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Stages in life of consciousness?

  1. Oct 6, 2004 #1
    Using the commonly believed logic that animals have "less" of a consciousness than a human if none at all, is it reasonable to assume that while our brains are still developing at an early age (up until about 16?), we were perhaps "less" conscious as kids as we are now? I've really thought about this, and it makes sense when i think of my own life.

    I'm 22 years old. Trying to think back to early life, my memories are vague. I dont remember the pain of getting circumsized (thank god), and I sure as hell don't ever remember being in a crib. I don't remember learning to ride a bike. As i start thinking of my early elementry school days, my memories become more detailed, and more quantitive. Yes, i remember my first teacher...vaguely. As my life went on, as my brain grew, I remember not only conversations that depend on language skills, but i remember more touches, sights, smells, etc. It's as if there were periods in my early life as a toddler when i was seemingly non-existant.

    The big question is: Was this all a mere problem of bad memory recollection, or was i truely LESS self-aware at the time, running around as a little robot as my consciousness gradually grew with my age?

    Many people will agree with one thing for sure: watching yourself on as a child on video can be quite strange as you have no recollection of 99.9% of what you see yourself doing. I've retained the odd memories, some in great detail, but it seems the more developed stages of my life are much more recallable than my undeloped stages of my life.

    If this is true, then perhaps we become "less conscious" as we get old, too. Perhaps we are all truely dying at a slow rate, becoming more "zombie-like", and less self-aware of our own existance. This seems to make sense when i see some old people, who were once so intelligent, acting like little kids when their brain starts to shrink. My mom went to visit her mother in a nursing home and ive been told the social environment can be quite.. childish. Gossip, ignorance, even getting cranky and throwing a fit if they dont get to watch their favourite show at a certain time!... all attributes of an old shrinking brain, as well as a growing one.

    I do know i've never been more self-aware as i am now. Once in awhile i even "trip out" on life, thinking of how insanely beautiful and strange it is that i am self-aware and living here on a planet with billions of others. This brings up another piece of evidence: i've had this conversation with people my age and as old as my dad who agree on feeling this "super self-awareness", while older people will look at me confused as if ive lost my mind.

    There are probably many flaws with my reasoning, but its fun to think about while im still aware of what im doing. What do you think?

    I see it as a scale. If animals have no self-awareness, and humans do, then there should be a scale of self-awareness amongst humans because some of us are more intellectually developed than others.

    And everyone who replies to this post should state their age. It will make it interesting! :P
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 7, 2004 #2
    You might want to study developmental psychology. Yes, there most certainly are stages of consciousness. Toddlers, for example, have no concept "fairness" or right and wrong until about age five and teenagers lack judgement. This is not just because their mind's are different, their brains are different.

    As a result certain cultures treat toddlers like beloved pets. You can teach them not to pee on the carpet and come on command, but just don't expect much more from them.
  4. Oct 7, 2004 #3


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    Some people take the Piaget stages of mental development seiously. Others are not so sure. Are there any experts on the subject who want to post on this?
  5. Oct 7, 2004 #4
    I'm not an expert on the subject, but I think Piaget did a pretty good job and the emerging neurological studies are verifying quite a bit of his observations.
  6. Oct 7, 2004 #5


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    Within their intended context (IIRC, developing better ways to teach), Piaget has stood the test of time.

    More broadly, I'm sure we all have anecdotes about differences between people (adults, even of the same age) as to their degrees of 'self-awareness' (e.g. not have much insight into what makes you angry, or even what anger is, vs being able to 'watch' yourself doing things no matter how involved or emotional you are; not quite the same as what Erazman mentioned?) - are some people thus 'more conscious' (or 'have more consciousness')? Perhaps this relates to one's 'emotional quotient' (EQ)?

    I've read that one aspect of self-awareness is the ability to make 'mental models', and that this ability has now been demonstrated in a range of animals, including ravens :surprised
  7. Oct 7, 2004 #6
    Disclaimer: I'm no expert either, just personal speculation!

    I am 22 years old. My first memory was when I was four.

    I think that babies are fully conscious, like animals. They just don't understand so much, which is partially why they may cry. I imagine the long-term memory encoding process just hasn't developed yet. Similar to an alcohol blackout, while you are fully conscious while dancing on the table with a lampshade on your head, you don't remember it the next day because it wasn't encoded. I suppose this hypothesis could be proven/denied via hypnosis. If someone can describe blackout events under hypnosis, then it's not a problem with encoding, but with recall, like repressed memories. I imagine that old people with alzheimer's, senile dementia, etc. aren't less conscious, but paraconscious (in a slightly different world now).

    The idea about animals being less or not at all conscious, albeit a popular conception, is wrong. If anyone wants to discuss that let me know and I can start a thread for it.
  8. Oct 8, 2004 #7


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  9. Oct 9, 2004 #8
    A protozoan is not an animal. An animal is multicellular. Obviously, bacteria are not animals. Where does this misconception come from? That's basic middle school biology.

    Anyway, there some creatures that are technically animals, such as sea anemones, which do not possess consciousness. But when people talk about "animals" in a nonscientific context, they are talking about what most of us are used to: locomotive animals such as mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, etc. These animals are obviously conscious.


    Upon inspection of your link, I see that protozoa are referred to as animals. Brits must have funny ways of classifying things. Dictionary.com and all the biology textbooks I have read define animals as being multicellular. Still, the important part is the second paragraph above.
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  10. Oct 9, 2004 #9


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    Er, did you click on the link? The first sentence tells you pretty clearly that the animal kingdom is divided into the protozoa and the metazoa.
    Hmm, let me see now, this is Physics Forums, is it not? Other than in the lounge, don't we intend to discuss things from the scientific perspective?
    Why is it obvious? And how do you draw the line? I mean, is a flea conscious? the tiniest of parasitic worms? If someone brings you a new 'animal', how do decide that it has consciousness? Oh and by the way, you seem to have equated 'consciousness' with 'being conscious' (presumably as opposed to 'being unconscious'), is that what you intended?
    Then perhaps it is important to understand how biologists do their taxonomy? Let's start with the kingdoms - animals, plants, bacteria, archaea, fungi (and one other?). AFAIK, biologists use a standard taxonomy, no matter whether they're working in the US, UK, China, or Andorra.
  11. Oct 10, 2004 #10
    I doubt a flea is conscious. You look at behavioral and structural (neurological) characteristics. I do not claim to have all the answers, and there are some fuzzy areas where I am not sure (such as some insects), but those animals with a centralized brain and behaviors that we associate with certain thoughts are almost undeniably conscious.
  12. Oct 10, 2004 #11


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    IMHO these are good questions. For example, irrespective of whether a particular animal (or plant?) is, in your or anyone else's opinion, capable of possessing 'consciousness', should we be trying to find a reasonably objective definition? Should that definition have, in principle, a 'physical' basis? a basis, which, again in principle, is testable?

    For example, AFAIK, 'a centralised brain' is objectively what a flea possesses! 'behaviours that we associate with certain thoughts' begs the question of what those behaviours are, whether the association is by consensus, is testable, and so on; what the thoughts are, whether they are capable of being chacterised in any meaningful way, etc.
  13. Oct 10, 2004 #12
    now its quite obvious why theres so much debate over abortion..
  14. Oct 10, 2004 #13


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    I must be in the slow class today ... how does this follow? Surely a more direct (quasi-)logical implication would be things like 'state-sanctioned executions' are no less murder than a Mob hit; slaughtering cattle, pigs, chickens, sheep, ... is the same as the slaying of millions of Homo sap.; and so on ...
  15. Oct 10, 2004 #14
    An interesting quetion, to which you have received numerous responses.

    I think that consciousness occurs in stages, which relate to awareness of the dimensions of time and space. Babies have no awareness of time, and all awareness is awareness of space. Babies have little awareness of space, because no awareness of time means that their awareness of space is limited to the present in time.

    As children age, their awareness of time increases. Their absolute degree of awareness of space decreases, but it is combined with awareness of time, such that overall there is tremendous increase in awareness of both space and time.

    As people continue to age, as they live though more time, they become progressively more aware of time. They experience a symmetrical decrease in awareness of space. Old people live almost exclusively in time. In other words, they are less prone to take the evidence in front of them in space as the basis for their decisions, but instead rely on their tremendous experience over time, even if this temporal experience is refuted by the spatial evidence in front of them.

    Tremendous termporal experience has its numerous advantages, but there is a corresponding decrease in awareness of space.

    I consider that babies have a less degree of overall consciousness than adults, but it more powerful in a purely spatial context. In other words, babies react immediately to small changes in their environment that they are aware of. Young adults have the greatest amount of overall consdiousness, and the most powerful interplay of awareness of both space and time. In other words, they have enough temporal awareness to take their maximum advantage of their spatial awareness. From there, temporal awareness increases at the expense of spatial awareness.

    In conclusion, I think that babies are not as conscious as adults, and that consciousness changes over life. As well, consciousness is an interaction of awareness of both space and time, which changes with age, with youth being more conscious of space and old people more conscious of time.
  16. Oct 12, 2004 #15
    nice post Prometheus! Very informative :smile:
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