Re: Ants are not conscious

From: Russell Standish <>
Date: Sat, 22 Mar 2008 17:15:36 +1100

On Tue, Mar 18, 2008 at 02:24:40AM -0700, Jason wrote:
> Hello Russell,
> Congratulations on your latest publication.
> Today on my way home I begin to question whether or not I still
> believe self-sampling assumptions are valid tools for drawing
> conclusions. I decided that though self-sampling assumptions may lead
> to conclusions that are true for the greatest number of observers,
> correct conclusions are entirely coincidental. In the same way
> correlation is no indication of causation, likelihood of truth for the
> majority of observers is not caused by something being true for one's
> self.
> By definition every OM with a non-zero measure has a 100% guaranteed
> chance of being experienced, even if its measure is 10^(-20) that of
> another more prolific OM. The only thing that can be reasoned from
> current experience is that one's current OM has a non-zero measure.
> Attempting to use properties of one's vantage point to draw
> conclusions about other OMs can be disastrously wrong, for example
> take the Doomsday Argument:
> The doomsday argument allows the largest number of observers to
> correctly predict the doom of their civilization, but it achieves this
> by having every observer who has ever lived believe that doom is just
> around the corner.

This is not true. See the appendix "How soon until doom" in my book
Theory of Nothing. For most of humanity's history, doom is a long way off.

> If a nuclear holocaust occurs tomorrow, the 6.66
> billion alive today would have been correct, but the people alive
> today represent just 10% of the total number of humans who have ever
> lived, leading 90% to be wrong.

The DA just predicts that population will drop in the near future -
perhaps catastrophically, but more gentle drops are also compatible
with it.

> The main objection I have to anthropic reasoning in this case, is that
> it leads to the conclusion that life forms which are reactive to their
> environments and capable of thought / decision making are
> philosophical zombies. Though it is easier to imagine that ants are
> not conscious, what about other animals far more numerous than
> humans? Are chickens, mice, and sheep zombies?

I don't think these animals are that much more numerous than humans,
but it is also true that it is far from clear these animals are
conscious either. None of the species you mention pass the mirror test
of self-awareness.

> I also do not see how the leap from "Russell Standish" is conscious,
> to "All other humans are conscious" can be made yet stop short of
> "Bonobos are conscious", "Chimps are conscious", and perhaps even

I don't. I rather suspect these animals are conscious.

> lemurs and squirrels are conscious.

These ones possibly aren't. There is a test called the Gallup mirror
test, which is strongly indicative of self-awareness. Most apes pass
this test, bottlenose dolphins and also elephants have found to pass
the test. Virtually no other species does, although it wouldn't
suprise me if some other species were found to pass it. It may also be
that certain species will pass a suitably modified version of the
test, that do not pass the current version of it.

> How does the ability to produce
> viable offspring with another relate to whether or not that other can
> be conscious? Drawing the line between species seems arbitrary to me,
> especially considering how small of steps evolution takes. If you
> conclude other humans are conscious because we have similar brains,
> could you not likewise conclude all mammals are conscious because
> mammals too have similar brains and share a common ancestor?

Human brains are far more similar to each other than to other
mammalian brains. In the absence of an adequate theory of
consciousness, we can't really draw the line anywhere, however there are
bound to be some species that are conscious, and others that aren't,
just as there are some species pass the mirror self-awareness test and others
that don't.

> Where in
> the evolutionary tree did the first human ancestor's consciousness
> appear? The term consciousness was not clearly defined in your paper,
> do you consider it to be a binary property, or something that can have
> varying levels of sophistication?

It is defined operationally as being a member of the reference class
used in anthropic reasoning. It is therefore a binary property (you
are either in the reference class, or you aren't).

Consciousness is sometimes used to refer to something that is
graduated: ie the term "level of consciousness" used in
anaethsiology. This is not how I would use the term, and would prefer
to use "awareness" or "alertness" to describe the differing states
before and after having a strong cup of coffee (for instance).

> I look forward to your response,
> Jason

A/Prof Russell Standish                  Phone 0425 253119 (mobile)
UNSW SYDNEY 2052         
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Received on Sun Mar 23 2008 - 06:20:06 PDT

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