Monday, March 02, 2009

Pearls from Pauline

A Correspondent raises the following questions about You Know What:

-Do mind, soul, free will differ in source?
Comment: These three concepts all arise in the human brain, if that is the meaning of the question. While many have tried to make distinctions between mind and soul, in my opinion these are semantic issues.

-Does someone who denies free will, necessarily deny concept of "soul"?
Comment: Again, one would have to ask what the word "soul" denotes. There is "soul music," "soul food," and full or empty milk bottles (Baltimore Catechism circa 1950). There are Buddhist concepts, Hindu concepts, those of Aristotle and Plato. Thomas Aquinas, I think, was big on souls. I once heard of a high school student who tried to buy other student's souls (she was a witch). This would be the soul of Goethe. In summary, many would say that the soul is a life spirit, but, in the end most people assume that other's think of a soul the same way they do. It is an intuition.

-If humans have souls, and non-human animals do not, when in evolution does soul enter humans?
Comment: Very good question. For some very interesting discussion of this see Unreal Nature. I now see that this goes back to your first question. That is, are soul, mind and free will all part and parcel of the same "thing." I don't know whether there is an answer for this since it is impossible to get a definition. However, many would say that there is a "life force" in higher animals that leaves at death. It is hard not to say that a chimpanzee, who shares so much DNA with humans, and who seems almost to be a human, doesn't have a "soul" in the same way that people say humans do. The existence of this question and the lack of a viable answer is a big challenge for Free Willers.

-Do animals have a mind?
Comment: See above.

-How do humans and non-humans differ regarding brain and electrical activity? is there any?
Comment: Other than absolute number and complexity of the circuits, they are, to the best of my knowledge, exactly the same (same neurotransmitters, same ion gates, same action potential, etc.) I say this because most of the defining research in neurophysiology was done on animal models.
The interesting thing here, if you are of a galactic bent, is wondering what the human mind will become in 100,000 years. For starters, everyone would have to be born by Cesarean Section, since (and I can assure you of this) the current human female birth canal is barely able to cope. (See The Singing Neanderthal for an explanation of this development). While I hold no hope for telepathy or teletransportation, the ability of a humanoid mind twice our capacity for aesthetic appreciation must be unbelievable.

-What is the source of emotion: affection, compassion, misery?
Comment: Buddha would be proud. The source, as best as I understand this of emotion is a complex interaction between a very primitive part of the brain called the limbic system and the higher area called the neocortex. Note that whales have compassion, dogs are affectionate (arf, arf Julie). The only emotion that I am aware that is unique to humans is embarrassment. As Mark Twain said (paraphrase), "Humans are the only animals that blush; and they are the only animals that need to."

-And what about humor, language, intelligence measured in animals?
Comment: Very good question. It is debatable that animals have humor that is at all on the spectrum of humans. Doggies and kittens are certainly playful. I think that primates have something similar. Language, on the other hand, is a uniquely developed human facility that has evolved over millenia. Closely allied to language is an appreciation of music. See the aforementioned "The Singing Neanderthal" for a comprehensive exploration of this topic. As for intelligence, a colony of ants shows intelligence (see Unreal Nature and this New York Review of Books item on The Superior Civilization)

-How do neuron patterns differ in non-humans and humans? and do they?
Comment: Again, I assume that the patterns in a human are more complex, just because there are more neurons. For instance, we have color vision but dogs do not. However, it is probably a question of degree. This is an interesting question that cannot be answered yet.

-Who chose the word "animal"?
Etymology: Latin, from animale, neuter of animalis animate, from anima soul. So, there you have it, its those damn Romans.

Pauline says: One last comment on the chimp who made headlines recently. It boggles my mind that ONE chimp gets shot for ONE attack on ONE human. Never mind some humans "freely choosing" to kill thousands of Iraqis in an unconscionable war. But that's another whole matter.
Some of these questions make one go back and think very, very hard about what was said. I must confess that my comments are just what I think and do not represent any orthodoxy.


Pearl said...

Since first reading your responses regarding human and non human animals, Dr. C, I have spent considerable time weighing your views. Problem is, I am STILL weighing them. You may recall the name Peter Singer (Brookings Institute, Princeton U.)who wrote ANIMAL LIBERATION in the 1970's. Since that time he has written numerous books on ethics [lack of] in the meat industry and also in the political arena. Rereading his early works -- many books since then! -- I found his arguments so convincing and moving, that it used up my energy reserve. Took me off course a bit, too. With that said, I confess to now needing more time to continue to weigh your views along with his. In the meantime, and if you have time, you may want to take a look at Singer's ethical considerations in ANIMAL LIBERATION. Maybe even some more current writings such as WIRED FOR WAR, 2009.

By the way, I am not missing the boat here. I know that our focus was on free will and soul, but Singer's ethical comsiderations are based on those intangibles.

Will be back in touch after further consideration of where (and if) you and Peter Singer agree.

Nice to chat with you, Dr. C.

prl (Pearl)

Dr. C said...

Pearl, Thanks for the comment. As our discussion proceeds, it appears that things are settling down into two, alternative camps. One uses concepts derived from traditional philosophy (e.g. Admiration), most of which I have trouble understanding (I will post on this today), the other is purely mechanistic (e.g. the Information posts.) I had seen that clip on the elephant and the dog. While I suppose all creatures have a "me first" built into them (especially those creatures that inhabit Wall Street), there is also the inexplicable tendency to alturism. This is easy to understand interspecies. Intraspecies, as the elephant/dog, porpoises helping humans, is harder. However, man became a carnivore way back when because (as the Mermaid points out in a quote from Loren Eiseley: "All that swarming grassland world with its giant bison and trumpeting mammoths would go down in ruin to feed the insatiable and growing numbers of a carnivore who, like the great cats before him, was taking his energy indirectly from the grass.") So, I don't think we can escape our desire for meat. However, that said, there is still a large amount to be said about how we treat other animals (notice, I said "other.") Ethics may not necessarily involve Free Will, as contradictory as that may sound. First we have to work through the language so we can understand what the other is saying.

Felix Grant said...

DrC> So, I don't think we can
DrC> escape our desire for
DrC> meat.

Leaving free will entirely aside, and conceding that we have for millennia now evolved acquired omnivorism, our fundamental "design" (I use the word entirely loosely and as a shorthand, without any suggestion that it was really designed) is primarily for a frugivore diet with minor trace components of egg, shrimp, maybe the odd scrap of carrion when things were hard. "Desire for meat" is a relatively modern phenomenon and concentrated in comparatively wealthy, relatively small population segments.

Dr. C said...

The *vore slinks through the jungle; he spots his prey; he jumps, catching it with his sharpened incisors; greedly, lustily he feeds; he sates; he moves off; red in tooth and claw; the tomato patch has lost a few citizens