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Old Jun 4th 2011, 10:37 PM
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Default Consciousness

What is it?
Where does it come from?
How is it different for Homo sapiens than it is for, say, a bonobo or a cockroach?

I'd like to talk about this.
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  #2  
Old Jun 4th 2011, 11:46 PM
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Default Re: Consciousness

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What is it?
The basic concept seems to be the thought of "hey! I am one thing and the world is different." The complicated idea is the idea of the self.

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Where does it come from?
Only God knows

More seriously, maybe it is the interaction between a person's and/or animal's actions the world around said person/animal

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How is it different for Homo sapiens than it is for, say, a bonobo or a cockroach?
I am not sure it is and even if it was, I am not sure we could be able to conclusively say there is a difference.
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Old Jun 5th 2011, 12:12 AM
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Default Re: Consciousness

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The basic concept seems to be the thought of "hey! I am one thing and the world is different." The complicated idea is the idea of the self.
I think I understand. I believe you are saying that there is consciousness and there is a subset we might call self-awareness.


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Only God knows
I see the but I hear something different. Are you trepidatious because I have submitted this topic under the Science heading? Don't be.

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More seriously, maybe it is the interaction between a person's and/or animal's actions the world around said person/animal



I am not sure it is and even if it was, I am not sure we could be able to conclusively say this a difference.
Indeed, there has been significant study in this field. Self awareness can be demonstrated in many ways. Consciousness - being aware of one's environment, is also demonstrable. There is plenty of evidence that humans are more self-aware than some other species.

Humans themselves provide abundant data regarding consciousness and self-awareness. All kinds of brain abnormalities have been studied and show us what happens when physical changes cause this characteristic of the species to stop being exhibited or to never be exhibited.

Recently, I read an article from a Norwegian news sight discussing one such study on perfectly normal adults. The subjects look through a viewer toward their own legs but the legs in the viewer belong to a Barbie doll. The subjects legs are stroked exactly as the legs of the Barbie are stroked. Afterward, the subjects significantly overestimate the size of distant tiles almost every time.
Other subjects sensed that their legs were huge (would equivocally make them eight feet tall) and when asked to estimate the same tiles at the same distance, they underestimated every time.

In other words, their sensory input was manipulated to skew their interaction with the environment. That's part of consciousness.

The way animals interact with their reflections demonstrates an aspect of self awareness.

Language is a massively important aspect of consciousness and is available only to those species with anatomical structure and the FOXP2 gene - Homo sapiens.

Having said all that, I have a very, very good friend who possesses neither. Jim, my cat, doesn't recognize himself in the mirror but he knows what it means to "take a bath" to "go outside", loves interacting with me as one part of his environment, and definitely thinks and feels.
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Old Jun 5th 2011, 08:55 AM
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Default Re: Consciousness

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What is it?
I think it can be defined as the capacity to be aware of one's self as a self.

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Where does it come from?
The neuro-biological actions of the brain. Or God. Pick one.

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How is it different for Homo sapiens than it is for, say, a bonobo or a cockroach?
I think it is self-evident that various animals/creatures have some level of consciousness. Obviously the principle difference between them and humans is a difference of degree - humans have developed self-consciousness to a much higher degree - primarily through the use of a social language system.
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Old Jun 5th 2011, 02:59 PM
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Default Re: Consciousness

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What is it?
I think it can be defined as the capacity to be aware of one's self as a self.
I like that answer, except that I might change to to "the experience of being aware of one's self as a self."

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Where does it come from?
Would a better question be "Why does it occur?" I have trouble conceiving of consciousness as a "thing" which came from somewhere.

But either way, I don't know the answer.

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How is it different for Homo sapiens than it is for, say, a bonobo or a cockroach?
To my mind, it's impossible to discern whether anything else (including other humans) is experiencing awareness.
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Last edited by Michael; Jun 6th 2011 at 05:39 PM. Reason: Fixed quote attribution
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Old Jun 5th 2011, 05:51 PM
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Default Re: Consciousness

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I like that answer, except that I might change to to "the experience of being aware of one's self as a self."



Would a better question be "Why does it occur?" I have trouble conceiving of consciousness as a "thing" which came from somewhere.

But either way, I don't know the answer.



To my mind, it's impossible to discern whether anything else (including other humans) is experiencing awareness.
What about the Turing test?
Douglas Hofstadter thinks it's valid.
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Old Jun 5th 2011, 10:13 PM
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Default Re: Consciousness

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I think I understand. I believe you are saying that there is consciousness and there is a subset we might call self-awareness.
well, I think the two concepts are pretty closely related.


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I see the but I hear something different. Are you trepidatious because I have submitted this topic under the Science heading? Don't be
.

I really just meant that as a joke to admit my own ignorance. However, I guess we could talk about the theology of it all.

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Indeed, there has been significant study in this field. Self awareness can be demonstrated in many ways. Consciousness - being aware of one's environment, is also demonstrable. There is plenty of evidence that humans are more self-aware than some other species.

Humans themselves provide abundant data regarding consciousness and self-awareness. All kinds of brain abnormalities have been studied and show us what happens when physical changes cause this characteristic of the species to stop being exhibited or to never be exhibited.

Recently, I read an article from a Norwegian news sight discussing one such study on perfectly normal adults. The subjects look through a viewer toward their own legs but the legs in the viewer belong to a Barbie doll. The subjects legs are stroked exactly as the legs of the Barbie are stroked. Afterward, the subjects significantly overestimate the size of distant tiles almost every time.
Other subjects sensed that their legs were huge (would equivocally make them eight feet tall) and when asked to estimate the same tiles at the same distance, they underestimated every time.

In other words, their sensory input was manipulated to skew their interaction with the environment. That's part of consciousness.

The way animals interact with their reflections demonstrates an aspect of self awareness.

Language is a massively important aspect of consciousness and is available only to those species with anatomical structure and the FOXP2 gene - Homo sapiens.

Having said all that, I have a very, very good friend who possesses neither. Jim, my cat, doesn't recognize himself in the mirror but he knows what it means to "take a bath" to "go outside", loves interacting with me as one part of his environment, and definitely thinks and feels.
Continuing with the cat thing, without your cat being able to communicate complex ideas (such as an understanding of the self or lack there of) to you we can't know for certain if animals lack or possess consciousness. I will, of course, defer to the best investigations of science, however.
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Old Jun 5th 2011, 10:19 PM
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Default Re: Consciousness

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What about the Turing test
As I understand it, a machine that can pass the Turing test just needs to be able to convincingly imitate a human. I'm not sure that that tells us anything about whether or not it's experiencing an awareness of itself.

Whether dealing with a machine or a living creature, I can only observe what it does. With the sole exception of myself, I have no way of knowing what (if anything) anything is experiencing awareness of or perceiving. E.G. I can't tell the difference between a conscious, self-aware human and a mindless, albeit extremely complex, automaton (aka a Philosophical Zombie)

I assume the former, because it's less creepy, and generally don't consider the question worth thinking about.
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Old Jun 6th 2011, 05:47 PM
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Default Re: Consciousness

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I like that answer, except that I might change to to "the experience of being aware of one's self as a self."
I'm not sure that your change is an 'improvement'.

Your changed definition means that's possible that some humans might not qualify (not experienced the phenomena in question) and you would have to extensive research based on each and every individual human being.

My statement is a general one. Even if you fail to actually become aware of yourself as a self, as a human being you still have the capacity to do so.

Indeed, some people's ignorance or lack of self-awareness could be construed, under your definition, of lacking consciousness.

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Would a better question be "Why does it occur?" I have trouble conceiving of consciousness as a "thing" which came from somewhere.

But either way, I don't know the answer.
I'd steer wide clear of this facet of the question since none of us are neurobiologists.

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To my mind, it's impossible to discern whether anything else (including other humans) is experiencing awareness.
I disagree. I think it is well within the powers of human science to devise tests to determine whether or not any given animal species acts in a way that is consistent with conscious self-awareness (or not).

We can't know for certain, but we can apply the methods of science to the question. Indeed, I think the probability of a troublesome answer is the reason that the research is not generally funded or encouraged.

Not the least of which is the Christian religious doctrine that only humans have souls. For many people, the concept of the 'soul' only makes sense when it is considered synonymous with one's 'consciousness'. Establishing that dogs or cats are conscious in the same way humans are conscious, would logically suggest that dogs and cats have 'souls' just like humans and this would likely be religously unacceptable - ergo, no science.
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Old Jun 6th 2011, 05:49 PM
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Default Re: Consciousness

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Not the least of which is the Christian religious doctrine that only humans have souls. For many people, the concept of the 'soul' only makes sense when it is considered synonymous with one's 'consciousness'. Establishing that dogs or cats are conscious in the same way humans are conscious, would logically suggest that dogs and cats have 'souls' just like humans and this would likely be religously unacceptable - ergo, no science.
this is but I attended a lecture by two Biblical prof's (one Old Testament and one New Testament) that argued the entire concept of "the soul" is unbiblical.
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