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Thread: Question about consciousness and evolution

  1. #1 Question about consciousness and evolution 
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    Hi all, im a new member with a question that i hope i can articulate properly.

    My understanding is that animal operate off instinct,reflex and response to their surroundings. Humans are aware of their own existance and can rationally think before making a decision.

    My question is that as we humans evolved from Apes, Approximately when along the evolutionary timetable would they have become self aware? would it have been a slow transition or a sudden event?

    Would consciousness have been the biggest milestone on throughout our evolution or would out ancestors have been able to use tools etc without being aware of themselves?

    Thanks for any input


    Niall


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  3. #2  
    Forum Bachelors Degree CEngelbrecht's Avatar
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    You kinda assume that consciousness is unique for humans, which we have no idea if it actually is. We have no ability to 'ask' other species, "Hey, mr. Chimp, are you conscious about your self?"

    But one could make the assumption with some fairness, that consciousness about one self would be a biproduct to high cognitive intelligence, but not even that is unique for humans. Some have suggested that dolphins, a species also with high intelligence, may have self consciousness, and point to (disputed) observations of depression and suicide in those beings (which may or may not be signs of high intelligence).

    If consciousness is linked to high intelligence, it would perhaps have emerged in a gradual process in human evolution, as the brain gradually increased in size and became 'big enough', and found the right configuration (geared for cognitive thought). When would be difficult to pinpoint, as you would have to define a formula for brain size versus body size and functions (to give way for cognition), and that sounds like a whole new science.


    "The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there's no place for it in the endeavor of science. (History) shows us clearly that accepted and conventional ideas are often wrong, and that fundamental insights can arise from the most unexpected sources."
    - Carl Sagan, 1980


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  4. #3  
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    thanks for the response, yeah i did assume that humans are the only species that have formed a consciousness because i dont know , i have never formally studies any of this. . I tried to liken it to a new born baby that has full control of its body but takes a few years to form consciousness and memories.

    are there any simple test for animlas like do they recognise their own reflection?

    Are modern apes or were early humans able to use tools or light fire without cognitive thought?
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  5. #4  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Your question about recognising their reflection is a very good one. The ability to do this is related to something called Theory of Mind. This is the capacity to appreciate that other entities have different thoughts, perceptions and goals.

    There is ample evidence that our primate cousins have this to an extensive degree. It also seems to be present in other animals. Crows, African Grey parrots are two, perhaps surprisingly intelligent beasts. And for smarts, but not necessarily theory of mind, the octopus is an amazing creature.

    The truth is that there is a continuous spectrum of increasing self awareness in the animal kingdom. Any subdividsions we put on that spectrum are largely artificial. And I wouldn't be surprised if there are some bonobos that have a better sense of self than some humans.
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  6. #5  
    Forum Bachelors Degree CEngelbrecht's Avatar
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    Based on your examples, it sounds like Theory of Mind and self-consciousness may mostly be linked to pack species (including humans). If an individual is conscious about the other members of the pack, it also becomes conscious of itself, maybe that's it. You mention an octopus not being subject to Theory of Mind (how do we know that?), which would match it being a loner species.

    But a certain level of intelligence may also be required before a species attain consciousness. I remember seeing video footage of both dolphins, chimps and macaques placed in front of a mirror. The macaque attacked 'the other' monkey it saw, whereas both the dolphin and the chimp studied their own reflection (the chimp started examining its teeth, very quasi-human).
    "The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there's no place for it in the endeavor of science. (History) shows us clearly that accepted and conventional ideas are often wrong, and that fundamental insights can arise from the most unexpected sources."
    - Carl Sagan, 1980


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  7. #6  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CEngelbrecht
    Based on your examples, it sounds like Theory of Mind and self-consciousness may mostly be linked to pack species (including humans).
    It is an interesting observation, but crows are rather solitary beasts. That doesn't eliminate the notion that pack behaviour is one thing that promotes the development of the phenomena.
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  8. #7  
    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    then again, jackdaws are social animals, and equally intelligent
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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  9. #8  
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    consciousness is awareness of awareness

    awareness is knowing 'what' you are doing.

    computers know 'how' to do things but dont know 'what' they are doing.

    animals are aware.

    human beings possess objectivity (reason)
    animals dont.
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  10. #9  
    Time Lord
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    Humans would deny theory of mind to non-social species, wouldn't we? Preditory species too must guess what their prey is thinking. Consider the cat as it studies and experiments with the mouse, or the cuttlefish as it hypnotizes a crab. The predators' minds surely contain models of their victims' minds.

    I'm not suggesting that a cuttlefish is very conscious; but noting that its brain is largely occupied with the perceptions of others; and so theory of mind, empathy, and even love perhaps may be independent of consciousness.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  11. #10  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by granpa
    human beings possess objectivity (reason)
    A minority.
    Quote Originally Posted by granpa
    animals dont.
    Clearly you have had little exposure to Goodall's work on chimpanzees
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  12. #11  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Quote Originally Posted by granpa
    human beings possess objectivity (reason)
    A minority.
    Quote Originally Posted by granpa
    animals dont.
    Clearly you have had little exposure to Goodall's work on chimpanzees
    I wont argue with the first statement

    I dont know which chimps you are referring to but if they possess objectivity then they qualify as human and should be afforded protection under the law.
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  13. #12  
    Forum Bachelors Degree 15uliane's Avatar
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    No they wouldn't be afforded the protection of the law, there are degrees of reason, and just because chimps can figure out how to break open a shell doesn't mean they should have the protection of the law.
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  14. #13  
    Moderator Moderator TheBiologista's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by granpa
    I dont know which chimps you are referring to but if they possess objectivity then they qualify as human and should be afforded protection under the law.
    The traits which combine to make up a mind don't tend to exist in binary present-or-absent states. As Ophi has said, traits exist on a continuum. Add to that, it's becoming increasingly clear that humans possess few, if any, traits that are not also possessed to some degree by other species.
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