RE: [asa] First Animal?

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Thu Oct 01 2009 - 16:59:33 EDT


I take from what you say here that you believe the question about when
the first animal arose as equivalent to the question of when Plato's
beard is no longer a beard, as increasing numbers and lengths of hair
are removed from his face.

This suggests two things:

1) that the problem of when the first animal arose is a problem of
classification. That is, that the term "animal" (as it would be for
life) is fuzzy (just as when to decide something is a cup or a mug).

2) But in order for their to be an opportunity for a fuzzy category to
arise between say competing paradigms, it must be possible for there to
be a nearly continuous variation of essential properties of that being

Now it seems to me that such might be said of the term "animal." We
have paradigmatic representatives of animals within a larger category of
living organisms (e.g., trees and tigers). But there are surely extant
examples of living organisms that are in the fuzzy regions. I presume
this is the case because those paradigmatic properties of the plants and
animals are found not to be mutually exclusive in some species, or that
certain essential characteristics can be had in a nearly continuous degree
(e.g., mobility) so that it no longer becomes clear which class the living
organism fits in.

However, it is surely not clear that such features should be true of all
classes. There is nothing, I think, intrinsic in the notion of classes
that necessitates such confusion. What we must distinguish here is not
merely conceptual classes, but empirical classes, those that attempt to
reflect the nature of the world.

Take the example you offer of consciousness. We can speak of degrees of
consciousness, but we can also speak of consciousness as a capability. As
a matter of degrees, we can imagine establishing a paradigm wherein the
"conscious being" has a certain high degree of consciousness. As such,
with persumably nearly continuous decreasing degrees of consciousness, a
point will be reached where one might not be able to clearly decide
whether such a person is a "conscious person."

But if instead of degrees of consciousness we speak of a capability of
consciousness, it is not so clear that we can speak of nearly continuous
degrees of conscious capability. And if we could imagine it conceptually,
are those capabilities realizable.

Such a question can likely not be answered since no one really claims
(except perhaps conceptually) of why consciousness exists. To say that it
emerges when enough neurons amass is nothing more than an assertion. What
is more to say that it emerges appears to suggest that you either have it
or you don't, which would imply that there is no nearly continuous

If we speak of having a capability, what essential property could be
nearly continuously varied? We could speak of a capability to walk, say.
If we crawl, is that walking? No, we might say. So we would have to
speak of not having the capability, but nearly having the capability.
Still, this would be inadequate since it still lacks the property of being
fuzzy. How can we make a capability fuzzy? Suppose, you could take only
one step and then fall on your face. Is that walking? We might say no.
What of 100 paces? So here we can imagine that the essential properties
of walking would be "walking 100 paces." But what if I allowed that an
essential property of walking was going one pace? It seems then that I
have failed to create a fuzzy realm. It seems that as long as we speak of
qualities and never mention quantities that we might hope to eliminate the
possibility of fuzziness and nearly continuous variation of properties.

Perhaps I am off base, so let me simply end by wondering why you think
emergence explains anything. It appears to be claim of magic.
From lower level properties, higher level ones "emerge."
The lower level ones follow, say, by necessity.
But the higher level ones do not follow by necessity from the lower level
ones. They are contingent on the lower level necessity.
This is not true of all supposed higher level properties, (e.g, the
slipperiness of water), but it apparently true of others, like

What, then, determines the contingent higher level properties?
Classic emergence theory holds that the lower level properties cannot
explain or account for the higher level ones. This is the basis for
non-reductive physicalism. How is this suppose to work out?
Does the position merely amount to a commitment to certain philosophical
principles (e.g., physicalism and reality of higher level properties)?

It appears to me to be an impotent position. More like a creed, which, of
course, I have no objection to. But if that is what it is, let's say so.

Or are you committed to the assertion that if you put together X neurons
of properties Y together, consciousness arises? This begins to sound
ominously like the Brain in a Vat problem. What exactly would this petry
dish "brain" be conscious of? Or is it possible to have contentless


  On Thu, 1
2009, Dehler, Bernie wrote:

> Asking about the 'first animal' is like asking about 'the first human' or
looking at a baby developing in the womb and asking 'when can you first see
the nose develop.'
> It is impossible to determine when the nose develops... it gradually arises.
   Just like life, just like consciousness.
> That's my take, and why I'm against the 'first Adam' (or against a literal
Adam) and against the idea of a soul. What you observe to be the soul of
someone (when you observe them) now also exists in other animals, only to a
lesser degree. It is all about "emergence." That is a powerful work and term.
   Its corollary is 'dissipation.' As the 'soul' (consciousness) emerges
(from children), it also dissipates (in old age).
> That's my take.
> ...Bernie
> ________________________________
> From: [] On Behalf Of Gregory Arago
> Sent: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 10:42 PM
> To: ASA
> Subject: [asa] First Animal?
> Hey All,
> A perhaps simple or silly question, but it came to mind nonetheless and since in another thread people are speaking again about 'Adam,' 'the man,' perhaps 'the first man' categorically speaking, I was thinking in another direction.
> Is there a 'generally agreed upon' (arrgghh, this word 'consensus') example of a/the 'first animal'?
> As the story goes, life from non-life, inorganic to organic, more and more 'complex' organisms, etc.
> Is there a moment when a 'first animal' appears in natural history and if so, what was the 'first animal', categorically speaking (via Linnaeus)?
> Gen 1: 20 indicates water creatures, then birds. But we can look to natural-scientists too. (e.g.
> Thanks to Murray for saying "modern conceptions of historiography don't apply." So, it is perhaps a simple or silly question, nonetheless, it is one that has now been asked.
> Warm regards (from plus 5 Spb),
> Gregory
> ________________________________
> Ask a question on any topic and get answers from real people. Go to Yahoo! Answers.<>

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Received on Thu, 1 Oct 2009 14:59:33 -0600 (MDT)

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