Animal consciousness is not accessible to the human mind

The question on the nature of animal consciousness is a controversial one, not only moral grounds, but also on our understanding of the mental processes that animals do experience. From a biological point of view, some might contend that lower animals in particular, such as lobsters, lack the sensory nerves necessary to perceive, feel or register experiences in the same way as human beings. And if they experience pain at all, they dont experience it in the same manner as we do. He maintains that experiences are subjective, i.e. unique to the being experiencing them, and therefore a given phenomena (like the nature of a bats experiences) could not be understood comprehensively through reductionism (generalizing experiences).

Thomas Nagel holds such a view, by contemplating on what it is to be a bat. He argues that to truly understand what in essence it means to be a bat, as a real bat, is impossible (Nagel, 2004). For one, you cannot take a bats viewpoint of the world, if it has any. For instance, it is possible that a bat doesnt conceive it as odd to have an upside down posture for the bat, that is standing.upright in fact. But you and I know otherwise. David Wallace, in Consider the Lobster, argues from a similar perspective that experience is not universal to all creatures. He refers to the argument that stem from a biological understanding of body physiology, which posit that lobsters are not endowed with the same sensing mechanisms as human beings and other higher animals. He criticizes the viewpoint adopted to moralize and justify mistreatment of animals because it doesnt make any sense to them in one way or the other, whether they are mistreated or not. The notion in this case is that Lobsters lack endorphins to detect or translate pain, such that their subjective experience of pain is so radically different from mammals that it may not even deserve the term pain.  He points out an analogue that compares lobsters to those frontal-lobotomy patients, who evidently can feel physical pain, but in a totally different sense. These patients do not complain about what they feel, because although they dont like it, it is not distressing, and it is not an experience they wish to get away from.

The bearing of this observation on animal consciousness is straightforward it suggests that it is not possible to describe an accurate status of animal reasoning, if there is ever such a thing. Thomas Nagel argues that a reduction approach that aims to reach at an objective understanding of the psych of animals is doomed to fail, since unlike physical qualities, mental features are abstract and cannot be accounted for in every stage of reduction. For instance, there are no means to measure the brain capacities of say an insect, so that it can be compared against that of a human being to account for their differences of behavior. In the first place, the phenomenology of lower animals such as worms cannot be termed as a behavior in the same sense as human behavior, because there is an aspect of motive in human beings. It cannot be ascertained whether worms have any motives at all and yet motives are part of mental processes that define consciousness.

The inaccessibility of animal consciousness is further explored by the neurological fact that lower animals lack cerebral cortex that is present in human beings a part in the brain that deals with reasoning, language and self awareness. It is doubtful if animals exhibit a sense of self awareness conscious of their existence. Yet, they show an awareness of their immediate surroundings, such as when lobsters move away from light, suggesting some level of consciousness. It might be instinct (which has nothing to do with consciousness) but could also suggest knowledge of light as harmful, or how it makes them feel comfortable, perhaps from experience. This emphasizes the idea of the subjectivity of experience, in that lobsters register light in a different way from human beings, such that they find it repulsive, just as you find pungent smell and decomposing flesh disgusting, which is nonetheless aromatic to flies But a more substantial illustration is the behavior of lobsters when they are being boiled. Wallace says that David Wallace reckons that The lobster will sometimes try to cling to the containers sides or even to hook its claws over the kettles rim like a person trying to keep from going over the edge of a roofeven if you cover the kettle, you can hear the cover rattling and clanking as the lobster tries to push it off, claws scraping the sides of the kettle as it thrashes around (Wallace, 2007). The lobster, he concludes, behaves in the same way as a human being would if he was tossed into a tank of boiling water, only that it they cant scream perhaps they do but we miss it.

The antics of a burning lobster, Wallace concludes, could be their way of expressing their feelings, of expressing preference may be that they dont like what they are being subjected to, and would prefer a different environment- the way they express this preference by moving into dark places and away from light. The fact that we cant reason together is not reason enough to conclude that they dont reason at all. There reasoning, it is possible, is at a level inaccessible to the human mind.

I see it this way when you leave a toddler with a puppy pet, he would chuckle and clap when the puppy performs some antics which the toddler finds amusing, while the puppy is encouraged to perform more. Isnt it reasonable to argue that at that age, the toddler has the toddler-capacity to reason with a puppy In fact, if he hits it, the puppy would consider this act unfriendly and walk away. As an adult, however, you cannot reason with a puppy by the mere act of teasing in your mind it is a game, but from the puppy viewpoint that is how it can reason with a human being. Likewise, perhaps they try to reason with us when they are subjected to pain, only that we cant understand their means of expression. It is like when you chop certain kinds of worms into pieces, and the worm-lings continue to wriggle about as if nothing has happened to them. But you expect a human being to jump and throw and scream. Such a comparative neuro-anatomy to determine the nature of animal consciousness is over-stretching the scales of proportion. Wallace says that pain is a totally subjective mental experience, we do not have direct access to anyone or anythings pain but our own and even just the principles by which we can infer that others experience pain and have a legitimate interest in not feeling pain involve hard-core philosophymetaphysics, epistemology, value theory, ethics (Wallace 2007). A worms behavior, whatever the circumstance, doesnt make even an ounce of sense to us all we know is that they meander and wriggle without showing any sense of direction at all.

However, unlike David Wallace who takes a purely analogous and neuro-anatomical approach to explain the distinctness of animal consciousness, Thomas Nagels argument to the complexities of such attempts is rather philosophical. He posits that even if we experienced what a bat experiences have our feet tied to the roof in an attic so that we stare downwards in the darkness as bats do, pad our limps with animal hides to make them appear webbed, be blindfolded and sense our way by means of some electronic sensors- we are still experiencing a zillionth of a bats world. On the contrary, we are only trying to behave like a bat, but not experiencing whatever it is that bats experience while hanging downwards in dark corners and catching insects at night with their mouths.

Furthermore, there are many bat-experiences that we can never imitate, like giving birth upside down Regardless, even if we manage to stage a bat-birth in a dark attic with the delivery path (what can one say) pointed skywards, it is just an imitation that gives no insight into the real experience of a bats life. It becomes extremely futile when we attempt to imagine how a bat feels to be a bat. Nagels argument is centered on the idea that an experience makes sense to the subject in relation to how that subject registers and interprets that particular experience. Accordingly, what a bat experiences is truly known only to a bat and not any other being. Even among human beings, asking a person How was the movie and getting the response Fabulous, fantastic or thrilling does not help much in assessing the way the persons experience in watching the movie. To that person, fabulous could mean beautiful actors instead of an interesting plot, and thrilling mean to a full-packed action rather than -as you may imagine, comical and humorous scenes. In this consideration, understanding animal consciousness takes more than a reduction approach that equates our own experiences with what we expect or imagine animals to experience in similar situations.

This approach, Nagel argues, stems from the quest to understand incomprehensible and abstract subjects from what we already know or could comprehend. However, the incomprehensible concept cannot be completely known by way of substitution, imagination and speculation. The common belief that the state of the body reflects the state of the mind is questioned, since understanding an animals anatomy does not in itself explain its mental status.  Similarly, we cannot gain any insight by speculating or equating by analogy the implications of animal behavior. For instance, we cannot say that bees are disturbed by smoke due to allergic reactions or irritation, simply because smoke irritates and is allergic to some people. Response to stimuli alone is not a window to consciousness. The way animals react and respond to external stimuli, accordingly, does not reflect a certain kind of mental processes simply because we know certain stimuli to elicit certain responses.

The central question all these observations by David Wallace and Thomas Nagel lead to is whether animals have a conscience at all. Do they reason or have a mind that directs their behavior Is a wriggling worm after it has been cut protesting for injury suffered or a conditioned instinct What could we say of Nagels argument regarding the nature of a bat Can we define its conscience with certainty based on reductionism

The answer to these questions is the same, though arrived at from different perspectives. The analogy by Wallace reveals the distinctness of each creature such that any other creature, including man, could not explain the mental processes that determine behavior. He gives an illustration by comparing a frog and a lobster, in which case a frog does not react when it is placed in salty water and then heated slowly, becomes its body adapts to gradual temperature changes. A lobster, on the other hand, is affected by rising temperatures. It is at this point that a philosophical reasoning leaves us in a dilemma a demonstration that subjectivity of experience limits us from making any objective claim on the consciousness of animals. First, it could be that a frog decides to assume the whole issue because it can tolerate it- the way you can withstand rain in absence of shelter, though it makes you feel cold and uncomfortable. You can protest of course, but since it doesnt make any difference, you let it pass.

Likewise, the frog, after considering the situation, realizes that croaking wont make any difference. The lobster, on its part, realizes that somebody has put it where it doesnt want to be, and is aware that it might burn if nothing is done. Accordingly, it raises hell by banging and knocking at the container- the way you will bang at the door for somebody to open for you, if you are outside and it is raining frogs and lobsters, if you see what I mean. You see, then, that both the frog and lobster have a conscience.

Or perhaps they have none at all The frog is not aware of what is going on, since its body is physiologically adapted to temperature changes. Staying calm is therefore not a decision, but due to the fact that heat as an external stimuli does not affect frogs. The lobsters body, on the other hand, has heat sensors that stimulate an automatic reaction (by instinct) to high temperatures, just as you would jump if you stepped on a hot object.

Whatever, as far as animal consciousness is concerned, we cant state with certainty what it is to be an animal, because only animals know what it is to be an animal. Just consider the lobster


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