Animal Consciousness

By Sean Carroll | August 31, 2012 12:00 pm

At the Francis Crick Memorial Conference in Cambridge last month, a collection of internationally recognized experts on consciousness took an unusual step, as science conferences go: they issued a declaration (pdf). The subject was whether or not non-human animals could be considered “conscious.” (See discussion by Octopus Chronicles, Christof Koch, io9.) The spirit of the declaration was in the direction of saying “pretty much, yeah,” although they tried to stick to what could be scientifically discussed. Here’s the upshot of the declaration:

The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.

Even the experts don’t necessarily agree on a definition of “consciousness,” so the declaration doesn’t come right out and say “animals are conscious.” But the authors basically agree that the mental supervenes on the physical, so whatever consciousness may be, it must have some neurological substrate — some parts of the brain that do the work. The point they’re making is, whatever those parts are, some animals have them too.

I don’t have a well-thought-out position on this, at least as far as the big-picture consequences are concerned. Obviously human beings are animals, so we shouldn’t be surprised that we share neurological workings. And obviously (I would argue) consciousness is not located somewhere simple and discrete in the brain (like the pineal gland) — it has grown up gradually, and makes use of various parts of the brain, so it’s not surprising to find aspects of consciousness involving pre-cortical structures. We are part of the evolution of the biosphere, not something standing outside of it.

On the other hand, whether it’s qualitative or merely quantitative, there is something different about human beings. We’re the only species that builds cars, if you want a blunt way of putting it. We’re the only species that sets up political action committees, and does contour integration. (Usually not at the same time.) The human brain seems to represent some kind of phase transition with respect to the brains of non-human animals. It might be a gradual, second-order transition, or it might be an abrupt, first-order transition. We don’t really know, and that’s why it’s important to tackle these difficult scientific questions (and not make up our minds about the answers ahead of time).

The real-world question is how our increasing understanding of the relationship between human and animal neurology should affect how we treat non-human animals. It’s not an easy one, and saying “they’re not people so we can do whatever we want” or “humans are just animals and we should treat every animal with equal dignity” both seem like simplistic cop-outs to me. I’m just glad the science is moving forward, so we can increasingly base our behaviors on reality rather than on vague guesses.

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  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/114865618166480775623 Russ Abbott

    OK. Here’s how I would put it. Consciousness is the ability to experience qualia. But that’s both redundant and not even all that informative. “qualia” is defined (by my Google browser dictionary) as “The internal and subjective component of sense perceptions, arising from stimulation of the senses by phenomena.” So what that really says is that consciousness is the ability to have subjective experiences. I’m happy with that definition.

    But what does that mean? How can we define subjective experience? How can we test to see whether something has subjective experiences? As far as I know, we can’t answer those questions in any useful way. See, for example, the case of Mary, the colorblind neuroscientist at the start of section 2 here: http://goo.gl/oJ04t.

    I would say that all that is very different from the ability to think. Being able to do contour integrals has nothing to do with consciousness in my opinion. So I would make a sharp distinction between subjective experience and the ability to manipulate complex abstractions. The former has to do with consciousness; the latter doesn’t.

  • karaktur

    Part of the declaration said, “Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have…the capacity to exhibit intentional behavior.” How does that impact recent arguments against the existance of free will?

  • Mark Weitzman

    Anyone who has a dog as a pet knows the obvious answer to this question. As for thinking consider a dog like a one or two year old infant. Can infants do contour integrals? Not many. Are they conscious?
    Ask any parent.

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/114865618166480775623 Russ Abbott

    @karaktur. The appearance of intentional behavior can be misleading. Consider plants that turn toward the sun or bacteria (which are single cells) that swim upstream in a nutrient gradient. Intentional behavior? Sure looks like it, but it’s hard to make a case for consciousness.

  • OMF

    I’m almost sure you used “conscious” when you really meant “sentient” or “self-aware”. Most animals are conscious for most hours of the day(except for cats, who are usually dreaming).

    By the way, if you ever find yourself getting caught up on whether animals have emotions or not, it’s a sign that you have a philosophy growth that you should probably have checked.

  • kirk

    dearest karaktur: Proponents of free will must first develop an argument FOR free will since that is the extraordinary claim that demands evidence. Intentional behavior can be shown with (of course) the Trolley Problem to be volitional — making a choice between two horrible outcomes — but not free in any sense. I don’t want anyone to die in a Trolley accident and if I could arrange that outcome I would claim free will. But we never have three wishes from the free will genie. All we can do is behave in a way that maximizes least worse outcomes. An octopus ‘intends’ to hide itself under an empty half of a coconut (i.e. it acts as if it desired certain outcomes only available under coconuts) so that it can catch prey. But when selection pressure removes the non-coconut wielding octopus from the local environment the illusion of free will disappears. Among the coconut wielding octopi there are those that wear coconuts smartly — their volitional behavior is more fit — and those that screw it up by trying to have sex under a coconut etc.. Again, selection pressure favors the octopi with smarts. But making constrained choices that force us to kill at least one worker with a trolley (or five) or put a coconut on our head (or not) does not seem like the kind of free will anyone really wants.

  • David Hurwitz

    Thank you Professor Carroll for bringing up the question.

    Is there some implication here that without this ill-defined “consciousness,” we would have a right to do with animals as we wish? Is there an implication by the “consciousness experts” that by granting “consciousness” to animals they will spend a penny more per pound to treat animals with an ounce less “inhumanity” in how they are raised and killed? Can we eat people incapable of performing contour integrals? Surely most puppies display more joy in living than most human beings. If we look at the recent history of humans who thought they had a right to enslave other humans of a different color one questions the rationalizations of humans, or at least some humans. One wonders if such humans act in a conscious manner themselves if “consciousness” includes the capability to consider the rights of humans and other sentient beings.

    If we needed to eat animals to survive that would be one thing, though it still wouldn’t justify poor treatment. Vegans seem to be thriving with a plethora of delicious and healthy alternatives.

    As the philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote in “Principles of Morals and Legislation”:
    “The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But can they suffer?”

    @DavidWonderland

  • jeri 2.0

    I would say that most domesticated animals have better reasoning abilities than a lot of two-year-old humans. They understand a language completely foreign to them and can associate certain words with expected behavior, they can reason out and solve simple problems such as moving a blanket in order to get at a toy underneath it, birds and primates use tools. Yes, they are sentient and “conscious.” I’m convinced they’re aware of “self” and “other,” although that’s only from personal experience with dogs. They mourn the loss of loved ones. Do they contemplate philosophical issues and mathematical concepts? Probably not, but then neither do a lot of people I know.

    In fact, I’d say that without our ability to share previous generation’s knowledge through language, humans would still be operating on what would be considered animal level.

  • Michael

    So… if there are non-human animals(;-)?) then there are definitely some human animals, right?
    Who came up with this stupid terminology?

  • Brett

    so ghandi was right?

  • Ken Garretson

    I like the last paragraph, but….

    The “hard problem” of consciousness, as defined by Chalmers, is much more difficult than presented here. We cannot say that animals have consciousness, because one can only experience one’s own perceptual bubble. “I” cannot even say that “you” are conscious. “I think, therefore I am”, is a valid conclusion. For me to say “you think, therefore you are” is pure speculation.

  • philh

    “We’re the only species that builds cars, if you want a blunt way of putting it. We’re the only species that sets up political action committees, and does contour integration. (Usually not at the same time.) ”

    Im not sure what point is being made here. Are you suggesting that animals dont use tools? They do.
    Are you suggesting animals dont engage in politics? they do
    Most people cant do countour intergtaion but animals can do some maths.
    Of course Im not saying animals are the same as humans but the differences are harder to define than most people think.
    i think the way humans treat animals is disgraceful and part fo the reason for that is religion telling us animals were made for us and others saying animals are not self aware but statements are baseless.

  • george

    it seems to me man’s mind can never fully understand consciousness only notice different levels of it. The source of any level of consciousness is the same source for all animals and all forms around us.To understand we would have to be the creator.The brain which is the tool man uses to logic ,learn and understand was created thru evoloution on this planet and has been developing for zero to its present form for 4.5 billion years. The source that created all life on this earth is the sun.Turn the switch off on the sun and all forms return to energy. Before the sun existed the universe existed ( as science tells us for 9 billion years before earth existed) so consciousness which is energy has been and will be around and creating forever. Humans are just one form created by it and on this planet at this time apparently the highest level.However we all are comprised of some form of it so we are all inner connected and that in my opinion is why dogs and other so called lower animals have the ability to undestand humans feelings as in essence we are all interconnected to one degree or another.

  • http://inspiringscience.wordpress.com sedeer

    I wonder why there’s such an insistence on limiting “consciousness” (whatever that may be) to organisms with particular _neurological_ substrates. Yes, the “mental” supervenes on the physical, but surely it’s the interconnections & interactions between neurons that are relevant, not the fact that they are neurons per se? In which case, why not think of consciousness as an emergent phenomenon supervening on any physical substrate with a sufficiently complex interconnections or a particular kind of network topography or something?

  • http://jacobi.luc.edu Robert McNees

    For a super-fun (hard sci-fi) take on intelligence sans consciousness, let me recommend Peter Watts’ “Blindsight”.

  • Elizabeth Davies

    Since no one has mentioned the idea of being self-aware in regard to consciousness I guess it is up to me. It seems to me that humans are the only ones who actually think about being conscious, or wonder who else might be. Is that a definition of being conscious? Humans are the only ones who seem to be interested in building cars in the first place. Why would a bison be interested in a car anyway? Are we missing the physiological piece of the puzzle, by ignoring the fact that animals are observed by humans using the only tools that they are able to manipulate? If we made prosthetic limbs for a crow, could he become a locksmith? A TV repaircrow? Or is the important thing whether or not he knows he will die after a life of twenty years? Does he care about it?

  • Random Rambler

    Why is a “declaration” necessary? It seems like the promulgation of a papal decree on a scientific question. Tacky.

  • Ken Miller

    The problem is that there are no “internationally recognized experts on consciousness”, only internationally recognized people who talk about consciousness. Because, at the neural level, we have zero knowledge — none — of the neural substrates of consciousness. There are theories, but there is no evidence. I say this as a neuroscientist. It’s certainly fair to say that no neural structure leaps out at you as uniquely human that would say, “this is the qualitatively different thing that makes humans and only humans conscious”. The obvious differences are quantitative, not qualitative. If we have consciousness, I’d certainly bet that many other animals do as well. But until we know something scientifically about consciousness, we really can’t say anything scientifically about consciousness.

  • Gary O

    If you define the old traits, they seem to be following down the usual arguments,

    Humans communicate, well so do the other animals.

    Humans use tools to build things, well so do the other animals.

    So I negate this following argument:
    ” We’re the only species that builds cars, if you want a blunt way of putting it. We’re the only species that sets up political action committees, and does contour integration. (Usually not at the same time.) The human brain seems to represent some kind of phase transition with respect to the brains of non-human animals.”
    it’s just a gray scale. Car vs. beaver dam, vs. Bowerbird construction, all the same.

    Humans can recognize themselves, well yes other animals can as well.

    So the question is, what is it *exactly* that we can do, that a different animal can not. (And I don’t mean build an airplane, or download videos -that is an extrapolation of abilities.)

    Seems we have many necessary requirements to define a conscious being,
    but no necessary and sufficient criterion to define a conscious being.

    [Reminds me of quantum mechanical correlations, there are necessary constraints (e.g. Tsirelon's bound) but
    no necessary and sufficient criterion. So QM and consciousness, in the same boat. Work to do, work to do.]

  • http://capitalistimperialistpig.blogspot.com CIP

    When I was trying to nurse a baby turtle back to health I fed it meal worms. This was fine as long as I kept them in the refrigerator. Once I let them warm up and when I tried to feed one to my turtle, it squirmed away as frantically as physicist trying to dodge an oncoming train. I can’t be sure what went on in his tiny insect brain, but I am sure that he recognized his oncoming doom and frantically tried to escape it.

    If they have a brain, they are probably conscious, at least to an extent.

  • chemicalscum

    @10. Michael Says:

    “So… if there are non-human animals(;-)?) then there are definitely some human animals, right?
    Who came up with this stupid terminology?”

    I suggest you study set theory.

  • http://inspiringscience.wordpress.com sedeer

    @17 Elizabeth Davies: “It seems to me that humans are the only ones who actually think about being conscious, or wonder who else might be.” How do you know? I have enough difficulty figuring out what other humans think about, let alone other animals…

    @19 Ken Miller: I agree completely!

  • Elizabeth Davies

    Me too. I agree.

  • AI

    The only important difference between humans and other mammals is the capacity for complex symbolic communication. Everything else – science, technology, politics, culture – follows from that.

  • http://blog.jospoortvliet.com jospoortvliet

    If consciousness is ‘emergent behavior’ of a large number of neurons and their interconnections (as is argued by modern biologists) then there is indeed no reason not to assume other entities than humans can have consciousness. Heck, even non-biological entities could, given enough complexity.

    However, that complexity also forms an upper bound on the level of consciousness – and it’s up to our arbitrary standards to put a line somewhere: this is consciousness, this is not.

    The ‘car’ argument does make sense in this regard – we humans surely have a more complex brain than all (or at least the vast majority of) other animals.

  • Tintin

    17. Elizabeth Davies Says:

    “It seems to me that humans are the only ones who actually think about being conscious, or wonder who else might be.”

    How do you know this is so? As I observe my cats leisurely bathing in the warmth of the afternoon sun, I know they are pondering their divinity.

  • Darwin’s Chihuahua

    First, thanks to Francis Crick for taking on one of the truly difficult problems of contemporary science. Seems like the “stuff of the universe” is not as complex in some ways as the “mental stuff of which we are made”. Second, his instincts were quite right. We need to have a better understanding of what we mean by consciousness before we can even begin discussing where it may be found. A major confounder of the problem is the tendency of many to equate consciousness with the chatter our ‘conscious’ minds continuously make, which both Buddhists and neuroscientists (see “My Stroke of Insight” by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor) ascribe to an overactive left-brain storyteller. If anyone has ever laughed at their own joke, surprised as others as it came out as spoken word, or suddenly found themselves “watching themselves” in conversation, amazed at the perception and quality of the ideas they themselves were spouting, they will realize that consciousness is a much deeper and complex phenomenon than previously realized. Perhaps a useful approach would be to try to understand the evolutionary advantages provided by consciousness. If there is an evolutionary advantage to humans that have allowed us to survive and produce offspring, would there not be a competitive and equally significant advantage to (some) other organisms in an increasingly complex world? How much of this could be observed in behaviour? How do we separate intelligence from consciousness? I keep thinking back to the video of the octopus clambering out of his tank and crossing the laboratory in which he/she was housed in order to make a midnight snack of fish in a separate tank, then sneaking back into his own tank. Why do this only when no-one was around? What understanding of the world does this imply? How does it all fit?

  • Wil

    Woof. Those experts apparently have too much time on their hands. Perhaps at their next conference they can get all worked up and officially declare that all dogs go to heaven.

  • Gary

    Save the whales; kill your unborn children.

    Save “animal consciousness” from us animals.

  • Gary

    I’m tired of people who tell me how smart they are but demonstrate otherwise.

  • http://broadspeculations.com Jim Cross

    Consciousness may have begun with the moment a creature sensed something in it mouth and a nerve impulse triggered it to close and consume the food. It is not accident that the key organs of four of the five senses and the core neurological mass – the brain- are all located near the oral cavity. Let me know if there is species where this is not true. I cannot think of one.

    Consciousness is directly related to one of the features of life – metabolism. Consciousness at its most primitive state is for finding food. It combines the sense organs to find food with the neurological apparatus to direct the organism to catch it and consume it. Evolution’s somewhat haphazard process of converting, enhancing, and modifying things serving one purpose to other purposes leads us to social behavior, language, and calculus. Rationality and science are advanced forms of consuming the world to satisfy the hunger for knowledge.

  • zbob

    “Evolution’s somewhat haphazard process of converting, enhancing, and modifying things serving one purpose to other purposes leads us to social behavior, language, and calculus. Rationality and science are advanced forms of consuming the world to satisfy the hunger for knowledge.”–Jim Cross in comment 32

    Wow Jim, that is perfectly stated!

  • http://www.naturalism.org Tom Clark

    Taking Russ Abbott’s (#2) definition of consciousness as the having of experiences, then contra Ken Miller (#19), I think there’s been progress in figuring out the neural substrates of consciousness. Studies of neural activity which contrast conscious and unconscious capacities indicate that phenomenal experience is associated with widely distributed but highly integrated neural processes involving communication between multiple functional sub-systems in the brain, each of which plays a more or less specialized role in representing features of the world and body (Kanwisher, 2001; Dehaene & Naccache, 2001; Jack & Shallice, 2001; Parvizi & Damasio, 2001, Crick & Koch, 2003). Such processes, it is hypothesized, constitute a distributed, ever-changing, but functionally integrated ‘global workspace’ (Baars, 1988; Dehaene & Naccache, 2001). These (slightly outdated) references are at http://www.naturalism.org/kto.htm#Neuroscience

    It’s my impression that more recent work continues to suggest that experience is entailed by certain sorts of behaviorally adaptive informational states. There’s no consensus about nature of that entailment, but I think representationalism holds promise, http://www.naturalism.org/appearance.htm

  • Aude Reye

    Humans have spent hundreds of years failing to recognise that members of their own species (women, people of other colours) were as ‘conscious’ as themselves, spawning debate as to whether they had ‘souls’ or should be accorded the same rights as themselves. We’ve gotten past that now (or at least some of us have) but the fact remains that our own ‘theory of mind’ is somewhat woeful. If we can barely grant sentience to to other human beings, whom we should be able to understand fairly well, what chance is there that we will be able to understand mindscapes that are likely to be vastly different from our own? There will be some overlap between species experiences, we all eat and sleep for instance but given that we dont fly, see the same wavelengths of light, have vastly different sensitivities to smells and so on, we should start by not putting consciousness/sentience on a sliding scale and maybe see it as slightly overlapping, but separate forms of emergent phenomena – heading in different but not necessarily better or worse directions. So no, animals cant build cars or design aeroplanes; but I cant fly 12000 miles across the planet using my own muscles -who is to say which experience feels more ‘alive’?

  • Scruffy

    #35:

    Sean seems to be implying that a certain amount of suffering in less conscious creatures is justifiable to him if it is required for scientific progress. Sentimental notions of ‘feeling alive’ are probably no mach for our curiosity and lust for power. We are monstrous that way. We weep, and reap the benefits of our injustice… no doubt.

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com Lab Lemming

    Who cares? Why is consciousness such a big deal?

  • chris

    One more reason to extend basic human rights to at least our closest relatives.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_ape_personhood

  • xjustos

    5000 whining atheists vs the Great Prophet

    how the divine pen of Michel N. crushed the international atheist movement

    skepticforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=18660

    youtube.com/watch?v=s3lwG4MytSI

    one applicant right here…

    get the POINT, Randi….

    for lies on top of lies

    youtube.com/watch?v=bbmXpNEFipE

    do you think you can threaten my right to FREE SPEECH?

    what if I told you that I am not who you think I am….

    Not Dennis Markuze – but a FAN!

    youtube.com/watch?v=nvatDdOWcLw&lc

    you’re not the center of the universe!

    youtube.com/watch?v=3yRpSNIOwA4

    a dishonest liar

    ____

    youtube.com/watch?v=ruQFh_TkPto

    WHINE WHINE WHINE

    ______________

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHbYJfwFgOU

    which WORLD-VIEW will not exist, sh*thead?

    ——-

    BRING IT ON!

  • http://www.neurovigil.com Philip Low

    “The human brain seems to represent some kind of phase transition with respect to the brains of non-human animals.”

    Stick to Physics, Sean.

    Philip

  • http://broadspeculations.com Jim Cross

    Philip Low,

    I might agree with Sean on this one. I think there have been several phase transitions in evolution of the human brain. The next to most recent probably occurred 50-100,000 years ago with the development of more sophisticated cultural artifacts, such as art, and presumably with that came additional symbol manipulation capabilities. I think a recent transition has occurred sometime in the last 10,000 years which has made possible mathematics and higher rationality. I think there will be more transitions in the future.

  • Gizelle Janine

    The Interactive Schrodinger’s Cat… http://www.phobe.com/s_cat/s_cat.html

  • Pavel

    One thing that always struck me about consciousness is how seemingly useless it is from the evolutionary point of view. I’m not in one boat with creationists or suchlike, but I tend to agree with Roger Penrose in that this phenomenon of self-consciousness (“I think, therefore I am”) doesn’t yet have a satisfying scientific explanation. If living organism is nothing but machine for self-replication and survival, why does it need to observe it’s own existence? For me it seems that if brain was just a risk-calculating computer, not knowing doubts and not aware of the fact it’s living, it would perform evolutionary tasks just as well, if not better.

  • http://broadspeculations.com Jim Cross

    #43

    Self-awareness is one aspect of consciousness that is associated with species with relatively complex social systems. Apes, dolphins, orcas, elephants, and humans pass the mirror test and they all have some degree of language capability and complex social structures. They all also have brain sizes above the Dubois line so self-awareness and complex social systems require larger brains, probably to figure out what others in our group are thinking or may be planning to do.

    I write in more details about this here:

    http://broadspeculations.com/2011/06/26/into-the-hive/

  • http://logosconcarne.com/ Wryd Smythe

    As a long-time dog owner, there’s no question in my mind that animals can experience consciousness and emotions. But I agree with Sean that there is a discontinuity on the scale with humans on one side and all animals on the other.

    To me, an example of that difference is that humans have complex languages they use to invent and tell complex stories. I don’t believe there are any Sagans or Shakespeares in the animal kingdom.

    And while it’s cute to ponder what cats think, I also believe humans are the only ones who truly wonder, “Why?” And then try so very hard to answer that question.

    As for the evolutionary value, perhaps our consciousness is a sign of something more than evolution, but more to the point, it may be what helps us escape this planet and explore the galaxy, thus spreading our DNA after our sun dies.

  • Y. Santens

    As Mark (post 4) mentioned : dog owners will notice consciousness in their pet no matter what science defines as consciousness. Now I saw some studies that showed that adult dogs have the IQ of about a 2 year old with some smarter dogs comparing to a three year old almost. They found that dogs can understand the meaning of about 200 words, not just recognize. They have a concept of numbers too, up to around five objects. When they lowered one snack behind a screen, then another and then added one more behind the screen the dogs acted surprised when they saw three snacks eventually. Socially dogs were more advanced than babies due to complex social structures in their lives.

    Now the problem is how one defines consciousness in the end and I think that it will always be a partially arbitrary decision from our perspective.

    There are for example studies out there that would even give trees some form of consciousness in their own way. Because of the fact that some secrete particular chemicals in the air when for example a tiger claws at them. Researchers then noticed that nearby trees picked this up and changed something internally so they would get less damaged in case the same happened to them.

    I wouldn’t call this consciousness as they did since it’s basically just a reaction to an external impulse. But then again, what we do is also reactions to external factors. I once saw a lecture about the problem of defining these things. This kind of ties in with #35. One of the things they spoke about was also how we aren’t really able to judge how other beings experience life. While we excel at intelligence they excel in areas as vision, hearing, etc.

  • http://broadspeculations.com Jim Cross

    I think part of the problem in these discussions is a matter of definition.

    Consciousness to some means self-awareness. To others consciousness is awareness or sensual perception perhaps with some ability to act on the perceptions. To others consciousness is closely aligned with intelligence and would include self-awareness and higher thinking abilities.

    I think we need to think of these things on a scale from awareness with ability to act, self-awareness, and then higher capabilities.

    It is helpful to remember than even we perform much of the routine activities of our daily lives at lower end of the scale and perhaps rarely or occasionally are on the upper end. When I drive to work in the mornings, most of the act of driving is on automatic pilot. If I see a traffic jam ahead from an accident, I might quickly start weighing options to take side roads. After I arrive at work, I might reflect on how lucky I was to not be involved in the accident that caused the traffic jam.

    In one drive I went from amoeba to dog to human.

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  • Al Cibiades

    @David: Surely the MOST enlightened point in this discussion (BTW, I loved it!)
    ” Can we eat people incapable of performing contour integrals?”

  • ann

    thanks that

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  • http://www.allegrasandiego.com driverguy

    Seems to me the human brain’s ability to grasp and manipulate symbols (language, numbers, visual representations) vastly enlarges our scope of thought. It gives us our ability to make predictive connections.

  • http://lamtadiary.blogspot.com human

    ‘It’s not an easy one, and saying “they’re not people so we can do whatever we want” or “humans are just animals and we should treat every animal with equal dignity” both seem like simplistic cop-outs to me.’

    i wish we lived in a world where humanity resembled the balance you give these two views. as it is, declaring the former is more or less mainstream, while uttering the latter can get you put on a terror watch list. this is not hyperbole either (google “green is the new red” for details).

  • George

    Every day after work I wait for the bus at the bus station. There I have a chance to observe some pigeons eating on the ground and moving around. The way they negotiate obstacles on the ground (going under or between the bars of the fence to get to some food) makes me believe that they are completely aware of their own size and maneuverability and capable of instant planning of the movements necessary to get to the food.
    There must be some form of conciousness/self-awareness in those tiny heads otherwise they will bump into things constantly.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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