philosophy science

sentience and consciousness

Consciousness is at least sentience, but not less.

We can imagine a spectrum of least sentient to most sentient.  The nearest animals to humans, in this case, would (obviously!) have the closest kind of sentience to humans.  But (however this ’emerged’ or came to be) humans are ultra-sentient.  We have more than sensation (sentience); we also have a perceiving, yearning kind of consciousness.  We are self aware of our own self awareness.

Just as consciousness is at least sentience, but not less; I think we can say that humans are at least animals, but not less.

Aristotle called humans the ‘rational animal’.  This makes me think about times where we allow ourselves to be less-than rational.  Have you ever just zoned out for a while and then ‘came back to yourself’, so to speak?  Philosophers sometimes use the idea of a zombie when talking about this stuff.  The point is often made that we could be zombie-like in our perception of reality (including our perception of things like pain, which we not only feel, but lament…).  Doing what we need to survive and pass on our genes, but not reflecting on our lives/actions (transcending, as it were, our living/acting).  Not having what is often called ‘rational insight’ (or ‘critical intelligence’).  Not caring about meditation, music, meaning or mathematics.

Again, the question of how humans became so rationally insightful or critically intelligent or non-zombie-like is a side question.  The simple fact that we are is significant.  We should not let our fear of anthropocentricism (human centredness) scare us away from appreciating the wonder of being human.

2 replies on “sentience and consciousness”

Very true. I’ve observed a friction on both sides of the fence where one side wants to completely separate humans from animals and the other continually wants to remind the other of our animal origins. Nowadays I find myself more often in the latter camp because I think we can achieve a truer understanding of our weaknesses and strengths if we recognise that how we work is a result of natural processes. The evidence that I’ve observed tells me that it is truer and more beneficial to view ourselves as ‘animals’ rather than as some entirely separate category of beings. We are ‘just’ animals (because it seems that one animal at least is capable of human consciousness; humans) but we have some incredibly advanced animal traits, especially in the area of cognition.

Cheers Damian,
Although I do think we’re ‘more’ than animals, I’ve got zero difficulty with the fact that we’re not ‘less’ than animals. I think it’s wonderful to share ‘animal-ness’ with other beasts :)
Of course, I also think we’re ‘more’ than physical, but have zero difficulty with the fact that we’re not ‘less’ than physical. It’s great to share ‘physical-ness’ with the rest of the physical dimension of reality!

And it’s cool to be the only things in the universe (that we know of!) who think about this stuff! :)

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