trials 3 and 4, however, Betty did modify the tool and retrieve the reward.
The whole experiment is non-different from how circus animals are trained. How are they trained? With candy on success. Yummy tummy instinct all the way. And by your silence on my point about Feser's evident distinction (between concepts and images) that does the work of explaining the difference between humans and animals, I take it there's nothing further to be said about it either. E.Seigner
E. Seigner: Thank you for your posts. Might I refer you to the following articlein the New Zealand Herald (February 15, 2014) describing the feats of the crow named 007 (emphases mine - VJT):
An Auckland University researcher put the New Caledonian crow through a complex eight-stage puzzle and, true to his James Bond namesake, watched him solve it in less than three minutes... Over three months in captivity, the crafty crow had been trained to use individual props including rocks and sticks. Later, 007 was faced with a difficult course requiring it to use all of the props in a specific order to reach a piece of meat placed out of reach inside a narrow transparent container. The bird first used his beak to haul up a short stick hanging from a branch it was perched on, but then found it too short to reach the meat. But it then quickly figured out the stick's purpose - to reach three small stones behind bars in separate boxes. The bird dropped the stick to grasp the first stone, but then picked up the stone and found itself stumped. It clutched the stick again, using it to retrieve the next stone, and then realised how to crack the course. 007 picked up the two stones and dropped them through a chute into another perspex container, before retrieving the final stone and dropping it in with the others. The combined weight of the stones pushed open a compartment within the box, giving 007 access to a longer stick, which it used to reach the meat and complete the course.
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11202616 You accused me of mis-characterizing the results of that study by Dr. Alex Taylor. I hope you'll now eat your words (or should I say, eat crow?) The crow was clearly not relying on "instinct": at times it was stumped, and had to figure out what to do next. Nor did it resort to trial and error: instead, it used insight. Not a puzzle, you say? Don't make me laugh. I'm not sure I could have done what 007 managed to do. I'm pretty terrible at tasks like that. If that isn't rationality, it's about the best imitation I've ever seen. One thing's for sure: labeling it as "instinct" is lazy thinking, which explains nothing. vjtorley
In the study, the crows are not solving puzzles. They are picking up food from hard-to-get-to places with the help of tool-like things placed around for them by the experimenters.
Sounds like they're solving puzzles to me. Mapou
Embarrassing indeed. No doubt E.Seigner has some conspiracy theory about how vjt managed to get his Ph.D. Mung
This is so wrong that it’s embarrassing. I suggest that you read my thesis (which is online) to see why it’s wrong. The New Caledonian crows that solved a complex eight-stage puzzle in order to get some food, in the course of just three minutes, were not “expressing their feelings.” Nor were they following “common instincts” – unless you happen to think they possess an instinct for solving puzzles humans create! They were not behaving in a pre-programmed manner; they were acting in a way that looks eerily similar to rationality. Are they rational? I’m not sure. I don’t claim to have the answers. Neither should you.
This is embarrassing indeed. To you. Last thing first, when you don't claim to have answers, then you cannot demand distinctions from Feser. When you are not sure what you are asking, don't ask too loudly. (This totally apart from the fact that he actually makes the distinctions you demand.) And I charitably went and clicked on your thesis and sought up the referred crow studies. You are mischaracterising them to the point that is rather embarrassing. In the study, the crows are not solving puzzles. They are picking up food from hard-to-get-to places with the help of tool-like things placed around for them by the experimenters. Crows do it in nature all the time, so the "spontaneousness" of it is not surprising. It's ordinary and commonly known. And yes, grabbing food by whatever means available is an instinct, the most primal one even - survival instinct. Simple. E.Seigner
I think there is a supernatural component to all living things, and certainly sentient creatures have this component, the non-material element that is the "experiencer," that does the seeing, hearing, etc. A recording video camera has an electrochemical reaction to photons. So do creatures that see. But the video camera doesn't really see anything because nobody is home to do so. The one who is "home" in a sentient creature, the experiencer, is a non-material entity. I think anybody who has had a dog or cat for a pet knows that they possess limited intelligence. It is just that they aren't capable of mental activities like asking themselves "What is the meaning of life?", doing math and so on. harry
Thinking, reasoning, planning, goal seeking, adaptation, etc. are all cause-effect processes. They can all be emulated using mechanical or electronic means, i.e., computers. Intelligence is a strictly causal phenomenon. It does not require consciousness. Neither does consciousness require intelligence. Most of us will live long enough to interact with machines with uncanny intelligence. Some of our future machines will be even more intelligent than us. Many people will swear that intelligent machines are conscious but that is just an anthropomorphic projection. The really unfortunate and downright evil thing about this is that the atheist/materialist church has been very busy brainwashing everybody to believe that machines will magically become conscious when they reach a certain level of intelligence. Don't believe a word that comes out of that synagogue of Satan. :-D Mapou
Animals do think. Instinct is still about weighing memories for situations. Instinct is not a accurate description for animals. There are no such thing as feelings. there are just thoughts. Feelings don't exist. Not a accuarate description for thoughts. The difference is that we think like our father called God . Animals don't. So dumber. Yet they flirt with all concepts we have. In fact they are just very obsessed beings looking for the moment only. Some people like that too. Robert Byers
E.Seigner: Thank you for your posts. You write:
Animals don’t think. They follow common instincts and at best they “express feelings”.
This is so wrong that it's embarrassing. I suggest that you read my thesis (which is online) to see why it's wrong. The New Caledonian crows that solved a complex eight-stage puzzle in order to get some food, in the course of just three minutes, were not "expressing their feelings." Nor were they following "common instincts" - unless you happen to think they possess an instinct for solving puzzles humans create! They were not behaving in a pre-programmed manner; they were acting in a way that looks eerily similar to rationality. Are they rational? I'm not sure. I don't claim to have the answers. Neither should you. vjtorley
Okay, I'll answer my own question. Looks like I misread your second thesis and you are not implicating Feser with the distinction of higher-level and lower-level concepts after all. It's purely your own distinction. In thesis 4, however, you tell about Feser's distinction of concepts vs. images distinction, which actually does do the work that you wanted higher/lower-level concepts to do, even though you are not satisfied with the way Feser's distinction does the work. Anyway, when Feser associates "concepts" with the intellect and attributes them exclusively to humans, while animals are allowed to have "images", this actually aligns very well with both common-sense and scientific observations of the difference between human and animal behaviour and biology: Animals don't think. They follow common instincts and at best they "express feelings". In conclusion, your quibble about Feser's distinction is just that, quibble. You demand a distinction where he actually makes one. It's just that his terminology is different from yours, so your post is only about semantics and vocabulary, not about the substance of the matter. E.Seigner
Good evening, Mr. Torley. Nice post, but I have a question about your first thesis (the point you list number 1). Where did you derive from that Feser treats all concepts the same way? Any quote from him to that effect? Moreover, in your second thesis you implicate Feser with distinguishing between higher-level and lower-level concepts, so how does this harmonise with your first thesis? Has Feser said anywhere, contra Machery, that concepts are a natural kind without further division? E.Seigner
There are people who support ID who do not subscribe to mainstream dogma such as doctrines of salvation and eternal damnation. These people are also more likely to consider the evidence for serial incarnations and there is plenty of evidence from consciousness research to support it. Now if you allow for that possibility then it is not a huge stretch to consider individuals as evolving from the animal kingdom, through domesticated animal forms, to human. Watch this dog reach out in empathy to a Down's syndrome child and think about how this dog is more humane than many humans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA8VJh0UJtg And if we are going to be somewhat consistent with the "inference from the best explanation" principle, then what is the best explanation for this genius 10-year-old jazz musician/composer/arranger/improviser with a recording contract: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_fQrcEfXRU I mean is there not an astounding mystery to ponder in this? groovamos
This is a involved intellectual thread and so I won't add too much. Man is made in Gods image. Not animals. We think like God. Animals do not. Yet otherwise they are beings. beings with memory power. I think they are aware of themselves as much as we are. Being aware of ourselves is irrelevant to who we are. We are mini gods as my paster once said. Robert Byers
I did not teach my cat to open the patio door - he learned the trick by watching me. Grab & slide, grab & slide. He has not mastered doorknobs yet. He leaps but can't turn the knob. My dog knows her own name and also the cat's name. Vice versa with the cat. There are different kinds of love - Eros, Agape, and others whose names escape me. But both my dog and cat can sense my love for them, and I can sense a love returned. I think any animal that can give/take Love is special in an important sense. ppolish
Life = Consciousness Humans differ from the rest of the animals because they have the knowledge of good and evil Mapou you said
Animals are no more conscious than thermostats and spark plugs. Would God create animals into a life of cruel suffering without a possibility for salvation? I don’t think so.
Not only animals but even single organisms are conscious. Suffering is a human concept, animals feel pain not suffering. We humans suffer without paint, , i suffer because i lost my job, i suffer because i lost all of my money, i suffer because my daughter married a bad husband, humans also don't suffer when they are in pain, instead of suffering they can feel bravery, some of them even feel sexual satisfaction with pain, suffering is optional on humans and non existent on animals. JimFit
Seversky at 3, thanks, good point: Many have noted that, just as you observed, cats do not necessarily learn from other cats. That prevents the species from developing anything like a body of knowledge. Even when it would obviously be in the interests of a cat to learn from other cats (as both of the examples we offered show), he doesn't do so. That may be a greater barrier to intellectual advancement than we suppose. As each cat dies, all intellectual gains are wiped out. (?) News
O'Leary @1, Your cats are just intelligent automatons, i.e., cute little furry meat robots. That is all. Animals may seem conscious to us at times but it's because we are projecting ourselves onto them. Animals are no more conscious than thermostats and spark plugs. Would God create animals into a life of cruel suffering without a possibility for salvation? I don't think so. Mapou
hi vjt. Would you say that a meta-meta-concept is qualitatively different from a meta-concept, and that a meta-meta-meta-concept is qualitatively different from a meta-meta-concept? To be honest, I think you have built your case on a premise about concepts that you haven't even begun to argue for. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concept Mung
I can't wait for the OP: The materiality of human consciousness: why I'm agnostic. :) Mung
In the Jewish religion animals have their own form of souls. There are separate words in Hebrew for human and animal souls. turell
My mother adopted two cats from a shelter, a a brother and sister. The female somehow learned to open the back door to my mother's bungalow by hopping from a nearby window-sill and grabbing the lever-type door-handle with its front paws. It would hang from the door-handle until its weight pulled the handle down and opened the door. It would then drop to the ground and walk in. The interesting thing was that the brother watched this happening many times but was never observed to do it himself. Instead, he would sit by the back door until his sister came along and opened it. He would then stalk majestically in for all the world like some toff who'd been waiting for a flunkey to open the door for him. We were never quite sure whether the brother was smart or just dumb. Seversky
The empirical evidence shows animals go to the afterlife. I used to admire Feser. Jim Smith
Anecdote of possible interest to some: Cats vary in intelligence. In felines, I prefer to think of it as "enterprise" rather than intelligence, for a reason that will become evident. One of my cats has been in the habit of pestering me to open a sliding closet door - so that he could eat the bits of kibble fallen to the floor. So I taught him to slide open the door himself. (It sure saves sweeping up.) None of the other cats have expressed any interest in learning this skill, despite its obvious rewards. Like most people, I never thought the enterprising cat could export his knowledge to any other situation. I was wrong. I had left the patio door open one Sunday morning, but forgot to put it on the clutch latch. I came downstairs half an hour later and the door was open about six inches. All the cats were outside during bird fledgling season. This happened a second time. There was no question that that cat had exported the general principle he had learned. That does not make him a rational creature; he isn't. I just don't know if we know enough to be sure what animal mind means. I am not sure what immaterial means either. Not always clear what intelligence means. (It may be that new terminology would help?) I just know to make sure the patio door is always latched now. ;) News

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