Thousands of species of animals are probably self-conscious

Thousands of species of animals are probably self-conscious


“Amygdaloids” sounds like the name of a species of aliens in an episode of Star Trek, but it is actually the name of the rock band from New York University, led by Joseph Ludo. Dr. Ludo is one of the world’s leading scientists in the field of amygdals; A pair of almond-shaped structures in the brain responsible for creating a sense of fear in response to danger. He is also the president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC), which held its 26th meeting two weeks ago at New York University.

The introduction of the amygdaloid group was just to prepare your mind. The main issue is to announce the results of a “hostile cooperation” between the proponents of two hypotheses about the nature of consciousness. The collaboration involved starting a series of experiments starting in 2020 to determine which hypothesis is true (or neither).

But there is more than science involved. In 1998, DYuid Chalmers And Christoph Koch, two leading researchers in the field of consciousness, who are now considered pioneers in this field, made a bet together that in the next 25 years, the neural correlates of consciousness (nerve cells that create consciousness) will be known (Dr. Koch’s position) or remain unknown (position Dr. Chalmers). Both of them also agreed that the adversarial test would determine the outcome of their bet.

Self-awareness is one of the few natural phenomena that remains completely obscure. Physics also has great mysteries, like how to combine quantum mechanics with relativity, but physicists have some idea of ​​the road ahead and what they’re up against. People who study self-awareness have no such insight.

Deep thoughts

The difficulties of this path were described in 1994 by Dr. Chalmers, who now works at New York University. He divided the study of self-awareness into two parts: “simple problem” and “difficult problem”. The simple issue is about understanding the brain mechanisms that cause the experience of self-awareness. This path is not so simple, but at least it can be solved. The difficult issue centers on the inner experience that philosophers refer to as “mental qualities” (qualia). Dr. Chalmers, himself more of a philosopher than an empiricist, poses the difficult question: “Why do we have visual and auditory experience when our cognitive system is processing visual and auditory data?”

The great experiment that we are dealing with in this article is trying to answer the simple question. As philosopher Rocco Gennaro of the University of Southern Indiana says, the field of consciousness has no shortage of theories. Among these theories, he mentions essential dualism, homogenism, eliminative materialism, the theory of multi-consciousness drafts, the theory of the cared-for middle level, the theory of motor-sensory, omniscientism, and emergentism. Among these, two theories have paved their way forward; Integrated Information Theory (IIT) and Global Neuronal Workspace (GWNT). The recent experiment was supposed to judge between these two theories.

It is well known that the connection of a large number of neurons is not sufficient for the formation of consciousness. For example, some people are born without a cerebellum. A structure that contains half of the nerve cells of the brain, but only 10% of its volume. Although these people struggle with various problems from maintaining balance to establishing emotional relationships, they are quite self-aware. What seems important is how the cells are related. In particular, many researchers point to how feedback loops work between them.

IIT is trying to mathematically measure the level of integration these feedback loops provide, using a quantity called phi (Φ). GNWT does not depend on feedback loops as such; Rather, the rearrangement of data involves a central processing area of ​​short-term memory, which the researchers think drives conscious perception, and peripheral areas that process perception, attention, motor control, and long-term memory.

In contrast, GWNT proponents think that the processing they believe is required for self-awareness is best carried out by columns of neurons located in the forebrain. These disagreements have formed the basis of the recent experiment.

Finally, those who hoped for a decisive victory of one of the theories were disappointed; Although IIT won in some cases. (Part of the data has not yet been evaluated and these results may be strengthened or weakened). But what everyone agrees on is that no specific neural correlate is responsible for self-awareness, and that makes Dr. Chalmers the winner of the 25-year-old bet.

This test may have examined the wrong question. Asger Kirkeby-Heinrup of Lund University in Sweden points out that heat can be created in many ways, and this may also apply to self-awareness. If so, the methods used in this hostile collaboration may never have clear results.

The existence of multiple ways of creating consciousness can be useful to those who study different states of consciousness (for example, dreaming is one state of consciousness, but it is different from waking). It is also possible to check the level of self-awareness of other animals (different groups of animals may have different mechanisms for self-awareness). Another application is the design of self-aware artificial intelligence.

In the case of animals, most researchers agree that three groups of them (and probably only these three groups) exhibit behaviors that justify investigating their self-awareness. These three groups are vertebrates, cephalopods and arthropods. All three groups have significant examples to consider.

Small and large creatures

Orian Zacks and his colleagues at Tel Aviv University study the lineage and neuroanatomy of vertebrates. They conclude that the common ancestor of all jaws, which lived more than 40 million years ago in the Silurian period, had a brain with the neural structure required for GWNT. This finding brings about 60,000 species of today’s mammals, lizards, amphibians and most fish into the realm of self-awareness.

Peter Godfrey-Smith of the University of Sydney considers cephalopods to be remarkable candidates not because of their anatomy, but because of their behavior. He points to the results of experiments that these animals show complex reactions to unpleasant stimuli. Also, interesting videos of their game have been recorded with cameras installed on the seabed.


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