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Why does life begin at birth?

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Hey all - this is my first post. Please help me with the below (probably novice question).
 
Consciousness is that faculty of an entity which perceives existence. One must exist (and be living) to perceive existence. The unborn processes sensory material - perceiving existence- during some stage in its development. This is measurable by various technology from what I gather. Individuation of the unborn entity from the entity of the mother must therefor occur prior to its physical separation from the mother? The unborn entity maintains some relational quality (eg physical connectedness) to its host mother until its separation?
 
I don't see why a change in some qualities of an already living entity (say connectedness to its host) indicates the beginning of a new process for that entity- life. It is already alive prior to its birth is it not? Hence the use of the phrase 'stillbirth' to indicate when the the opposite occurs?
 
Why then does Rand say life begins at birth? Rather than birth being some stage one passes through during ones life which has already begun prior?
 
Thanks. Any recommended additional reading on this topic would be much appreciated. 
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Welcome to the forum, Mr. Jenko.  

Fundamentally, this is a question of what kind of being individual rights pertain to. Rand held that rights, as a concept, apply exclusively to actual (as opposed to potential) human beings with the possession of a rational faculty. 

I have encountered Objectivists whose views on abortion differ, and there have been countless threads on the subject. Some hold the view that a woman should have the right to get an abortion until the point of birth (I believe this was Rand's own view) while others believe the cut-off point is when the baby is biologically viable, i.e., when it could survive independently of its host. 

For reading, you can begin by searching for "Abortion" and "Individual Rights" in the Ayn Rand Lexicon, and you'll get a number of passages from Rand's own writings as well as her lectures. It's a good resource in general if you're looking for quick answers. 

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My question was more about life per say than any socio-political topic. Though i've searched a few of the threads but i think my question seems a little different (although related somewhat).

My point in essence is that if one concedes that an unborn entity (even if not physically separate to a host) is aware of existence to some degree then that entity is necessarily alive. Alive pre-birth. That is, its life has started prior to its birth and so biologically its life did not begin at birth?

I can see why from a practicality perspective Rand may have selected birth to demarcate when the issue of rights are applied, but this is a separate issue. 

Thanks for the reply.

 

Edited by Mr Jenko
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14 minutes ago, Mr Jenko said:

My question was more about life per say than any socio-political topic. Though i've searched a few of the threads but i think my question seems a little different (although related somewhat).

My point in essence is that if one concedes that an unborn entity (even if not physically separate to a host) is aware of existence to some degree then that entity is necessarily alive. Alive pre-birth. That is, its life has started prior to its birth and so biologically its life did not begin at birth?

I can see why from a practicality perspective Rand may have selected birth to demarcate when the issue of rights are applied, but this is a separate issue. 

Thanks for the reply.

 

To begin with, it would be good if you shared your definition of "life". Also, do you have any scientific sources for the assertion that an unborn entity perceives existence pre-birth? 

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Please see abstract for conlcusion: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878929321000554

"On the whole, our results support the assumption that fetuses in the last weeks of gestation are capable of consciously processing stimuli that reach them from outside the womb."

One could imagine the moments before umbilical separation from a mother the unborn entity is able to process sensory material, providing an upper limit time on pre-birth awareness of existence. 

Life can be either dependent or independent. Rand provides a great definition for independent life-"Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action."

An unborn is alive, despite being dependent. Just like many organisms. Birth is not necessary for life. 

 

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https://newideal.aynrand.org/abortion-should-be-legal-until-birth/

With Rand's formulation of "life", MrJ, one should certainly not assume that a fetus/infant has to be independent of its  mother's body before it qualifies as 'life'. The "action" taken by the fetus, is its consciousness, senses functioning before birth by some weeks. Its total dependency on its mother or another person (or an incubator) for nutrition, etc. continues long after, obviously. Mr Bayer above makes a very weak argument, imo - for individuation - not viability -being the "bright line" for its rights. Which I maintain is pretty primitive: i.e. only once separated at birth, having become a visible and touchable, 'independent' entity, has it arrived at "individuation"? With all the mother feels and senses from her quite mobile fetus and she and her doctors can view on ultrasound, and measure heatbeat, etc.? I don't think so.

Rand would only go so far as "the first trimester" and left the rest open to debate. I think it probable that full-term abortion would not get her nod, apart from emergency extraction to save the mother.

Edited by whYNOT
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13 minutes ago, whYNOT said:

Rand would only go so far as "the first trimester". I think it probable that full-term abortion might not get her nod today, apart from emergency extraction to save the mother.

"Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born." 

This quote is from The Voice of Reason. It seems to contradict what you wrote above. 

Edited by RationalEgoist
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42 minutes ago, RationalEgoist said:

"Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born." 

This quote is from The Voice of Reason. It seems to contradict what you wrote above. 

The embryonic "clump of cells" (AR) is "a potential"- absolutely. At its final stage of development, with viability - and consciousness - I'd argue the fetus has grown to "an actual". And has attained its right to life - I believe.

The timing of birth, as we know, is quite arbitrary nowadays: "Natural" birth or induced labor.  I think Rand might well have qualified her "until it is born", today, in light of greater biological and medical knowledge.  I'm open to debate, though.

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5 hours ago, Doug Morris said:

Maybe the point is that human life begins at birth.

I would argue that it begins even later, although it might be necessary to grant rights legally before they exist morally.

 

Is the unborn entity not a human entity that is lacking some parts? The entity is 'incomplete', it is lacking physical independence and volition for example. To be an entity is to be one with a specific nature, human nature in this case?

A house (being progressively developed) that is lacking a roof is still a house (being progressively developed)?

Does an unborn entity experience anything material?

If it experiences something material then it has processed sensory material. It is aware of existence. To be aware of existence it must be alive. Therefor the unborn is alive pre-birth. Its life (and so the life of the human into which it develops) must begin before the process of birth completes?

I'm still very confused.

 

 

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19 hours ago, Mr Jenko said:

Is the unborn entity not a human entity that is lacking some parts?

A fertilized human ovum is in a certain sense a human entity that is lacking most of its parts.  Even before fertilization, the ovum and the spermatozoon are in a certain sense human entities.  We need a better way of drawing the line than that.

19 hours ago, Mr Jenko said:

A house (being progressively developed) that is lacking a roof is still a house (being progressively developed)?

A house (being progressively developed) that is lacking a roof is not very usable as a house.  If a person or organization undertakes a legal obligation to provide a house, and they provide one that is lacking a roof, they can not legitimately claim to have fulfilled the obligation.

20 hours ago, Mr Jenko said:

Does an unborn entity experience anything material?

Cats and dogs experience something material, but that does not make them human.

20 hours ago, Mr Jenko said:

Therefor the unborn is alive pre-birth. Its life (and so the life of the human into which it develops) must begin before the process of birth completes?

A fertilized human ovum is alive, but does not yet have human life.  Even before fertilization, the ovum and the spermatozoon are in a certain sense alive, but certainly do not yet have human life.  In a certain sense, the life of the entity that eventually develops into a human being starts at conception.  (This is what the "pro-lifers" emphasize.)  In an even more generous sense, it starts even before conception.  But human life starts later.

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Welcome to Objectivism Online, MJ, and thanks for the link to the paper in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. Aristotle took perception, in the primary sense and in the expanded sense of our higher cognitive powers, as discrimination and grasp of what is. Let us suppose that perception requires consciousness and no neuronal processing supporting less than required for perception supports consciousness. I do not think that the authors have selected a definition for consciousness that rises to the level of perception. That is to say, what they take for consciousness, thence the brain processes sufficing for consciousness, is too broad.

The fetus comes to discriminate his or her mother’s voice from other sounds in utero. But that is no cognizance of what the thing discriminated is, and so, no consciousness rightly conceived. And the fact that certain memorial competence is required for consciousness under any reasonable conception of consciousness and the authors of the scientific paper report the requisite sort of memory for their too-broad concept of consciousness is no weight in favor of selecting their concept as right or best.

I most certainly reject the idea that life of animals that can come to possess consciousness are not alive until they come to have consciousness. One’s living existence is not confined to one’s conscious existence, however extra important is the latter.

And I take the real line at which a fetus first becomes capable of dependent existence on caretakers who are not the mother to be at viability-outside-the-womb time, not at full-term delivery.

I composed a developmental time-line of human cognition beginning in uterus to about age three about twenty-five years ago, but I can’t locate it just now. I do have the following portion I have sometimes put online, and this may be of interest to you, MJ. On day of delivery, the offspring begins to obtain oxygen by breathing, and it has as well the competencies at the beginning of the following report, which we would expect to have continuity with powers had the day before and in anticipation, so to speak, of the new environment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By day of birth, one had the additional reflexes of pupil dilation, knee-jerk, and startle. On that day, one had visual preference for 3-dimensional objects (one perceived something of the 3D of objects), visual discriminations of different static line orientations, visual correction for 3D size constancy under variation of distance and correction for shape constancy under variation of object orientation. One was unable to detect boundaries and unable to fill in invisible parts of objects. One’s visual acuity was poor (probably due to immaturity of both the retina and the visual cortex), and one’s contrast sensitivity was poor.

One’s significant body motions were in alternation with visual attending. One was capable of rough, saccadic tracking, which was not only not smooth, but not anticipatory. One fixed on interesting objects, and perhaps one had some slight control in this; perhaps it was not entirely passive capture. One may have had an early visual preference for faces in tracking. One could imitate two facial movements and one head turn; one could perform these imitations when forced to delay until the model movement was absent.

One’s auditory resolution of pitches and volumes was already pretty good. One had a preference for Mother’s voice over the voice of a stranger, and one could distinguish human language from other auditory input. One was engaged in early head-turning, in the horizontal plane, towards sound sources. As of the time I compiled—about 25 years ago—the developmental time line from which the items here are taken, it was unknown whether the sound source is experienced as outside the head; head-turning had been evoked also by earphones.

Let’s wrap up the first day. One cried when other infants cried. One had auditory recognition memory; retention was for days under conditioning, for 24 hours under habituation. One was sensitive to pain, to touch (coetaneous and active), and to changes in bodily position.

By the end of the second day, one could discriminate Mother’s face from a stranger’s face. One had a preference for infant-directed speech (motherese) over adult-directed speech.

By five days, one engaged in early reaching towards an object in the visual field, reaching that included a preparation for grasping. This reaching and visual detection may be an undifferentiated attention system.

By twelve days, one could imitate three facial (oral) movements and one set of sequential finger movements. By fourteen days, one had a preference for Father’s voice over that of other males. By three weeks, one expected the reappearance of visual objects that were gradually occluded by a moving screen, provided the occlusion time was short.

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5 hours ago, Boydstun said:

The fetus comes to discriminate his or her mother’s voice from other sounds in utero. But that is no cognizance of what the thing discriminated is, and so, no consciousness rightly conceived.

Is it not fair to say something like 'the fetus has discriminated something from nothing'? Much like one does when you see the monitor in front of you, but then close your eyes? The fetus has identified an entity, sensory material? It is aware.

"A sensation is a sensation of something, as distinguished from the nothing of the preceding and succeeding moments. A sensation does not tell man what exists, but only that it exists." - Intro to OE

As far as I can see, the pro-life crowd have a point when they say abortion kills something that has awareness.

I agree that the authors of the paper have a broad definition of what consciousness is.

If life is considered a process I can accept that development occurs throughout its continuum, before and after birth. There appears to be litte debate as to when this process completes (death) and much to its beginning? Breaking it down into stages is helpful for discussion. Thankyou.

In some sense the unborn entity (whatever its stage of pre-birth development) is taking some goal-directed action isn't it - development. 

Thanks for your reply.

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6 hours ago, Doug Morris said:

A house (being progressively developed) that is lacking a roof is not very usable as a house.  If a person or organization undertakes a legal obligation to provide a house, and they provide one that is lacking a roof, they can not legitimately claim to have fulfilled the obligation.

Usability maybe what is considered under law, but this concept doesn't apply to development of a human fetus.

I use this  metaphor of a house development here because Aristotle used a similar example when discussing purposefulness & knowledge in processes.

The fetus has its own purpose - to develop. It self-generates actions to achieve this goal. Somewhat meeting the definition posted earlier for 'life', repeated below. It may not be fully conscious, but it is alive, albeit connected to its mother. 

"Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action" - AR.

Thanks for your reply.

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2 hours ago, Doug Morris said:

Perhaps Ayn Rand should have said something more like "Life as an actual human being begins at birth." or "The acquisition of rights occurs at birth.".

I understand her statement to have been made with a focus towards the socio-political context. I'm unsure whether it was meant at all to be taken as a definitive biological statement at all, considering she was no biologist.

The potential human is of the actual unborn entity. "Human-ness" is a quality of the actual unborn entity? Its built in and provides the goal for the beings development.

 

 

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5 minutes ago, Mr Jenko said:

I understand her statement to have been made with a focus towards the socio-political context. I'm unsure whether it was meant at all to be taken as a definitive biological statement at all, considering she was no biologist.

The potential human is of the actual unborn entity. "Human-ness" is a quality of the actual unborn entity? Its built in and provides the goal for the beings development.

What if you take her statement as philosophical, rather than adding a biological refinement or adding a socio-politicsl context?

What is the essential issue at stake? What makes it the essential issue, objectively? 

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6 hours ago, dream_weaver said:

 

What is the essential issue at stake? What makes it the essential issue, objectively? 

To chip in, d_m.,  I'd think a purpose of objective scholars, is to determine an enlightened view of abortion, radically apart from pro-life, mystical intrinsicism - or- the subjective skepticism of (a few) pro-choicers (whenever I feel like it, up to the point of birth, if I have such a whim).

("Late term abortion" is greeted with horror by women I know, evidenced by the tiny number polled who have enacted it. A writer exclaimed "This is not what we fought for!". Rather than strengthen their pro-choice cause, the argument for "late term" badly devalues it. )

At base, parturition, the infant's mere exposure to outer existence seems a crude, traditional measure of its status, with the scientific insights we have had for a while.

All in order to constructively inform the issue of individual rights, remaining firmly with the mother right up to the point of the mental "bright line" (I propose).

What appears illogical, morally inhumane and legally unsustainable is the arbitrary timing of the events. A day (or an hour) before being born - doing such would be 'a legal abortion'; a day later, it would be illegal infanticide. The fetus/infant has hardly physically and mentally changed in the meanwhile.

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Rand has it that in order for the yield of a neuronal process to be consciousness, the yield must be identification. Consciousness is identification.

Rand had expressed already in 1957 how she thought about the beginning of the infant’s mind in his first days after delivery. She interpreted the baby as having not yet grasped that A is A. This is the stage “when a consciousness acquires its initial sensory perceptions and has not learned to distinguish solid objects.” To a baby at this stage, “the world appears as a blur of motion, without things that move—and the birth of his mind is the day when he grasps that the streak that keeps flickering past him is his mother and the whirl beyond her is the curtain, that the two are solid entities and neither can turn into the other . . .” (AS 1040–41)

There was some revision or refinement of Rand’s views on identifications of what between 1957 and 1966. She wrote in the earlier exposition: “The task of [man’s] senses is to give him the evidence of existence, but the task of identifying it belongs to his reason, his senses tell him only that something is, but what it is must be learned by his mind” (1016). To reason as an identifying faculty, Rand would later add the mind’s automatic formation of percepts from sensory inputs. “A percept is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain. It is in the form of percepts that man grasps the evidence of his senses and apprehends reality. . . . Percepts, not sensations, are the given, the self-evident” (1966, 5). Sensations are parts of the percept, but their integration to form the whole that is the percept has already been accomplished by automatic brain processing. Consciously directed identification proceeds, reason proceeds, upon whatever percepts are possible to us.

By way of speaking truth, and in conformity with Rand’s later view, take the statement “his senses tell him only that something is, but what it is must be learned by his mind” thusly: the telling of the senses is automatic sensory processing up to but not including the automatic formation of percepts. (So for vision, that would include pickup and peripheral processing at the retinas, then preattentive processing [within one-fifth of a second] by LGN, V1–4, and others.) Let “learning by his mind” include some automatic learning, not only volitional, directed learning. However much Rand’s view shifted between ’57 and ’66, it is the latter view that settled as her final, considered picture.

So for Rand, percepts are the level of most primitive identifications, which is to say, the most primitive level of consciousness. I think she errs, however, in her further view, both in ’57 and ’66 that no identification has been made and no percept has formed unless the identification, the percept, includes an object (exemplar of Rand’s category entity), not merely an action, event, or occasion. Rather, I should say, there are non-object wholes among our percepts; they need not always be incorporated with their attendant objects in the percept. I suggest that recognition of a particular voice is more than mere discrimination of it from other sounds or from silence, and such recognition-occasions would suffice for a percept in a processing, living brain. Although, if what we are counting as a “recognition” is a response that occurs down at the tens of milliseconds, not up at about 200 milliseconds (fifth of a second), then we are not talking “recognition” (whether of object or event) that amounts to a percept, a consciousness, an identification.

Edited by Boydstun
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13 hours ago, Mr Jenko said:

 

The fetus has its own purpose - to develop. It self-generates actions to achieve this goal. Somewhat meeting the definition posted earlier for 'life', repeated below. It may not be fully conscious, but it is alive, albeit connected to its mother. 

"Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action" - AR.

Thanks for your reply.

A "purpose" shared by all life, sure, including the 'non-purposiveness' of unconscious life. "Organisms", as Rand had it. Any automatic, self-organizing systems like a leaf or tree, or bacteria or animal heart.

At this point, after defining life, I think it's objective *value* for human life that arises, re abortions.

By what standard? The standard of an embryo's own life? (As it would equally be for any lesser organisms). A mother's value (or not) in her embryo-fetus, whether subjective, intrinsic or objective?

And of course, any self-value by the fetus-child will be a long time coming.

Or, and for an objective regard of the developed fetus, is not: "Man's life" the *standard* of value? 

With man's life, life proper to man qua man, we have an objective guide applicable to our value-treatment of a fully formed fetus, I think.

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14 hours ago, Mr Jenko said:

The potential human is of the actual unborn entity. "Human-ness" is a quality of the actual unborn entity? Its built in and provides the goal for the beings development.

A functioning human white blood cell is alive and human, but is not even a potential human being.

A fertilized human ovum is alive and is a potential human being, but it is not an actual human being, and it is not carrying on human life in the sense that is relevant to Ayn Rand's philosophy.  It has not yet acquired rights.

  

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9 hours ago, whYNOT said:

What appears illogical, morally inhumane and legally unsustainable is the arbitrary timing of the events. A day (or an hour) before being born - doing such would be 'a legal abortion'; a day later, it would be illegal infanticide. The fetus/infant has hardly physically and mentally changed in the meanwhile.

Whether the fetus/infant is still inside the mother and attached to her by a placenta may be relevant to how to draw the line between the fetus/infant's rights and the mother's.

 

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14 hours ago, Boydstun said:

She interpreted the baby as having not yet grasped that A is A. This is the stage “when a consciousness acquires its initial sensory perceptions and has not learned to distinguish solid objects.” To a baby at this stage, “the world appears as a blur of motion, without things that move—and the birth of his mind is the day when he grasps that the streak that keeps flickering past him is his mother and the whirl beyond her is the curtain, that the two are solid entities and neither can turn into the other . . .” (AS 1040–41)

This is a really interesting quote from Rand. Thanks for finding this one.

I always understood what is essential about human's is the rational faculty. That capacity to identify A is A. By this quote man isn't human until well after birth, raising why human life begins at biological birth? So in some sense my question still arises, but the timeseries has shifted. 

Rand appears to make some distinction between 'is' vs 'is-of'? Identity is existence vs Identification of existence?

I still struggle to understand how awareness of 'a whirl of chaos' isn't some identification of existence done by a consciousness of particular nature in a particular context.  Some application of measurement would need to be applied (outward extrospection) differentiating 'whirl of chaos' from 'whirl of lesser/greater chaos' wouldn't it? Or is she saying the whirl of a moment cant even be differentiated from the next moment? It consciously experiences nothing, which seems contradictory?

 

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10 hours ago, Doug Morris said:

A functioning human white blood cell is alive and human, but is not even a potential human being.

How many and which qualities of a human must an entity have before we can say it is human? What's the cash value difference between one less than the prescribed amount? 

 

 

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MJ,

If a new-born human baby were left with a bunch of chimps in the wild, and they were protective of it and were able to make it survive, I wonder if it would mature into a human? What do you think? I kind of doubt it. So I incline to think that a baby of humans may indeed be continuing as human only if it is in care of humans until it acquires language and continues with some humans to speak to and to learn a lot from in that way. 

On Rand's ideas about infant development, I showed one way in which they changed from 1957 to 1966. She likely knew and put some credence in James 1890 and in Piaget, but as things really heated up and had big winnings in cognitive developmental psychology in the labs in the second half of the 20th century, it seems she did not assimilate much of it. One of her associates, who became a world renowned Aristotle scholar wrote to me after I began assimilating such new results into epistemology in 1990 (Capturing Concepts) that he really didn't have much confidence in such research being beneficial to philosophy because of probable impacts of the philosophical bents of the researchers. I was hearing philosophically conservative slow-go to cog sci and neuroscience import for epistemology from other professional philosophers outside of Objectivism as well, for various reasons, at least up to 2000. Now the attitude in philosophy concerning perception and concepts has instead largely flipped to my approach.

Some views of Rand on such things changed from 1957 to end of her life, though these subtleties are seldom noted. However, you wrote "identity is existence", and that is not a proposition she would ever accede to. Her view was the reverse, which is perhaps what you intended: existence is identity. That is, anything that exist has identity. Existence is identity, and consciousness is identification---that is Rand 1957, and it does not change for her thereafter and indeed would be among essentials of her philosophy.

 

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