Re: [asa] First Animal?

From: John Burgeson (ASA member) <>
Date: Tue Oct 06 2009 - 11:33:17 EDT

A primary point of the teachings of Christ is exactly that -- that our
does not cease to exist when we depart this life.

One may believe this -- or disbelieve it -- or hold it provisionally
-- or not hold it provisionally. In any of the above, it does seem
that -- since death will eventually come -- that the question is one
of great importance, and ought not be "settled" until a great many
arguments are examined.

At age 78, I am still examining the arguments.

On 10/1/09, Bill Powers <> wrote:
> Bernie:
> 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.
> bill
> On Thu, 1 Oct 2009, Dehler, Bernie
> wrote:
>> 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
>>> ________________________________
>>> Ask a question on any topic and get answers from real people. Go to
>>> Yahoo! Answers.<>
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Received on Tue Oct 6 11:34:12 2009

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