Discussion on consciousness

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  • #1
sage
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i would like to begin a discussion on consciousness. some important questions about it are:
1)what is consciousness?
2)is it unique in humans or do other animals have it? if they do, upto what degree?
3)how and why did it arise?
4)how are humans(and other conscious animals)different from those who do not have it?

i have some nebulous views of my own. but let's hear your's first. some useful links will be welcome.
 
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  • #2
Monique
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For point two: I am very sure other mammals also have a conciousness. For instance my dogs: I can tell when they have done something that is not allowed, when I walk into the room, by the look on their face. They know very well that they did something that was not allowed and that if I find it out, they'll get punished.

They see a relationship in time.

I once saw a video on the "america's funniest home videos" there was a dog, a pool, and the boss with a ball.

The boss threw the ball in the middle of the pool, the dog ran after it and I thought the dog was going to jump after it.. the moment it reached the edge of the pool it halted abruptly, tried to reach the ball, walked around the pool to see if somewhere the distance was shorter, then he walked to the far end of the pool and to my stupid amazement, the dog jumped on a floating board, started peddling with its front paws, made its way to the ball, picked it from the water, peddled to the edge of the pool and jumped off.

I couldn't believe it since this is very complex behaviour and requires thinking and a conciousness.
 
  • #3
Monique
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What is conciousness, that is a very interesting question too. I'd like to see that answered physically (to relate this topic to biology).

Are there any case studies where humans lost this ability (I wonder how you'd define such a person.. comatose, inresponsive, able to interact?) and that the damage was inflicted by a stroke, so that the regions implicated in the formation of conciousness can be pinpointed.

I have got a very interesting book at home: "Phantoms of the brain" by Prof. dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee. The title in my language says translated: "The bizarre brain: what errors in the brain teach us about the function thereof". I would highly recommend it, it is very entertaining to read and the subjects are very novel, he talks about case-studies of patients who he has seen in his carreer.
 
  • #4
russ_watters
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Originally posted by Monique
I couldn't believe it since this is very complex behaviour and requires thinking and a conciousness.
Does thinking require consciousness? I'm not so sure. Very few dogs can pass the "mirror test" - recognizing themselves in a mirror.

The ease at which a dog can be imprinted upon says "stimulus-response" to me, not intelligence.

Ants have fairly complex behaviors as well.

In any case, this is very similar to another thread on the same subject.
 
  • #6
zoobyshoe
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Sage,

I think that, like the word "energy" or the word "life" the word "consciousness is best understood with examples and descriptions as opposed to trying a direct frontal definition.

It seems to me that in order to be conscious a thing must have sences of some kind for recieving information from the outside world
and it must have some sort of processor for that information, a "brain" of some kind where the information is used to formulate a responsive behaviour.

I think everything down to bacteria is conscious. I'm not sure about viruses. Lower down things are just chemical reactions that are occuring without any awareness on the part of the chemicals involved.

Things get more tricky when it comes to plants. Some people claim plants are conscious. This doesn't seem likely to me, but I dont see any way to prove or disprove it.

Since consciousness depends on information from sences you could expect that the consciousness of a dog would be very different than that of a human given the differences in the sences of a dog: black and white vision, superior hearing and sence of smell, that we know of. Most animals have sences we do not. I was amazed to read that some birds can see with light in the ultra-violet range, for example, and that snakes of the "Pit Viper" class have infra-red sensors on their faces which allow them to sence mice at night from their body heat.

Dogs and ants are certainly conscious but it would be a mistake to think this means they are like people in a dog's or ant's body. Their brains are designed to make sence out of things according to the kind of sences they are endowed with. Our brains wouldn't be able to make any kind of sence from the sort of imput they recieve anymore than theirs could make sence of the imput humans recieve.

-zooby
 
  • #7
Mr. Robin Parsons
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Originally posted by zoobyshoe
(SNIP) Things get more tricky when it comes to plants. Some people claim plants are conscious. This doesn't seem likely to me, but I dont see any way to prove or disprove it. (SNoP)
I suspect it is the stimulus/responce, stick a pin in a cell, and it reacts, hence the belief that it is (sorta) "self aware"
 
  • #8
sage
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i did not know a similar thread already exists in this section. will try to find it. as all of you see there are disagreements about who is conscious and who is not. if one defines consciousness as the ability to take in, process and act on information from the surronding then such attributes are present in all animals(let's leave out plants for the time being) albeit in varying degrees. when Geoge(say) is conscious of the presence of a delicious steak in his kitchen, his dog is conscious of it to, ditto for a fly outside George's window. and what each will do is also obvious, all three will try to eat it in their different ways. if one says however that to be conscious means one must be able to detect itself as a part of the surroundings one is studying, then things are a bit tricky. this is where a mirror test comes in. but what are we to infer when an animal fails mirror test? that it cannot detect itself? but how can a dog not detect itself? it has eyes, it can certainly see its body, so?
some say consciousness is the idea of I. so what is so special about that? George calls Bob, Bob; Nancy,Nancy and George,I.if one can detect something you have to give it a name, that much is obvious. a dog cannot recognise that the dog in the glass is itself, a hen cannot recognise that a baby crane inseted as an egg in her original clutch is not her chick though it is twice as big as her mother. call them stupid but how can we say they are unconscious?
 
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  • #9
hypnagogue
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I believe a very important consideration in any discussion of consciousness is the phenomenon of blindsight, a sort of deficiency of consciousness caused by lesions to certain areas of the brain. People with blindsight are 'blind' in certain areas of their visual field, insofar as they do not have visual awareness in these areas. Yet if you observe their behavior in interacting with objects in these blind areas, you will see that it is pretty much indistinguishable from that of a normally functioning person-- they can answer questions about the objects, reach out and grab them in a fluent manner, etc., despite their claims that they can't actually 'see' what is there.

This tells us a couple of important things. First of all, intelligent behavior is not necessarily a reliable indicator of an underlying consciousness. Second, blindsight seems to indicate that consciousness is a complex process dependent upon an array of brain functions working in harmony with eachother-- which at least hints at some sort of requirement of a 'sufficiently complex' information processing architecture in order to sustain consciousness. This notion backs up the intuition of a 'spectrum' of consciousness existent in life, where in general the more complex the functioning of an organism is, the more 'aware' it is. So it is natural to attribute consciousness to a chimp, but pretty dubious to attribute it to a paramecium or an ant.

More on blindsight: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/blindsight.html
 
  • #10
zoobyshoe
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Originally posted by hypnagogue
First of all, intelligent behavior is not necessarily a reliable indicator of an underlying consciousness.
I'm not clear exactly what you mean. There would be a difference between intelligent behaviour and intelligent looking behaviour. Driving a car, for example, looks like it involves alot of intelligence. In fact, the more one drives the more "automatic" driving can become. Regardless, it is highly dependent on consciousness of the circumstances to drive properly.

Second, blindsight seems to indicate that consciousness is a complex process dependent upon an array of brain functions working in harmony with eachother-- which at least hints at some sort of requirement of a 'sufficiently complex' information processing architecture in order to sustain consciousness.
I would have to disagree with the premise that information processing preceeds and sustains consciousness. I think consciousness comes first.

This notion backs up the intuition of a 'spectrum' of consciousness existent in life, where in general the more complex the functioning of an organism is, the more 'aware' it is. So it is natural to attribute consciousness to a chimp, but pretty dubious to attribute it to a paramecium or an ant.

The "intuition" is crippled at the start in so far as it requires consciousness to be of a human quality. The spectrum, a product of human imagination, can really only be said to be a spectrum of more human to less human. One could just as well come to the conclusion that humans, because of their complexity, are more diffused and watered down than other life forms. Scattered as it is over so many considerations, our consciousness may never be as sharp and focused as it is for a dog on the scent of a rabbit. The paramecium because of its even greater simplicity, may be able to experience awareness (of whatever it is aware of) with a with a poignancy inconcievable to the dog.

-Zooby
 
  • #11
zoobyshoe
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Originally posted by Mr. Robin Parsons
I suspect it is the stimulus/responce, stick a pin in a cell, and it reacts, hence the belief that it is (sorta) "self aware"
Actually, the people I'm thinking of who make this claim aren't anywhere near that scientific about it. It is something you hear from the people who talk to their plants. They claim this makes them healthier, and they grow faster. House plants and garden plants alike.
 
  • #12
hypnagogue
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Originally posted by zoobyshoe
I'm not clear exactly what you mean. There would be a difference between intelligent behaviour and intelligent looking behaviour. Driving a car, for example, looks like it involves alot of intelligence. In fact, the more one drives the more "automatic" driving can become. Regardless, it is highly dependent on consciousness of the circumstances to drive properly.

If you want to make a distinction between intelligent behavior and intelligent looking behavior, then the latter is all that applies in this discussion. We can only say of a certain animal that its behavior looks intelligent-- eg, with Monique's example of the dog in the pool. Intelligent looking behavior is clearly a criterion we need to take into account when deliberating on whether a given animal is conscious or not. We just need to recognize the limits of such an approach. In the case of blindsight, if we said that the person's intelligent looking behavior implied that he was conscious of the things he was intelligently interacting with or talking about, we would be wrong. Thus, we must recognize the fact that intelligent looking behavior can exist without conscious guidance, and so is not necessarily a reliable indicator of consciousness.

I would have to disagree with the premise that information processing preceeds and sustains consciousness. I think consciousness comes first.

Certainly possible, but taking such a view restricts any rational conversation we can have on the matter. If you think a bacterium is conscious, then it's not at all clear why an atom or an electron would not be conscious in some way either. I think, from a logical standpoint, that it's a better approach to start from what we know, ie that humans are conscious, and work from there to try to deduce or intuit what is going on.

The "intuition" is crippled at the start in so far as it requires consciousness to be of a human quality. The spectrum, a product of human imagination, can really only be said to be a spectrum of more human to less human. One could just as well come to the conclusion that humans, because of their complexity, are more diffused and watered down than other life forms. Scattered as it is over so many considerations, our consciousness may never be as sharp and focused as it is for a dog on the scent of a rabbit. The paramecium because of its even greater simplicity, may be able to experience awareness (of whatever it is aware of) with a with a poignancy inconcievable to the dog.

Again, I can sympathize with your points here, but at this stage at least we need to start with what we know. If a certain being is conscious but not in any sense analogous to human consciousness, then we really can't know anything about its consciousness, or if it even makes sense to call this being's quality "consciousness" at all.

If we restrict our attention exclusively to the notion that brain lesions can destroy parts of human consciousness, then blindsight is only one of many examples. What these all indicate is that human consciousness is a function of the interconnectedness and activity of the brain. As such, it makes the most sense at this point in our understanding to view consciousness and brain activity as equivalent phenomena. From this proposition, in conjunction with the recognition that intelligent (looking) behavior can be the product of unconscious processes, we can begin to make vague claims of the 'spectrum of consciousness' sort.
 
  • #13
zoobyshoe
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if one says however that to be conscious means one must be able to detect itself as a part of the surroundings one is studying, then things are a bit tricky. this is where a mirror test comes in. but what are we to infer when an animal fails mirror test? that it cannot detect itself? but how can a dog not detect itself? it has eyes, it can certainly see its body, so?
some say consciousness is the idea of I. so what is so special about that?

I agree. This is only important to humans, and if it is being applied to animals as a measure of consciousness it is an erroneous method. A cat or dog may not have the neuronal wiring or kind of lobe it takes to form a conception of the existence of an external image of itself, but that is not a measure of it's consciousness.

The way information is processed is not a measure of degree of consciousness. Yesterday I read an autobiographical story by a high-functioning autistic woman whos language developement was greatly delayed by the fact she didn't realize the noises people made with thir mouths were a form of communication untill she was six or seven. She was perfectly conscious of these noises but she assumed they were a form of play: something people did for the entertainment value of the sensations it produced.

In the same way a cat or dog looking in a mirror is completely conscious of the image that seems to follow their every move, they simply don't seem to have the circuitry it takes to form the important connection between that image and themselves. It's not a "lesser" consciousness. It's a different kind of consciousness.
 
  • #14
zoobyshoe
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Originally posted by hypnagogue
If you want to make a distinction between intelligent behavior and intelligent looking behavior, then the latter is all that applies in this discussion.
So, I am correct in supposing you would edit your original statement:"First of all, intelligent behaviour is not necessarily a reliable indicator of an underlying consciousness," to read "...intelligent looking behaviour..."?





We can only say of a certain animal that its behavior looks intelligent-- eg, with Monique's example of the dog in the pool. Intelligent looking behavior is clearly a criterion we need to take into account when deliberating on whether a given animal is conscious or not. We just need to recognize the limits of such an approach. In the case of blindsight, if we said that the person's intelligent looking behavior implied that he was conscious of the things he was intelligently interacting with or talking about, we would be wrong.
You have jumped to a conclusion about the blind sight situation here that may not be accurate.( I went to your link, but didn't find it wet into any more depth than I already was familiar with.) My guess is that this condition arises when the dominant hemisphere is cut off from the visual processing centers, while the other hemisphere remains connected. In most people the dominant, language, hemisphere is the left. This is the side you would be talking to in a full split brain patient.
In the blind sight people, this side is blind It is not aware of any visual imput. Visual imput, though, is still getting to the non-dominant, mute, hemisphere
which can still act upon what it sees despite being unable to utter a word about it or to get the information over to the left side which can still talk.
What this means is that the person is conscious of what he is seeing - there is authentic awareness there - but there is a disconnection between that aware side and the side that talks to others. (I would guess, too, that the side which can see is probably experiencing only half a visual field - only recieving input from one half of each eye.)
Thus, we must recognize the fact that intelligent looking behavior can exist without conscious guidance,
Not yet. The blind sight example is probably not a proof of this.
and so is not necessarily a reliable indicator of consciousness.
I have not come across any examples of intelligent looking behaviour where an absence of consciousness was shown to be the case.


If you think a bacterium is conscious, then it's not at all clear why an atom or an electron would not be conscious in some way either.
My criteria for consciousness is that an entity must be able to recieve information from its environment via some kind of sence mechanism, that it must have the means to process that information, something that we might call a "brain", and be able to formulate a deliberate response. Based on that I wouldn't suspect atoms and electrons of having consciousness.
The simplest I would go with confidence is bacteria.
I think, from a logical standpoint, that it's a better approach to start from what we know, ie that humans are conscious, and work from there to try to deduce or intuit what is going on.
I don't think there is an alternative to starting with ourselves. It is essential, though, to avoid the assumption that in order to be conscious other beings must be conscious in the same ways we are, to do some serious wondering about how different our experience of the world and ourselves might be if, for instance, we had no color vision.



If a certain being is conscious but not in any sense analogous to human consciousness, then we really can't know anything about its consciousness, or if it even makes sense to call this being's quality "consciousness" at all.
We can never know details for certain, but the same is true about our view of other people, yet we generally grant consciousness to all other humans.
I was not suggesting that the consciousness of a paramecium is "not in any sence analagous to human consciousness". It is safe to assume that if it is conscious it experiences something like desire, at least, to eat, to move from discomfort to comfort, etc. And perhaps other things. Whether or not we can call it consciousness is at this point more dependent on a mutually satisfactory description/definition.

What these all indicate is that human consciousness is a function of the interconnectedness and activity of the brain.
The thalamo-cortical network is critical to consciousness in humans. The thalamus, a very small
set of organs, seems to be the essential, sine qua non of this duo. This circuit can be gotten into from the cortex of the frontal lobes, but it isn't till trouble reaches the thalamus that consciousness is lost. You can disturb huge areas of the brain, and huge numbers of the connections but consciousness will not be lost untill you interfere with the thalamo-cortical network.
As such, it makes the most sense at this point in our understanding to view consciousness and brain activity as equivalent phenomena.
Agreed, which is why my criteria includes some thing that functions as a "brain".
From this proposition, in conjunction with the recognition that intelligent (looking) behavior can be the product of unconscious processes, we can begin to make vague claims of the 'spectrum of consciousness' sort.
I'm agreeing on the requirement of a brain, but not on the existence of intelligent looking behaviour that is devoid of consciousness.

My speculation that the simpler, more concentrated focus of a dog on the hunt might represent a more intense consciousness is really just extrapolating from human experience, which is what you are calling for. To say people are more conscious because we can talk and drive a car at the same time may be to miss the fact that both activities are much dimmer than either would be if we were just dedicated to one or the other, as a dog is when chasing a rabbit.

-Zooby
 
  • #15
self conciousness?

I think up to know 3 animals passed the mirror test: human, chimpansee and dorphin. They recognised paint on their face in a mirror as being paint on THEIR face. Other animals rather attack the mirror. What confuses me is the dophin: he is not directly related (in an evolutionary way) to homoids. I think 2 possibilities arise: conciousness evolved twice in the mammal evolution, or the species between Cetaceae (Dolphin e.o.) and Homoids do have conciousness.

I heard a rather intersting story from a Dutch professor. Sorry, I have no name nor link or whatsoever. It's a theory anyway. He states that conciousness is not situated on 1 place in the brain. Inputs are crossing around, and the "one with the highest input gets the attention". He compared this to his talk. During his talk he was "focussed" on his presentation, his memory. But suppose a hungry lion would walk in, a new inpuls would cross his mind and would easily defeat the impulses from his memory. He would stop talking and start running! I think this is a nice start for explaining conciousness (of course it's just a concept). It explains f.e. that nobody really found the "conciousness" nucleus in the brain, because there is none.
 
  • #16
zoobyshoe
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Originally posted by cryo
He states that conciousness is not situated on 1 place in the brain. Inputs are crossing around, and the "one with the highest input gets the attention". He compared this to his talk. During his talk he was "focussed" on his presentation, his memory. But suppose a hungry lion would walk in, a new inpuls would cross his mind and would easily defeat the impulses from his memory. He would stop talking and start running! I think this is a nice start for explaining conciousness (of course it's just a concept). It explains f.e. that nobody really found the "conciousness" nucleus in the brain, because there is none.

It is certainly true that our attention can change focus, but this does not mean that there are many different centers in the brain, all independently conscious.

The thalamo-cortical complex is most definitely the "seat" of consciousness in the brain. You can disturb any other parts of the brain without a loss of consciousness, but not the thalamo-corticle complex. Conversely if the thalamo-coricle complex is disturbed it does not matter how much of the rest of the brain is fine: there will be no consciousness. That would not be the case if the dutch professors speculation about consciousness existing in all parts of the brain
held any water.
 
  • #17
sage
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so what exactly happens if the thalamo cortical region is damaged? does this region exists in other animals. i'll be away for a week. continue discussion.
 
  • #18
hypnagogue
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Originally posted by zoobyshoe
So, I am correct in supposing you would edit your original statement:"First of all, intelligent behaviour is not necessarily a reliable indicator of an underlying consciousness," to read "...intelligent looking behaviour..."?

Yes. In fact, if you make a distinction between intelligent behavior and intelligent looking behavior, the only thing one can observe in beings other than oneself is of course the latter.

You have jumped to a conclusion about the blind sight situation here that may not be accurate.( I went to your link, but didn't find it wet into any more depth than I already was familiar with.) My guess is that this condition arises when the dominant hemisphere is cut off from the visual processing centers, while the other hemisphere remains connected. In most people the dominant, language, hemisphere is the left. This is the side you would be talking to in a full split brain patient.
In the blind sight people, this side is blind It is not aware of any visual imput. Visual imput, though, is still getting to the non-dominant, mute, hemisphere which can still act upon what it sees despite being unable to utter a word about it or to get the information over to the left side which can still talk.
What this means is that the person is conscious of what he is seeing - there is authentic awareness there - but there is a disconnection between that aware side and the side that talks to others. (I would guess, too, that the side which can see is probably experiencing only half a visual field - only recieving input from one half of each eye.)

I'm going to address this in a separate post.

My criteria for consciousness is that an entity must be able to recieve information from its environment via some kind of sence mechanism, that it must have the means to process that information, something that we might call a "brain", and be able to formulate a deliberate response. Based on that I wouldn't suspect atoms and electrons of having consciousness.
The simplest I would go with confidence is bacteria.

Fair enough, but consider for example the knee-jerk reaction. There is certainly not consciousness involved in this behavior. Couldn't a bacterium operate in a similar way, responding to its environment without necessarily being aware?

By your criteria, every cell (or at least major organs) in a human person's body would be conscious, in addition to what I suppose would be the more macroscopic consciousness of the brain that we normally identify ourselves with. Similarly, if we view individual humans as 'cells' of the society as a whole and take a liberal view of your definition, then this society itself would be able to receive information from its environment, have a means of processing information, and be able to formulate a deliberate response. Does this make an entire society an entity which itself is conscious? If not, what are the physical restrictions that prevent it from being so? Are these sensible and derived by logic or more or less arbitrary?

I don't think there is an alternative to starting with ourselves. It is essential, though, to avoid the assumption that in order to be conscious other beings must be conscious in the same ways we are, to do some serious wondering about how different our experience of the world and ourselves might be if, for instance, we had no color vision.

I definitely agree with this.

We can never know details for certain, but the same is true about our view of other people, yet we generally grant consciousness to all other humans.

Yes, but the further we get from beings who function on the same overall principles as ourselves, the more in general we must call into question any similarities between the two. Specifically, I don't know if there's anything about assuming that all normally functioning humans are conscious that should entail something like a bacterium also being conscious.

I was not suggesting that the consciousness of a paramecium is "not in any sence analagous to human consciousness". It is safe to assume that if it is conscious it experiences something like desire, at least, to eat, to move from discomfort to comfort, etc. And perhaps other things. Whether or not we can call it consciousness is at this point more dependent on a mutually satisfactory description/definition.

The most sensible criterion I have come across is Thomas Nagel's: is it 'like something' to be a certain creature? If so, that creature has some form of consciousness; if not, it has no consciousness. This criterion arises from the notion that consciousness involves personal experience of subjective qualia, such as a color or a sound or a thought. We can meaningfully say that it is 'like something' to see the color red, or to be aware of a particular thought, or any other mental percept that we are directly conscious of.

My speculation that the simpler, more concentrated focus of a dog on the hunt might represent a more intense consciousness is really just extrapolating from human experience, which is what you are calling for. To say people are more conscious because we can talk and drive a car at the same time may be to miss the fact that both activities are much dimmer than either would be if we were just dedicated to one or the other, as a dog is when chasing a rabbit.

I understand your reasoning in this regard, I'm just not so sure it can be so easily generalized as we go down the scale of biological complexity, especially if we go all the way down to the level of a bacterium. Plus, what of the example where one seems to be doing nothing but driving, but is still actually quite 'dim' since the process is still more or less 'automatic'?
 
  • #19
hypnagogue
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Originally posted by zoobyshoe
You have jumped to a conclusion about the blind sight situation here that may not be accurate.( I went to your link, but didn't find it wet into any more depth than I already was familiar with.) My guess is that this condition arises when the dominant hemisphere is cut off from the visual processing centers, while the other hemisphere remains connected. In most people the dominant, language, hemisphere is the left. This is the side you would be talking to in a full split brain patient.
In the blind sight people, this side is blind It is not aware of any visual imput. Visual imput, though, is still getting to the non-dominant, mute, hemisphere
which can still act upon what it sees despite being unable to utter a word about it or to get the information over to the left side which can still talk.
What this means is that the person is conscious of what he is seeing - there is authentic awareness there - but there is a disconnection between that aware side and the side that talks to others. (I would guess, too, that the side which can see is probably experiencing only half a visual field - only recieving input from one half of each eye.)

Here are some resources going into more detail about the neurobiology of blindsight.

http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro00/web3/Chivers.html :

People suffering from blindsight are not "blind" because their eyes do not function. Rather they suffer from cortical blindness. People suffering from cortical blindness receive sensory information but do not process it correctly, usually due to damage in some part of the brain. The damage in blindsight patients has been shown to be in the striate cortex, which is part of the visual cortex. The striate cortex is often called the primary visual cortex (V1), and is thought to be the primary locus of visual processing (3). Destruction or disconnection of the striate cortex produces a scotoma, or a region of blindness, in the part of the visual field that maps to the damaged area of the cortex (3). Depending on the extent of the lesion, vision can be absent in anywhere between a very small section of stimulus field and the entire field (4). The person is unable to process the sensory input to the striate cortex, and does not recognize having seen the object.

http://sorrel.humboldt.edu/~morgan/blind_2.htm [Broken] :

Patients who have exhibited the phenomenon of blindsight
display damage to the cortex and the pathways from the
eyes to the visual cortex rather than to the eyes
themselves. Marcel (1983) characterizes blindsight as a
dissociation between the geniculo-occipital system and
the pulvinar-collicular system, whose projections are to
the parietal lobe. The area damaged seems to be the
geniculo-occipital pathway (Marcel, 1983). Ellis and
Young (1988) report that damage to the pathway of the
lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) and the occipital lobe
can be responsible for a loss of sensitivity to stimuli
falling within the corresponding visual field. The loss
of vision is often hemianopic and does not affect the
entire visual field. Like Ellis and Young (1988),
Carlson (1994) discusses evidence that blindsight is due
to the connections that are received from the visual
association cortex from the superior colliculus and the
dorsal LGN. Carlson (1994) goes on to say that the exact
function of these connections is still unknown.

http://www.fortunecity.com/emachines/e11/86/enm9.html [Broken] :

The split brain experiments seem at least to indicate that there need not be a unique "seat of consciousness". But there are other experiments which appear to suggest that some parts of the cerebral cortex are more to be associated with consciousness than are others.One of these has to do with the phenomenon of blindsight. Damage to a region of the visual cortex can cause blindness in the corresponding field of vision.If an object is held in that region of the visual field,then that object will not be perceived.Blindness occurs with respect to that region of vision.
However,some curious findings (cf.Weiscrantz 1987) indicate that things are not so simple as this.A patient,referred to as "D.B." had to have some of his visual cortex removed,and this caused him to be unable to see anything in a certain region of the visual field.However,when something was placed in this region and D.B. was asked to guess what that something was (usually a mark like a cross or circle,or a line segment tilted at some angle),he found he could do so with near 100 per cent accuracy! The accuracy of these "guesses" came as a surprise to D.B. himself,and he still maintained that he could perceive nothing whatever in that region*.
Images received by the retina are also processed in certain regions of the brain other than just the visual cortex,one of the more obscure regions involved lying in the lower temporal lobe. It seems that D.B. may have been basing his "guesses" on information gained by this lower temporal region.Nothing was directly perceived consciously by the activation of these regions.
All this seems to show that some areas of the cerebral cortex (eg the visual cortex) are more associated with conscious perception than are other areas,but that with training,some of these other areas can apparently be brought within the scope of direct awareness. [/B]

Furthermore, http://colour.derby.ac.uk/colour/people/westland/cfls3.html [Broken] discusses patients with blindsight and split-brain patients in completely different contexts.

From all this I think we can sum up by saying:
1) Blindsight can occur in variable portions of the visual field, from very small to very large, depending on the nature of the brain damage.
2) There is a mapping between areas of neurons in the primary visual cortex and areas of the subjective visual field. The blinded portions of the visual field in blindsight occur as a result of damage suffered by the corresponding neurons in the primary visual cortex.
3) Something of the flavor of blindsight can occur in split-brain patients, but blindsight itself is not strictly a result of information being cut off from the left hemisphere of the brain.

As such, I think my initial point stands-- blindsight is a demonstration of intelligent looking behavior without underlying conscious perception of the objects with which the blindsighted person intelligently interacts.
 
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  • #20
Monique
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I missed the point of what blind sight has to do with conciousness.. maybe someone can give me a quick hint?

Isn't conciousness the act of NOT acting out of impuls? The lion story would go AGAINST conciousness. Conciousness is the ability to abstractly evaluate situations and act on it.

I am not sure eather what the mirror experiment truly has to do with conciousness, more with image perception and brain processing/visualization. A dog knows a dog by its smell, not by some abstract pattern in silver, doesn't mean they are not concious.
 
  • #21
hypnagogue
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Originally posted by Monique
I missed the point of what blind sight has to do with conciousness.. maybe someone can give me a quick hint?

A person with blindsight has no visual awareness in certain portions of their visual field. However, if you hold an object in the blinded portion of their visual field, the person can nonetheless accurately answer questions about it, reach out and grab it, etc. This demonstrates that intelligent looking behavior does not necessarily imply an underlying consciousness behind the behavior.
 
  • #22
zoobyshoe
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Originally posted by hypnagogue Fair enough, but consider for example the knee-jerk reaction. There is certainly not consciousness involved in this behavior. Couldn't a bacterium operate in a similar way, responding to its environment without necessarily being aware?
Yes. I don't know of any certain proof it isn't behaving this way. My main concern is that no one assume, knee-jerk fashion, it is behaving without awareness.



By your criteria, every cell (or at least major organs) in a human person's body would be conscious, in addition to what I suppose would be the more macroscopic consciousness of the brain that we normally identify ourselves with.
I don't know enough about cells to now if they fall within my criteria. I'm not aware that cells have anything you could call sences, anything comparable to a brain, or information processing capability. The same for organs.
You will have to explain how cells fit my criteria.
Similarly, if we view individual humans as 'cells' of the society as a whole and take a liberal view of your definition, then this society itself would be able to receive information from its environment, have a means of processing information, and be able to formulate a deliberate response. Does this make an entire society an entity which itself is conscious? If not, what are the physical restrictions that prevent it from being so? Are these sensible and derived by logic or more or less arbitrary?

What prevents society from being a single entity is the lack of a brain. All the individual brains cannot be added together to make a big brain and there isn't any big brain in existence that encompasses all the individual brains.
Yes, but the further we get from beings who function on the same overall principles as ourselves, the more in general we must call into question any similarities between the two. Specifically, I don't know if there's anything about assuming that all normally functioning humans are conscious that should entail something like a bacterium also being conscious.
The reason I insist on an open minded consideration that bacteria may be conscious is that we can observe them doing things that appear to involve sencing, and formulating deliberate responses to, their environment. I don't believe it is at all prudent to ascribe less consciousness to beings on the basis of how close or distant they seem to be from humans. The reason that isn't prudent is that we don't know at this point, enough about how the thalamus generates consciousness to be able to say with confidence the same couldn't be happening in an amoeba.


The most sensible criterion I have come across is Thomas Nagel's: is it 'like something' to be a certain creature? If so, that creature has some form of consciousness; if not, it has no consciousness. This criterion arises from the notion that consciousness involves personal experience of subjective qualia, such as a color or a sound or a thought. We can meaningfully say that it is 'like something' to see the color red, or to be aware of a particular thought, or any other mental percept that we are directly conscious of.
This is an interesting take on the matter. Does he suggest how anyone can ever figure out if being an ant "is like" something?


Plus one example where one seems to be doing nothing but driving, but is still actually quite 'dim' since the process is still more or less 'automatic'?
Yes. Limiting your range of activity doesn't automatically mean all the awareness goes to what you are still doing. In this situation, common on long distance drives, people get close to falling asleep. Some do, and crash. A far as driving goes people who are driving, and only driving, are most likely to be found in car races

I see your blindsight post is up. It may take me a while to read and consider.

-Zooby
 
  • #23
Nereid
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Interview with boozy, for a local newspaper (excerpts)

Nereid: Tell me about this cool project you’ve been working on?
Boozy: It’s a simulation of the behaviour of a bacterium
N: You mean, here on this laptop?
B: Yeah. I googled up all I could find on [name], and summarised everything that’s been written up about how it behaves. Then I designed this microscope view, to simulate what you might see through a microscope, looking at a bunch of these bacteria, in different environments. It’s pretty crude, but the main thing is you can get a feel for how good my simulations are by ‘looking’ through my ‘microscope’. Of course, all this was just preparation. What took me the most time – aside from reading all the stuff I downloaded from the google searches – was writing the code for my bacterium simulator.
N: You said that you modeled the behaviour; what sorts of behaviour?
B: The easiest was how it reacted to being pushed around, and swimming and stuff. I call it ‘swimming’, but it’s really too simplistic for that. However, there’s stuff being done nowadays that models swimming really well, and I was more interested in getting the stimulus-response right, what some people call awareness.
N: I thought I read somewhere that these bacteria ‘sense’ the world mostly through chemical signals, apart from reaction to blunt force.
B: Yeah
N: How did you simulate that? I mean, some of the responses are driven by chemical gradients, not just the concentration.
B: Yeah
N: And these creatures are able to react to several different stimuli simultaneously, aren’t they?
B: Yeah, this was the hardest part of the project, and you haven’t even mentioned how to represent chemical responses in code!
N: So how did you do it?
B: Ah, wouldn’t you like to know! I’m not saying I’ve got it completely right, but if you leave aside what the chemicals, gradients, etc are, and just look at the ‘chemical logic’ so to speak, it becomes easier to handle.
N: So? Does it work? How real is it?
B: Not bad, you’ve gotta use your imagination in a few places, to see what’s going on, but that’s mostly just the user interface, the code itself ‘behaves’ pretty much just like the real thing. What I mean is, the bacterium – in the code of course! – ‘senses’ its environment, ‘processes’ the info it got, and ‘works out’ how to respond. Like I said, I’m sure there are rough edges, but it’s pretty good.
N: What’s next?
B: What do you mean?
N: Well, are you planning to simulate a eukaryote next?
B: No way! I’ve got a day job you know!
N: But could it be done?
B: Sure! As long as there isn’t anything qualitatively different about single celled critters, it’s just a lot of work.

Does boozy's laptop have a similar degree of consciousness to the paramecium?
 
  • #24
Monique
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Originally posted by zoobyshoe
I don't know enough about cells to now if they fall within my criteria. I'm not aware that cells have anything you could call sences, anything comparable to a brain, or information processing capability. The same for organs.
You will have to explain how cells fit my criteria.
Bacteria certainly have senses, how else could they respond to their environment? A bacteria can sense where nutrition is and will swim towards it, it can sense where toxins are and will swim away from it. This last behaviour is completely automatic and the mechanism is completely understood on the molecular level, it doesn't require any thought for the bacteria to know where to go.

What prevents society from being a single entity is the lack of a brain. All the individual brains cannot be added together to make a big brain and there isn't any big brain in existence that encompasses all the individual brains.
Wrong, that is exactly how the human body works. All individual compartments with specialized functions which form a whole, coordinated by the brain. Society works in the same way, the congress would be the brain coordinating the other units... thoughts are fused and become one conciousness: a nation.

The reason I insist on an open minded consideration that bacteria may be conscious is that we can observe them doing things that appear to involve sencing, and formulating deliberate responses to, their environment.
Well, I have just given a very concrete example which argues against this point.

This is an interesting take on the matter. Does he suggest how anyone can ever figure out if being an ant "is like" something?

I don't think that is where the answer lies, you are going to ask the ant?

I am not sure where to start, but I think it is fairly safe to say that all social animals have a conciousness, since social behaviour is an effect with conciousness is a cause.
 
  • #25
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how can one objectively distinguish between an entity that is both intelligent and conscious and another who is intelligent but unconscious? unless such a demarcation between conscious intelligent and unconscious intelligent behavior can be made it seems doubtful whether one can ascertain whether other animals are conscious or not. for example imagine an animal who looks all the world like us humans and at least as intelligent but does not have consciousness. how would its behavior differ from us. or is intelligence and conscioussness dependant on each other and one cannot have one without the other? your views
 
  • #26
hypnagogue
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Originally posted by zoobyshoe
Yes. I don't know of any certain proof it isn't behaving this way. My main concern is that no one assume, knee-jerk fashion, it is behaving without awareness.

Fair enough. I'm not saying with absolute certainty that it doesn't have consciousness. Just that, based on what we know now, it seems highly unlikely.

I don't know enough about cells to now if they fall within my criteria. I'm not aware that cells have anything you could call sences, anything comparable to a brain, or information processing capability. The same for organs.
You will have to explain how cells fit my criteria.

I'm not an expert on cell biology, but I'll take a shot at it.

recieving information from its environment via some kind of sence mechanism: cell membranes can 'detect' molecules in the immediate environment via protein gates, receptors, etc. on the cell membrane as well as on the surface of the nucleus. Also, there is sensitivity to hormones/neurotransmitters/etc. in order to 'communicate' with other cells.

means to process that information: protein transport systems to get the desired molecules into and out of the cell nucleus/membrane

something that we might call a "brain": DNA/RNA

ability to formulate a deliberate response: the functioning of the entire cell, as guided by the DNA/RNA, to detect and take in desired molecules and process/excrete molecules as needed

What prevents society from being a single entity is the lack of a brain. All the individual brains cannot be added together to make a big brain and there isn't any big brain in existence that encompasses all the individual brains.

Why can't all the individual brains be added to make a big 'meta brain'? Isn't this analogous to how neurons, populations of neurons, nuclei, lobes, etc converge to create the brain? As Monique pointed out, we do get things like law making bodies, law enforcing bodies, etc. that act like an emergent 'consciousness' of the society, whereas everyone not directly involved in those processes contributes to what we might call the 'collective unconscious' of the society. I don't see how the comparison must break down, given the criteria you gave.

The reason I insist on an open minded consideration that bacteria may be conscious is that we can observe them doing things that appear to involve sencing, and formulating deliberate responses to, their environment. I don't believe it is at all prudent to ascribe less consciousness to beings on the basis of how close or distant they seem to be from humans. The reason that isn't prudent is that we don't know at this point, enough about how the thalamus generates consciousness to be able to say with confidence the same couldn't be happening in an amoeba.

Alright, but you have to be careful what you mean by 'deliberate.' Monique contends that the behavior of a bacterium can be easily defined in purely mechanistic terms. Does this constitute deliberate behavior?

In all fairness, it would certainly seem possible that the behavior of the human brain is also able to be described in purely mechanistic terms, in principle at least. So what makes a human's behavior 'deliberate' if it is purely mechanical? If we say that consciousness is responsible for deliberate behavior, then we are only begging the question under your set of criteria, since you list deliberately guided behavior as a criterion for the existence of consciousness. So what is it that is responsible for deliberate behavior, such that we can say a mechanistic human or paramecium acts deliberately but a falling apple does not?

This is an interesting take on the matter. Does he suggest how anyone can ever figure out if being an ant "is like" something?

Well, he does suggest that in order to make consciousness sensible in terms of physical properties in general, that we need to create a theory/language of the mental/phenomenological that itself is to some degree objective, ie an understanding of subjective states (NOT in terms of phsyical processes, but on their own qualitative terms) that is not dependent on having already been in that subjective state beforehand. With such an 'objective phenomenology,' he argues that we would be better equipped to tackle the mind-body problem. I agree with this idea, but I think it's safe to say that we don't have such a theory/language/whatever right now and I'm skeptical to what degree it would even be possible.

Actually I think this is an important work for anyone who is interested in consciousness to read thoroughly:

What is it like to be a bat? by Thomas Nagel
 
  • #27
zoobyshoe
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Originally posted by hypnagogue As such, I think my initial point stands-- blindsight is a demonstration of intelligent looking behavior without underlying conscious perception of the objects with which the blindsighted person intelligently interacts.
According to the sources you posted (good selection, it looks like) this seems to be an accurate assessment. The important point seems to be the 100% accurate "guessing" during which the person is clearly sensing what is in the visual field but is somehow void of any conscious knowledge they are doing so. (The fact they themselves are surprised their own guesses are so accurate says something intriguing about the the act of guessing in and of itself.
It suggests that when we think we are pulling random options out of the possibilities we are actually performing an unconscious assessment of data that has been unconsciously gathered and stored, in a non-random way. This is where a proper study of the mechanisms of intuition might be based - topic for another discussion but adds to your case for unconscious
but appropriately reactive behaviours)

-Zooby
 
  • #28
zoobyshoe
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Originally posted by Monique
Isn't conciousness the act of NOT acting out of impuls?
Consciousness probably wouldn't fall into the catagory of an "action". Actions are certainly based on consciousness but consciousness is more in the category of a "state of being".
Not acting out of impulse is , of course, dependent on consciousness but isn't the whole of what consciousness is about. Not acting out of impulse would simply come under the heading of "Impulse control", a function primarily centered in the frontal lobes (which we know because people with frontal lobe damage lose the ability to control their impulses).
The lion story would go AGAINST conciousness. Conciousness is the ability to abstractly evaluate situations and act on it.
But it also exists in the lion situation. Percieving danger and reacting to it automatically doesn't turn consciousness off in the process.
 
  • #29
hypnagogue
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Originally posted by sage
how can one objectively distinguish between an entity that is both intelligent and conscious and another who is intelligent but unconscious? unless such a demarcation between conscious intelligent and unconscious intelligent behavior can be made it seems doubtful whether one can ascertain whether other animals are conscious or not. for example imagine an animal who looks all the world like us humans and at least as intelligent but does not have consciousness. how would its behavior differ from us. or is intelligence and conscioussness dependant on each other and one cannot have one without the other? your views

Well, this is one of the sticky points in trying to ascribe consciousness to other beings. I don't think there is any general way that we can accurately ascribe consciousness to one being and not another simply by means of behavioral analysis.

For things like apes, we have the heuristic that behaviorally, physiologically and genetically they are very similar to us, so it is not so much of a stretch at all to ascribe consciousness to these creatures. (edit: This is working under the assumption, of course, that consciousness depends on physical processes-- very loosely put, if two physical processes are sufficiently similar we can be reasonably certain that they will result in similar phenomena.) I suppose the same idea could be applied, much more loosely, to e.g. dogs. But the further we get from creatures like ourselves the less dependable such a heuristic gets, and the full weakness of our understanding is soon revealed to us. Can we know if an ant is conscious or not? Maybe, but certainly not by comparison to ourselves, and certainly not merely by analyzing its behavior. We'd need a much more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between physical processes and conscious awareness, which may not be possible in the first place, even in principle.
 
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  • #30
zoobyshoe
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Originally posted by Monique
Bacteria certainly have senses, how else could they respond to their environment? A bacteria can sense where nutrition is and will swim towards it, it can sense where toxins are and will swim away from it.
The issue is cells of the body, not single-cell organisms. Hypnagogue asserted that by my criteria cells of the body would be considered conscious. I asked him to show me how cells of the body fit into my criteria.
This last behaviour is completely automatic and the mechanism is completely understood on the molecular level, it doesn't require any thought for the bacteria to know where to go.
You must be careful about jumping from an understood molecular process to the conclusion there is no thought, for the reason that thought in humans is also understood to be the result of molecular processes.

congress would be the brain coordinating the other units... thoughts are fused and become one conciousness: a nation.
This is a joke, right?
 
  • #31
zoobyshoe
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Originally posted by hypnagogue
recieving information from its environment via some kind of sence mechanism: cell membranes can 'detect' molecules in the immediate environment via protein gates, receptors, etc. on the cell membrane as well as on the surface of the nucleus. Also, there is sensitivity to hormones/neurotransmitters/etc. in order to 'communicate' with other cells.

means to process that information: protein transport systems to get the desired molecules into and out of the cell nucleus/membrane

something that we might call a "brain": DNA/RNA

ability to formulate a deliberate response: the functioning of the entire cell, as guided by the DNA/RNA, to detect and take in desired molecules and process/excrete molecules as needed
Given all this, I think you are correct to assert cells of the body can be fit into my criteria.
I ought, therefore to adopt them into the range of things I think need to be examined under the suspicion of having consciousness, but for some reason I can't pinpoint right now I don't suspect them. I'm going to have to think about this and try to figure out why.
Why can't all the individual brains be added to make a big 'meta brain'? Isn't this analogous to how neurons, populations of neurons, nuclei, lobes, etc converge to create the brain?
The analogy would work if such a thing ever happened in Nature. In fact there doesn't seem to be any mechanism hereby this could be accomplished. People aren't designed such that the remarkable coordination of imput, informaion processing, and decision making that happens in an individual's brain ever happens when more than one individual is involved. What is the means whereby you and I could "add" our brains together to become a third, greater consciousness? We can become better and better at sharing information but we would always remain two distinct individuals, hampered by communications gaps that two neurons wouldn't have to deal with (Or if they did, would go into a seizure.)
As Monique pointed out, we do get things like law making bodies, law enforcing bodies, etc. that act like an emergent 'consciousness' of the society,
A loose analogy can be made, but it is quicky rendered specious if you try to push it over into actually meaning society can develop a consciousness that is literally the sum of the individual consciousnesses that exist in the society.
I don't see how the comparison must break down, given the criteria you gave.
We discovered we're pretty much in agreement that consciousness is dependent on the existence of a "brain". If, by my criteria, I am put in the position of having to grant consciousness to each individual cell of the human body, it still doesn't follow that a human's consciousness results from the combined consciousness of all the cells. They would remain individually conscious. The greater consciousness that a human individual possesses is still generated by the dedicated tissues of the Thalamus, and is completely independent of any awareness the hypothetically aware individual cell possesses.




"...So what is it that is responsible for deliberate behavior, such that we can say a mechanistic human or paramecium acts deliberately but a falling apple does not?"
This is a fine can o' worms. This is definitly another point where my criteria have outlived their usefullness as a conversational focal point. They need revision.
Actually I think this is an important work for anyone who is interested in consciousness to read thoroughly:
I will take a look at it.

I'm actually more interested in the thalamo-cortical network because it holds the promise of more purely scientific information about consciousness. What is it about the way its cells are constructed and linked and behave that gives rise to what we call consciousness? What part does the
EM field generated when a neuron fires play in consciousess, if any?

If you haven't already read it I think you will be surprised by some of the stuff found at the link I put in my first post in this thread.

-Zooby
 
  • #32
zoobyshoe
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Originally posted by sage
so what exactly happens if the thalamo cortical region is damaged?
There will be a total or partial defect in consciousness. The exact nature of the problem is dependent on the exact nature of the damage.

Whenever seizure activity reaches this circuit the is always a total loss of consciousness. This happens in Tonic-Clonic seizures, Atonic seizures, and Absence seizures. In these cases there need be no damage in this circuit.
Just the fact of the seizure activity getting into that circuit completely interrupts consciousness.

Absence seizures are of particular interest here because they represent a situation where consciousness seems to be the one and only thing affected by the seizure activity. There is no muscular involvement, no autonomic involvement. All that happens is that the person's consciousness is suddenly shut off like a light switch for a few seconds or less.
They just stop moving and stare blankly. When it comes back on they feel briefly confused, realize they've lost their train of thought, and that something is not Kosher.
does this region exists in other animals.
It was discovered in animals before it's existence in humans was confirmed. I believe the common cow was the first animal in which the thalamus was discovered.
 
  • #33
Monique
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Originally posted by zoobyshoe
The analogy would work if such a thing ever happened in Nature. In fact there doesn't seem to be any mechanism hereby this could be accomplished. People aren't designed such that the remarkable coordination of imput, informaion processing, and decision making that happens in an individual's brain ever happens when more than one individual is involved. What is the means whereby you and I could "add" our brains together to become a third, greater consciousness? We can become better and better at sharing information but we would always remain two distinct individuals, hampered by communications gaps that two neurons wouldn't have to deal with (Or if they did, would go into a seizure.)
It seems funny to me that a nation cannot represent a conciousness, but a cell CAN.

Zooby, could you tell us a little more about your background so that I know where you are coming from? I am a biochemist studying cell biology, if you wondered.
 
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  • #34
zoobyshoe
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Originally posted by Monique
It seems funny to me that a nation cannot represent a conciousness, but a cell CAN.
Ah, but if you read what I said in my response to Hypnagogue you will see that I'm not willing to grant consciousness to the cell. I am merely maintaining that the single celled organism, which is something different than "the cell", should not be dismissed as unconscious because it seems too simply constructed to have a consciousness. The reason I maintain this is that we don't know enough about how the cells of the thalamus work to generate consciousness, to say that an amoeba cannot be conscious.

Now, I'm confused about what you're saying about nations. I thought earlier you claimed that nations actually possess some kind of collective consciousness. Now you merely seem to be saying the way a nation works can be used as an analogy for consciousness.

Zooby, could you tell us a little more about your background so that I know where you are coming from? I am a biochemist studying cell biology, if you wondered.
In college I majored in theater. I have never had any physics, biology, chemistry, math, or other "science" education past the general science class I had my second year of high school. I didn't have the least interest in physics untill I was about 30. I am extremely interested in the brain and neurological disorders which started when I got interested in Oliver Sack's books and have followed many trains of literature on this subject.
 
  • #35
Monique
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Good work, you sound very knowledgeble :)
 

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