Just one thing, however slight, that is certain and unshakable


There is plenty of evidence to suggest that brains can produce rather complex behavior without consciousness. Studies in humans show that we perform so much of our complex behavior unconsciously – from driving a car to investing our savings. There’s every reason to believe that most – if not all – non-human animal behavior we see could be being produced by an otherwise intelligent mind that is not producing subjective experiences of its own decision making processes. […]

Just because an animal behaves like a human, does this mean we should assume its mind functions in the same way? […] Banana-reaching via unconscious thought for the chimpanzee […] a computer might also be able to solve this problem, but we don’t suggest that computers are conscious. One of the main problems we’re dealing with here is that science does not really have a good definition of consciousness. Yes, it’s some form of subjective experience, but it might come in a variety of forms, and thus animals might be conscious in different ways to humans. […]

Scientists have given dolphins the mirror self recognition (MSR) test. Having some kind of awareness of oneself – whether it’s awareness of one’s body or of one’s own mind – is certainly linked to the idea of consciousness. For these tests, dolphins were marked with a kind of dye on their bodies, and if they then swam over to inspect the mark in a mirror, we could conclude that the dolphins must know that it’s themselves they are seeing in the mirror. This then is some kind of self awareness. […]

The problem is that being able to recognize one’s body in the mirror (that is, recognizing an external representation of one’s body) might not be the same thing as having a representation of one’s own mind (i.e., a sense of self). So passing the MSR test might not even be a sure test of self-awareness, let alone subjective experience.

{ Justin Gregg | Continue reading }