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Hat Forum - "A Continuum of Consciousness - Animal to Human"

  • The 519, Room C-101 Glass Lobby Room 519 Church Street Toronto, ON, M4Y 2C9 Canada (map)

In the September 2018 issue of Scientific American, Susan Blackmore, in Are Humans the Only Conscious Animal? Decoding the puzzle of human consciousness, www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-humans-the-only-conscious-animal , asks “Might we humans be the only species on this planet to be truly conscious? Might lobsters and lions, beetles and bats be unconscious automata, responding to their worlds with no hint of conscious experience?”

 “…the more biology we learn, the more obvious it is that we share … with other animals … systems of vision, hearing, memory and emotional expression. Could it really be that we alone have …this marvelous inner world of subjective experience?”

 “How can physical neurons, with all their chemical and electrical communications, create the feeling of pain, the glorious red of the sunset or the taste of fine claret? This is a problem of dualism: How can mind arise from matter?”

 “Either consciousness just is the activity of bodies and brains, or it inevitably comes along with everything we so obviously share with other animals.” Some think there is no such thing as consciousness.

 Some scientists tie “the emergence of consciousness to that of the mammalian brain around 200 million years ago. Another “points to the cultural explosion that started 60,000 years ago when… separate skills came together in a previously divided brain.”

 Blackmore herself, an illusionist, believes that consciousness has “no independent function” that “consciousness just is the firing of neurons and that one day we will come to accept this just as we accept that light just is electromagnetic radiation.” Consciousness is an illusion.

 Discussion

If consciousness is an illusion, then neither animals nor humans have it. We all just have neurons firing off in all directions. Is this true, or is there something special, or better, about us?  What is different about animal consciousness, or neurons?

You may also want to read Thomas Suddendorf’s Two Key features Created the Human Mind www.scientificamerican.com/article/2-mental-abilities-separate-humans-from-animals. “Why are we, and not the gorillas, running the zoo?”

Or read Kevin Laland’s What Made Us Unique? How we became a different kind of animal www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-made-us-unique. His intriguing early statement

“The emerging consensus is that humanity’s accomplishments derive from an ability to acquire knowledge and skills from other people.” Makes us compare our activities and value of “accomplishments” with other species that do not “accomplish” anything. Is this true?