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Guilty Until Proven Innocent

  1. Sep 17, 2003 #1
    Guilty until proven innocent

    I have realized that whenever I have debated animal sentience, I have taken on the defensive position, trying show that animals are sentient. This exposes a fundamental flaw in the way people think about this issue.

    Many people assume that animals are robotic, not sentient, and that people should have to persuade them otherwise, rather than having to prove their idea that animals are not sentient. This is the equivalent of “guilty until proven innocent.” Could you imagine if our legal system, as it pertains to humans, was conducted in that way?

    Humans will take it for granted that other humans have sentience, yet take an opinion in opposition to the apparent evidence. Upon observation of animals, I find it blatantly obvious that those who hold the robotic/instinct opinion should be having to defend their belief, because the up-front behavioral, physiological, and evolutionary evidence supports the idea that other animal species have conscious processes as we do.

    Therefore, I invite discussion of the idea above and invite holders of the robotic idea to defend it.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 18, 2003 #2
    To me this circles around what the term sentient means. I had always taken sentient to mean a high level of awareness, including self-awareness and a moderately high level of intelligence (at least close to human). That said, most dictionary definitions of sentience are not much different from 'the quality of being sensate'.

    Obviously all animals fall into the second category. Perhaps a few are close to the first - definitely some are shown to be self-aware.

    As to any type of scientific position concerning a scientific inquiry, 'a preponderance of the evidence' is a more rational approach to take.
     
  4. Sep 18, 2003 #3
    from webster.com:
    This basically says what I meant by sentience - consciousness and feeling.
     
  5. Sep 18, 2003 #4

    russ_watters

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    DD, any time you are arguing AGAINST the opinion of the general scientific community, the burden of proof is on you to prove your idea, not them to disprove it. Your analogy doesn't fit.

    That said, I think it is possible that some animals are sentient (note, radgast is also right - its important to pin down the definition).

    Many higher level mammals (dolphins, primates, etc.) pass the mirror test for example: They can recognize themselves in a mirror. Using the "self-awarene" definition radgast suggested, those animals qualify as sentient.

    In any case, a combative opening post isn't a good way to get people on your side of a debate, DD. Some will argue against you just because they don't like your attitude.
     
  6. Sep 18, 2003 #5

    Hurkyl

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    To me, DD doesn't seem to be arguing that animals are sentient...

    The point of the "innocent until proven guilty" policy is that, when there isn't sufficient evidence one way or the other, one should protect the rights of the (alledged) individual, just in case...
     
  7. Sep 18, 2003 #6

    Another God

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    I didn't find his first post combative...

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I really beleive there are levels of consciousness/sentience. I believe this to be the case from animal to animal, human to human, and time to time.

    That is,

    Monkeys may be more sentient than dogs which are more sentient than hamsters.

    Socrates may be more sentient than brad pitt may be more sentient thanm George Bush.

    I am more sentient when I am reflective than when I am reading, which is more sentient than when I am shelving books in the library.

    When u look at all of these types of sentience, I also think it is quite likely that me at my least sentient...say, me just after someone has pushed me off the edge of a building (under such stress your brain tends to turn off and your instincts take over, no?), and then look at a chimp at its most sentient, and you could say that that chimp is heaps more sentient than I am.


    Anyway, thats just some food for thought. I guess the relevent point I am making RE the thread, is that I believe it is fundamentally wrong to say 'We are sentient. Animals are not'.

    Nature does not draw lines that distinct.
     
  8. Sep 19, 2003 #7
    When I say sentience, I do not mean the definition of how "aware" you are, because that really just means how much you know about what's going on around you, and therefore, humans have become more aware due to the evolution of society, in a timeframe too short for meaningful biological evolution.

    What I am talking about is the capacity to feel, to emote, to experience in a subjective manner.
     
  9. Sep 19, 2003 #8

    Another God

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    Hmmm... this sorta becomes difficult now, because I think we are both starting to talk about something which we really know nothing about (I don't think abyone really does). I mean, we are getting mostly confused over 'what we mean when we say...aware/conscious/etc', and the problem there is that even if we get the 'what we mean...' part straight, we still haven't exactly explained what that means.

    Indeed as you pointed out, Socratic Method does apply here, because Socrates spent much of his time asking what 'virtue' or whatever means, only to be told 'well, when I say virtue I mean...bravery and justice and wealth etc etc.' when socrates didn't want to be given examples of it, he wanted to know what it was.

    Unfortunately, I don't think anyone here is about to figure out what awareness or consciousness are, so we are stuck with the dodgy 'what I mean is...' definition.

    So you are talking about the capacity to feel, emote and experience in a subjective manner? Well, what I said previously I still beleive. I believe that our awareness (in your definition just stated) still is a matter of degrees depening on what, who and when.
     
  10. Sep 19, 2003 #9

    Another God

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    I should give an example.

    I am a 5 year old up a tree playing with friends, and as a joke my friend pushes me. I fall. In the first few moments of this falling, I manage to catch the next branch on the way down and save myself. (from my experience...) I don't think there was any real subjective experience of that event because the brain is too busy reacting as quick as it can to fix the stressful situation to bother creating subjective experiences.
     
  11. Sep 20, 2003 #10

    russ_watters

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    I am reminded of a Simpson's episode where they kill a bunch of robots in an amusment park. One of the robots says:

    "Why?!? Why was I programmed to feel pain?!?!"

    Does it? What is the difference between a programmed response and real feelings? Is that even answerable? Beyond that, even when feeling pain, can an animal take the next step to understand it? Emotion isn't just the sensation, its the mental response to the sensation.

    Tactile feeling / stimulus-response isn't real emotions and I don't consider a dog trained to respond to a dinner bell to really be "aware."
     
  12. Sep 20, 2003 #11
    There was subjective experience. You were worried. You had desire. You felt the branch.
     
  13. Sep 20, 2003 #12
    So, is that a defense of the animal-robot idea? Or are you just saying what comes to mind when you think of the topic of animal consciousness?
     
  14. Sep 20, 2003 #13

    russ_watters

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    Maybe its best to describe intelligence and awareness as a spectrum. Some are more sentient than others. Few people would suggest a bacteria does anything other than robot-like programmed stimulus-response. And I think few would question the sentience of an ape or a dolphin. Since it is difficult to get into their heads, its tough to know where other animals stand. We can test them, but we can't really know what (if anything) they are really THINKING.

    To be concise, are all animals or other organisms essentially robots? No. Are some? Yes. Where is the line drawn? Dunno.
     
  15. Sep 21, 2003 #14

    Another God

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    Do you realise that this is a long standing philosophical question about everything other than self? "The problem of other minds" Do you have a mind? On what basis am I to assume you do????
     
  16. Sep 30, 2003 #15
    I personally agree with DD and his original post. I think it is because of the arrogance and ignorance of Man that make him special and unigue, above the 'lower' life forms.
    I have been around animals all of my life. I have seen dogs and cats be embarassed, happy, sad, shamed, and the whole gambit of emotions. They learn, teach, remember, love and morn as do horses and apes. This to me is sentience.

    Is it enough to be aware and respond to the envirnment? Then bacteria are sentient as well as all plant life. Or must awareness be selfawareness to qualify for sentience? If so how can we tell if an animal or plant is selfaware or simply reacting to stimuli?

    When does reacting to stimuli become thinking and sentience?
    Trying to be completely objective about it, how can we know or where do we draw the line? Is not all life conscious at some level? Is that not one of the main characteristic of life that differentiate it from non-life? Is consciousness sentience? Where and when does it become sentience?
     
  17. Sep 30, 2003 #16

    russ_watters

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    I think most people agree on the criteria: Sentience is self-awareness. And there are a few scientific tests that can be done on it - the mirror test for example. But beyond that where the line is drawn is the toughest issue. It gets very subjective and based on opinions that are not necessarily scientific.
     
  18. Sep 30, 2003 #17
    Russ, I agree with everything you said; but, as consciousness and sentience is totally subjective how can material science make any judgement at all? Science cannot even decide what consciousness is much less where to draw the line. Is the mirror test valid or are we just assuming that it is recognition of self which then proves self awareness? All I have is questions with no handy answers. Believe me I am not practicing the socratic method.
    Since it is subjective wouldn't it be more philosophic than scientific? How do we measure that which we can not even define?
    To put it to the extreme how can we tell that a tree isn't sitting there philosophizing about whether man is sentient? We do not know how to communicate with plants yet we know that they respond to music or at least the vibrations that music is and respond differently to different types of music. Does music appreciation qualify as a sign of sentience? They, plants, don't like hard rock and prefer classical music so that make them more sentient than a lot of young people in my mind.:wink:
     
  19. Sep 30, 2003 #18

    russ_watters

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    I didn't say "totally" subjective, I said "very" subjective. :wink:
    The mirror test is a pretty good one - a positive result does prove that an animal can tell the difference between itself and another animal. A negative result can be tougher since you can't always be sure if an animal is paying attention to the test.
     
  20. Oct 1, 2003 #19
    I stand corrected. The point is still valid, however, science can and has very little to say about it. I agree that the mirror test is pretty good but still leaves some room for doubt. I think that there are levels of senience just as there are levels of consciousness but I have no idea what a valid test or criteria would be.
    I always thought sentience referred to human like or level of intelligence until I read the above definitions. Homo sapiens are sentient. Neanderthals weren't as are none of the "lower" animals.
    That was my working definition but if we start concidering self awareness and consciousness the picture it becomes very fuzzy.
     
  21. Oct 1, 2003 #20
    All I can add to this discussion which has already covered the bases are these quotes:

    "Think of this: for each grain of sand on every beach on our planet, there are a million stars in the cosmos. Most of these stars have planets. For humanity to believe that our Earth is the only place life can be found is human arrogance at its worst."
    -W. Sumner Davis

    "What most people need to learn in life, is how to love people and use things instead of using people and love things."
    -W. Sumner Davis

    "You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."
    -Richard Feynman
     
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