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The nature of reason, volition, self-awareness

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Okay, I hope this isnt going to be too much of an incoherent stream of conciousness, but here goes.

I just watched a documentary about Oliver the Chimp, and even if he turned out not to be a chimp-human hybrid, it got me thinking......

When comparing chimpanzees and some simple organisms it is easy to see that chimpanzees are the best the non-human animal world has to offer in terms of being close to having the capacity to reason, volition and self-awareness. It is difficult to outright dismiss that chimpanzees have none of these capacities, but still they clearly dont. There is obviously a trap a human can fall into, and simply think that chimps are smart because they look so much like us, and therefore our brains make them appear human-like, when they are not. I hope im not falling into this trap.

So, the question is. Is acquiring self-awareness, reason and volition comparable to cooking water, as in, everything under 100 degrees Celsius is not cooking, and once it reaches that "threshold" of 100 degrees, it is. I mean, water cant be partially cooking, and is the same true with being self-aware and having the capacity of reason and volition. That there is one single "singularity" that an entity needs to reach, and once that singularity is reached, he has the capacity of reason and volition. Or is it, that someone can have the capacity to have partial reason, or partial volition, and that there really is no defining singular point where following ones instincts completely automatically changes into using ones capacity of reason, and being aware of this fact while doing it.

When looking at videos of chimps on YouTube, it is almost like looking at retarded humans. It is like you can see the chimp somehow trying to "think", but not quite being able to. For all of you who have experienced lucid dreams(when you are aware of the fact you are dreaming), you can compare it with trying to stay in this aware state. I have had several lucid dreams, and most of them are such where i am somewhat aware, but yet not fully, and i keep slipping between this non-aware and semi-aware state. I know this is a stretch, but could chimpanzees, and our common pre-human ancestors, be permanently in such semi-aware states, where they are almost able to "put 2 and 2 together" and connect the dots, but not quite being able to.

Because it is very very hard, for anyone who has ever seen real chimpanzees, and seen videos of them, to say that they are just following their instincts 100%. And i dont mean because i've seen videos of someone dressing up a chimp in human clothes, and made him do human things for some circus acts.

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So, the question is. Is acquiring self-awareness, reason and volition comparable to cooking water, as in, everything under 100 degrees Celsius is not cooking, and once it reaches that "threshold" of 100 degrees, it is. I mean, water cant be partially cooking, and is the same true with being self-aware and having the capacity of reason and volition. That there is one single "singularity" that an entity needs to reach, and once that singularity is reached, he has the capacity of reason and volition. Or is it, that someone can have the capacity to have partial reason, or partial volition, and that there really is no defining singular point where following ones instincts completely automatically changes into using ones capacity of reason, and being aware of this fact while doing it.
I dont think its this simple, because humans dont really have the ability to reason or exercise volition outside of culture. As far as I know, the human brain hasnt changed too much in the last 100000 years but its only quite recently (say 10000 years ago) that the species has started to exercise higher level mental functions, and this probably has more to do with changing cultural environments than anything else. If theres a 'singularity' then I suspect its a cultural singularity which occurs when a society reaches a point where its language and institutions allows for the transmitting of complex information between generations, rather than something which occurs purely in the brain (except in as much that the brain needs to develop the ability to use language, but whether this is a result of a specific kind of modular specialization or a more holistic capacity is unknown afaik, but this is an introduction to some of the arguments).

Look at feral children for instance - theyre arguably closer to animals in terms of mental capacity than they are to humans. 'Reason' isnt something which humans are innately endowed with, it's a potential which can only develop given the right cultural embedding and linguistic environment. If a society of chimpanzees developed the capacity to use a crude language, then who knows what could happen.

When looking at videos of chimps on YouTube, it is almost like looking at retarded humans. It is like you can see the chimp somehow trying to "think", but not quite being able to. (...)

Because it is very very hard, for anyone who has ever seen real chimpanzees, and seen videos of them, to say that they are just following their instincts 100%. And i dont mean because i've seen videos of someone dressing up a chimp in human clothes, and made him do human things for some circus acts.

Human infants are similar. The key difference is that a chimpanzee essentially needs to learn everything about the world from scratch, whereas a human infant is able to partake in a large range of cultural institutions which teach him how to think, provide him with premade categories for understanding the world, show him methods for solving problems and achieving goals, and so on. And all of this is made possible by language, which turns thought into a cultural product that can be passed down to new generations and incrementally built upon. I think feral children are evidence that if humans are forced to learn about the world on their own, without access to this kind of cultural information, they dont do much better than chimps.

Edited by eriatarka
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I don't think its this simple, because humans don't really have the ability to reason or exercise volition outside of culture. As far as I know, the human brain hasn't changed too much in the last 100000 years but its only quite recently (say 10000 years ago) that the species has started to exercise higher level mental functions, and this probably has more to do with changing cultural environments than anything else.

Actually, I think you've got a lot of things backwards, here. It is man's ability to control his consciousness that makes reason and culture possible. It is not as if culture sprung up pre-reason and pre-volition, and then after culture arose, he learned how to use his mind. It is true that once there was the possibility of controlling his conscious mind, that language and a human culture could arise, even if many of them were primitive and very irrational.

The question of wild human beings is not one of no culture, but of someone who has not learned how to use his mind effectively, which can be taught, but only after at least some control is exercised by the individual.

I'm not trying to say that all of a sudden science and philosophy arose back 100,000 years ago; but rather that anywhere from nearly a million years ago to 100,000 years ago, humans began to be able to control their conscious mind. But even with that, it doesn't mean that, say, Aristotle is going to arise immediately, because it takes a while in a given life to learn how to use one's mind, and without parental guidance, it is often hit or miss.

So, volition gave rise to the ability to reason, and the ability to reason gave rise to culture and a human mode of existence. A group of animals hanging around together in a herd is not a culture, and man was this way until someone figured out how to reason and then taught it to his brothers.

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Is acquiring self-awareness, reason and volition comparable to cooking water, as in, everything under 100 degrees Celsius is not cooking, and once it reaches that "threshold" of 100 degrees, it is.
First I just have to know whether your first language is Finnish or Swedish. I have my own evil purposes for asking (based on my problems in implementing recipes in Norwegian thanks to not quite getting the subtleties of å kokke); my comment here is that water boils (at sea level, if pure) at 100 C and food cooks when it cooks: water never cooks, it boils.
I mean, water cant be partially cooking, and is the same true with being self-aware and having the capacity of reason and volition.
This might be true, but I really am not sure. All of the evidence that I have seen over the years indicates that some mammals are self-aware (in varying degrees this is true of great apes, domestic dogs and cats and probably their feral counterparts, possibly bears and gee I'm not sure what all else). This is basically a scientific question of fact, about cognition, and I'm not persuaded that we have sufficient evidence to make a strong proclamation about that for at least certain mammals.
That there is one single "singularity" that an entity needs to reach, and once that singularity is reached, he has the capacity of reason and volition.
No problem here, but I think we can clearly separate these two: volition makes possible reason; reason implies the existence of volition. It may be that in the development of humans, the capacity to reason and free will itself resulted from a single genetic cause, but that is not implicit in the notions of reason and volition. Once one has volition, than one can choose to integrate knowledge by logic -- to reason.
When looking at videos of chimps on YouTube, it is almost like looking at retarded humans. It is like you can see the chimp somehow trying to "think", but not quite being able to.
I certainly wondered about Oliver. I'm quite content to believe that he had some of the mutations that occurred in our ancestors, and if we could carefully inspect his DNA w.r.t. the essential genes involved in humanness, we might find some concrete movements in our direction. He is clearly genetically abberant for chimps. I've never heard any such sophisticated thinking happening, in terms of his managers and those who have access to him.

The main research question is, I think, how we would determine that he had free will but no conceptual consciousness? Conceptually speaking, what would it mean for a being to be able to freely choose between actions, without the ability to abstract generalizations about the world in a symbolic form? I don't really know, so we can't perform the experiment.

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The main research question is, I think, how we would determine that he had free will but no conceptual consciousness? Conceptually speaking, what would it mean for a being to be able to freely choose between actions, without the ability to abstract generalizations about the world in a symbolic form? I don't really know, so we can't perform the experiment.

Abstraction starts at the perceptual level, and abstraction confers generality, so any sensory organisim can be expected to behave categorically to objects, without that implying that they possess concepts.

My dogs know the word, "kennel" means to get into their bed. But when we're outside, "kennel" gets them to enter the car, or, if I show them a cage and tell them to "kennel," they will enter it. If we are in a new place, and I put down a rug, show it to them, and announce, "kennel," they will treat it as their bed. You could clump together some words to express the implicit meaning they have for that command. Though I use it as a concept, they use it more concretely. The communication between us works because we are both using abstractions. That doesn't mean we are both using concepts.

The point is that "abstract generalizations" are possible without "symbolic" abstraction. (No implication for the free will issue.)

= Mindy

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First I just have to know whether your first language is Finnish or Swedish.

Kind of both. Officially swedish, but im more fluent in finnish.

The word boil, occured to me about 2 hours after i wrote that post, but i didnt bother to come back and edit it. In swedish, and i guess in norwegian too, it can be confusing as "koka" means both boiling and cooking. In finnish, "to cook" is "keittää" and "boil" is "kiehua", but because swedish and english are both germanic languages, i often may use swedish expressions and translate them directly into english, because they seem to fit, even if they really dont....

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