Re: Animal Consciousness

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Fri Mar 07 2008 - 11:54:42 MST

M T writes

> What is the lowest level level of complexity in life forms that you
> would assign consciousness and self-awareness? Mice? Ants?
> Mussels maybe?

Clearly it has to be a continuum. Therefore, it's probably wrong
to look for a dividing line in a careful philsophic discusions such
as this.

I claim that we know that undamaged humans are relatively highly
conscious when awake. Animal experiments seem to show that
bonobos, chimpanzees, dogs, dolphins, pigs, octopi, and a number
of others clearly exhibit the signs of having a good deal of consciousness.

And so it goes down the animal scale. As an aside, for people, a
signficant part of consciousness is the ability to direct internal
information to the verbal centers where they are retained in novel
linguistic ways, ways that only a few highly trained animals are
achieving (at, say, the level of a four year old child).

The higher animals and ourselves have consciousness because it
has proved to be of survival value. Since trees can't act (at least
beyond rather rudimentary ways of responding chemically when
under attack by certain insects or diseases), then there has been
and is very little need for trees to be involved in a lot of decision
making, and so consciousness would be of very little use to them.

It seems highly plausible that mice, rabbits, and birds are also
conscious in the way that we should use the term. Crows, and
especially the wonderfully trained and famous Alex the parrot,
often achieve notable signs of high consciousness.

Honey bees, surprisingly, seem to exhibit much greater decision
making capabilities than would have been guessed, but my own
guess is that consciousness among any insects is pretty miniscule.

> It is also obviously impossible to answer objectively, but one has to try.....

I agree. And later, with more research, our answers will get better
and better.

> It's a practical question for me as it relates directly to being
> vegetarian but obviously has theoretical implications. Though
> I will still choose not to eat meat as an exercise in compassion

Oh? If you do that, fewer cows and other meat bearing animals
will be bred and get to live. So long as their lives come suddenly
and as painlessly as possible to an end, any true animal advocate
should be in favor of human eating them.

> I would like to hear some more educated views on the matter.

Me too.


> My (uneducated) view on the matter is that it would be
> surprising if most insects were conscious because of their
> simple brains and their great reliance on chemical signals
> on the blood flow for simple communication of information
> within the body. The same might hold for some of the
> smaller mammals. And I would say “no” for the mussels,
> but wouldn't I love to be surprised...... :)

----- Original Message ----
From: Krekoski Ross <>
Sent: Friday, 7 March, 2008 5:21:36 AM
Subject: Re: Animal Consciousness (was Mindless Thought Experiments)

Lee Corbin <> wrote:

Oh yes, we do. I suggest the books "Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the
Human Mind", or parts of "The First Word" (by Christine Kenneally),
just two that spring to mind of many.

And there are many other books and essays that make extremely reasonable
to surmise that animals are conscious to one degree or another, on any normal
or usual meaning of the term. We ought not to suppose that on one fine day
a hundred thousand years ago consciousness just suddenly appeared.

Also, it's very clear that Helen Keller was conscious while entirely deaf,
blind, and dumb, and before finding a teacher who communicated with her
via touch.

Agreed. The estimate was to be conservative.

Not to mention the fact that attributing a 'soul' or the modern equivalent to humans and not animals is largely a judaeo-christian
tendency and traceable largely to that tradition.




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