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The Problem of Animal Consciousness

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The Problem of Animal Consciousness

Matt Cartmill’s, article “Do Horses Gallop in Their Sleep?” expands on the topic of mystery of animal consciousness. “The phenomenon of consciousness is the source of all value in our lives. As such, it should be at the top of the scientific agenda. Yet despite its fundamental importance, consciousness is a subject that most scientists are reluctant to deal with” (Cartmill, 2001, p. 124). This paper analyzes how much the article is understandable from the viewpoints of a person unfamiliar with science.

Firth of all, the author tries to disperse the notion that consciousness is too subjective and metaphysical for science. The main barrier, to Cartmill’s opinion, for scientists to acknowledge the animal consciousness is the absence of its physical evidences. The article is written rather in a philosophical than scientific way, which makes it more attractive and understandable for the audience irrelevant to neurology or behaviorism. However, as it turns out in the end, the philosophical approach is chosen not as a tool to attract the reader but as the only possible way to explain the topic. The article shows that many scientists and philosophers deny the evolutionary history of consciousness because human beings are the only species to have it. Some of the readers may be surprised by this statement. On the one hand, some agree with the idea that humans are the only conscious creature in the world, opposing the given author’s position, while others unlikely have thought much about how conscious their pets are.

The Darwin’s opponents, rejecting evolution theory on the basis of inequalities that exist between animals and humans on mental-to-moral grounds, are provided as an example of scientific abnegation of animal conscious awareness. The other example in the article is the law introduced by the English psychologist Morgan in 1894 stating that people are required to “deny any mental events in animals in the name of parsimony” (Cartmill, 2001, p. 126). The reader unfamliar with science would probably disagree with this law, and support the Cartmill’s side of the argument, since such phrase as “The dog is playing with the ball” is common, and the desire to play is definitely a mental issue. In addition, the researcher whose work is discussed explains that physical resemblance or difference between human beings and beasts cannot be the basis of both the proof and rejection of that animals are conscious (Cartmill, 2001). Moreover, the author notes that, while mental events are performed by brain, many scientists feel reluctant with the subject of consciousness. They tend to prove this fact with the statement that the contemporary academic researches regarding conscious awareness is about neurological or behavioral issues, rather than on consciousness itself, because the former are sociological phenomena, which makes it easier for scientists to explain them. On the contrast,Cartmill (2001) compares the studying of neurology as substitute of consciousness researches with trying to find a wallet, lost in the public place, only due to its being better-lit.

What is more, the article states that humans regard animals as property to be used in a way the former chooses, only because animals lack some mental abilities. We are provided with the statement of Marcus Aurelius as an example: “Use animals and other things and objects freely; but behave in a social spirit toward human beings, because they can reason” (Cartmill, 2001, p. 127). This claim is the point from where the author makes a historical research to find the roots of the idea. He shows an interesting position by putting the blame of the problem on the West-centric understanding of human nature, which is based on how different human being is, rather than on what human is (Cartmill, 2001). The concept allows considering of human essence through the lens of one’s peculiarities but not properties, underlying specific features which human does not share with other creatures (Cartmill, 2001). Drawing upon the findings of Plato and Naom Chomsky, the scholar asserts animals&rssquo; inability in operating with signs and numbers. These factors make human so special, while animals are objects that cannot have mental life at all, which distorted our understanding of consciousness.

To argue with this statement and to prove his idea that animal consciousness can be neither proved nor denied by physical resemblance or difference with human, Cartmill (2001) provides readers with another source of the consciousness theory distortion. With the sense of humor, the researcher accents on computer which, contrary with animals, can operate signs and numbers, which is an ability that is so highly praised by humans. The article expands on “the imitation game” to detail whether machines can think. According to the test, we may write a program that will allow the computer to carry the conversation with a human. After five minutes of sending messages back and forth, the latter would not be able to tell whether he is corresponding with a human or with the machine. It follows that, technically, it can think. However, none of computers succeeded in “the imagination game” because they lack skills of animals that experience the world in the living body. Moreover, the author claims that computer era spoiled overall understanding of brain processes. Computer metaphors predispose people to believe that “mental events are algorithmic” (Cartmill, 2001, p. 32). Mental events are produced by brain, but they cannot occur as a result of a certain programmable list of logical instructions. Eventually, algorithm machines are unlikely to adopt consciousness.

Therefore, the author reveals that the question “how consciousness is produced” remains open. This issue is despite all the models of brain processing sensory data, due to the phenomenon of sleepwalking, when people may talk on phone, ride the car, omit all the furniture walking the house in state of unconsciousness, to list a few (Cartmill, 2001).  In this regard, Cartmill’s article underlines that animals that need to sleep as people do are conscious when they are awake.

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