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Squirrel & Bulldog: Conscious?

by Les Sleeth
Tags: bulldog, conscious, squirrel
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Les Sleeth
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Jul12-04, 02:53 PM
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First, view the video clips here: http://www.squirrels.org/t_video.html which are taken from a BBC special depicting a squirrel in England intent on stealing peanuts put out for birds. Inventors have tried every device imaginable, from electric shock devices to complicated mechanical systems, attempting to foil the squirrels . . . mostly without success.

I saw those specials when they first aired, and what the clips do not show is the work and time the squirrel took to figure out how to negotiate the obstacle courses. If I remember correctly, for the second course it took him several days of trial and error.

Then there’s Tyson, the skateboarding Bulldog:
http://www.skateboardingbulldog.com/picsandmovies.htm

My wife loves to ask me a question about funny animal behavior which is, “what do you think is going on in his mind???” Now, with the squirrel you can see a couple things easily. We can observe the squirrel looking at the peanuts and then exerting great effort to go after them. So we know a squirrel is capable of desire and determination. Obvious too is that Tyson the Bulldog reveals a willingness and ability to learn.

What is more interesting is that it seems the squirrel is aware of his dexterity ability (because he applies it to an unfamiliar set of conditions); and the dog, although having also mastered many skills to get as good as he is, appears to be enjoying himself. We might expect the squirrel to apply dexterous skills to tree and ground stuff, but how does he know those skills can be adapted to the strange devices he finds in the obstacle course? And with Tyson, it seems amazing that he enjoys something so alien to dog evolution as skateboarding. Being petted makes sense to enjoy, being accepted into the human “pack” makes sense to, if not enjoy, at least be grateful about, joy at getting fed makes sense, and so on.

In both cases we see the generalization of experience to unfamiliar circumstances. One wonders, are we observing fundamental traits of consciousness? Some thinkers today suggest consciousness is defined by mental activity of such quality that reason is achieved, and therefore only humans are conscious. Yet even a human doesn’t cease to be conscious if he/she stops thinking (as in meditation).

Rather than thinking ability defining consciousness, possibly it is observed in the learning and feeling potentials all animal life exhibits (even worms and amoebae). Our squirrel friend might not be able to reason, but somehow he figured out a series of complicated steps involving timing, balance, up or down orientations, perching on a rolling conveyance, etc. Did he eventually “understand” how to navigate that course? Tyson might not be able to sit around with us telling jokes and laughing, but he was capable of finding joy (which I am interpreting as a response to something feeling good) in an activity which has little to do with being a Bulldog.

Are the squirrel and Bulldog conscious?
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THANOS
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Jul12-04, 07:14 PM
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Perhaps the dog isn't enjoying the ride but the reward. Ever see the movie "Big Fish". If so remember when the main actor gets beaten up and the girl stops the fight and says "he is a stranger to me and i already prefer him to you" or something along those words. While getting beaten up he is smiling. Sure we can assume he enojys getting beaten up but it is more likly he is enojying the reward of the girl losing respect of her boyfriend.
Les Sleeth
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Jul12-04, 08:11 PM
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Quote Quote by THANOS
Perhaps the dog isn't enjoying the ride but the reward. Ever see the movie "Big Fish". If so remember when the main actor gets beaten up and the girl stops the fight and says "he is a stranger to me and i already prefer him to you" or something along those words. While getting beaten up he is smiling. Sure we can assume he enojys getting beaten up but it is more likly he is enojying the reward of the girl losing respect of her boyfriend.
I'm not sure what reward are you talking about. The only reward I see in the clips is the ride itself.

loseyourname
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Jul12-04, 10:29 PM
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Squirrel & Bulldog: Conscious?

My guess is that he's referring to the reward of the fanfare the dog receives for doing his trick. Aside from that, though, play behavior is common in all social mammals and dogs are no exception. While it may be true that skateboarding goes beyond the typical play of a domestic dog, it is still a non-survival oriented manifestation of physical skill in a social setting.

In regard to the squirrel, I'll admit that I didn't watch the clip, but the fact that trial and error is employed as the primary problem-solving technique is negative evidence for consciousness -- at least anything that an adult human would recognize as consciousness. While the question of consciousness in animals is a very debated topic in behavioral biology, it is generally agreed that only those animals that display primarily analytic problem-solving techniques, and that display a certain amount of diversity in approach from individual to individual, are serious candidates for consciousness. The most studied of the genera put forth as candidates are probably all avian or primate.

There is a huge difference you will see between a squirrel and, say, a raven or songbird. While the squirrel will simply try different techniques until something works, a raven will actually take a look at the problem at hand, and each individual raven will take a slightly different approach, and in most cases will be successful on the first try. The fact that two ravens given exactly the same problem to solve under exactly the same conditions will use different approaches points to the existence of a raven as a thinking being. In the case of the songbird, it is capable of rather complex linguistic learning, memory, and communication. While there doesn't seem to be much variation in the barking patterns of different dogs, the songbird will learn and sing whatever he is given. Of course, there are even tropical birds capable of mimicking human language. All of these, along with the cognitive mapping found in migratory birds, is good evidence of a very complex and advanced brain, something that is almost certainly necessary for consciousness to occur.

In the case of hominid primates, there is really no question as to whether or not they are conscious. Their problem-solving abilities and, of course, their ability to communicate with humans using human language, is clear evidence in their case.

I would say we can be pretty certain that a brain, and a fairly advanced brain at that, is a necessary prerequisite for the occurence of consciousness. Whether or not this is sufficient might be questionable, but I think there is little question that this is the minimum necessary. This would rule out any unicellular lifeforms and even the worm (though it does possess a nervous system and cerebral ganglia, it does not have a brain). While I will not rule out the possibility of consciousness in squirrels or dogs, my gut tells me that it isn't there, at least not in squirrels. There is just too much simple behavior that is obvious stimulus/response without any thinking going on. The one piece of evidence I would point to as most indicative of the possibility of consciousness, at least in dogs, is that they do clearly display emotional behavior that does seem particular to each individual. Any person who has owned multiple dogs will probably tell you that each seemed to have his own "personality." Whether or not consciousness is necessary for the existence of personality, I don't know. That determination at least depends on a clear definition of what "consciousness" is, and that is something that we still do not have.
Les Sleeth
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Jul12-04, 11:50 PM
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Quote Quote by loseyourname
While the question of consciousness in animals is a very debated topic in behavioral biology, it is generally agreed that only those animals that display primarily analytic problem-solving techniques, and that display a certain amount of diversity in approach from individual to individual, are serious candidates for consciousness.
Hmmmmmmm. I wonder if that standard for consciousness is "generally agreed" upon. If analytical ability defines consciousness, then why can't we consider a computer programmed to employ analytic problem-solving techniques be considered conscious? It seems you are defining intelligence rather than consciousness. Otherwise, it should be that when I stop thinking, I will become unconscious, yet that isn't the case at all. In fact, I feel more conscious when my mind is still.

I agree with you that it is difficult to define consciousness. But doesn't it seem a bit anthropomorphic to define it in terms of what we are best at? If dogs were in charge of the definition, maybe they'd have the standard the ability to smell at least 1000 times better than humans.

Possibly consciousness is something more basic than the functions we see that developed as the central nervous system evolved (intelligence being one of them). If so, then wouldn't we want to look for traits all aware life has in common for a definition of consciousness? All aware life seems capable of learning and feeling, for instance. It might be that we are all part of one big consciousness family, with different levels of skills available for the particular species we are part of.

By the way, as far as I can tell there was no fanfare for the dog in those clips, he is skateboarding with his owner. If you watch, it seems apparent the dog is into it.
KFunk
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Jul13-04, 01:32 AM
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I think there needs to be a definition of what constitutes consciousness here to come to a decision.

Don't you think that consciousness involves a certain sense of self and sense of an identity?
eg. I am me. I am a squirrel. I like green nuts, not because I am a squirrel, but because I am me.

I do have some doubts about whether squirrels and bulldogs engage in existential discussion but you never know....
loseyourname
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Jul13-04, 02:14 AM
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Quote Quote by Les Sleeth
Hmmmmmmm. I wonder if that standard for consciousness is "generally agreed" upon.
I think what I posted earlier was a bit misleading. There is no concensus that individually variable, analytic problem-solving ability is a necessary attribute that an organism must possess to be conscious. The concensus is that animals displaying this attribute almost certainly are conscious, and so it is these animals that we study in order to further our understanding of the phenomenon.

If analytical ability defines consciousness, then why can't we consider a computer programmed to employ analytic problem-solving techniques be considered conscious?
There is no computer that I know of capable of doing such a thing. The entire reason these particular animals stand out is that they don't behave as if programmed. All computers with identical programs solve problems in the same manner. The same cannot be said of all ravens or all gibbons.

It seems you are defining intelligence rather than consciousness. Otherwise, it should be that when I stop thinking, I will become unconscious, yet that isn't the case at all. In fact, I feel more conscious when my mind is still.
Well, I'm not really defining consciousness or intelligence. What I am defining (attempting, at least) is an indicator of consciousness, although I do believe the two - consciousness and intelligence - to be linked. As far as I can imagine, as soon as you genuinely do stop thinking, you will cease to be conscious. I speak, of course, of the permanent ceasing of thought. I do think consciousness is more basic than thought. Consciousness - and I will admit this is incredibly vague - is simply an awareness, but it is an awareness of brain processes. On a more basic level, it can probably be said to be an awareness of experience, but everything we experience is a brain process, it is not the physical interaction of world and body. Simply put, how does one experience something without thinking about it? I understand that you may be able to still your mind, to focus on perhaps as little as one thought, but are you honestly capable of completely shutting down all thought and still remaining conscious? I would have to experience that for myself before I could believe such a thing is possible.

I agree with you that it is difficult to define consciousness. But doesn't it seem a bit anthropomorphic to define it in terms of what we are best at?
We are the only animals that we know for sure are conscious, so it only makes sense that our definition of this phenomenon be anthropomorphic. If you feel the definition unfairly excludes other animals that you feel likely experience what you would define as "consciousness," you might just have to pick another word for your definition. That's just the way language works. Words only mean what we say they mean.

Possibly consciousness is something more basic than the functions we see that developed as the central nervous system evolved (intelligence being one of them). If so, then wouldn't we want to look for traits all aware life has in common for a definition of consciousness? All aware life seems capable of learning and feeling, for instance.
But learning and feeling both take place in the CNS. I will admit that I cannot be absolutely certain that this is the case, but every indication is that I have typed the truth. Feeling is difficult because it is hard to distinguish genuine feeling from stimulus/response in a third person setting, but no animal without a brain is capable of learning. Furthermore, we know that a person's ability to feel and to learn can be affected by injuries to and manipulations of the brain. While you might argue that evolution is a learning process, even if I grant that, it only points to the possibility of life itself being conscious, not to the consciousness of any individual species or organism. If you honestly want to redefine consciousness in such a way as to include the capabilities of an annelid and an amoeba, does that not take all significance from the word? It ceases to be any kind of distinguishing characteristic between different lifeforms and instead becomes just another trait that separates life from non-life.

It might be that we are all part of one big consciousness family, with different levels of skills available for the particular species we are part of.
Sure, but that's a pretty big "might." What indication is there that unicellular, prokaryotic life is "conscious" in any meaningful, recognizable sense of the word? How might we honestly go about investigating such a claim?

By the way, as far as I can tell there was no fanfare for the dog in those clips, he is skateboarding with his owner. If you watch, it seems apparent the dog is into it.
Perhaps, but I still can't see how this differs significantly from the normal ability of a dog (as well as most other social mammals) to enjoy playful group activity.
Les Sleeth
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Jul13-04, 12:18 PM
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Quote Quote by loseyourname
There is no computer that I know of capable of doing such a thing. The entire reason these particular animals stand out is that they don't behave as if programmed. All computers with identical programs solve problems in the same manner. The same cannot be said of all ravens or all gibbons.
I am glad (I think ) you introduced the idea of not behaving as programmed. I wanted to, but it opens the door to a whole other debate, which is free will. I believe all animal life has the potential for it, but seldom experience it. In addition to the various consciousness abilities the evolving CNS gives (looking throughout the scale of biological evolution), it also seems to increase the potential for free will.

For my concept to work, that all nervous system life forms are manifestations of some general consciousness pool, it seems we have to distinguish from being the nature of consciousness, and being conscious. In the first case, it is to say the nature of all awareness showing up in the nervous system is consciousness, which would mean we cannot be anything other than this nature. But even if we are all derived from some general consciousness pool, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are conscious as an individual. If free will does increase with the evolution of the CNS, then it appears evolution is geared to individuate the presence of general consciousness in the nervous system.

Now, if we say the exercise of free will is a measure of how conscious one is (not necessarily the only measure), then how do we judge the average human? Most people I know are so subject to conditioning that they hardly know why they like, choose, reject, want, avoid, love etc. the things do. So, are they conscious?


Quote Quote by loseyourname
Well, I'm not really defining consciousness or intelligence. What I am defining (attempting, at least) is an indicator of consciousness, although I do believe the two - consciousness and intelligence - to be linked.
I don’t see the link as automatic because of the conditioning example above, which great intellects are every bit as subject to as poorly developed intellects. However, compared to all lower animals, I do think the potential for understanding makes humans more capable of attaining individual consciousness. In other words, one might understand that it is conditioning one must escape to be fully conscious.


Quote Quote by loseyourname
I do think consciousness is more basic than thought. Consciousness - and I will admit this is incredibly vague - is simply an awareness, but it is an awareness of brain processes.
I agree with you that consciousness is more basic than thought. You also point to another feature of consciousness (and in my opinion, the most defining factor) which is the background awareness. It is impossible to talk about consciousness without that “awareness of” aspect, yet that is exactly what functionalists are attempting to do. As far as I can see, all functionalist theory amounts to so far is clever circular descriptions which really haven’t eliminated the central “knower” element at all.


Quote Quote by loseyourname
Simply put, how does one experience something without thinking about it?
You experience incessantly without thought. Right this moment sights and sounds are reaching your brain and they are experienced not only without thoughts, but better without thoughts. If you are lost in thought, you will likely miss tons of stuff that is happening all around you. Experience is one thing, thought is another. They are two totally different animals except that thinking is an experience; and since experience is not a thought, it proves experience is more fundamental to consciousness.


Quote Quote by loseyourname
I understand that you may be able to still your mind, to focus on perhaps as little as one thought, but are you honestly capable of completely shutting down all thought and still remaining conscious?
Yes, very capable. This morning I spent an hour practicing, and then I made cappuccinos for myself and my wife. Even though I do that for us every morning, I found myself again entranced with the fullness of experience when the mind is still, even with something so simple as grinding, tamping, frothing, serving, and tasting (mmmmmmmm) cappuccino. I can’t keep that stillness going all day long, but I can keep some of it, which heightens my perception and depth of experience.


Quote Quote by loseyourname
I would have to experience that for myself before I could believe such a thing is possible.
I am happy to hear that, it proves you are a true empiricist. I don’t believe anyone should “believe” without personal experience, and especially with a subject like this.


Quote Quote by loseyourname
But learning and feeling both take place in the CNS. I will admit that I cannot be absolutely certain that this is the case, but every indication is that I have typed the truth.
I agree that they do take place there. The question is, how does consciousness become present in the CNS? Is it produced by the brain, or is it drawn into the brain from a general pool, and then organized and individuated by the brain?


Quote Quote by loseyourname
Feeling is difficult because it is hard to distinguish genuine feeling from stimulus/response in a third person setting, but no animal without a brain is capable of learning.
Just to nitpick a little, I believe I am correct to say any animal life with a nervous system (i.e., not necessarily a brain) can learn.


Quote Quote by loseyourname
Furthermore, we know that a person's ability to feel and to learn can be affected by injuries to and manipulations of the brain. While you might argue that evolution is a learning process, even if I grant that, it only points to the possibility of life itself being conscious, not to the consciousness of any individual species or organism. If you honestly want to redefine consciousness in such a way as to include the capabilities of an annelid and an amoeba, does that not take all significance from the word? It ceases to be any kind of distinguishing characteristic between different life forms and instead becomes just another trait that separates life from non-life.
I agree. That’s why above I distinguished between being consciousness and being conscious. One denotes “nature” and the other signifies a development of that nature.


Les:It might be that we are all part of one big consciousness family, with different levels of skills available for the particular species we are part of.

loseyourname Sure, but that's a pretty big "might." What indication is there that unicellular, prokaryotic life is "conscious" in any meaningful, recognizable sense of the word? How might we honestly go about investigating such a claim?
Why is that such a big “might”? No one can explain either life or consciousness. The only reason I can see it is a BIG “might” is if one is already predisposed to some (usually physicalistic) explanation.

As far as investigating it, if it is as I suggest, then we both know there will not be an external proof of that. I suggested in my empirical induction thread a way to at least test such a model. You know, just because something can’t be externalized, and therefore isn’t subject to an external method of proof, doesn’t mean it can’t be experienced or that it doesn’t exist. It is only those who insist on externalization who won’t be able to contemplate any other possibility.
loseyourname
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Jul13-04, 11:10 PM
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Quote Quote by Les Sleeth
For my concept to work, that all nervous system life forms are manifestations of some general consciousness pool, it seems we have to distinguish from being the nature of consciousness, and being conscious. In the first case, it is to say the nature of all awareness showing up in the nervous system is consciousness, which would mean we cannot be anything other than this nature. But even if we are all derived from some general consciousness pool, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are conscious as an individual. If free will does increase with the evolution of the CNS, then it appears evolution is geared to individuate the presence of general consciousness in the nervous system.
As far as I can tell, anything that might be called free will is impossible without consciousness. Heck, anything that might be called "will" at all is impossible without consciousness. I would agree that evolution does indeed favor conscious beings that possess will, for the simple reason that it results in individual variation within a species even beyond genetic variation. In principle, it should even allow for "bad" programming (that is, a gene that would normally be selected against) to be overcome by the individual possessing the programming. We see this run rampant in humanity. A great many genes that would normally be deleted from the pool in a state of nature are able to proliferate because we are able to impose our will on nature. Instead of the individual being pressured by the environment, we now have environments pressured by individuals. Of course, upright posture and the opposable thumb have a lot to do with this as well. Consciousness by itself is probably not sufficient, although we can see why consciousness as advanced as our own would not have evolved in other species, as they would seemingly not have the same use for it that we do.

Now, if we say the exercise of free will is a measure of how conscious one is (not necessarily the only measure), then how do we judge the average human? Most people I know are so subject to conditioning that they hardly know why they like, choose, reject, want, avoid, love etc. the things do. So, are they conscious?
I wouldn't say that the exercise of free will is a particularly good indicator of how conscious one is. I would say, however, that the potential for free will in an individual is probably a good indicator of how conscious that individual is. But perhaps my thinking on this matter is incomplete. Perhaps the potential for free will is only an indicator of the potential for consciousness. I would say it is pretty clear that the bulk of humanity probably goes about their daily lives almost completely unaware of why they behave in the manner they do, often utterly unconscious of a great deal of their actions, and as you point out below, certainly unconscious of a great deal of the sensory input that they are receiving. It is obviously possible to bring more of the input and more of the behavior under the auspices of consciousness and conscious control through practice as well as through learning -- often the best way to become aware of behavior, as I find out time and again with my own girlfriend, is to have it pointed out to you by another person.

I don’t see the link as automatic because of the conditioning example above, which great intellects are every bit as subject to as poorly developed intellects. However, compared to all lower animals, I do think the potential for understanding makes humans more capable of attaining individual consciousness. In other words, one might understand that it is conditioning one must escape to be fully conscious.
I think we are essentially in agreement here. I'm coming to realize that I was referring to the potential for individual consciousness, not the actualization of this potential. I would even argue that those possessed of great intellect may have a less actualized experiential consciousness, in favor of a more actualized thinking consciousness, something I will elaborate on below.

I agree with you that consciousness is more basic than thought. You also point to another feature of consciousness (and in my opinion, the most defining factor) which is the background awareness. It is impossible to talk about consciousness without that “awareness of” aspect.

You experience incessantly without thought. Right this moment sights and sounds are reaching your brain and they are experienced not only without thoughts, but better without thoughts. If you are lost in thought, you will likely miss tons of stuff that is happening all around you. Experience is one thing, thought is another. They are two totally different animals except that thinking is an experience; and since experience is not a thought, it proves experience is more fundamental to consciousness.
I'm approaching this from another angle here. Consider, for a second, that consciousness is simply as you said, that "background awareness." Now we just have ask the question: an awareness of what? I've already come to the conclusion that it is an awareness of brain processes, because research indicates that all experience (conscious human experience, anyway) takes place in the brain. If we can agree on this, then the next step is to differentiate between different categories of brain processes. There may be more, but there are at least two being discussed here. One is being referred to as "thinking," and one as "experiencing." I'd like to tweak these terms a bit, because in the strictest sense, we do "experience" our thoughts. So I will call one "thought processes," and the other "sensory processes." I will elaborate further below.

Yes, very capable. This morning I spent an hour practicing, and then I made cappuccinos for myself and my wife. Even though I do that for us every morning, I found myself again entranced with the fullness of experience when the mind is still, even with something so simple as grinding, tamping, frothing, serving, and tasting (mmmmmmmm) cappuccino. I can’t keep that stillness going all day long, but I can keep some of it, which heightens my perception and depth of experience.
What you seem to be saying here is that you are practiced in the art of becoming less conscious of "thought processes" and more conscious of "sensory processes." It isn't that you are becoming more conscious, it is that you are shifting your consciousness to a more basic form of experience. Almost every animal seems to have senses of some sort, but very few seem capable of thinking. In a way, you are shifting your consciousness backward in an evolutionary sense, making it less individual,in that you become more conscious of what is going on in the world around you, but less conscious of what is going on in your mind. Indeed, you seem to be contending that there actually is less going on in your mind.

I agree that they do take place there. The question is, how does consciousness become present in the CNS? Is it produced by the brain, or is it drawn into the brain from a general pool, and then organized and individuated by the brain?
To be honest, I'm not sure that we're very close to any widely accepted (at least widely accepted across multiple disciplines) answer to that question. The one thing that does seem certain, to me at least, is that a CNS is a necessary attribute to be possessed by a given being if that being is to be conscious. Individual consciousness is really no guarantee, as we can see certain people (kamikaze pilots in WWII, for instance) that seem to be conscious of their existence primarily as part of a group, rather than as individuals.

Just to nitpick a little, I believe I am correct to say any animal life with a nervous system (i.e., not necessarily a brain) can learn.
There must at least be memory in order for learning to be possible. Although memory might possibly be contained in a relatively large cerebral ganglion, there is no certainly no way for it to be contained within a nervous system built entirely of motor nerve cells (such as that of the earthworm).

Why is that such a big “might”? No one can explain either life or consciousness. The only reason I can see it is a BIG “might” is if one is already predisposed to some (usually physicalistic) explanation.
I say it's a pretty big might only because every indication is that the vast (and I mean vast) majority of life that has ever existed on this planet was not conscious. To conclude that a phenomenon so rarely found in the natural world is the nature of that world seems to me a pretty big might.

As far as investigating it, if it is as I suggest, then we both know there will not be an external proof of that. I suggested in my empirical induction thread a way to at least test such a model.
Well, to be fair, this thread is about consciousness in animals other than humans. There is no way to investigate that particular manifestation of consciousness other than through third-person means.
Les Sleeth
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Jul15-04, 07:35 PM
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Quote Quote by loseyourname
I'm approaching this from another angle here. Consider, for a second, that consciousness is simply as you said, that "background awareness." Now we just have to ask the question: an awareness of what? I've already come to the conclusion that it is an awareness of brain processes, because research indicates that all experience (conscious human experience, anyway) takes place in the brain. If we can agree on this, then the next step is to differentiate between different categories of brain processes. There may be more, but there are at least two being discussed here. One is being referred to as "thinking," and one as "experiencing." I'd like to tweak these terms a bit, because in the strictest sense, we do "experience" our thoughts. So I will call one "thought processes," and the other "sensory processes." I will elaborate further below.
I think we know exactly where we can’t agree. It isn’t about the importance of physical processes of biology, including the brain’s role in shaping one’s consciousness. Our differences center around if one’s “background awareness” is created by the brain, or if it has come into the brain from some already existent consciousness source.

No one can prove either model, and there are reasons to give fair consideration to both models. There is no doubt, for example, that consciousness is molded by brain functionality; but it also true that there are no known physical principles which explain consciousness. Some computer whizzes think they can achieve consciousness through AI, but so far, just like the physicalist claim that chemistry can morph into life, all we get at that point where we need subjectivity or free will, is repetitiveness. I see it as the same problem as a perpetual motion machine. In that case, what is needed for perpetual motion is missing as a principle in our universe. Similarly, in the physicalistic world, what is needed to escape eventual repetitiveness is so far missing (“eventual” because physical processes will self-organize for a few steps).

Now it might be that matter has realized a new potential in life/consciousness; but it also could be that another principle/force is present which is causing matter to behave as it does in life/consciousness. If I rely on my own experiences, my opinion leans pretty strongly toward the latter model. However, I am open to changing my mind if, for instance, someone could demonstrate chemistry turning “progressively” self-organizing (I wouldn’t even require it to become “living”), or if someone can bring about consciousness through AI. In my opinion, that would shift the weight of evidence to the side of physicalism.

So what’s my point? I suppose I am logging my exception to your assumption about consciousness being only the experience of brain processes. There is an equally logical explanation for those processes, which is that they are not creating consciousness but only organizing it, and also making it possible for consciousness to be present in biology.


Quote Quote by loseyourname
What you seem to be saying here is that you are practiced in the art of becoming less conscious of "thought processes" and more conscious of "sensory processes." It isn't that you are becoming more conscious, it is that you are shifting your consciousness to a more basic form of experience. Almost every animal seems to have senses of some sort, but very few seem capable of thinking. In a way, you are shifting your consciousness backward in an evolutionary sense, making it less individual, in that you become more conscious of what is going on in the world around you, but less conscious of what is going on in your mind. Indeed, you seem to be contending that there actually is less going on in your mind.
That’s pretty good, nice try there LYN. I have to admire your attempt to explain union in terms of what you are familiar with. But speaking from many hours of practice and experience, I can confidently (but respectfully ) state you are totally wrong.

First, the very first step in the practice of union is the withdrawal from both thought processes and sense experience, as one of my favorite writers, Meister Eckhart, implies, “That [experience] lies hidden in the soul, so that man neither knows nor hears it . . . To hear it, all voices and sounds must die away and there must be pure quiet—perfect stillness.” Another monk, Maximus living in the 6th century, said this, “A man whose mind [practices union] holds as naught all visible things, even his own body, as though it were not his . . .” The reason for this is to experience what that background is like when the mind and senses are not stirring it up, and also to learn to practice letting it be more prevalent in consciousness.

Did you read that analogy I gave for union in my panpsychic thread? It resembles what the Spanish nun Teresa of Avila said, “ . . . this [practice] is the union of all the faculties.” What I said was: Imagine a pickup truck, whose bed is waterproof, filled with water and speeding along on an old, bumpy country road. The water in the truck is in a constant state of movement, vibrating, sloshing about, bouncing up into the air, etc. so that when the driver observes it, all he sees is the moving-ness of the water surface. If that’s the only way he’d ever perceived water (a silly concept of course), then he might be surprised to see how that water exists when he brings his truck to a stop. What he would observe is that all the water formerly in movement, and appearing distinct from its base pool, now reunites with its source. In that condition, all the vibration and jets of water that had been flying up in the air merged to become one thing.

The experience of union is the integration of all one’s energies normally tied up in other activities. One’s energies, instead of being split up into many pieces from participating non-stop in the complexities of the mind, merge into a singular force. Not just one’s conscious processes integrate either, but the body’s entire energy seems to. One finds oneself performing tasks with more ease as all body parts feel “one.” And yes, perception is heightened too, extremely so I’d say.

By saying “you are shifting your consciousness backward in an evolutionary sense,” you seem to imply that full-time attention to thought processes is going to make one smarter, but I dispute that. I dispute it because I say if one can’t stop thinking, one isn’t in control of the mind. People who know how to organize their thoughts, be logical, learn from studying, etc. will have more control than those who don’t. But they still can’t match the control of a person who can stop the mind altogether. What’s the practical value of that to thinking? First of all, what do you think is built into one’s non-stop internal dialogue? Conditioning, which can play a huge role in determining how one views reality and what conclusions one comes to. I like to call one of the aspects of conditioning “semidreaming.” I am sure you know how it’s possible to get a series of echoes simultaneously happening in a large canyon. Well, a semidream is sort of like that because all that non-stop thinking creates ongoing mental phantasms which manifest as influences, inclinations, aversions . . . which then affect one’s thinking and views.

But from the vantage point of stillness, if one wants to think from point A to point B, there is no train of thought already going which one has to compete with, and no remnant apparitions to distort the picture. With a mind clear of kinetic compulsion and interference from the coercions of conditioning, one is more capable of thinking powerfully, objectively, and lucidly along a single path toward conclusions. Also, since one’s sensitivity is heightened, one is better able to feel what is going on and so more ready to receive information with which to think. In other words, since in the integrated conscious experience all of one’s wisdom, understanding, sensitivity, and concentration are joined together, then all the qualities of one’s being are brought to bear wherever one turns one’s attention.

Finally, because the integrated experience allows one to do everything a normal consciousness can do plus more, in my humble opinion the integrated experience is not a shift “backwards in an evolutionary sense,” it is a shift upwards.
hypnagogue
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Jul15-04, 11:28 PM
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The entire reason these particular animals stand out is that they don't behave as if programmed. All computers with identical programs solve problems in the same manner. The same cannot be said of all ravens or all gibbons.
This is a misleading statement. Of course all computer programs that are identical will behave in the same way; then again, all ravens that are identical will behave in the same way as well. (It just so happens that we have an abundance of the former and a paucity of the latter.)

Furthermore, neural algorithms are capable in principle of reproducing the behavioral characteristics of any animal; same functional principles, same behavior. Like animals, neural algorithms are highly flexible, evolve over time as a function of input, and can produce surprising (not-as-if-programmed) outputs ("behavior").
loseyourname
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Jul16-04, 06:20 PM
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Quote Quote by hypnagogue
This is a misleading statement. Of course all computer programs that are identical will behave in the same way; then again, all ravens that are identical will behave in the same way as well. (It just so happens that we have an abundance of the former and a paucity of the latter.)
You might be right, but what you just said is a bit misleading as well. There is an important difference in the approach of (again, I'll use) a raven and say, a lab rat. All members of the lab rat species behave in a very similar, predictable manner. They are used to study learning and memory precisely because their behavior is relatively predictable and shows no signs of conscious input. Given a certain problem to solve, they will solve strictly through trial and error, that is, learning. The raven, on the other hand, clearly analyzes the problem at hand in order to figure out a method of solving it without having to use trial and error. It is still important to note the diversity of techniques used. Two lab rats can have little to no shared experiences (in which case, they are environmentally different, though genetically, they are nearly identical) and still will both solve a given problem using the trial and error technique. Two ravens, even when they have a great deal of shared experiences and even when related to each other, will still show a noticeable diversity of approach.

Extending this line of thought, you can look at another human being attempting to solve a math problem. It is obvious that the person is deep in thought (provided it is a difficult enough problem so as to make him think). There is a good prima facie argument in that simple fact, by itself, that the person is conscious. Sure, it isn't conclusive, but we don't pursue it any further because it is known through direct experience that humans are conscious. By the same token, seemingly considered (that is, aware) thought processes in a non-human animal are not conclusive proof of consciousness. It is simply what is used by behavioral biologists as an indicator of the likelihood of consciousness. It is a behavioral characteristic thought likely to be the result of consciousness.

When looked at from an evolutionary perspective, which, of course, is what biologists do, this idea makes a lot of sense. In order for consciousness to have developed, it must have endowed the conscious animal with some survival or reproductive advantage. The advantage inherent in the awareness of one's thought processes, particularly of problem-solving thought processes, should be obvious. Once the relationship between self and environment is consciously realized, many possibilities are opened that just weren't there before.

Furthermore, neural algorithms are capable in principle of reproducing the behavioral characteristics of any animal; same functional principles, same behavior. Like animals, neural algorithms are highly flexible, evolve over time as a function of input, and can produce surprising (not-as-if-programmed) outputs ("behavior").
I'd also like to point out that neural algorithms might be (and, in principle, certainly can be) responsible for consciousness. If consciousness is indeed an emergent property of neural algorithms, then I'm not too sure what you are arguing.
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Jul17-04, 10:55 PM
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Quote Quote by loseyourname
You might be right, but what you just said is a bit misleading as well. There is an important difference in the approach of (again, I'll use) a raven and say, a lab rat.
I wasn't trying to defeat (or even address) that line of argument. I was just addressing the way you use computers in your analogy. On the one hand, you say all computers programmed identically will behave identically-- certainly true, but the analogue to two identically programmed computers in the animal kingdom would be two animals with functionally identical brains. Two ravens, or even two humans, would behave identically if they had identical brains, regardless of the kind of problem solving approach they might use.

On the other hand, it appears as if you invoked computers in the first place as the paradigmatic example of rigidity (as in problem solving), which is a common way of thinking about computers but which isn't quite right. Computers (the manufactured, human built kind) can implement neural algorithms themselves, and in the process can be every bit as flexible, surprising, novel, 'individualistic,' etc. as their animal counterparts.
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Jul18-04, 12:59 AM
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Quote Quote by hypnagogue
I wasn't trying to defeat (or even address) that line of argument. I was just addressing the way you use computers in your analogy. On the one hand, you say all computers programmed identically will behave identically-- certainly true, but the analogue to two identically programmed computers in the animal kingdom would be two animals with functionally identical brains. Two ravens, or even two humans, would behave identically if they had identical brains, regardless of the kind of problem solving approach they might use.
I suppose the analogy is flawed then, but I'm sure you can understand why this particular characteristic is used as an indicator of the likelihood of consciousness by behavioral biologists after my lengthy (if ultimately unnecessary) explanation.

On the other hand, it appears as if you invoked computers in the first place as the paradigmatic example of rigidity (as in problem solving), which is a common way of thinking about computers but which isn't quite right. Computers (the manufactured, human built kind) can implement neural algorithms themselves, and in the process can be every bit as flexible, surprising, novel, 'individualistic,' etc. as their animal counterparts.
Can identical algorithms with identical inputs produce diverse outputs? This just goes to show how little I know about computers.
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Jul18-04, 10:25 AM
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Quote Quote by loseyourname
I suppose the analogy is flawed then, but I'm sure you can understand why this particular characteristic is used as an indicator of the likelihood of consciousness by behavioral biologists after my lengthy (if ultimately unnecessary) explanation.
I can understand the reasoning behind it, although I reserve my judgment. For the time being, however, it's probably as reasonable an indicator as any other.

Can identical algorithms with identical inputs produce diverse outputs? This just goes to show how little I know about computers.
By definition, no, unless those algorithms have purely random elements within them, like a random number generator. To be fair here, quantum events at the level of neurotransmitters may introduce just such an element of randomness into the brain's computations. Even if this is the case, however, this itself is nothing that a properly manufactured computer could not duplicate also.


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