Animalia · Human-ities · Science

One of Us: On Animal Consciousness

These are stimulating times for anyone interested in questions of animal consciousness. On what seems like a monthly basis, scientific teams announce the results of new experiments, adding to a preponderance of evidence that we’ve been underestimating animal minds, even those of us who have rated them fairly highly. New animal behaviors and capacities are observed in the wild, often involving tool use—or at least object manipulation—the very kinds of activity that led the distinguished zoologist Donald R. Griffin to found the field of cognitive ethology (animal thinking) in 1978: octopuses piling stones in front of their hideyholes, to name one recent example; or dolphins fitting marine sponges to their beaks in order to dig for food on the seabed; or wasps using small stones to smooth the sand around their egg chambers, concealing them from predators. At the same time neurobiologists have been finding that the physical structures in our own brains most commonly held responsible for consciousness are not as rare in the animal kingdom as had been assumed. Indeed they are common. All of this work and discovery appeared to reach a kind of crescendo last summer, when an international group of prominent neuroscientists meeting at the University of Cambridge issued “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals,” a document stating that “humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness.” It goes further to conclude that numerous documented animal behaviors must be considered “consistent with experienced feeling states.”

Excerpt from an essay written by John Jeremiah Sullivan at Laphan’s Quarterly. Continue HERE

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals

Book-Text-Read-Zines · Eco/Adaptable · Philosophy · Theory · Vital-Edible-Health

Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life

The margins of philosophy are populated by non-human, non-animal living beings, including plants. While contemporary philosophers tend to refrain from raising ontological and ethical concerns with vegetal life, Michael Marder puts this life at the forefront of the current deconstruction of metaphysics. He identifies the existential features of plant behavior and the vegetal heritage of human thought so as to affirm the potential of vegetation to resist the logic of totalization and to exceed the narrow confines of instrumentality. Reconstructing the life of plants “after metaphysics,” Marder focuses on their unique temporality, freedom, and material knowledge or wisdom. In his formulation, “plant-thinking” is the non-cognitive, non-ideational, and non-imagistic mode of thinking proper to plants, as much as the process of bringing human thought itself back to its roots and rendering it plantlike.

Text via Columbia
Other books by Michael Marder HERE

Blog-Sites · Book-Text-Read-Zines · Digital Media · Earthly/Geo/Astro · Eco/Adaptable · Vital-Edible-Health

Making the Geologic Now: Responses to Material Conditions of Contemporary Life

“Surveying a vast range of topics and practices—from humans as dominant geomorphic agents, to forces and time scales that challenge the very limits of an anthropocentric worldview—Making the Geologic Now argues for the central place of a geological imaginary in contemporary culture. From metaphor to material, the “geological turn” in art, design, architecture, and poetry, a result of the increased presence of geological realities in everyday life, is shown to be a catalyst for new considerations of how the human and non-human, the ecological and the ethical, are increasingly intertwined. The volume’s engaging selection unpacks the layers of our urgent relationship to the geologic, with its deep time and prospective futures, from our destruction of coral reefs and the storing of nuclear waste, to meteoritic dust that fall on us daily, and the hundreds of man-made satellites now in geostationary orbit around the earth.” ~ João Ribas, Curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center

Download Book HERE iNTERACTIVE WEB-BOOK HERE: GeologicNow.com

Architectonic · Art/Aesthetics · Human-ities · Philosophy · Technology

“The uncanny, phenomenology’s bad trip”

N 1919, SIGMUND FREUD devoted a brief essay to “The Uncanny” (das Unheimliche). Pages of dictionary definitions were followed by a long literary analysis of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s fantastic 1816 story “The Sandman,” in which a young medical student is threatened by various doubles of mad scientists and perfidious salesmen of glasses and optical instruments, falls in love with what turns out to be a mechanical doll, goes mad and finally kills himself. Examples of the uncanny, taken from Freud’s own experience as well from literature and superstition, included getting lost in the woods and always ending up in the same place, déjà vu, missing body parts, dead objects that turn out to be alive, the fear of being buried alive, meeting one’s double, the evil eye, and so on. From all this, Freud concluded that the uncanny is a mild shade of anxiety or unease that arises when the familiar suddenly appears strange. This occurs when something in the familiar experience or object triggers the return of repressed complexes (for example, castration anxiety), or when certain primitive ideas (for example, the belief that inanimate objects are animated) seem to be reconfirmed. “Among instances of frightening things there must be one class in which the frightening element can be shown to be something repressed which recurs,” Freud wrote:

This class of frightening things would then constitute the uncanny; […] if this is indeed the secret nature of the uncanny, we can understand why linguistic usage has extended das Heimliche [“homely”] into its opposite, das Unheimliche; for this uncanny is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression.

Excerpt from a review by Anneleen Masschelein on The Memory of Place : A Phenomenology of the Uncanny, LABR. Continue HERE

Animalia · Digital Media · Human-ities · RESPONSES · Technology

George Dvorsky: On video-gaming pets, the future of nonhuman animals, and cultural uplift.

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George Dvorsky, is a Canadian futurist, ethicist, and sociologist, who has written and spoken extensively about the impacts of cutting-edge science and technology—particularly as they pertain to the improvement of human performance and experience. A founding member of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, he is the Chairman of the Board and is the founder and program director for its Rights of Non-Human Persons program. In addition, George is the co-founder and president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association and has served on the Board of Directors for Humanity+ for two terms. George has been interviewed by such publications as The Guardian, the BBC, Radio Free Europe, and Beliefnet. He made an appearance on the CBC’s The Hour and has been profiled in NOW and This Magazine. His work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times, Forbes, and Slate. He has also written for such publications as The Humanist, Canadian Freethinker, Cryonics Magazine and a number of Thomson & Gale university texts. He is also an avid CrossFitter, an ancestral health enthusiast, and an accomplished music performer, composer, and recording engineer. He blogs at Sentient Developments.





Wanderlust: There has been a recent increase of Internet videos (the ones above) that depict humans enabling their pets to “play” video games on smart-phones and video game consoles. Similarly, in order to gain new insight into animal behavior, scientists have been experimenting with multimedia-enabled devices in the last decades. Today, along scientists, game designers are trying to merge human spaces with pet spaces through pervasive computing interfaces.

Could these new technologies reduce anthropocentrism and blur the gap between different species?

G.D: There is no question that new technologies are allowing humans and animals to interact in more profound and novel ways. As a result, we are getting increasingly able to peer more deeply into the psyche of animals and gain a better understanding of how they perceive and engage in the world.

In some cases, these interactions re-enforce our suspicion that many animals are more intelligent and thoughtful than we have previously thought. We are finding that animals are quite ‘human-like’ in many respects. We share many traits, including the joy of play, applying skill, and winning games. No example captures this more effectively than the video of Kanzi, a bonobo ape, who discovers the sheer bliss of playing Pac Man. There is something intrinsically universal, at least among primates, about chasing and gobbling-up annoying little ghosts.

By showing that animals like to play as much as we do, our sense of empathy in increased. It helps us to relate more, and acquire an enhanced sense of the other.

But because we have previously suffered from a communications gap, and even a kind of interspecies disconnect, it has been all too easy for the dominant species to subjugate animals and belittle their capacities. By playing games with we are forced to interact with them in more intimate sort of way, which can only impart a stronger sense of their moral worth.

Now, that said, there is a risk that these sorts of technologies can be taken too far. In most of these cases, these are human games designed for humans. Or, they are designed for animals for the purpose of entertaining humans (take the iPad mouse game for cats — those poor cats are getting tortured!). It would be more interesting to see games that are strictly designed for a specific species. If we are going to do this right, we need to engage animal minds. Again, the challenge is to understand animal psychology, and cater to their particular tendencies and talents (including different sensorial bandwidths).

What I would like to see in the next generation of animal-and-human video games is a greater opportunity for collaboration between two players. The Pig Chase experiment is an early but unfulfilled attempt at this. For greater impact, game developers will need to learn about animal psychology and cognition. I am imagining, for example, a game in which success is dependent on the various strengths of two different species. It has been shown, for example, that some primates can perform memorization tasks better than humans (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/12/071203-AP-chimp-memory.html). And obviously humans perform a number of cognitive tasks better than primates. It would be quite profound to create a game in which inter-species co-operation is a necessary requirement for success (to increase sense of bonding and camaraderie), and at the same time, still be a lot of fun.

Continue reading “George Dvorsky: On video-gaming pets, the future of nonhuman animals, and cultural uplift.”