8.01.2011

The Starting Gun

  1. What is the difference between consciousness and instinct? Or better yet, why do we label very similar observed behaviors volitional or conscious acts in humans and instinct in another mammal?
  2. How do you know that someone loves you? Is it a 'feeling' or is it a perception built upon a foundation of little behaviors?

16 comments:

Jared said...

Guess I'll kick it off:
1) I don't think there is a true difference between the two (in the neurology of them, anyway). Most instincts have significant learned (conscious) components with a few exceptions (reflexive behaviors).

2) You don't; at least not with any certainty. It is a conclusion based upon previous experiences. It does not mean that one can't have good reason for these conclusions, but these reasons are learned, at least as far as the concept of romantic love is concerned.

Michael Lockridge said...

It seems, at least to casual observation, that instinct is more compulsive in less sophisticated creatures. In creatures more complex it appears that choice is a factor of greater significance in the array of actions.

That being said, humans (as examples of the more sophisticated creatures) still are often quite reflexive in their choosing. Still, there seems to be something more than reflex in a lot of human (and other higher order creature) actions.

As to love, they tell you and then act consistently (more or less) with their declaration. Having observed a great deal of perversity in how 'love' is expressed, this can be a challenging thing to determine.

Jared said...

When I say "reflexive," I mean those behaviors which rely heavily upon the autonomic nervous system or reflex arc with actions taken before the signals reach the brain (beyond the brain stem).

Harry C Pharisee said...

Ok, I think I've guessed what you mean by 'consciousness.'

We are aware of more "natural" gaps in our cognition and narrow the contextual factors down significantly enough to propose a cause. Instinct seems a reasonable fit, but as you intimated the concept is unsound. Of the humans, by the humans, for the humans. This solipsistic foray into behavior presupposing a 'nature only' viewpoint is an unacknowledged irony.

Instinct, the sanctified behavioral bridge between other animals and ourselves, is "thoughtless." So what else could animal cognition be but thoughtless?! So whenever they use tools, reasoning, are social, or have anything sophisticated about their behavior it makes headlines, albeit briefly.

Without belaboring the point I believe consciousness, as you are using the term, is a poorly reasoned concept as well, but instead of the bridge metaphor I would use a wall metaphor.

How do I know someone loves me? When their selfishness coincides with my selfishness for a significant length of time.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Harry, that may be the most cynical description of love of all time ;)

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Do you think a chimp or dolphin is conscious in an analogous way to humans?

Jared said...

Pliny, I think it (particularly the chimp) would be homologous, not analogous. I would then argue that the dolphin is also homologously conscious since hippos and deer are also conscious in a homologous manner.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Good point, my word choice was unfortunate.

moving beyond the mammals, what about the cephalopods?

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

On a bit of a tangent, consider this: Although memory, strictly speaking, is not required for humans to have perceptions that we often call consciousness, I have often wondered if the main thing that separates humans from most other animals is the complexity of memories we can create and accumulate which in turn can alter perceptions if they contribute to the decision inputs.

For example, Although dolphins and humans might have some similar memory types, the very different nature of their respective environments would create memory and sensory driven perceptions that are very alien to one another.

So in some ways it may be somewhat miraculous that we can find any common ground for communication at all.

Or that may be total nonsense.

Harry C Pharisee said...

"Or that may be total nonsense."

It's not nonsense Pliny, but I would think that given a world which has significant uniformity, we will continue to find things in common.

Jared said...

Cephalopods are more likely to be analogous, but I'm still not sure even invertebrate brains wouldn't be considered homologous. Insect brains, for example, share a great many features with human brains (which is why they make such good models).

The environmental influence upon perceptions are fairly minimal in instances of interspecies communication. The general information conveyed in such instances are simple "object sighting" flags. Humans and dolphins share the commonalities of both living in complex cooperative societies heavily reliant upon vocal communication. This, I think, makes cetacean-human communication, in general, quite a simple thing to understand, even if doing so is quite complex.

Michael Lockridge said...

Have we yet determined what it is to be 'conscious?' Are humans equally 'conscious?' I have known humans who, to me, seemed less 'conscious' (self-aware and somewhat informed as to where they fit into their world) than non-humans I have known.

These, of course, are subjective observations on my part.

The memory issue is an interesting one. How important is it? What degree of memory is critical? Are people suffering from dementia or amnesia less 'conscious,' or just differently conscious?

And, really, where are we heading with this?

Jared said...

I previously defined consciousness as: The state of perceiving external signals coupled with the capacity to respond appropriately to perception.

If someone has another definition, I am very open to modifying this one, however, it seems to make the most sense to me. We could just nix the responsiveness bit and limit it only to "awareness of external stimuli."

Michael Lockridge said...

The state of perceiving external signals coupled with the capacity to respond appropriately to perception.

What defines appropriate response?

"awareness of external stimuli."

What defines awareness?

GearHedEd said...

Although memory, strictly speaking, is not required for humans to have perceptions that we often call consciousness, I have often wondered if the main thing that separates humans from most other animals is the complexity of memories we can create and accumulate which in turn can alter perceptions if they contribute to the decision inputs.

Isn't this what I was suggesting on the last thread?

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Isn't this what I was suggesting on the last thread?

That's fair. It is somewhat a semantic problem. consciousness, per se', doesn't seem to require memory exactly, but I believe there is little doubt that memory impacts perceptions.