Tag: Francis Crick

The thinking dog

Science embraces what many intuitively know: Animals have consciousness.

This was published on the Big Think website at the end of August.

Scientists Give Animals Consciousness

Nick Clairmont on August 29, 2012, 2:34 PM

What’s The Big Idea?

Scientists have given animals consciousness. Not through complex manipulation of the brain or through genetic manipulation, but by publicly acknowledging the consensus, for the first time in such a straightforward way, that non-human animals, including some of our evolutionarily distant cousins, have awareness and experience like we do.

The declaration, called The Cambridge Declaration On Consciousness, was signed at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference of Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals in the presence of Stephen Hawking in July in Cambridge, U.K. by an international group of scientists including cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists.

What do they mean by consciousness? The Declaration treats it as the same as the phrase, “subjective experience.” Philosophers who share this view of consciousness with the scientists often say that something is conscious if there is “something that it is like” to be that thing. So, according to this, a rock is not conscious, because there is nothing “that it is like to be a rock.”

The signing marked the first formalization of the scientific consensus about the consciousness of several non-mammals, including birds, octopuses and even bees.

So if we now turn to that Conference held in Cambridge, England under the subject of Consciousness in Human and and Non Human Animals, we see how that declaration reads,

We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

The full document is really worth reading, by the way.

There is much more about the conference including some remarkable videos here, from which I will select two.  The first one, in particular, is very moving, and upsetting!  Be warned!

OK, forgive me but I’m going to state the obvious!  Just read the entry on Wikipedia about Orangutans.

Orangutans are among the most intelligent primates and use a variety of sophisticated tools, also constructing elaborate sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage. The apes have been extensively studied for their learning abilities. There may even be distinctive cultures within populations. Field studies of the apes were pioneered by primatologist Birutė Galdikas. Both orangutan species are considered to be Endangered with the Sumatran orangutan being Critically Endangered. Human activities have decimated the populations and ranges of both species. Threats to wild orangutan populations include poaching, habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade. There are several conservation and rehabilitation organisations dedicated to the survival of orangutans in the wild.

Among the most intelligent primates‘! Yet again, an example of mankind treating the planet as a disposable item!  A quick web search came across the Orangutan Foundation so as well as being saddened and angry, there is something we can do; support them.

The second video from that Conference website is about the intelligence of dolphins – enjoy!

Back to the Big Think article, which concludes,

What’s The Significance?

The signatories have indicated that we cannot, at least certainly not for the reasons we have been giving, ignore the fact that animals have the same type of experiences that gives us a reason to treat other humans humanely.

Beyond the ethical ramifications, this declaration is another step in a long line of conclusions that the animal brain displays remarkable plasticity and is able to accomplish highly complex tasks in multiple ways.

While anyone who has gone to a zoo or owned a pet has at least temporarily thought of animals as conscious, there is still a large contingent that strongly believes that humans are exceptional in some morally and scientifically significant way. But, as Christof Koch, who co-presented the declaration notes, “The belief in human exceptionalism, so strongly rooted in the Judeo-Christian view of the world, flies in the face of all evidence for the structural and behavioral continuity between animals and people.”

Well done those scientists!

Know your brain? Possibly not.

“Exact knowledge is the enemy of vitalism.” Francis Crick.

On the face of it, I’m going to write about two totally disparate aspects of the brain.  Or are they?

I subscribe to Naked Capitalism and one of my favourite aspects of Yves’s daily email presentation are the Links.  They cover an incredibly broad range of news items.

So it was perhaps a week ago or thereabouts that one of those links was to an item in the British newspaper, The Daily Mail.  Here’s how the article started,

Power really does corrupt as scientists claim it’s as addictive as cocaine

More than a hundred years after noted historian Baron John Acton coined the phrase ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ scientists claim the saying is biologically true.

The feeling of power has been found to have a similar effect on the brain to cocaine by increasing the levels of testosterone and its by-product 3-androstanediol in both men and women.

This in turn leads to raised levels of dopamine, the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens, which can be very addictive.

Across in the English paper The Daily Telegraph, Dr Ian Robertson writes on this subject and says,

Unfettered power has almost identical effects, but in the light of yesterday’s Leveson Inquiry interchanges in London, there seems to be less chance of British government ministers becoming addicted to power. Why? Because, as it appears from the emails released by James Murdoch yesterday, they appeared to be submissive to the all-powerful Murdoch empire, hugely dependent on the support of this organization for their jobs and status, who could swing hundreds of thousands of votes for or against them.

Submissiveness and dominance have their effects on the same reward circuits of the brain as power and cocaine. Baboons low down in the dominance hierarchy have lower levels of dopamine in key brain areas, but if they get ‘promoted’ to a higher position, then dopamine rises accordingly. This makes them more aggressive and sexually active, and in humans similar changes happen when people are given power. What’s more, power also makes people smarter, because dopamine improves the functioning of the brain’s frontal lobes. Conversely, demotion in a hierarchy decreases dopamine levels, increases stress and reduces cognitive function.

OK, moving on.  On April 29th., there was an article on the Big Think website with the intriguing title of You Are Not Your Brain! 

What’s the Big Idea?

“Contemporary research on consciousness in neuroscience rests on unquestioned but highly questionable foundations. Human nature is no less mysterious now than it was a hundred years ago,” writes philosopher Alva Noë in his book Out of Our Heads.

It’s a bold assertion in an age when fMRI has enabled us to see images of the brain functioning in real time, and when many prominent public intellectuals (Stephen Hawking, Eric Kandel) have argued, either implicitly or vociferously, in favor of reductionism. The “brain-as-calculating machine” analogy assumes that human thought, personality, memory, and emotion are located somewhere in the gray matter protected by the skull. In other words, you — at least, the waking you who gets out of bed in the morning — are your brain.

But you’re not, says Noë. Just as love does not live inside the heart, consciousness is not contained in a finite space — it’s something that arises, something that occurs: a verb rather than a noun. And since the publication of Francis Crick’s influential The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, scientists have been looking for it in all the wrong places.

That’s enough of me republishing the article – if it grabs your interest, do go and read it in full here.

And here’s Francis Crick with an extract from his DVD on the Scientific Search for the Soul

NOTE: This is an excerpt from the two-part, 60-minute DVD.

A noted scientist discusses free will, consciousness, attention and memory and their relationship to the human nervous system. In a wide ranging discussion, Crick points out that the hypothesis that the brain is the seat of consciousness has not yet been proven.

Francis Crick, Ph.D., received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for the discovery of DNA’s central role in the process of genetic reproduction. He is author of Life Itself, What Mad Pursuit and The Astonishing Hypothesis.

“Chance is the only source of true novelty.” Francis Crick