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← Six 'uniquely' human traits now found in animals

MPhil's Avatar Jump to comment 24 by MPhil

Consciousness may be primarily a phenomenon of sociality: While generally we wouldn't say that other people can know what we are thinking without us telling them, we can all agree on what belongs to "consciousness": beliefs, thoughts, perceptions, decisions, remebering etc. Is there anything I can have of which the others cannot agree that such a category of what belongs to consciousness does even exist? I don't think so, deception in animals is cunning - proving representative and intentional information-processing, but does by far not reach the structured plans, hypotheses, predictions - and the logical structure of this. Our capacity for rationality is evidenced for example by our ability to construct formal systems - like set theory, number theory, predicate logic etc. We have metalinguistic capability, we can think about thinking, conceptualize speech, analyse it's logical structure, make rational investigations into the world. I think the level of complexity of mind is certainly mirrored in comlpexity of sociocultural interactions - we have various sciences, philosophy, art of various kinds with exhibitions, planned social events, complex economy and structured politics etc. That this is possible and actual is definitely reflective of the general capabilities of the human mind - morality as in social behaviour following having certain restrictions - with some actions being rewarded and "taught" and others shunned and resulting in negative response from the social group, thus eliciting certain behavioural and emotional reactions in the individual who did the action of the "forbidden" kind - in that sense any group of agents has morality. But morality as something that is conceptually constructed, revised, an explicit belief-system checked against criteria of logic (consistency), rationality and applicability in a group, where even hypothetical models and theories are constructed (the investigations of the ethics branch of philosophy - also political philosophy) and compared - even the explicit morality that is a subject of intellectual discourse - ascribing this to animals would be going beyond the evidence - it would be unparsimoneous as explanations of the data, the evidence we have.

Yes, animals have mentality, some more complex than others, but compared to humanity, all fairly rudimentary - as evidenced by rudimentary (compared to us) culture, tool use, evidence for planning. But people tend to make the wildest comparisons because of this - that the mentality of animals is comparable in level of complexity to ours. If you mean comparable like a 1940s computer is to a modern supercomputer then yes, of course they are comparable - but comparable in the sense of "fairly close/very similar", then no. Through our high-level cognition, our ability to analyze our situations, make predictions about the future consciously and integrate memory, situation analysis and predictions all contribute to the complexity and overall nature of our emotions (emotional situation), our personality, our morality, our society and culture. And the evidence clearly points to the level of complexity being much higher, thus allowing genuinely new phenomena - like science and philosophy, or discussions, debates - social interactions that require and are based upon certain explicit standards of rationality, or methodology in general.

Sat, 24 May 2008 11:16:00 UTC | #174937