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The evolution of self awareness, for survival

 
 
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 04:20 pm
I was thinking today about placebo's and how they can have such a dramatic effect on human physiology, so much so that clinical trials must carefully isolate the placebo effect not only from the test subject but from the doctors who interact with the test subjects.

But as far as I know, animals don't exhibit the placebo effect at all because their minds don't anticipate that something might help them or not.

This suddenly implies a strong survival advantage for any creature which is self-aware enough to induce a placebo effect in itself (humans being the only creatures I know of which can do this).

And that made me wonder if there was an evolutionary selection mechanism occurring which favored animals which are self-aware enough to induce this effect within themselves?

In other words, might consciousness have been selected by evolution due to its beneficial effects on physiology?
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Type: Discussion • Score: 6 • Views: 2,840 • Replies: 15
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 05:06 pm
@rosborne979,
The problem with this argument is that "self awareness" and/or "consciousness" could also be cited as being detrimental for survival at levels "beyond" the physiological, (the psychological and social). Thus if we argue that the mind and the body are co-extensive, we can equally argue so are mind and society. The question then becomes one of defining the domain of "survival". Such a question has for example evoked the use of the term "memes" at the social level to parallel "genes" at the physiological level.
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Chumly
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 07:58 pm
@rosborne979,
Given the length of time that (presumably) non-self-aware life has survived on this planet, versus the length of time that (presumably) self-aware man has survived on this planet, I cannot agree with your premise that self-awareness is necessarily a positive survival trait; especially in light of man's penchant for excess breeding, polluting and warring etc.
BillRM
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 08:15 pm
@rosborne979,
We are on top of the food chain at the moment but the issue of if intelligent is a long term benefit to survive is still very must an open question. We as humans had been around far too short a time to answer that question with many current animals types being around a few hundred times longer.

I myself would bet that the three little killers that I am sharing my home with specie IE the common house cat is likely to be around longer then humans.

Can exist without humans very nicely and yet with the ability to form emotional bonds with humans and therefore get to lie around in bed all day as their humans go off to earn the funds to pay for their food and medical care.

Off hand they seem like a far superior animal type to humans. In any case I need to go as one of my little killers wish me to open another can of food for a late meal.
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 09:00 pm
@BillRM,
Hi Bill,

I'm not trying to make predictions about our future or to argue that our brains make us "better" than any other animal, I'm just observing that our uniquely human capacity to benefit our own physiological health appears to be tied to our consciousness, and because of that, consciousness could have been a selectable trait in our ancestors.
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rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 09:11 pm
@Chumly,
Chumly wrote:

Given the length of time that (presumably) non-self-aware life has survived on this planet, versus the length of time that (presumably) self-aware man has survived on this planet, I cannot agree with your premise that self-awareness is necessarily a positive survival trait; especially in light of man's penchant for excess breeding, polluting and warring etc.

You're projecting a conclusion which hasn't happened yet (that we won't survive). Also, you're ignoring the fact that consciousness (at least the human 'flavor' of it) has never happened before on this planet. It's not like consciousness has arisen many many times and always killed itself off. This (natural) experiment has never been run before. We don't know what will happen.

And from a purely genetic/evolutionary point of view, a giant population is the very definition of success (even though we think negatively of it). We humans aren't doing anything that any other species wouldn't do if it could; expanding until our own population begins to throttle our growth. It's a perfectly natural behavior to poison your own environment until you're stopped by your own waste (bacteria did it billions of years ago and nobody demonizes them). Cockroaches and termites and ants and rats all do the same thing, they simply consume everything in sight and expand until something stops them (environment or lack of food or whatever). Every living thing on the planet behaves this way.

BillRM
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 09:22 pm
@rosborne979,
Rosborne we are far far far too young to be predicting anything at all concerning our abiltiy to survive long term for any reason.

So far we are a flash of light that could go out any second and only if and until we been around for a hundred millions years or so can you start stating that our intelligent is of long term benefit

0 Replies
 
Chumly
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 10:28 pm
@rosborne979,
Nope I'm not "projecting a conclusion" I'm extrapolating a definitive trend.

As to your assertion re: "consciousness (at least the human 'flavor' of it) has never happened before on this planet." Well.........so what if that's true, so what if it's not.

It changes little if anything as per your basic gambit that the placebo effect may be specific to self-awareness. Also note your exact word was "animals" not humans as per "an evolutionary selection mechanism occurring which favored animals which are self-aware enough to induce this effect........"

As to your assertion that "It's not like consciousness has arisen many times and always killed itself off. This (natural) experiment has never been run before. We don't know what will happen." Again so what if that's true, so what if it's not, and further you (nor I) do not know if similar patterns have been repeated given the extent of potential life-forms over time in the cosmos.

As to your claim that population numbers must be a measure of so-called "success" one can affix any number of meanings to the word "success", however I do not see merit in that given your claim that consciousness is beneficial to survival, and given that the only measure of so-called "success" on the level you refer to would be how well a species exponentially breeds, and not how long it can survive.

I also disagree that "We humans aren't doing anything that any other species wouldn't do if it could; expanding until our own population begins to throttle our growth." There is no way to know what "other species would do if it could" especially in light of the fact that if intelligence did develop with other species here on earth (or other planets) and if it did survive for an extended time, the mathematics of exponential growth and the logic of survival suggest it would have to learn to self-regulate its numbers.

As to you argument that "It's a perfectly natural behavior to poison your own environment until you're stopped by your own waste (bacteria did it billions of years ago and nobody demonizes them)." "Natural" is just another one of those words like "success" that can used any way you choose, and in no way infers that "natural" is either desirable or logical. You repeat this fallacy as per "natural" when you claim "Every living thing on the planet behaves this way."
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 11:28 pm
@rosborne979,
Rather than placebo effects, I'm surprised that "consciousness" has not been linked with "flexible adaptation" in this argument so far. It is certainly the case that homo sapiens appears to be the only species which has learned to intervene in previously life threatenening physiological processes. However, if we run with this one, we might need to consider the societal divisions of talents resources which might imply a bifurcation of species between the "haves" and the "have nots". In this respect, it might be worth comparing us to the evolutionary successful insect realm in which ants say appear to act a a unified "group mind" when adapting to physical threats.
NickFun
 
  1  
Reply Sat 4 Apr, 2009 12:19 am
I read that a major pharmaceutical company had developed a more potent placebo! http://www.unconfirmedsources.com/index.php?itemid=3802
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farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Sat 4 Apr, 2009 05:34 am
@fresco,
It runs across species. Wilson has listed several species that are apparently "self aware" and each species has a community structure. Maybe thats as far as we can take it rather tha ascribing any advantage that we can only speculate to. I speculate that one of the simplest uses of awareness is the nurturing and protection of young via an "extended family" with individually assigned functions. This can be seen from Narwhals to wolves, Meerkets to elephants. Chimpanzees though, take the "advantage" of awareness to a more personal level, where young, not of a specific father are discovered as an alpha takes over the troop, are kiloled and eaten by tyhe new incoming alpha.

fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 4 Apr, 2009 01:10 pm
@farmerman,
Farmerman,

I tend to take Dennett's view that what we understand as "consciousness" and/or "self-awareness" is a function of human language thereby providing concepts such as "time" and operations we call "forward planning" which faciltate superior "control of the environment" relative to other species. Whether one agrees with this or not, linguistically based thought certainly seems to be the basis of "placebo effects".
0 Replies
 
Foofie
 
  1  
Reply Sat 4 Apr, 2009 07:50 pm
The placebo effect need not just be a pill, but could be the process of just going to a doctor, I thought. A pre-verbal child could understand that his mother is taking him to a doctor, based on the symptoms the child feels. Just the process of going to the doctor's office, the exam, the waiting room, etc., can all make a pre-verbal child have the expectation of getting better from going through the process of a doctor's visit. The expectation need not even be conscious. It could be unconscious, like the Hawthorne effect of workers doing a better job, just by being observed by "consultants."

But I do believe consciousness is an emergent quality, and with evolution will be different/enhanced in some future, if we survive. Perhaps, one day, evolution will give us brains like "windows" on a computer, where we can have two programs running at the same time in consciousness. We might then discover that we are our own best company.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sun 5 Apr, 2009 01:51 am
@Foofie,
Foofie,

I think your scenario of a "pre-verbal" child understanding what a "doctor" is requires some analysis. Obviously "vocalization" accompanies a more general process of "communication" whether or not a child is old enough to vocalize. I specifically remember incidents as a child where I "understood" a question but could not vocalise an answer. I was then what have been termed "pre-verbal" but not "pre-linguistic".
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rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Apr, 2009 09:36 am
@Chumly,
Chumly wrote:
Nope I'm not "projecting a conclusion" I'm extrapolating a definitive trend.

Alright, you're not projecting, you're extrapolating. Glad we cleared that up Wink

Chumly wrote:
I also disagree that "We humans aren't doing anything that any other species wouldn't do if it could; expanding until our own population begins to throttle our growth." There is no way to know what "other species would do if it could".

No, but there is a way to know what other species actually do, and every single one of them expand until they are suppressed by some aspect of their environment. There isn't a single species on this planet that chooses to stop it's population growth. We are the only species with the capacity to even attempt such a thing.

The only reason this aspect of living organisms isn't being rubbed in our face every day is because most species change slowly and have evolved to fill a balanced niche in the environment (which throttles population growth in subtle ways). However, the uncontrolled growth aspect does become apparent in cases where organisms are moved quickly from their environment into another: Zebra Mussels, Kudzu Vine, Purple Loostrife, Cane Toads, Rabbits, Starlings, SnakeHead fish, white snails, the list is endless.

The other living example is in cases where significant genetic change happens in a short period of time: Seasonal flu's, Pandemics and Homo Sapiens.

Chumly wrote:
As to you argument that "It's a perfectly natural behavior to poison your own environment until you're stopped by your own waste (bacteria did it billions of years ago and nobody demonizes them)." "Natural" is just another one of those words like "success" that can used any way you choose, and in no way infers that "natural" is either desirable or logical. You repeat this fallacy as per "natural" when you claim "Every living thing on the planet behaves this way."

I'm not trying to imply that "natural" is either logical or desirable, there's no reason it should be. Logical and desirable are subjective valuations which we assign to things. Nature is independent of that.

0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Apr, 2009 09:38 am
@fresco,
fresco wrote:

Rather than placebo effects, I'm surprised that "consciousness" has not been linked with "flexible adaptation" in this argument so far. It is certainly the case that homo sapiens appears to be the only species which has learned to intervene in previously life threatenening physiological processes. However, if we run with this one, we might need to consider the societal divisions of talents resources which might imply a bifurcation of species between the "haves" and the "have nots". In this respect, it might be worth comparing us to the evolutionary successful insect realm in which ants say appear to act a a unified "group mind" when adapting to physical threats.

I'm certain there are multiple reasons why "consciousness" imparts some selective advantage, but until recently it hadn't occurred to me that our propensity to benefit our own physiology with our perceptions, might also be a selective force. To what degree it complimented the other selective advantages, I'm not sure.
0 Replies
 
 

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