Re: Animal Consciousness

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Fri Mar 07 2008 - 12:09:47 MST

Matt writes

>> What is the lowest level level of complexity in life forms that you would
>> assign consciousness and self-awareness?
>> Mice? Ants? Mussels maybe?
>> It is also obviously impossible to answer objectively, but one has to
>> try.....
> It depends on how you want to define consciousness and self awareness.

Yes, but asking for *definitions* is too strong, IMO. But I know
what you mean, and I agree.

> Does an animal experience pain if you observe that it learns to avoid
> actions that cause pain? If so, then is autobliss.cpp conscious?

I haven't had time to check out your program, but I don't think
that even the most sophisticated programs in the world today
quite rise to the level of some insects. Soon that may change,

> Some people assert that consciousness requires awareness, specifically,
> episodic memory. For example, a person whose hippocampus was removed would
> forget events immediately after they happened, but could still learn skills.
> If such a person underwent surgery without anesthesia, he would not recall the
> pain. But because he still has procedural memory, he would experience anxiety
> in the place where the torture occurred, without knowing why.

A very valuable observation. But no one questions that such people
are conscious. Now Terry Schiavo, that was very different :-)

> If I extended autobliss to add episodic memory (it could recall the training
> sequence, and recall instances of recalling it), would it be conscious?

Surely, every such addition helps it become conscious.
I'll just have to find time this weekend to check it out. . Thanks.

> You [M T] are confusing consciousness with ethics.

I had supposed that M T simply felt bad about the killing and eating
of conscious creatures, on moral or ethical grounds.

You then nicely explain the sources of altruism (as in, e.g. Matt
Ridley's "Origins of Virtue", 1995).

> It is in the best interest of
> tribes to practice altruism to other tribe members. Those tribes were more
> successful than the anarchists, so we inherited their genes and culture. This
> doesn't mean such behavior is right, just that we believe it is right. We say
> we do not inflict pain on others because they are conscious like us and we
> would not want them to inflict pain on us. But that is just an excuse to
> justify our beliefs, just like we make excuses to justify killing criminals or
> enemies at war.

It sounds like a good reason more than it sounds like "an excuse",
to me. Yes we don't know what is "Right" with a capital R.
We approve of some things, disapprove of others. All of us except
the psychos disapprove of needlessly and warrantlessly inflicting
pain on conscious creatures.

> Evolution does not favor compassion to other species. Dogs and cats are
> carnivores. There is no moral dilemma for them. But your question is
> important. We will try to apply the arguments that justify our ethics to
> intelligent machines, and our logic will fail. There is no right answer.

But there may be an answer on which we can achieve consensus.
Perhaps a century ago you would have said about the slavery question,
"There is no right answer". Well, maybe not, but we came to agree on
an answer that almost all of us strongly endorse.


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