RE: [asa] First Animal?

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Thu Oct 01 2009 - 19:43:58 EDT


I don't know how you know this. No one can know this of another person.
Do you remember coming to consciousness? When I go to sleep do I "lose
consciousness" and then regain it mysteriously in the morning when I
awake? Or am I always in some sense a conscious being?

In other words, I need to be clear about what we're talking about. I
think we'd better talk about a capability and not a manifestation of
that ability. In this way, I remain capable of consciousness even when
asleep. Otherwise, I would have to say person P is conscious only when
he is in conscious state, and otherwise not conscious.

We generally mean that a property is not something that is necessarily
being manifest at all times or at this time, but that is capable of
being made manifest (e.g., water freezing). So too for consciousness.

If we think of consciousness, then, as a capability. I don't know how
to know when a human embryo becomes conscious. I tend to agree with you
that it takes some kind of biological development, but I can't think of
a way to know that. It likely requires some part of a brain, but it may
take more, e.g., senses.

I'll have to think of this more. But somehow it seems that to say
something emerges in instances such as embryos is to say too much and
therefore explain nothing. What about the development of an embryo
could not be said to "just emerge." What about arms and legs. How do
they come about? Well, they just emerge. Yet, it seems we have more
to say about it than that. A plan embedded in the embryo unfolds and we
can track that unfolding. What of consciousness?

Well, these are interesting issues, but I think I've gotten off track
somewhere from the reason this even came up.

Perhaps its related to your seeming claim that everything (broadly
construed) just emerges.

I guess what I need to hear from you is why you think that says
anything. What are the alternatives? This almost sounds like an
Augustinian unrolling of a cosmic egg.

Got to go.


On Thu, 1 Oct 2009, Dehler, Bernie

> Bill said:
> " 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 variation."
> You can observe the emergence (as well as dissipation) of the mind (or consciousness) in everyday life by watching a person go through all the stages of development: fertilized egg (with zero consciousness), newborn, toddler, child, adolescent, adult, totally senile/dimented old person (back to zero consciousness).
> ...Bernie
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Bill Powers []
> Sent: Thursday, October 01, 2009 2:00 PM
> To: Dehler, Bernie
> Cc: ASA
> Subject: RE: [asa] First Animal?
> Bernie:
> 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
> classified.
> 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
> variation.
> 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
> consciousness.
> 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
> consciousnesss?
> bill
> On Thu, 1
> Oct
> 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
>> ________________________________
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Received on Thu Oct 1 19:46:19 2009

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