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2016-09-28

The neurology of self-awareness | Hacker News

Source

From Hacker News, so it’s a mess.

A very interesting and thought-provoking essay. This part in particular stuck out:

Otherwise monkeys would have self awareness and they don’t

This suggests the existence of other research that has both defined the concept of self-awareness robustly and made it testable enough that we can state as fact that monkeys don’t have it. Does anybody know what this might be alluding to?

It is a common arrogance, even among scientists”, to assume that no other animal has self awareness or even emotions.

In the surprisingly recent past, science” has declared the lack of sentience, consciousness, or ability to feel pain in any number of groups, from fish to human infants (no, really, they did open heart surgery on newborn humans without anaesthesia. http://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/17/opinion/l-why-infant-surge…). Often there seems to be no evidence behind these declarations beyond the convenience of the conclusions.

Can you point to any evidence even in the fringe sciences that would attempt to prove that monkeys have self awareness?

Actually, this is called into question in the fine article:

(Incidentally, Gallup’s mirror test — removing a paint splotch from your face while looking at a mirror — is not an adequate test of self awareness, even though it is touted as such. We have seen patients who vehemently claim that their reflection in the mirror is someone else” yet they pass the Gallup test!)

The point is that awareness testing is not a fringe part of animal behavioral studies. This would be a potential area of research for mainstream animal behavior study (paired mirror tests).

Why would you need the fringe sciences to support the current scientific consensus on something? It’s like you’re asking for crazy physicists to prove that a feather and hammer will fall at the same speed in a vacuum. Everybody knows that.

to assume that no other animal has self awareness or even emotions.

No other animal other than monkey? I don’t think monkeys have self awareness either.

It’s because animals don’t communicate anything about themself, their signals are mostly based on pattern matching and direct response to events. They never communicate anything showing any evidence of an internal state.

They only communicate in response to external events, and maybe sensations from their bodies.

Even the chimps that did sign language never communicated anything showing any kind of internal state. (For example they never asked questions - events and things simply were.)

Emotions though, I agree animals have emotions. For example that sign-language chimp expressed sadness.

For animals to have self awareness they would have to show they are thinking about something” - and I don’t mean thinking about a solution to a direct goal for a problem in front of them.

You only respond to external stimulus or sensations from your body.

Like in literally every non-biological context, everyone understands that similar systems in similar environments behave similarly. In my layman’s understanding of biology, the only difference between human brains and other mammalian brains is neuronal density; all the structure is the same as far as I’ve read. If the structure is the same, and the behavior and neuronal activity matches what we’d expect from self aware organisms, why reach for a ghost?

If you have to keep believing humans are somehow special, then associate that specialness with being the only creature with highly dextrous appendages that evolved with access to trees and metal that also farms.

You only respond to external stimulus or sensations from your body.

Oh really? So I never spent time simply pondering why this universe exists? Or why I like the color blue more than green?

In my layman’s understanding of biology, the only difference between human brains and other mammalian brains is neuronal density; all the structure is the same as far as I’ve read.

And yet humans are different. That’s the puzzle. You can’t say I’ve solved the puzzle - there is no puzzle!” because there are obvious differences that you can’t simply ignore by saying I don’t understand”.

It doesn’t work that way.

If you have to keep believing humans are somehow special, then associate that specialness with being the only creature with highly dextrous appendages that evolved with access to trees and metal that also farms.

No thanks. I choose reality instead. Where humans are in fact special, they have self awareness and language, and the ability to argue on the internet.

You can go on imagining yourself as a body without a mind if you like, I choose different.

Go read Blindsight by Peter Watts, and ponder why we have a mind - the book will show you it doesn’t have to be that way, yet it is.

Oh really? So I never spent time simply pondering why this universe exists? Or why I like the color blue more than green?

Those are sensations coming from your body. The mind is a physical phenomenon, like breathing is a physical phenomenon.

edit: What is measurably special about humans is our unprecedented ability to change our environment, which seems explainable soley with the combination of high dexterity, farming, and access to highly manipulable elements. Each of those characteristics aren’t unique to humans, but as far as I’m aware the combination of all three is. The cumulative changes of environment to the point where the immediate survival of the organism is guaranteed means the organism uses its facilities for things that aren’t directly related to survival. Recorded history started after agriculture. Cave paintings took a ridiculous leap in complexity and detail after agriculture.

edit2: What I’m asserting is that high level behavior only happens in a high level, non-immediate survival based environment. The onset of human society was not deliberate and did not happen all at once.

Your cat prances up to you, swipes your face, and then runs away. Why does your cat do this?

They captured video of ape sitting early morning alone in the tree. It used sing language to say peaceful”. That’s evidence of inner speech.

Not really, a simple neural network which associates images with words could do the same thing.

I fail to see what you’re saying. Are you saying that because a simple neural network could behave the same, such behaviour can’t thus be evidence of inner speech?

A simple neural network can accomplish symbol association by merely categorizing things, without any deep knowledge or understanding of them.

Neural networks like this are trained with pavlovian methods, and are not self aware or conscious. So such behavior is not at all evidence of any kind of self awareness or consciousness.

Yeah, the essay was good, but unsatisfactory in explaining why monkeys, dolphins, or even most other animals would not possess self awareness.

It’s easy to disregard others, when we don’t share a common tongue.

This sounds more like humans interpreting behavior rather than proof of that behavior.

When you’re referring to measured brain activity as behavior”, you’ve redefined the word beyond any usefulness to neuroscience.

In that case someone should set out to investigate whether humans are self aware.

I think he had chosen the wrong words here, it’s foolish to think that great apes are not self aware. However they don’t have the kind of insight in their own thinking that humans posses. We can draw some conclusions on how they use tool or organize themselves socially and on the surface we might not be that different. Apes can teach each other how to dig for water in cases of drought, but their planning and preparation only goes so far. I think our self awareness is much more linked to curiosity and goal determination than anything. I don’t mean that it arises from those but that it is our inherent ingenuity of that made us conquer the Earth.

Whether the phrasing was intentional or not, monkeys are not apes.

Death as in someday I’ll die” or in the I’ll kill” ?

There was a footage on some simians ambushing and torturing (?) and killing another one.

Does anybody know what this might be alluding to?

According to the article,

Self-awareness is other awareness’ applied to yourself where other awareness’ is constructing meaningful models of other peoples minds in order to predict their behavior.

But as you said it seems like monkeys are not self-aware’ was a presumption made by the author, i.e monkeys don’t have model for self. But, how can we verify this?.

He is saying’mirror neurons play important role in self but not that important otherwise monkeys would have a self’, so the original problem still remains.

Because he’s talking about other awareness” and self awareness” as distinct concepts. ToM includes both.

But hopefully we have paved the way for future models and empirical studies on the nature of self, a problem that philosophers have made essentially no headway in solving.

This final statement not only seems snide but also dumb to the difference between science and philosophy. (I’m not an expert on that difference but I can see that there is one. I can see that there is a clear difference in spite of the fact that each steps on the others’ toes, that each side attempts to take credit for the others’ insights at times, or makes snide comments at each other like this statement here.)

I think philosophers often free-ride on the discoveries of cognitive scientists without adding anything to the discussion. That doesn’t mean that philosophy can’t have its place, it’s there to ask questions but very often those questions are meaningless without the way to gain answers.

Well…Philosophy (“love of wisdom”) originally encompassed all of science. In a sense, once a discipline was able to be conducted more empirically, it split off. So at any particular stage, Philosophy will be trying to answer those questions we can’t answer empirically.

So I find the free-ride” a little harsh. What happens over time is that more and more questions that used to be purely philosophical” have more and more empirical answers.

I think it might be useful for Philosophy to be less its own specialty and more an umbrella for the whole enterprise of love of wisdom”.

What happens over time is that more and more questions that used to be purely philosophical” have more and more empirical answers.

I sometimes think this might be a bit of a positivist myth. Most of the domains where we’ve gained a great deal of empirical knowledge are domains which people always investigated empirically, albeit less systematically and with fewer available resources (e.g. astronomy). On the other hand, most of the big philosophical puzzles that Aristotle engaged with remain largely untouched by developments in science. E.g. Is it possible to make true statements about the future? How is change possible?

I sometimes think this might be a bit of a positivist myth.

How so? For example: http://www.astronomynotes.com/history/s3.htm

Looks like an astronomy problem to me. Aristotle is also considered one of the early astronomers.

On the other hand, most of the big philosophical puzzles that Aristotle engaged with remain largely untouched by developments in science

Exactly my point. Of the problems they worked on (and they worked on everything they could think of), the ones that we have solved we now consider science, the ones that are still unresolved we consider philosophy.

Sort of like the definition of AI: if we solve it, it’s no longer considered AI.

Looks like an astronomy problem to me. Aristotle is also considered one of the early astronomers.

I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. My point was that Plato and Aristotle (and other early astronomers) realized that astronomy had to be based on observation. No-one (except perhaps a few cranks that no-one remembers) has ever tried to do armchair astronomy”.

the ones that we have solved we now consider science, the ones that are still unresolved we consider philosophy.

I think the distinction is really just the distinction between empirical science and metaphysics, which is a distinction that Aristotle would also have made, though perhaps in slightly different terms. For this reason, I think the image of armchair philosophy gradually yielding ground to science is wrong. Broadly speaking, philosophers have always worked on philosophical problems using philosophical methods, and scientists have always worked on scientific problems using empirical methods. There hasn’t been any great shift from one to the other. What has occurred of course is a shift in prestige: society currently values empirical science much more than it values philosophy.

You are equating philosophy” with what philosophy looks like today (“armchair astronomy”).

The point is that this wasn’t the case, philosophy was the umbrella that included everything.

Heck, just look at the title Doctor of Philosophy”, which is the name for doctorates in both the sciences and the humanities. Not just for doctorates in today’s specific sub-discipline of philosophy.

Well sure, but I take it that the change in the way the word philosophy’ is used is not the interesting development. That’s not what people usually mean when they talk about philosophical problems becoming scientific problems.

I don’t think so. The suggestion is usually that questions which used to be in the realm of philosophical speculation are now being addressed using empirical scientific methods. That would amount to more than just a change in terminology.

That’s not even wrong.

Philosophy has been pivotal in shaping human civilization, laws, morals, government, arts, and even science itself.

I think philosophers often free-ride on the discoveries of cognitive scientists without adding anything to the discussion.

That’s a pretty bold claim to make without citing any specific examples.

I think philosophers often free-ride on the discoveries of cognitive scientists without adding anything to the discussion.

Actually, cognitive scientists emerged after millennia of philosophic treatments of the matter (although they approach things with a different methodology of course).

That said, I don’t think we have many, if any, philosophers today. All the main perspectives in philosophy have been played out from the time of Pre-Socratic philosophers to the 20th century.

Today we mostly have tame and bland tenured academics in Philosophy departments — a pale shadow of philosophers of yore, and not so original to boot.

As a discipline, philosophy is largely abstract argument without content. In this sense, HN is philosophical.

How much philosophy do you know?

Do you think you have free will? Some philosophers argue convincingly that you don’t. And if there’s no such thing as free will, where does that leave the notion of punishment in the criminal justice system? I think that’s content” if there ever was such a thing.

Should we be socialists or capitalists? Is one system better than the other? What does it mean for an economic system to be better” than another anyway? On the basis of philosophical arguments regarding these questions, people have been inspired to violently murder those who they see as perpetuating injustice. Surely, then, these arguments are not just abstract” and without content”.

It’s very difficult to explain why science is as successful as it is, or why we should put our trust in the results of scientific inquiry. The history of science is littered with mistakes, after all; who’s to say that the expert scientific consensus isn’t wrong today? So when you encounter someone on the street who says I think global warming is nonsense,” what sorts of arguments will you use to try and persuade them otherwise?

The problems of philosophy don’t go away just because you’re not looking at them.

Should we be socialists or capitalists? Is one system better than the other? What does it mean for an economic system to be better” than another anyway? On the basis of philosophical arguments regarding these questions, people have been inspired to violently murder those who they see as perpetuating injustice. Surely, then, these arguments are not just abstract” and without content”.

Most socialists viciously reject all association with the kind of nonmaterialist, non-scientific, ahistorical kind of philosophy you’re trying to justify here. We use metaphysics” as an insult and liberal metaphysics” especially to sneer at our opponents for trying to draw moral justification from a kind of Platonic realm of Forms rather than from the material needs of human beings.

I’m sure you have some thoughts to add in response, but my point is that socialism itself, as usually taught, is not a very good example to make your point with.

I’m aware that socialists don’t frame their claims as moral claims. I’m not entirely sure if they’re correct to do so, but I’m aware nonetheless.

I’m also aware that some socialists hold views of agency that render the notion of persuading someone to be a socialist via argumentation” incoherent. Hopefully such debates don’t prevent me from using the history of socialist thought as an illustrative example of philosophy that is decidedly not abstract argumentation without content”.

Also, you seem to be unaware of the diversity of thought in contemporary moral realism, if you think that all moral realism is equivalent to Platonism.

Also, you seem to be unaware of the diversity of thought in contemporary moral realism, if you think that all moral realism is equivalent to Platonism.

I’m well aware of moral naturalism, and ascribe to it myself. However, defenses of philosophy qua philosophy” and that sort of ilk are almost never about any form of naturalism. If you are a fan of seriously naturalistic philosophy, done well and in accordance with the best scientific evidence, than you probably belong on the Science side of the insipid science versus philosophy” flame-wars, and your favorite philosophers actually spend portions of their books arguing exactly that. Because they have to, over and over again, ad nauseum.

Because otherwise, the Platonism-of-the-gaps people will rush in and declare Platonism About Everything, which is what they really want.

So for instance, I think that Derek Parfit really needs to see a therapist, because if you actually assert that if naturalism were true, … I would have wasted much of [my life]”1, then you’ve got a problem. You should not need Platonism about X, for any value of X; you should be disinterestedly considering whether Platonism is true (I damn well think it’s not).

1 — http://www.newappsblog.com/2011/08/on-wasted-philosophic-liv…

I’m well aware of moral naturalism, and ascribe to it myself.

Huh. Well, I’m an error theorist. ;)

If you are a fan of seriously naturalistic philosophy, done well and in accordance with the best scientific evidence, than you probably belong on the Science side of the insipid science versus philosophy” flame-wars

I don’t see why I have to pick one side or the other…

I consider my outlook to be thoroughly naturalistic, yet I still find myself frequently defending philosophy to people who misunderstand it. That doesn’t mean I support all types of philosophical work that are being done, or that I think all philosophical questions are equally valuable.

Because otherwise, the Platonism-of-the-gaps people will rush in and declare Platonism About Everything, which is what they really want.

Who are these Platonism-of-the-gaps people? I sort of see where you’re going with this, and I agree with you that a lot of what is done in analytic philosophy is misguided, but I also want to be careful to avoid using the word Platonism” as a pejorative for everything I disagree with.

Thanks for that Parfit quote, by the way. I think that’s pretty hilarious.

Who are these Platonism-of-the-gaps people?

I would go ahead and label them as the entire robust realist” school of thought in meta-ethics, and we can then throw in large portions of the people doing philosophy of mathematics (the original Platonism in modern philosophy), many people’s positions on semantics in philosophy-of-language (ie: they think of semantics in a way that requires Platonic propositions to exist in order to give semantic content, as opposed to merely pragmatic content, to sentences), and of course the endless droning claims of dualism in philosophy of mind.

I would grant these people a lot more charity if they could all get together and agree on what exactly the Immaterial or Platonic Stuff is supposed to actually be, and how it comes into contact with the physical world, not only through supervenience but through some form of actual causation. Instead, since they don’t have a unified account of the Immaterial, it looks (admittedly, from the outside) as if they’re just working in separate fields and positing various forms of Immaterial Stuff as disparate solutions” for all the problems they refuse to allow to be solved naturalistically.

Naturalism can at least shunt off the hard work of explanation to actual sciences, and when that work gets done, naturalism ends up with philosophical accounts that don’t require new and different forms of spooky stuff for each and every thing we want to explain.

I pretty much entirely agree with you. I reject all of the non-naturalistic positions you’ve outlined.

I find it disappointing that non-naturalism is seeing a resurgence in metaethics, especially since I’m not even a moral realist to begin with. It’s clearly just a lot of people grasping at straws.

For modern lines of development regarding Platonism (or something like it) in the philosophy of math, you might want to check out Ladyman and Ross’s Every Thing Must Go”. They attempt to argue from insights from quantum mechanics that relations are real, but objects are not. I haven’t read the whole book, but I believe they’re explicit in stating that their position is not Platonism as it’s classically understood, even though their position sounds suspiciously similar to it.

Even though I’m not a dualist of any kind, philosophy of mind is still the area where I’m the most sympathetic and forgiving towards spooky explanations. Consciousness is pretty weird, after all. So when someone wants to defend property or even substance dualism, I think they’re wrong, but not crazy; and yet physicalism completely dominates in philosophy of mind, while moral non-naturalists get a free pass on their weak well, it SEEMS like there are morals, therefore morals” arguments. It just feels completely backwards to me.

Anyway, I’m not quite sure what prompted you to take the discussion down this path. There is much in contemporary analytic philosophy that I find problematic and even indefensible, but when I’m trying to impress upon people the importance and relevance of philosophy, I don’t mention the shortcomings until the person has a deep enough understanding to take a nuanced view of these issues. This is just like how, if you’re trying to convince the global warming skeptic that the scientific consensus is to be trusted, you don’t start off by talking about the replication issues in psychology. When I talk about philosophy with people, my main goal is to convey the point that there are important philosophical questions that are worth thinking seriously about.

I like this comment. Honestly it makes sense; that is not to say that philosophy doesn’t have a place in science, but I would liken it to writing a website in assembly as opposed to JS, etc.

That last sentence is particularly ignorant in light of contemplatives reliably showing that the self we know is basically an illusion. People can be shown this reliably through meditation. To those that have glimpsed this fact his research seems particularly foolish. I call it a fact since it’s akin to a magic eye picture…people have either seen what’s there or they haven’t, it can’t really be argued.

His research seems, to me, to be the neurology of a delusion, albeit an absurdly common one. What would be much more interesting, and what I believe others are studying, is the neurology of those who have managed to move past this illusion.

The neuron fired not only (say) when the monkey reached for a peanut but also when it watched another monkey reach for a peanut!

These were dubbed mirror neurons” or monkey-see-monkey-do” neurons. This was an extraordinary observation because it implies that the neuron (or more accurately, the network which it is part of) was not only generating a highly specific command (“reach for the nut”) but was capable of adopting another monkey’s point of view. It was doing a sort of internal virtual reality simulation of the other monkeys action in order to figure out what he was up to”. It was, in short, a mind-reading” neuron.

I don’t really see how this follows- maybe the neurons are just recognising things that happened, like seeing a peanut being picked up. That doesn’t require adopting another monkey’s point of view” or figuring out what he was up to”. It could just be the brain attempting to verify that the action happened, which is going to be seen regardless of who made it happen.

How he defines self awareness: ‘other awareness’ applied to yourself” is a self awareness we entertain as children but definitely not real self awareness or the self awareness we posses after reaching any level of even moderate development.

Self-awareness is other awareness’ applied to yourself where other awareness’ is constructing meaningful models of other peoples minds in order to predict their behavior” ^ This is totally circular. You(others) have some way of guiding your(their) own behavior before being aware of others and using that to construct a model of behavior and self.

This essay is armchair philosophizing completely removed from any real experience. I’d go so far as to call it psychologically harmful to anyone that entertains the essay as true and attempts to apply the ideas presented in it to understand their self.

This theory is reversing the cause and effect. Self-awareness is not the primary because it is a consequence of free will, i.e. the capacity to direct the focus or object of your consciousness. Initially the focus of attention is external to the mind for its obvious survival value and the higher animals clearly have some primitive ability to direct their focus. But the step they cannot (or have not made) is to direct that focus onto their own cognitive states (i.e. self-awareness) and discover such things as anger, jealousy, want, love, motivation, etc. From there its a small step to project that certain other animals have similar internal states that explain their behaviors, i.e. mirroring. Hours of observing others animals perceptually would never lead to mirroring nor self-awareness. It is a projection of our observation of the internal states of the only consciousness you can or ever will directly observe, your own.

Mirror” neurons sound more like concept” or verb” neurons, rather than a subset of command” neurons. Firing when its monkey reaches for a peanut”, and when it sees another monkey reaching for a peanut” sounds like it means the verb to reach for a peanut”.

It also seems unlikely that a single neuron would carry a complete meaning in themselves… like probing a single bit in a data structure, you might be able to tell if it’s odd or even, positive or negative, but probably need a constellation of bits/neurons to make sense of it.

But he may be simplifying in this high-level essay, and I haven’t read papers in the field.

The man is simply saying that the underlying neurological mechanism (i.e. mirror neurons ) used to decode others behaviour and possbily make a prediction about what they’re up to” is used also to decode/simulate our own actions, which is really what we call self awarness. This actually makes quite a lot of sense, and I don’t see why some pople detect a circular dependecy here..

At sensory level our own doing” is not really different then sombody else’s doing” , and that can pe processed by the same mechanism, but reconized as our own doing” based on additional cues..

2007 article

A very interesting hypothesis nevertheless. There are pathologies in which theory of mind is impaired. For example Baron-Cohen studies that aspect of autism. There might be hypotheses formulated what that means for self-awareness.

He insists that mirror neurons’ give rise to the aspects of self, but who’s not to say that they are a reflection/ habituation of processes out there’, I don’t know, something like the (aptly named) mirror stage’ of childhood? Shouldn’t a discussion of correlation vs. causation be important for his argument?

I’m not saying the mirror stage is the explanation, formative experiences more generally in childhood might be a reason you see mirror neuron’ networks. A feral child can’t learn language after a certain point, and hypothetically I would imagine he would not show a mirror neuron’ network (or sense of self awareness).

Either way, I think the author needs to address correlation vs. causation before assuming the latter.

We already know that we are very similar to animals. Our mind and consciousness are last things that distinguishes us. We are strongly attached to this idea. It was hard for people to accept the fact that the Earth is not the center of the universe, and despite the simple explanation of the phenomena that surround us.

Regarding consciousness there is too much philosophical discussion. Wordplays of which little is clear.

The sense of sight has exhausted such emotions. We are able to say that a simple multicellular organism having one photosensitive cell is a primitive ancestor of the eye.

What do you say if we define consciousness as the next sense, but in contrast to other senses directed to the center, that is, to our memory.

other awareness’ applied to yourself –

I find the work and ideas especially the

attention schema theory”

of sentience, consciousness, self-awareness proposed by Michael Graziano1 most compelling in that area; they as well propose an evolutionary path towards the development of consciousness”

And yeah sure, why should/could the mirror-neurons-“apparatus” not be involved?

1 https://www.princeton.edu/~graziano/ : including some The Atlantic essays.

Naive factorial() implementation is self-aware, I’d say. So what?

I’m going to play the buddhist card on this one and contend that it’s the enlistment of outside” energies like food, air, water, prana…which are coming into an organism and experiencing or re-experiencing” itself which gives rise to this effect. There are many levels to this effect though and there must be some sweet spots where an experience seems somehow new (as in worthy to be paid attention to) and yet not-altogether old either. Familiar enough to recognize and alarming” or surprising” enough to be worthy of giving attention towards.

Ramachandrans The Tell-Tale Brain is certainly one of my favorite books, anyone who is interested in neurobiology should read it.

This might be an extremely stupid question, but does it make sense to apply the concept of mirror neurons to ANNs?

Of course. There is a field in AI that is dedicated to imitation learning.

See e.g. Mirror neurons and imitation: a computationally guided review” at http://pacherie.free.fr/COURS/MSC/Oztop-Kawato-Arbib-2006.pd… for an overview.

The reason why you don’t see so much of this type of literature is because the dominance of virtual AI: Google, Siri, etc. Hardware is expensive and learning with hardware is slow. However, the type of AI required is IMHO much more interesting. I think we really understand how our brains work if we have an AI competing at the Olympics.

Well isn’t it applied in a way, think assisted learning etc in certain applications, but I’m not a computer scientist so I don’t know really.

This could neatly explain Stockholm Syndrome, cult joining and other identity deficits.

The current understanding is that people join abusive and captive organizations/people not knowing they are such, and stay because acknowledging the abuse, coercion, and lies means admitting you’ve been fundamentally taken advantage of, which in the short term is harder than simply believing the lies you’re continually getting fed.

I mean, in some sense, mirror neurons could explain almost all social behavior, and culture/society in general.

I’d be interested in knowing exactly how the mirror neurons communicate and work with the rest of the brain.

wouldn’t monkeys have cults if this was a sufficient explanation for those?

Just another ape pretending he’s special.

Sure, monkeys don’t have self awareness.

Self Awareness is something that is uniquely human. It relies on consciousness.

Consciousness is the experience of being.

If there is an experience of what it is like to be a thing, then that thing can be said to be conscious.

Such things may be some subset of or superset containing things with brains.” But the idea that it is uniquely human seems absurd.

Woah Woah Woah, there is a fatal flaw and assumption in just the first couple paragraphs - the bootstrapping problem. If we evolved self in order to predict what others feel … that depends on others having those feeling, but if those feelings in others don’t evolve unless others have evolved those feelings, we have a circular fallacy! Who was the first feeler to cause others to evolve, and how did that person evolve then?

If we evolved self in order to predict what others feel …

This has quite obvious evolutionary advantages. If you can predict how someone feels or what he might think you can outsmart him in competition for food. You could trick him for trade (e.g. food for tools) when he least suspects that it might not be in his favor. Essentially externalizing mirror neuron processes is much more beneficial in the short term, if you can think how the other person might think. In the long run in order to be successful you also need to internalize you mirror neurons - you need to think how to think about yourself and to start thinking what this person might think about you and what kind of self awareness they could have. You can’t just trick the other, the deal is to trick them without them noticing otherwise you end up with prisoners dilemma. Probably those processes could also had led to evolution of language and trade.

Makes a lot of common sense. The more I read about stuff like this the more ``common-sense” Nature seems. I mean, having this near- or far-future predictive ability gives a species a real advantage among others that don’t.

That assumes that a sense of self is required in order to have feelings. I don’t think that’s true. I do find the idea that a sense of self developed from an ability to model the mental states of others, but I don’t think having a mental state requires having a sense of self.

All you need is one instance where one agent mistakes that the other agent feels when that agent doesn’t — and then I think your fallacy is moot.


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