Saturday, March 27, 2010

New Book Release!

People often ask me why I wrote this book and why I am donating half of the profits to animal rights and animal organizations from the sale of this book.

When I left the missionary life, I had not really watched much, if little, television. Back in late March of last year, I had been ‘channel surfing’ and came upon a series called “Whale Wars”. It was a reality television documentary of a small group of whale activists battling Japanese from killing whales.

What I saw only in one hour - the insanity of the Japanese Whaling vessel, plus the fact that these huge creatures are being hunted for ‘a delicacy’ - made me sick to my stomach. The truth is not that even the meat is needed for man’s survival or that some portion of the meat cures anything. Instead, some arguments are that people will lose their jobs in a small whaling village, or that these people don’t know any other vocation, or somebody just wants sushi. Another argument is that killing whales is part of an ‘ethnic tradition’ of a national culture.

It was gross and truthfully a justification.

At that moment, while watching this program, I felt I had to do something about the senselessness and insanity. I had to say something. These creatures were friends. They were and are aware. Their species is over 65 million years old. We are just beginning to understand them. We have fished them and killed them and yet, scientists are beginning to see that whales communicate, save humans at times, and travel great distances around the globe with a purpose. Because man has not figured out how to communicate with them, some of us treat them like meat on a table. Whales are not like cattle, where we grow them and replenish. It’s not even like we really need their meat as a species.

I have had very personal experiences with whales and other creatures. I felt that writing a book, telling what I had personally experienced, would be a way of raising public awareness. I had to step over the line, come out from my comfortable life and say something. Not just anything, but the truth I always knew and never spoke about.

All of the experiences existed. To help prove the point I shared intimate moments of my life. But it wasn’t just the happy moments. Having others there in those personal moments and experiencing what I was hearing and seeing, putting this down in my book, was a way that would make the book more real for everyone.

So the purpose and reason I wrote this book is for my friends, all creatures great and small. As the writer, I feel they have contributed to my story in a very big way. So I decided that half of the profits from the sales of the book would go to animal rights and animal protection. It’s how I can help them, my friends.

Friday, March 12, 2010

When is an Apple an Apple?

I have often wondered why psychologists see the obvious and ask questions that make answers obtuse and oblivious.

Imagine a government funding studies to refute that man is more intelligent and more aware. Imagine psychologists battling to first that man is more cognitive and then in the same breath label him with more isms and 'iac', followed by perscriptions which sugar coat oblivion.

We consistently try to separate ourselves from the creatures of this earth. Somehow that knowledge is supposed to give us power, when it is already evident we can destroy this planet without anyone's help but our own.

And yet the battles ensue for a difference. It is like the person constantly asking 'Why am I here?'

Yet the fact is that we are here. And at this point of evolution, man now pays other men to write papers of philosophies, to spend time asking that question.

Some people try not to know. Some people don't care. Some people cannot sleep at night as they cannot fathom that they have a place in this world and therefore need to be somewhere else.

Some are willing to dupe others, some are willing to help. Some forget that they are part of this planet and therefore abuse it.

Today I walked out from a movie and looked at the floor. Have you ever done that? It's a mess. The think is that 'someone else is gonna clean it up'.

How does this relate to animal consciousness?

Well, you don't see them littering or abusing their bodies or others.

So who is more conscious?

ScienceDaily (Sep. 15, 2009) — J. David Smith, Ph.D., a comparative psychologist at the University at Buffalo who has conducted extensive studies in animal cognition, says there is growing evidence that animals share functional parallels with human conscious metacognition -- that is, they may share humans' ability to reflect upon, monitor or regulate their states of mind.

He says "comparative psychologists have studied the question of whether or not non-human animals have knowledge of their own cognitive states by testing a dolphin, pigeons, rats, monkeys and apes using perception, memory and food-concealment paradigms.

"The field offers growing evidence that some animals have functional parallels to humans' consciousness and to humans' cognitive self-awareness," he says. Among these species are dolphins and macaque monkeys (an Old World monkey species).

Smith recounts the original animal-metacognition experiment with Natua the dolphin. "When uncertain, the dolphin clearly hesitated and wavered between his two possible responses," he says, "but when certain, he swam toward his chosen response so fast that his bow wave would soak the researchers' electronic switches.

"In sharp contrast," he says, "pigeons in several studies have so far not expressed any capacity for metacognition. In addition, several converging studies now show that capuchin monkeys barely express a capacity for metacognition.

"This last result," Smith says, "raises important questions about the emergence of reflective or extended mind in the primate order.

"This research area opens a new window on reflective mind in animals, illuminating its phylogenetic emergence and allowing researchers to trace the antecedents of human consciousness."

Smith, a professor in the UB Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive Sciences, is recognized for his research and publications in the field of animal cognition.

He and his colleagues pioneered the study of metacognition in nonhuman animals, and they have contributed some of the principal results in this area, including many results that involve the participation of Old World and New World monkeys who have been trained to use joysticks to participate in computer tasks.

Their research is supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Development and the National Science Foundation.

Smith explains that metacognition is a sophisticated human capacity linked to hierarchical structure in the mind (because the metacognitive executive control processes oversee lower-level cognition), to self-awareness (because uncertainty and doubt feel so personal and subjective) and to declarative consciousness (because humans are conscious of their states of knowing and can declare them to others).

Therefore, Smith says, "it is a crucial goal of comparative psychology to establish firmly whether animals share humans' metacognitive capacity. If they do, it could bear on their consciousness and self-awareness, too."

In fact, he concludes, "Metacognition rivals language and tool use in its potential to establish important continuities or discontinuities between human and animal minds."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Does Animal Consciousness Exist?

IN this paper, Grandin discusses the idea that animals have consciousness - but not a consiousness similar to ours. Per my own personal experience I would suggest that consciousness is the act of surviving with the survival parameters for the living entity in question. That is to say (as I have stated earlier) that animals do not necessarily talk about the weather, the latest movie, etc. But where their attention is focused is on being who and what they are and surviving to that degree.

Where communication enters in to the picture is where one communicates AT the level of understanding. For example, one doesn't talk rocket science to a baby! Communication is limited to direct the child's attention to the needs (or pleasures of the moment).

My point is that never in my experience have I just communicated to an animal to discuss the weather. It has always been based on a need - a need where the other creature or myself - demanding attention. It is at that point where communication has always ensued, mentally or visually.

Temple Grandin, PH.D. - October 1998
Department of Animal Science
Colorado State University

Some scientists and philosophers believe that animals are not conscious and do not lead internal mental lives. They think animals are like robots which just respond to changes in the environment in mechanical ways. Others believe that animals have a form of "animal consciousness" which is totally different from human consciousness. This debate between philosophers and scientists has raged for decades. As a person with autism, my "autistic like" consciousness is different from normal people. I think in pictures and language is not used to form thoughts or make decisions. In this paper, I discuss my views of animal consciousness using comparisons from my experience with autism, and examples from a large body of scientific evidence on other neurological disorders which affect consciousness.

Selective Attention

Although people who are familiar with cats, dogs, horses, even cattle have no problem with the question of consciousness, scientific evidence indicates that there may be many different levels of consciousness in animals. In 1890, William James, the founder of modern psychology wrote; "consciousness grows more complex and intense the higher we rise in the animal kingdom." According to James, a relevant property of consciousness is the capacity of an animal to compare and selectively attend to experiences. As a visual thinker my ability to consciously compare experiences and make choices is less complex compared to people who use both visual knowledge and internal verbal dialog to make choices. In the following description of how I avoided a car accident, I explain how I use thinking in pictures to make conscious decisions. This example illustrates a level of consciousness that may be in some ways similar to consciousness in higher mammals. The near-accident occurred in fairly light traffic on a sunny day while I was driving to the airport on Interstate highway 25. Cruising along at 70 miles per hour in the southbound lane, I suddenly saw a huge bull elk running full speed across the northbound lanes. I knew I had to react quickly to avoid hitting him. Instantly, three pictures appeared in my mind. Each picture represented the end result of an option available to me. The first picture was of a car rear ending my car. I knew from experience that slamming on the brakes could cause this. The next picture was the elk smashing through my windshield. From my understanding of animal behavior, I knew that swerving or any sudden movement of my car might cause the elk to stop or slow down. The third picture was of the elk passing harmlessly in front of my car. In this picture I saw what would happen if I gently applied the brakes to slow down. These pictures were like the picture menus one can click on an Internet web page. They appeared in my mind one at a time, but all within one second. This was enough time for me to selectively compare the options and chose the slow down gradually picture. I immediately calculated the elk's trajectory and speed coming across the highway, and my speed and position in the southbound lane, and began to slowly apply the brakes. This choice prevented me from being rear ended, or having the elk crash through my windshield. The conscious choice was a visual process without the use of internal verbal dialog.

At the moment I became aware of the elk crossing the northbound lane, I resisted the urge to make a panic response and slam on the brakes. In just seconds, I evaluated the three pictures in my mind. To use computer jargon, I conducted a basic cost-benefit analysis of the options. After running a quick video like simulation of the elk passing harmlessly in front of my car, I simply clicked a mental mouse on the "slowing down gradually" picture. I made a conscious choice from visual simulations played in my mind In another mishap on the highway, my ability to make a conscious choice was overridden by sudden panic. I was driving along a section of straight level highway on an icy night when a sudden gust of wind caused the car to skid. In this situation, I did not have time to make a conscious decision. It seems that conscious behavior can only occur when there is time to think, whereas instincts, reflexes, and simple conditioned responses take over when there is no time to think. For example, a grazing animal suddenly being attacked or chased by a lion relies on instincts and reflexes. These behaviors may not be completely consciousness. However, when an approaching predator is far away, an animal has time to decide on the best evasive action. When I hit the patch of ice, reflexes took over and I lost the ability to make an appropriate response. No option pictures appeared in my mind which could be used for making a decision. Reflexively, I began swearing uncontrollably and jerking the wheel in the wrong direction as I was skidding off the highway. I had no time to recall what I had learned about steering into a skid. My car ended up on the median strip, and fortunately, neither of us were hurt.

Some people question why I had three visual choices instead of just one. This is due to my visual associative way of thinking. In everything I do I see different choices as pictures on a computer monitor in my imagination. My thinking is not linear. I have learned by interviewing highly verbal thinkers that their thoughts are in language and they do not consciously see choices. Language may be another layer of thinking which covers up the visual pictures. I have no purely abstract thoughts. I only have pictures.

The "autistic type" of consciousness I used in both near accidents may be in some ways similar to conscious processes some animals use when they encounter danger. In both animals and people, conscious processes may have evolved as mechanisms for both avoiding danger and finding food. In other words, consciousness evolved as a means of allowing higher mammals to perform intelligent, adaptive responses to challenges in their environment. Rather than always relying on reflexes, simple conditioned responses, or hard wired instinctual behavior patterns, consciousness allows animals to make choices between several different options. Although consciousness is important, in most animals both instinctive and reflexive behaviors are also important. The instinctive killing bite to the throat that most predators do, the reflexive response of a horse kicking at a predator on its heels, or the conditioned response of learning to avoid places that are full of predators, all evolved as mechanisms used for survival and may not require consciousness to perform. The questions of whether non-human animals have consciousness depends on what we mean by consciousness.

Orienting Response

On Thursdays, the garbage truck picks up trash in the neighborhood next to where Mark stables his horses. The moment the back up alarm sounds, all the horses turn and orient towards the sound. Like soldiers at attention, all the horses aligned their eyes, ears, head and body in the same direction. The orienting response is accompanied by increased heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. The orienting response is also the point when animals switch from unconscious behavior to consciousness. Both animals and people orient towards novel sounds. In the wild, animals orient and freeze when they hear or see something that might be dangerous. A deer that hears the rustling sound in the bushes instantly freezes and turns both it's eyes and ears towards the sound. A deer will turn and face the noise before it flees. The orienting response provides time for the animal brain to make a conscious decision instead of just acting on reflexes and instinct. During the orienting response, the deer can decide to either flee or continue grazing. When I avoided the elk on the highway, I had time to make a conscious choice. But, when I skidded on the ice, there was not enough time to make a conscious choice.

Research has shown that the brain takes longer to process conscious awareness of a stimulus compared to an unconscious reaction to it. Up to half a second is required for full conscious awareness to occur after a stimulus is applied to the brain. For example, if you touch a hot stove, an unconscious reflex controlled by your spinal cord has already pulled your hand away before you feel the pain. Conscious processing of incoming information takes more time than a simple response governed by a reflex. A zebra kicking at a lion is probably relying on reflexes, but a zebra that hears a far away sound which may signal danger has time to weigh his escape options.

From my own experience, I have felt the difference between an orienting response and a fear flight response. For twenty years I have taken anti-depressants to calm constant anxiety attacks. Before taking the medicine I would wake up at 3:00 in the morning with my heart pounding. I was ready to flee from non-existent danger. This occurs because my nervous system has defects that put in a flight or fight stage for no reason. The medication blocks the massive fear response, but it has no effect on my tendency to orient towards intermittent high pitched noise. If I hear a garbage truck backing up in the middle of the night I still orient towards it.

Simple Consciousness

Worker bees communicate the location of food sources by performing dances when they return to the hive. When the colony gets ready to swarm, the workers go out and scout for suitable cavities in trees or buildings to build a new hive. Is this conscious behavior? Scientists have successfully built robot insects which mimic many of the behaviors of insects such as crickets and roaches. Although social insects such as bees and ants perform more complex behaviors than crickets and roaches, electronic circuits have been designed which can learn to walk by using a hierarchy of simple circuits. Scientists have also designed computer circuits that evolve and design themselves, or do amazing things such as compose Mozart like music. These circuits will often behave in ways that look intelligent, but they are definitely not conscious. None of the electronic components are conscious. They are based on physical principles. Although the animal brain is not the same as an electronic computer, I agree with writers such as Roger Penrose, and Daniel Dennett, that if improvements in computing continue at the present rate for a few for decades, it will possible to build a machine that simulates the way a human brain works.

For me, it is difficult to accept that individual bees are conscious. Could it possible that bees are more like elements in a biological computer? Perhaps the entire colony has a kind of collective consciousness where individual bees are like clusters of neurons in the brain, or electronic components in a computer. The creators of Star Trek came up with a scenario where humans loose their individual consciousness and become like bees in a hive. Called the Borg, their mission was to assimilate all life into the collective consciousness. By implanting electrodes in the brains of captured prisoners, everyone's thoughts are transmitted into everybody else's brain. Bach brain becomes like a component in a biological computer. A biological computer with a single collective consciousness is created and all individual self awareness is lost. An individual on patrol does not react as an individual, he only reacts after the Borg collective has processed the information.

Perhaps we will never know if bees are truly conscious, or if they're like a biological computer with a collective consciousness, or maybe something else. Barbara Shiffman, a mathematician at the University of Rochester has discovered that bee dances follow the same pattern as a theoretical mathematical shape called a flag manifold. Changes in the bee's dance can be predicted and explained by mathematical formulas. The flag manifold also explains the geometry of subatomic particles called quarks. Shiffman theorizes that bees may be sensitive to movements of subatomic particles which follow the principles of quantum mechanics which govern the movement of subatomic particles. I prefer to think of a bee colony as a biological computer because much of this is over my head.

Moving up the evolutionary ladder from insects, many biological scientists agree that mammals and birds have primary consciousness because they can process simultaneous stimuli and they have an internal representation of their experiences. Svene Sjolander states that a snake may not be conscious because it does not have a centralized representation of its prey. It seems to live in a world where a mouse is many different things. Sjolander explains that striking the mouse is controlled by vision; following the mouse after striking is controlled by smell; and swallowing the mouse is controlled strictly by touch. There is no integration of information from all the senses. Each sensory channel operates independently of the others. When a snake has a mouse held in its coils, it may still search for the mouse as if "the information from its body which is holding the prey did not exist." It appears that the snake has no ability to transfer information between sensory channels. Sjolander further explains that a snake has no ability to anticipate that a mouse running behind a rock will reappear. Cats and other predatory mammals are able to anticipate that the prey will reappear. According to Sjolander, snakes are not conscious. Using this definition of consciousness, than an autistic person experiencing severe sensory overload is not conscious. Sensory overload causes them to loose the ability to integrate input from all the senses.

Higher Consciousness

Since I do not think in language, there is a whole layer of abstract language consciousness that I do not have. Some of the papers I have read are so abstract and verbal that I simply do not understand them. So I have to study things that are understandable to me such as neuroscience experiments and research on animal behavior. I can visualize how the brain works and understand a brain scan study, but a linguistic concept such as "linguistic referants" in the mind is incomprehensible. Brain research has concrete data that I can understand. Many scientists believe that there are different levels, or degrees of consciousness. The different levels are determined by the complexity of the brain. Humans with the most complex brains have a higher level of consciousness than dogs which have smaller, less complex brains. As an autistic person, I believe I have a unique perspective. In some highly verbal people, they have forms of higher consciousness that I do not have. Some philosophers believe that language is required for the highest form of consciousness. In this view, I would not be fully conscious because I do not think in language.

After reading several books and scientific papers on consciousness, I concluded that the biological theories which correlated the level of consciousness directly to the level of brain complexity are the most appealing. Animals with more complex brains have a higher form of consciousness than animals with a simpler brain. It is particularly interesting that warm blooded animals such as dogs or birds have more complex brains than cold blooded animals such as reptiles. Maintaining a high internal body temperature requires huge quantities of food compared to a reptile. The ability to make flexible choices improves an animal's ability to both find food and avoid predators. Perhaps the degree of consciousness shown by most mammals avoiding predators is similar to the degree of consciousness I used to avoid hitting the elk. It was a deliberate, conscious decision. Why did consciousness evolve ? If my response was based on simple reflexes, I may have caused an accident. I avoided the elk because there was sufficient time to bring the pictures into consciousness and make a decision. However, the ability to make a conscious decision was lost when I found myself suddenly skidding out of control on an icy road. As the car skidded out of control, I began screamed like an animal being attacked by a predator. My screams came out as an uncontrollable, panic induced string of swear words. Screaming and fish-tailing on the highway, my conscious self was thinking I can't believe this was happening. Reflexes had taken over. My conscious self did not regain control until my car stopped on the median strip. Even when I was screeching swear words during the swerving, my conscious self was observing but could not override the reflexive movements my body was making. I remained calm in the elk incident because I had the time to make a conscious choice in how best to avoid danger.

The dawn of true consciousness would also be closely related to the ability of an animal to think in a flexible manner in a new situation. Marian Stamp Dawkins at the University of Oxford, defines thinking by discussing what it is not. True thinking is not instinctual behavior, and it is not a simple "rule of thumb", or a conditioned response. Instinctual behavior is governed by neurological circuits hard wired into an animals brain. Mating rituals in birds and egg retrieval behavior in geese are instincts. Modern scientists call them "fixed action patterns". These are patterns run like computer programs. Fixed action patterns are triggered by a "sign stimuli". Geese will retrieve any object that is the approximate size of an egg and roll it back into the nest. Even beer cans will be retrieved. The beer can is the sign stimuli. A basic principle is that higher mammals have less instinctual behaviors than reptiles.

Conscious behavior and true thinking does not necessarily occur after an animal learns a conditioned response. An example of a conditioned response is; when a red light comes on a rat must press a lever to get food. When a green light comes on, the rat must jump over a barrier to avoid a shock. Cows lining up at 4:00 for milking does not require thinking. The cows and mice learn a simple "rule of thumb". In a classic experiment, blind mice were trained to run a maze almost without error. This required that the mice make correct turns at about twenty junctions in the maze. The maze was cleaned after each trial to remove olfactory cues and the orientation of the maze was rotated to prevent sound orientation from the laboratory. Temporary regressions were produced after new orientations of the maze, however the mice soon overcame this and were performing hardly any mistakes at all. After three months, the mice were successfully trained to the maze and four different variations of the maze were introduced. In the first, the size of the maze was enlarged, in the second the angles of the turns were skewed from 90 degree turns to 45 and 135 degree turns, the third was a reverse of the second and the mouse had to turn through 134 and 45 degree turns and the fourth was a mirror image of the original maze. Before long, the mice had successfully mastered all the different mazes. The success of the experiment proved that the mice had transformed the information learned from the first maze which the mice then used to solve the problems of the novel mazes.

When ever animal thinking is being evaluated, the "Clever Hans Effect" must always be taken into account. Hans was a famous horse which had been trained to count by tapping his hoof Many people were very impressed and thought the horse really could count. Hans did not know how to count, but he was a very perceptive horse who picked up subtle cues from his trainer.

Experiments with pigeons have shown that birds are capable of real thinking because they can use previously learned knowledge to solve problems. Research done by Herb Terrace demonstrated thinking in pigeons. To determine whether or not animals are really thinking about what they are doing requires testing under novel conditions. Some very elegant research with birds has shown very clearly that even our feathered friends can think. Herb Terrace, the famous chimpanzee trainer, trained pigeons to peck at a series of lighted buttons to obtain food. The task was designed to make it impossible for the pigeon to use simple "rule of thumb" such as "red light equals food." All of the experiments were conducted in an enclosed box and controlled by a computer to insure that the pigeons did not receive cues from the trainer.

After all the precautions necessary to rule out the Clever Hans Effect were taken, the pigeons were trained to peck four colored lighted buttons in the correct order. Pigeons who learned the correct order of the buttons were rewarded with food. When the positions of the buttons on the wall of their box were switched, the pigeons were still able to peck the colored buttons in the correct order.

To rule out the possibility that the pigeons accomplished this task as a great feat of memory without real thinking, Terrace did a second experiment to determine if the pigeons really had a concept of order that would hold up under several conditions. The birds were presented with one familiar colored button and three new buttons with patterns of lines or diamonds. For one group of birds, the familiar colored button was in the same order as the previous test. A second group of birds were presented with the colored buttons placed in a different order. Would having the colored in the previously learned orders help the birds to learn the correct sequence for pushing lines, diamonds and colors ? Pigeons that had the colored button in the old familiar order in the sequence learned the new sequence more quickly. The colored light and pattern buttons were randomly moved on the wall in the box to force the pigeons to learn the order concept and not to rely on the spatial cues such as button position on the wall. The ability of the pigeons to do this task satisfied Dawkins' criteria, who concluded that the birds were not responding to a "rule of thumb," but were, indeed, able to think.

G.M. Edelman (cited by Lindahi) states that mammals have primary consciousness and have mental images in the present but they may not have higher-order consciousness with both the past and future represented. Terrace's pigeons did not solve the problems using primary consciousness alone. They had to use both information from memory and information in the present. When I first considered my experience of avoiding the elk, I thought the experience depended on primary consciousness alone. This is not the case. In order to create an image of the elk crashing through the windshield, I had to have knowledge in memory of what happens when a car hits a large animal. I knew from memory that it often goes through the windshield. Without this knowledge, I might have pictured that hitting the elk would only cause a minor dent. I had memories which contained pictures of large animals crashing through the windshield. These memories were used to construct an image of that particular elk prone on the hood of my car just as the windshield was shattering. I pictured him a fraction of a second before his antlers would have gored me. Information from my memory was also used to create the simulated picture of a car rear ending me.

Brain Damage

Research on people who have brain damage provide much insights into consciousness. When one part of the brain is damaged, a certain aspect of consciousness is lost. Damage to the visual cortex where visual memories are stored makes it impossible for a person to think visually the way I do. Damage to the prefrontal cortex destroys the ability to integrate information between the senses. Brain imaging studies have shown that the transfer of information between the senses occurs in the frontal cortex. If a person feels a key in their pocket and then tries to find one that looks like the one lying on the table, activity in the frontal cortex increases. The frontal cortex is the CEO of the brain. It receives input from all other systems. It enables both animals and people to have flexible behaviors. People who have severe injuries to the frontal cortex can do routine activities such as cooking breakfast, but they have great difficulty dealing with novel things.

Damaging the frontal cortex in mammals has profound effects on behavior. Higher forms of consciousness probably require a frontal cortex to integrate information coming from the senses and from the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain. Rats with frontal cortex damage can perform species typical behaviors, but the sequence and pattern of the behavior is disrupted. Many types of learning are also affected. A normal rat can quickly learn that it can reach a piece of food through a small hole in a barrier. It will quickly shift strategies an use it paw to get to the food. A rat with frontal cortex damage will continue to make futile attempts to get the food with its mouth.

Damage to the hippocampus will interfere with some types of learning and memory but not others. Hippocampus damage affects conscious learning but it has no effect on unconscious learning. This indicates that conscious learning and unconscious learning work via different brain systems. A person with damage in the hippocampus can easily learn classical conditioning. A blast of air in the face and a light occur at the same time. After a number of trials the light by itself will make the person blink and flinch. However, a person with hippocampus damage can not learn the task if there is a delay between the air blast and the light. Having a delay requires them to be consciously aware of the relationship between the light and the air blast. Normal subjects Who were given the test only learned to blink in response to a delayed light when they were consciously aware of the relationship. Robert Clark and Larry Squire at the University of California suggest that a conditioning task with a delay between the two stimuli could be used as a test of conscious awareness in animals. A review of the literature indicate that rabbits can easily learn the relationship between two events that are delayed.

In the most severe cases of autism, consciousness fragments when the subsystems in the brain fail to work together. People with very severe sensory processing problems loose their body boundary when they become overloaded with too much sensory stimulation. Called mono-channel, these people are unable to determine where their body stops and a table or floor begins. They cannot attend to, or integrate both auditory stimulus and visual stimulus at the same time. What makes this even more complicated is the fact that in the visual system, separate subsystems of circuits process color, motion, and seeing edges. This was described to me in a conversation with Donna Williams, an autistic person with severe sensory processing problems. She related an experience she had while talking to a friend. A cat jumped up on her lap but she did not perceive it as a cat. All she saw was a vague black blob. The color circuits in her visual system perceived the black color of the cat, but the motion and edge detectors were shut down. She said; "Ongoing conscious awareness is a luxury that overload can not afford". In other words, when her nervous system is overloaded with too much stimulation, she looses conscious awareness of her actions. Her brain systems are no longer able to work together and she states that she has periods where she looses conscious awareness of her actions. She can go on sort of an auto pilot and not be fully aware.

It appears that the brain processes information in a compartmentalized manner. Seeing words, hearing words, thinking about a word and speaking a word activate different brain regions. Donna's experiences indicate that self awareness can become separated from the rest of the brain. When her sensory systems become jumbled, she looses some of the ability to extract meaning from sensory input. When she was a child, she described how she looked for meaning in the jumble of sensory input. Only a few sounds, such as the patterned sounds of the cat purring, the clock ticking, and the washing machine, had any meaning to her.

Research on people with autism shows that there are defects in the sensory processing and attention shifting mechanisms. The autistic brain takes longer to shift attention back and forth between a visual and an auditory task. A normal person can shift attention in microseconds, the autistic person can take a full second to shift attention. The cerebellum is underdeveloped and this may affect timing and coordination of all the different brain subsystems.

Self Awareness

Being able to solve problems in a flexible manner is necessary to have thought, but being able to think does not automatically make animals conscious. Thinking is not a necessary prerequisite for consciousness, but maybe intelligent behavior can occur without being self aware. LeDoux writes in his book The Emotional Brain, consciousness occurred when the brain expanded in mammals. Consciousness in animals enables them to relate several different things at once. This is a conception of the self as the experience. Chimpanzees have self awareness. When they look at themselves in a mirror, they do not react to the image as if it was another animal, and if paint is applied to the chimps face, it will try to wipe it off Because dogs are not able to do this, one should not jump to the conclusion that dogs are not self aware. Dogs may not be visually self aware, but are possibly smell self aware. A dog marking its territory is able to discriminate between its own urine and a strange dog's urine. It may be that self awareness can occur in one sensory modality and not in another. In Animal Minds, Donald Griffin writes how a bear must have a body self awareness to hide from hunters. I agree with LeDoux's and Griffins ideas about consciousness.

An ability to relate present experiences to memories is a critical component of consciousness. This agrees with both LeDoux's, and Griffins views on animal consciousness. In a natural environment, animals must learn about things in their environment, and learn to predict which of their actions are rewarding or aversive. This requires the integration of different sensory systems into coherent and meaningful memories. The brain receives input from the eyes, ears, skin, tongue, and nose, from which it learns and stores representations of valuable stimuli. Recall of these representations are used to control adaptive behaviors.

If you hold a peach, you need to be able to feel its shape and see its shape. Holding the peach to your nose can integrate smell into the representation of the peach. For adaptive behavior to occur, animals have to have some ability to anticipate the future. Even simple invertebrates can learn a conditioned response and use information from past experience. For example, in humans with the highest levels of consciousness, we are able to look into the future and know that if we don't eat the peach soon it will rot. How far an animal can anticipate the future may depend on the complexity of the brain. Dogs can anticipate a trip to the vet's office when the car goes down a certain road. They can also anticipate a pleasurable event. A dog will come running and will jump up and down when it anticipates being petted. The difference between a dog and a person is understanding that the past and the future is a matter of degree. A dog can anticipate an event which will be coming up in the next five minutes but it is probably unable to think a year into the future. A person with frontal lobe damage loses the ability to anticipate the future. However, some animals that hunt may be able to know that the food will go bad if it is not eaten in a few days. I agree with the biologists view that there are degrees of consciousness and that the degree of consciousness is due to the ability of different subsystems within increasingly complex brains to integrate information and make associations.


As brains become more complex the complexity of consciousness increases. Maybe in some animals only one sense is fully conscious. It may be easier to define consciousness by saying what it is not. It is not a reflex, it is not simple conditioning, and it is not a hard wired instinct which works like a computer program. Conscious behavior is flexible. Conscious behavior allows animals to make choices between different options. It is difficult for some people to imagine a consciousness that is different from themselves. Language based thinkers often have difficulty imagining that animals can think. They can not imagine thinking without words. Collin Allen in the philosophy department at Texas A & M University states that many scientists can accept the idea that animals have internal representations of memories and events. Some people think animals are not conscious because they do not have beliefs and desires like humans. I do not have some of the higher abstract consciousness most people have, so I have to define "belief" and "desire." If I say I desire chocolate cake I immediately see a slice of cake. In fact I see it at a particular cafe'. Desire has no abstract meaning. I just see pictures of things I would want such as an ice cream cone. I use the word belief to describe things where there is a high probability that something may be true, but I am not 100% sure.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Are Dolphins Aware?

Here is an extract from a symposium held on dolphin awareness. What do you think?

Diana Reiss , Hunter College of the City University of New York, New York, NY, United States
Bottlenose dolphins are highly social mammals with large and complex brains. Studies conducted in the field and aquaria have provided increasing evidence for the dolphin’s cognitive-social prowess, revealing that dolphins are cultural animals - much of their behavior is learned and passed down through generations.
They have demonstrated the capacity for mirror-self recognition (MSR), a hallmark of a level of self-awareness, previously thought to be restricted to humans but also shared by the great apes, elephants and magpies. Despite profound differences in neuroanatomical characteristics and evolutionary histories dolphins, primates (human and great apes), and elephants show striking parallels in both the progression of behavioral stages and actual responses to a mirror providing compelling evidence for convergent cognitive evolution. MSR may index an increased self-other distinction that also underlies the social complexity and altruistic tendencies shared among these species.

Can our scientific knowledge be used to influence international policy decisions and ethical considerations of the treatment of dolphins? Do scientific facts translate and transcend cultural boundaries? In the dolphin drive hunts in Japan, there are no restrictions on capture or killing methods of the highly sentient dolphin and other small whales. The killing methods fail to meet even the most minimal requirements used in U.S. laboratories and slaughterhouses. Scientists are making the argument on the basis of the scientific evidence that the drive hunts are unjustifiable and indefensible in that they inflict pain and suffering on animals that are intelligent, sentient, socially complex and have capacity to experience pain and suffering.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Test for Self- Awareness?

I came upon a short argument for and against animal awareness. What surprises me is how the author chooses to separate man from an animal by becoming, what I would call 'significant'. In this case it is the argument that seeks to raise man far beyond any animal by the mere fact that he can 'be aware of being aware'.

In the animal kingdom very little time is spent on being aware of being aware. Animal societies, where they exist (and they do) focus on the survival of the species. In most cases the survival of the species requires knowing the limits and abilities/duties of the creature within his group.

Whales chose, over 65 million years ago, to move from land to water. Interesting to note that it was about at the same time that the earth was recovering from a major asteroid hit. SOunds to me that whales were not so dumb after all! They have certainly outlived and survived most species from that period. Think for a second. In most cases they feed on microscopic organisms which convert the energy of the sun into protein. The micro-organisms, plankton, have a rather fast life span but multiply at pretty fast rates. Whales also can go without food for extremely long periods of time. And yet their sizes dwarf man!

It's interesting to note that man has gone the way of electronics and skyscrapers.

Here is the article. What do you think?

Elephant training camp (somewhere in Central Asia)

The test is now referred to as
mirror self recognition (MSR). The test indicates self-awareness of a higher, and formerly, distinctly human level. The test is also thought to correlate to higher brain behaviors such as empathy and altruism.
It was called the “red mark test”, or just the “mark test”, and it was first tried out on a Gorilla over two decades ago. Scientists applied a smudge of red powder to the forehead of a sleeping gorilla, then placed a large viewing mirror close by, and waited for the ape to awaken. To the surprise of all, after the gorilla first noticed its reflection (and reacted to it as a social response), it then began to recognize that it was looking at itself, somehow, and, noticing the smudge over its eyes, immediately began trying to wipe it off. Later, the gorilla would use the mirror to groom itself and even examine parts of its body.

Most every animal in nature, when confronted with a mirror, will interpret the image therein as another animal, possibly a threat, and may attack the image, or, be scared away. After awhile, the animals habituate and ignore the reflected image entirely. But the gorilla–a “higher” ape–recognized the image as its own, a feat that require a degree of abstract thought and cognitive association.

Dolphins too recognize their image when confronted with a reflecting surface and have shown other remarkable abilities such as abstract reasoning (regarding object series recognition). and self-selected vocalizations with human trainers.

Now, we can add elephants to the very short list of animals besides humans with self-awareness.

Researchers (Plotnik, et al, reporting in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science ) working with Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) at the Bronx zoo, conducted an MSR test. They applied “real” and “sham” marks to the rights sides of the pachyderms’ heads and waited to see how the elephants would respond to these when a large mirror was placed in their presence. Sure enough, the elephants demonstrated that they understood they were looking at themselves (and not another elephant) and begin touching the marks with their trunks. In all, their behavior during the MSR tests matched those of apes and dolphins. According to the paper’s authors: “These parallels suggest convergent cognitive evolution most likely related to complex sociality and cooperation. ”

The intelligence of elephants has long been known (though tribal lore, and from field observations) and established. They have complex social lives and relations and do indeed have excellent memories. Also, a full grown male’s brain may weigh 14 pounds (the actual measure of “intelligence” is brains size to body mass ratio). It is believed that the size (relative to body size) and structure of our larger, more recently evolved brains enables higher states of conscious perception (such as self awareness). The animals tested here all possess large brains–some, like the dolphin and elephant, larger than our human ones. Each has a cerebral cortex (the outer-most layer of brain matter, known as theneomammalian brain), although this is quite small in the gorilla as compared to humans.

But we humans are not just self aware, we are aware that we are aware. We express this “higher” form of awareness primarily through speaking (e.g., Isn’t this a strange conversation that we’re having?) or through symbolic manipulation and recursion (e.g., “This statement is false.”) This is called meta-awareness*, and so far, it has not been found outside of our species.

* Author note (January, 2010): Meta-awareness seems, in large part, to be enabled by symbolic communication/language (spoken and written especially), and some would argue that if these other animals had such a mode of communication, they might also exhibit meta-awareness, This is a difficult “what if” to argue with, but I would note that meta-awareness can be expressed purely visually as well (through a visual device known as a Droste image (e.g., a picture of a person holding an identical picture of himself, which contains the identical image, and so on…), or the “Droste effect”, interpretation of which depends upon abstract, cognitive representation in the brain, and not the ability to write or speak in symbolic terms. If some clever scientists could figure out a way to present Droste type imagery to these animals, and then also figure out how to interpret/measure the animals’ awareness or understanding (or lack thereof) of what it is seeing, then maybe….

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What is Self Awareness? Is it Consciousness?

Having a sense of self is being able to be aware of one's self. When an animal grooms it self, it is aware of it self been groomed. This is also a gesture of love towards ones self and sometimes towards the ones that you love. For example: when one animal wants to prove to another its affection, most of the time, if it is a mammal or a bird, it shows this with a grooming gesture towards the other.

Sometimes when animals are passing through stressful situations in which there is no way out, they, in turn, start punishing themselves, for they bestow the anger of failure and frustration towards themselves. If it is a parrot, instead of grooming itself, it might start plucking its own feathers. If it is a dog, it might start chewing on its own fur or chasing after its own tail. These are usually signs of self punishments that can only be seen in beings with a well developed sense of self.

Some animal behaviorists try to find out which animals have a sense of self, by placing each animal in front of a mirror to find out if it can recognize its own mirror image. This test also involves a mark which is placed on the body or the forehead of the animal. If the animal sees itself in the mirror and understands that such image is itself, it will try to take the stain off while looking at the mirror. This will show if such a being is aware of itself since it has understood its own reflection.

Although this is not a good way of finding whether that animal has a sense of self, it is a good way to understand whether particular animals are intelligent enough in the area of understanding reflections.

As we shall learn, recognizing one's self in the mirror is the act of certain types of intelligent thinking processes, not self awareness.

It is very difficult for some animals to understand that their image could be someplace else, other than within themselves. Because of this, a lot of animals can not understand their mirror image.

Most animals have an imprint, a mental image of who they are. This makes it quite difficult when they get to meet their mirror image, for in their perspective, it is not them in the mirror, but some one else mimicking their actions, which, in turn, might cause some types of animals to become quite angry at their own reflections.

Some animals also seem to perceive reflections as having volume. Meaning that if the animal's self image is perceived by the mind as having volume, not just a flat unreal reflection, the animal's brain will not be able to understand it correctly; and it will view its own reflection as being another individual.

When adult chimpanzees are given mirrors, they take some time to understand that the image in the mirror is themselves. So because chimpanzees do not understand their reflections at first view, that does not mean that during the time in which they could not understand their reflections, they where not self aware and that right after understanding their mirror image, all of the sudden, they became self aware. Therefore, this event is only showing that they became aware, not of themselves, for they were already that, but of their own reflections.

So the abilities for chimpanzees, dolphins and other intelligent animals to understand their mirror image comes from their intelligence, not from their self awareness. This ability only means that some animals have the type of intelligence which can help them find out that their image can be some place else other than within themselves.

To understand yourself in the mirror you need intelligence in the area of unnatural phenomenon, but this is only relative to the animal that does not have the intelligence to recognize that particular event. In other ways, a mirror to some animals is like a magician's trick to an audience. An audience can not understand a magician's trick, for it is an action in the realm of unnatural behaviors which the audience's minds are not fit for understanding.

Unlike many other animals, because we humans have great communication skills, we can teach others about those unnatural behaviors and they, in turn, can be able to trick others with no knowledge of such information.

Although in today's societies we do not think much about the mirror, in the past, even ourselves have been fulled by it, for a lot of people throughout history have thought of the mirror as a magical object where a parallel universe existed, where they could meet themselves in. At other times, some people have thought of the mirror as a powerful object that could capture their souls, and, therefore, thought that who ever owned this magical object also owned their souls.

So when it comes to the mirror, we can not rely on it to prove our self awareness, for it is, indeed, a very strange and mysterious object, even for some of us to understand.

The Real Self Awareness:

Self awareness is proven by the many behavioral patterns which animals exhibit which suggest, without the shadow of a doubt, the possessions of certain mental stimuli; some of which are: status, pride, self esteem, territoriality, self punishment, self love, supremacy, and submission.

As an example lets take supremacy and submission: supremacy and submission are feelings which can not exist without self awareness, for if you are not aware of yourself, how can you be able to understand how great you are or how small you are.

Supremacy and submission are emotions which exists in fish, reptiles, mammals and birds. The reason why it exists in so many animals is because, along with territoriality, it is the most primitive of all feelings within self awareness.

It is my belief, that the sense of self awareness might have evolved as the by-product from some of the senses of self preservation, such as supremacy and territoriality. In other ways, when you evolve these adaptations, which are neurological, instinctive factors in the brain, what you get as the by-product of such, is the primitive self awareness which is present in fish as well as reptiles.

Self awareness is a very important adaptation, because it gives animals the ability to recognize their environment and themselves in order to avoid being hunted, create and defend their territorial grounds, groom themselves, protect themselves, and help themselves survive in many situations which require the love and the caring of one's self.

As an example, lets take territoriality: to own a piece of property you, most likely, will need to be aware of your self in order to understand the ownership of your property. If you where not self aware you would not have the need to own any property, for you will not be aware of your own needs.

For example: as a territorial animal, if you would put to words the feelings and thoughts that will come to your mind during a territorial dispute, you would say "Get off my territory!" you can not say "Get off the territory!" for you will be implying that the territory is not yours. You have to use an indication of self worth, which in this case would be the pronoun "my". Therefore, if you are a territorial animal which does not show much of any other signs of self awareness, you most likely will be self aware.

Some animal behaviorist would explain a territorial dispute with the phrase "back off!," but that would imply that the animal is uncomfortable with another and just wants to be left alone. So in this case, these two words would not apply within this behavioral action.

Self Esteem:

Another part to the sense of self is self esteem. This is what dictates the level of control that an animal has within its social group. For example: if a dog thinks of a person, lets say a woman, as her being his boss, and he has just done something wrong which has caused her to yell at him or hit him, the dog will most likely put his tail between his legs and lower his head, getting a hump between his shoulders, while perhaps giving out a high squeaky sound. This is a sign that his self esteem is low and has been temporarily damage by this action. He is ether ashamed of what he has done or thinks that he is not good enough to go against that person's willful actions.

In turn, if the dog has the impression that he is the matriarch or alpha male (the one in control), and that person would do the same behavioral action, the dog instead of being submissive, could now ether bark with a strong voice at that person or fight back and bite that person who hit him, to show his disapproval.

A behavior such as this, would be significantly affected by the type of relationship which individuals have with each other.

This body language that some animals have, is used as a means of establishing status within groups. The majority of animals who possess this behavior are pack animals, such as wolves, lions, homosapiens, chimpanzees, hyenas and others which are social animals that need each other in order to improve their survival.

Most of these animals also possess a strong emotional communication behavior. Animals who are social and have a strong emotional communication behavior, are able to be a stronger part of each other, which, in turn, ables them to significantly hunt better and fight together against any negative event which their natural environment might provide.


Following self esteem comes status, which is the position that an animal occupies within a group. Status gives the animal an idea of how big or small it is within its group. It is an awareness of that animal's self worth, relative to its social group. For example: if you could explain the behavioral patterns of status in a verbal manner, you would probably say it in one of these statements: "I am better than you, because of my position." "I am not as good as you, but I am better than him/her because of my position." or "I am not as good as any one else, so, therefore, I always have to beg because of my position."

Most of the time, status is influenced by ether one, or both of these factors: the level of will power and self esteem that an animal has, which causes it to fight or not to fight for a better position within a group; or by how that group feels about the individual claiming that status.

It is quite ridiculous to consider that because a human is a human and a dog is a dog or a cat is a cat, that the same behavioral patterns which they all share mean different things between them, for if this was the case, we humans would not be able to communicate with a dog or any other animal in the way that we do behaviorally, as well as emotionally.

Usually, same environment creates same adaptations; even if the species are different.

We also have to understand that about two percent of our genes are actually unique, and that most of our behavioral patterns comes from the fact that we are mammals, not from the fact that we are humans. If other animals were not related to us at all, then maybe, we could have enough evidence to prove differently, but in this planet, this is not the case.


Although pride is a feeling (mental stimulus), it is another part of the sense of self, because it concerns the importance of one's self. This stimulus gives animals a certain higher feeling of self worth which some animals use, to prove to their opposite sex that they are worthy of mating with, and it also helps individuals, such as matriarchs, behave in a manner that will show importance and higher status.

In the world of some bird species, pride is very important, for it helps male birds do their ritual dances with the finesse required to win the females. These ritual dances show the females the beauty, health, style and self expression which the males possess.

In some bird species, when the male appears too desperate and gets nervous, this feeling is expressed in his ritual dances, making the females loose interest and fly away. Such a behavior is probably due to the bird not thinking of himself as being good enough, for it has failed too many times before, and therefore, panic and desperation starts to show through the ritual.

In order for these male birds to win their females, they must perform their rituals without hesitation, which means that they must have an above average sense of pride stimulus to help them perform without getting desperate.

Birds that have manage to do their rituals right are able to breed and spread those proud qualities on to their species, while the birds that are not as proud, are most likely not to be able to do their rituals right and end up not breeding at all, making that species have a well developed pride stimulus.

Pride is a stimulus which evolved to stimulate all of the sociological senses of an organism towards performing their best. It is an adaptation made to do just that.

A Sense of Belonging:

An animal needs to be self aware in order for it to recognized another individual as a part of itself. Therefore, a sense of belonging is yet, another part of the sense of self awareness. This is what tells pack animals that they are a part of one particular group, and separate from other groups of the same species. For example: lions in Africa travel in groups, but each group has a sense of belonging, a sense of us, so when one group of lions meets a member of another group, lets say a female lion, and that lion asks for food, it could be hard for that lion to get food from that group, since that lion would not be considered a part of their group, and therefore, she might be considered an enemy.

This sense is also the reason why two groups of animals from the same species can be able to fight against each other. Such is the case with hyenas, lions, wild dogs, wolves, humans, chimpanzees, baboons and many other species.

By having this type of system, the group that works better can be able to succeed better, therefore, replacing the other groups with behavioral systems that might not work as good.

Taking into consideration the diversity caused by natural selection, it is quite possible that within different species of animals, there are also different or/and advanced senses of recognition which can make them see reality in different manners. Manners that our own perceptions can not understand.

Decision Making Processes:

These processes are a conjunction of thoughts, intelligence, instincts and feelings, which gives animals their mental freedom and helps them develop their personalities. Most of us who have pets, know that most animals have their own personalities and are always trying to do what they want, unless they are highly trained not to do so.

Decision making processes vary in their complexity depending on the intelligence of the animal, its environment, the skill or experience that it has at makings those decision, its social rank (if any), and a few other mental interactions and adaptations.

Decision making processes give animals an upper hand in deciding how to operate their escapes, how to operate their hunting strategies, where to rest better, when is best to play, how to protect their young, and so on. It also gives some intelligent animals the abilities of self expression.

1997 Samuel Vergio Miensinompe

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Case for Dolphin Consciousness

Excerpted from David Kaiser

The largest brain ever to appear on the planet belongs to the sperm whale (Physeter catodon), a member of the Cetacean Order, whose brain can weigh up to 9200 g, with an average of 7818 grams. One scientist has suggested, solely on brain weight, that the sperm whale possesses a higher development of conscious-ness than humans, despite a relatively low brain-to-body weight ratio: 37,093.0 kg to 7.8 kg, (Lilly, 1967). Opinions vary as to how indicative brain size and other neuroanatomical correlates are of brain function and overall intelligence. How to measure a creature's intelligence, or level of consciousness or sapience, is problematic (as noted by cf. Jerison, 1986); the relationship between the brain and the mind is not an obvious one. Ignoring dualist arguments, consciousness is a brain function, a product of a specific organization of neural groups, but its anatomy and phylogeny are unclear. Consciousness in its present form in Western cultures may have emerged recently, during historic times but features of consciousness may be prevalent to different degrees in other mammals, specifically in larger-brained species such as apes and higher primates, carnivores, elephants, and whales.

Dolphins demonstrate many behaviors that show signs of conscious awareness. For instance, behaviors which are illicit and punishable are often performed only when a dolphin believes no one is around (e.g., Savage-Rumbaugh and Hopkins, 1986). When a dolphin squirts water at a human (to show annoyance), he will often raise his head out of the water to curiously observe the effect his behavior had on the unsuspecting victim (personal observation). Both examples show an awareness of effects one's behavior has on others. They also have voluntary penile erections, which may suggest that they are conscious of things of which humans are not.

Whatever cases are made for or against dolphins possessing human-like sapience, it is interesting to remember that they already possessed their present mental life (presumably) 15 to 25 million years ago.

This belief that mental experiences are a unique attribute of a single species is not only unparsimonious; it is conceited. it seems more likely than not that mental experiences, like many other characters, are widespread, at least among multicellular animals, but differ greatly in nature and complexity. -- D.R. Griffin, 1981.