When Life Became Sentient
August 7, 2018 at 8:55 am #10606
In the beginning, big or strong pond scum ate (engulfed) small or weak pond scum.
None rejoiced, none complained, until . . . .
. . . until a descendant became able to imagine alternatives (i.e., surviving or starving) and then able to compare them.
What else was necessary first? What else became possible?
Any thoughts?August 7, 2018 at 9:16 am #10607
When did fear arise among descendants? What advantage did it offer?
Ditto for anger?August 7, 2018 at 9:24 am #10608
I think you’re talking about emotions in general. A bacterium will travel towards nice things (environment, food) and away from bad things (e.g. poison, too much heat or cold).
Fear must serve the evolutionary purpose of alerting us to harmful things, and we are (is it?) 5 times more sensitive to harmful than beneficial things (the Smoke Detector principle).
Lena Cosmides talks about anger like this:
anger is triggered when somebody does something that makes you realise that they’re putting much too little weight on your welfare than you think you’re entitled to, [depending on] the kind of relationship you have with that person.
anger is a system designed for interpersonal bargaining, for trying to get the person to put more weight on your welfare in the future.
I believe an animal is capable of feeling anger in response to a threat from another individual.August 7, 2018 at 10:37 am #10609
That’s a very interesting topic that runs deep down into any creature with a brain. Even cockroaches scurry for cover when necessary. I intend to include this kind of discussion in my consciousness group, because I believe it starts in lower animals at low levels. We’re just at the high end of a spectrum.
I really like Jaak Pansepp‘s research in this area. He’s the guy that discovered that rats laugh when tickled. Here’s a paragraph from wikipedia:
Temple Grandin draws extensively on Panksepp’s work in describing how an appreciation of the primal emotions of ‘play’, ‘panic/grief’, ‘fear’, ‘rage’, ‘seeking’, ‘lust’ and ‘care’ and what triggers them can improve human care of stock animals and the welfare of companion animals.
In actual order from most primitive to latest evolved, Jaak wrote: seeking (even in bacteria), fear (i.e. avoidance, or opposite of seeking), rage (to deal with or pre-empt the fear), lust (going to a level higher than just pheromonal reflexes), care (as in for each other), panic/grief (as in loss or fear of loss of loved one), and play, which is actually a huge advancement in how animal learn to compete with each other and gain physical skills. He posits that panic in particular evolved in mothers and their young offspring, e.g. when unintentionally separated, the young especially would cry for help.
That’s from memory, parentheses are my comments, so probably not perfect.
Another interesting, recent understanding is how neurons evolved and then brains. The synapses between neurons actually evolved from sensory cells that could detect various environmental conditions to be seeked, or avoided. The origins of some neurotransmitting chemicals in our brains can be traced genetically back to bacterial cell membrane sensory organelles. My point being that whatever neuronal physiology happens with great sophistication in our brain has had a long, long evolutionary history of gradual sophistication.August 7, 2018 at 1:20 pm #10610
@popebeanie – “The synapses between neurons actually evolved from sensory cells that could detect various environmental conditions to be seeked, or avoided.”
This kind of indicates that the brain is in part at least a sense organ, or a sense-organiser, or both. The brain must be included with the nervous system in this overall sense-organise-control system.August 7, 2018 at 1:53 pm #10611
Dawkins pointed out in his fabulous book the selfish gene that when you ask about advantage…ask “for whom”. The advantage is usually in the interest of obsessive gene replication (and lots of it). Most rodents, for example, live life in endless fear, nervousness, stress and anxiety. For good reason. This is an unpleasant way to live you entire waking life. Its always good to remember many benefits are for the continued replication of genes…not the comfort, quality of life or enjoyment of creatures. Nature doesn’t really care much about those benefits.
Fear is what keeps easily eaten delicious animals from being eaten…or better out…extends how long they live before an invariably unpleasant end.
August 7, 2018 at 2:15 pm #10613
- This reply was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by Davis.
@davis – most rodents are small vulnerable prey animals, so it would be appropriate for them to feel stressed a lot of the time. But this niche is particulary specialised, so I am not sure how well that model applies to other animals, apart from in degrees of positive or negative emotions felt.August 7, 2018 at 3:49 pm #10614
All mammals experience a notable level of fear and anxiety, even ones who have few predators like elephants and lions, still have to worry about mating, food, pack relations, their young etc. Most mammals have rather ugly ends. Humans, are frequently utter nervous anxiety filled nutcases.
Its true rodents need to be endlessly on their guard, its an advantage for the replication of their genes. However their stressed anxiety fuelled lives are short even those who are the size of a cat and their deaths are painful and gruesome.August 7, 2018 at 3:58 pm #10615
I really like Jaak Pansepp‘s research in this area. He’s the guy that discovered that rats laugh when tickled.
If I tried to tickle my cat, she’d probably cut me to ribbons. However, she does kind of chortle or chuckle when she knows I’m dishing up some cat food.August 7, 2018 at 4:04 pm #10616
Dawkins pointed out in his fabulous book the selfish gene that when you ask about advantage…ask “for whom”. The advantage is usually in the interest of obsessive gene replication (and lots of it). Most rodents, for example, live life in endless fear, nervousness, stress and anxiety. For good reason. This is an unpleasant way to live you entire waking life. Its always good to remember many benefits are for the continued replication of genes…not the comfort, quality of life or enjoyment of creatures. Nature doesn’t really care much about those benefits. Fear is what keeps easily eaten delicious animals from being eaten…or better out…extends how long they live before an invariably unpleasant end.
It’s always dubious bordering on impossible to argue that animal behavior means they have the same emotions as humans. When lampreys mate are they experiencing lust? When mammals mate, it resembles human sex on the surface, but what’s under it? It’s even hard with people (re: Wittgenstein’s problem of pain and a private language). We seem to be stuck with dubious arguments from analogy. Hence, my prior post about feeding my cat.August 7, 2018 at 5:57 pm #10619
Distress may not be on the emotional level of pain in humans…but distress is still a thoroughly unpleasant experience for any mammal. They may not internalise their pain and discomfort the way we do…but they can become emotionally scarred for life if they suffer a brutal physical or social trauma. More social mammals when cut off from family or other similar animals become so distressed they do things lime self harm, shut down, and in extreme cases starve to death or are no longer able to socialise with fellow animals. I wouldn’t compare the pain of a dog to a human, they cannot internalise their emotions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer…or are desperate for relief of their distress. Our emotions did not emerge with a snap at the same time as humans became sentient.August 7, 2018 at 6:22 pm #10620
“It’s always dubious bordering on impossible to argue that animal behavior means they have the same emotions as humans.”
– we would presume that emotions in animals serve the same purpose as those in humans: to push us towards opportunities and away from threats. But probably each animal has the emotions appropriate to that species. Since humans are very flexible, we would expect them to have a wider range of emotions than most species. For example, we can feel moral disgust or anger, which is probably not possible in any other species.August 7, 2018 at 6:40 pm #10621
We seem to be stuck with dubious arguments from analogy. Hence, my prior post about feeding my cat.
Not so dubious for me, because I’m certain that some feelings like pain, touch (including caressing), protective mothering, play (especially among the young) have to have many (if not most) neurological correlates in common. Neuronal activity detected in specific parts of mammalian brains bare this out. The only question really is “how different” are the experiences we share.
Take for example our shared human experiences. Even among us, each human being can vary in the experiences they have in different components of consciousness, and measurable activities in different parts of the brain, from babies to seniors, aspies, or brain-damaged humans. What evidence is there to cause you to deny that the experiences we undoubtedly share cannot be analagous in any way? Again, the question is in “how different” these experiences are; when one looks at the baseline of experiences that must exist across the majority of humans and similarly across species, it can’t be reasonably declared ourtright that we can only speak in all-or-nothing analogies. There must be spectrums of analogy, even if we haven’t yet documented most of them in a brain scanner.
That is the most logical assumption to hold, when one wishes to research the question of how, when, or how much we share “the same” experiences. It’s certainly illogical to make a claim that there are no such analogies.August 7, 2018 at 6:53 pm #10623
If I tried to tickle my cat, she’d probably cut me to ribbons. However, she does kind of chortle or chuckle when she knows I’m dishing up some cat food.
Yeah, funny about cats, how most seem to object to tummy rubs. Thinking about it makes me wonder if the more predatory animals object to that kind of intimacy in a such a physiologically vulnerable area as tummies. And dogs… I’ve seen their legs kind of jerk back and forth during tummy scratch sessions with their humans. Also interesting (and I believe related) that an animal laying on its back is a broadly preserved sign in body language for submission. And there are other body language memes that seem universal.
And a chortle back atcha… sense of humor itself can cross species barriers. 🙂August 8, 2018 at 4:59 am #10673
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