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Insects and other invertebrates:

There are some fundamental assumptions lurking behind the idea that the burden of proof in discussions of animal consciousness lies with those who would argue for it, as opposed to those who would argue against. Morgan's Cannon, as we learned on Tuesday, cautions us to be parsimonious. We should refrain from offering complex explanations when more simple explanations suffice, therefore, we should not claim that consciousness exists in animals if simpler explanations can account for the observed behaviors. The assumption here is that there is an ascending hierarchy of mental capabilities or functions, with consciousness at the top. On Gallup's view we have consciousness, self-consciousness and consciousness of other minds stacked at the top. Beneath this top level are abilities like learning, memory, and so on that can occur in blank minds. Phenomenal consciousness does not constitute a level of its own. For Povinelli, phenomenal consciousness may have a its own level, beneath the level where we find theory of mind and self-consciousness. Both investigators make the common assumption that many mental functions are mere mechanisms requiring no awareness for their function, mechanisms that inhabit lower levels of the hierarchy. Animal minds should be explained at the lowest level of the hierarchy that can account for the observed behaviors. This highly mechanistic view of animal minds is a direct inheritance from certain recurrent themes in our western intellectual tradition. It has ancient roots (both in Greek philosophy and Christianity) in a form of speciesism that places humans at the top of the psychological and biological heap. In Descartes, this view takes the form of a mind-body dualism in which our mental nature is markedly different from and superior to our bodily nature. When cast in evolutionary terms it is the view that human consciousness is the most highly evolved mental function in the animal kingdom. Combined with the notion that animals don't have minds (or souls) at all, such views helped to justify the beginnings of animal experimentation. We essentially have two parallel hierarchies that are assumed to map onto one another. The biological hierarchy has humans at the top, followed by other primates, then 'lower animals' of all sorts. The psychological hierarchy has consciousness at the top (maybe self-consciousness above it), complex cognition (memory, learning, etc.) below, and behavior at the bottom. The assumptions here are that the higher levels are more complex. This assumption is incorporated into cognitive models of consciousness that place consciousness at the center or top of the information processing system, and in evolutionary explanations of consciousness that argue for its role in dealing with the demands of more complex information processing systems interacting with more complex environments.

In a recent article in the Journal of Consciousness Studies (1998, Volume 5, 3) entitled "Consciousness: A Natural History", Maxine Sheets-Johnstone questions the correctness of these hierarchical conceptions and of the assumption that "unconsciousness historically preceded consciousness" in animals. She suggests that proprioception may be the first evolved form of consciousness. The evolution of proprioception, she proposes, parallels the evolution of animate forms, such that from the very beginning of the ability of organisms to move, there was a need for a kind of flexible responsivity to external stimuli. It is arbitrary, she argues, to call this responsivity behavioral or cognitive when referring to 'lower animals' and conscious when referring to humans or 'higher animals.' The fact that this is frequently done has much to do, she claims, with our brain-centered notions of consciousness that disregard more embodied sensory abilities. She notes that the first human sense to develop is proprioception (it develops prenatally with the early development of motor pathways), and it is through this sense that we initially come to learn to move our bodies and to feel ourselves. This is a sense that we share with many 'simple' creatures. Sheets-Johnstone provides a description of the proprioceptive abilities of invertebrates that makes the assumption that unconscious mechanisms explain the behaviors of these 'lower animals' look disturbingly ad hoc. In response to Dennett, who claims that in simple organisms "there is really nothing much to self-knowledge beyond the rudimentary biological wisdom enshrined in such maxims as 'When Hungry, Don't Eat Yourself!' and 'When there's a Pain, It's Yours!'" she questions the parsimony of explaining animal behaviors in terms of such mechanisms. I'll close with the following quotation in which she makes this point: "[W]e should ask what it means to say that a lobster will eat another's claws but that conveniently, as Dennett puts it, it finds eating one of its own claws unthinkable. Does it mean that there is actually a rule 'Don't eat your own claws!' wired into the lobster's neurological circuitry? But it is patently unparsimonious to think that there is such a rule and just as patently absurd to think that every creature comes prepared with an owner's manual, as it were, a rulebook replete with what Dennett calls 'maxims'. Such a maxim, for example would be only one of an indefinitely great number of maxims that a lobster (or, in analogous terms, any other 'simpler organism') could be said to carry around in the neural machinery that counts as its 'Headquarters'; 'Don't try to go on land!' 'Don't try to eat a squid!' 'Shovel in new sand grains after molting!' 'The large claw is for crushing!' 'The small claw is for seizing and tearing!' And so on. What makes eating its own claws 'conveniently unthinkable' is clearly something other than a rule of conduct. 'Convenience' is not a matter of an opportune adaptation but of an astioundingly varied and intricately detailed biological faculty that allows a creature to know its own body and its own body in movement. These kinetic cognitional abilities constitute a corporeal consciousness. A moment's serious reflection discloses a major reason why sensitivity to movement is both basic and paramount: no matter what the particular world in which an animal lives, it is not an unchanging world. Hence, whatever the animal, its movement cannot be absolutely programmed such that, for example, at all times its particular speed and direction of movement, its every impulse and stirring, its every pause and stillness, run automatically on something akin to a lifetime tape" (Sheets-Johnstone, 1998, pp. 274-8). Offering mechanistic explanations for animal behaviors may reveal more about one's commitment to certain assumptions about the mappings between certain presupposed biological and psychological hierarchies of complexity than it does about one's commitment to parsimony of explanation. ( - ressource is archived if not accesible)

The notion of some sort of phylogenetic hierarchy in the mental capacity of animals (and thus, presumably, in ability to suffer) long predates the development of evolutionary theory and human knowledge of the similarities and differences between human and non-human nervous systems (Thomas, 1983; Maehle, 1994). Indeed, the fact that very young children will spontaneously talk to "higher" animals, but only talk about "lower" ones, such as invertebrates, suggests that human beings may hold a deep-rooted sense of their greater and lesser connectedness with different species (Nielson and Delude, 1989). So, although the animal rights philosopher Singer (1975) appears to reject "speciesism" in principle, many of the animal rights campaigners who participated in this study did, in fact, perceive important differences between "higher" and "lower" animals in their ability to suffer.

Nevertheless, it can be seen clearly from Table 2 that the animal researchers were focusing their attention and concern somewhat higher up the phylogenetic scale than were the animal rights campaigners. Although the two groups did not differ qualitatively in their assessments of the factors by which suffering is likely to be determined (i.e., phylogenetic advancement), they did appear to differ in their quantitative assessment of where appreciable capacity for suffering might begin and end.

Cultural influences are clearly very important in determining how people judge the sentience and mental capacity of other species (e.g., Maehle, 1994; Ritvo, 1994). Religion, philosophy, and political and economic circumstances all seem to have had influences on people's views of animals in the past (Thomas, 1983). But personality and, in particular, tendency or ability to empathize with others might also lead to individual differences in assessments of the mental abilities of non-human animals. In this case, the "cultures" of science on one hand and animal rights activism on the other have played their parts in determining the attitudes measured here. But the mechanisms by which such cultural influences are exerted, and the additional role played by personality factors (e.g., liberalism, tendency to empathize) remain open questions for the future.

Comment: The angle -- based on biological hierarchy -- such as in (1995) for example is still more often to be found than the view that prooves a biological and psychological "hierarchy" relevant to prevailing human thinking as insufficient when dealing with animals. 

With the argumentative plane (that might not count as proove) the case might be different. Argumentative reasons for a wholesale different approach, that would stand outside of exclusively human value systems and instead swap them with a view where animal individuals would exaclty set the other parameter by their own single existence, don't have a place in many typical "human views".

It's surprising that some vegans and animal rights advocates don't dare to come up with better parameters than those offered by the view of biological scientists -- who explain the correlated entity of an animal individual in the case of animal individuals that don't meet the criterion for "human standards" in pathological terms: citing deficiencies towards a set of rules relevant to 'own' concepts of value, etc. and explaining animal life by it's organ parts: The same "fleshiness or fleshbased thinking/approach" as when the advocate of meat eating defines any mammal only by the stake.

The willingness to take the complete ressource of evaluation as given when humans deal with other humans does not take place when humans meet an animal. The gounds are the internal organs and not the being I meet. In the case human meets human we judge its organs as sufficient to take the person as deserving basic rights. The Nazis in Germany measured the brains of other humans too, to find a reason to bioethically legitimate their own thinking.

Sorry for the briefness of this comment, which might be understood as insufficience. The comment serves simply to encourage the animal individual :o) to stay tuned too their friends and don't get so desperate that they think all humans are biological absolutists :o( Why the term biology gets bound to animals, is to confine them into bioethics and exclude them from the basic scope.

Judging by the actual...

Oh, and, when an individual human acts due to how she/he deals with parameters appliable to his/herself, in a way that negates different connective entities, I think the animals act more reasonable and therefore are due to more consideration.

The flatness of the world denies the individual animal as much as the roundness is part of its existence and nonexistence (respectively).



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