Consciousness does not depend on language

#1
http://nautil.us/issue/76/language/consc...n-language

EXCERPT (Christof Koch): . . . René Descartes famously argued that a dog howling pitifully when hit by a carriage does not feel pain. The dog is simply a broken machine, devoid of the res cogitans or cognitive substance that is the hallmark of people. For those who argue that Descartes didn’t truly believe that dogs and other animals had no feelings, I present the fact that he, like other natural philosophers of his age, performed vivisection on rabbits and dogs. That’s live coronary surgery without anything to dull the agonizing pain. As much as I admire Descartes as a revolutionary thinker, I find this difficult to stomach.

Modernity abandoned the belief in a Cartesian soul, but the dominant cultural narrative remains—humans are special; they are above and beyond all other creatures. All humans enjoy universal rights, yet no animal does. No animal possesses the fundamental right to its life, to bodily liberty and integrity. Yet the same abductive inference used to infer experience in other people can also be applied to nonhuman animals. I am confident in abducing experiences in fellow mammals for three reasons.

First, all mammals are closely related, evolutionarily speaking. [...] Second, the architecture of the nervous system is remarkably conserved across all mammals. [...] Third, the behavior of mammals is kindred to that of people. [...] Monkeys, dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, rats, mice, and other mammals can all be taught to respond to forced-choice experiments—modified from those used by people to accommodate paws and snouts, and using food or social rewards in lieu of money. Their responses are remarkably similar to the way people behave, once differences in their sensory organs are accounted for.

Te most obvious trait that distinguishes humans from other animals is language. Everyday speech represents and communicates abstract symbols and concepts. It is the bedrock of mathematics, science, civilization, and all of our cultural accomplishments. Many classical scholars assign to language the role of kingmaker when it comes to consciousness. That is, language use is thought to either directly enable consciousness or to be one of the signature behaviors associated with consciousness. This draws a bright line between animals and people.

[...] One of the few remaining contemporary psychologists who denies the evolutionary continuity of consciousness is Euan Macphail. He avers that language and a sense of self are necessary for consciousness. According to him, neither animals nor young children experience anything, as they are unable to speak and have no sense of self—a remarkable conclusion that must endear him to parents and pediatric anesthesiologists everywhere.

What does the evidence suggest? What happens if somebody loses their ability to speak? How does this affect their thinking, sense of self, and their conscious experience of the world? Aphasia is the name given to language disorders caused by limited brain damage, usually but not always to the left cortical hemisphere. There are different forms of aphasia—depending on the location of the damage, it can affect the comprehension of speech or of written text, the ability to properly name objects, the production of speech, its grammar, the severity of the deficit, and so on.

The neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor rocketed to fame ... At age 37, she suffered a massive bleeding in her left hemisphere. For the next several hours, she became effectively mute. She also lost her inner speech, the unvoiced monologue that accompanies us everywhere, and her right hand became paralyzed. Taylor realized that her verbal utterances did not make any sense and that she couldn’t understand the gibberish of others. She vividly recalls how she perceived the world in images while experiencing the direct effect of her stroke, wondering how to communicate with people. Hardly the actions of an unconscious zombie.

Two objections to Taylor’s compelling personal story is that her narrative can’t be directly verified—she suffered the stroke at home, alone—and that she reconstructed these events months and years after the actual episode. [...] There is ample evidence from split-brain patients that consciousness can be preserved in the nonspeaking cortical hemisphere, usually the right one. [...]

It could be countered that language is necessary for the proper development of consciousness but that once this has taken place, language is no longer needed to experience. This hypothesis is difficult to address comprehensively, as it would require raising a child under severe social deprivation. [...] Finally, to restate the obvious—language contributes massively to the way we experience the world, in particular to our sense of the self as our narrative center in the past and present. But our basic experience of the world does not depend on it.

[...] The belief that only humans experience anything is preposterous, a remnant of an atavistic desire to be the one species of singular importance to the universe at large. (MORE - details)


- - - Following is a couple examples of the "other side": That consciousness is dependent upon language. But not dead on with what Koch narrows consciousness down to (experience, manifestations). In the case of Dennett, he's arguably an illusionist who doesn't believe there is a phenomenal version of experience to begin with (i.e., something present or shown in senses, feelings, and thoughts). - - -

William H. Calvin: Dan Dennett has it right in his comments below when he puts the emphasis on acquiring language, not having language, as a precondition for our kind of consciousness. For what it's worth, I have some (likely unproveable) beliefs about why the preschooler's acquisition of a structured language is so important for all the rest of her higher intellectual function. Besides syntax, intellect includes structured stuff such as multistage contingent planning, chains of logic, games with arbitrary rules, and our passion for discovering "how things hang together." (MORE)

Daniel Dennet: I believe, but cannot yet prove, that acquiring a human language (an oral or sign language) is a necessary precondition for consciousness–in the strong sense of there being a subject, an I, a 'something it is like something to be.' It would follow that non-human animals and pre-linguistic children, although they can be sensitive, alert, responsive to pain and suffering, and cognitively competent in many remarkable ways–including ways that exceed normal adult human competence–are not really conscious (in this strong sense): there is no organized subject (yet) to be the enjoyer or sufferer, no owner of the experiences as contrasted with a mere cerebral locus of effects.

This assertion is shocking to many people, who fear that it would demote animals and pre-linguistic children from moral protection, but this would not follow. Whose pain is the pain occurring in the newborn infant? There is not yet anybody whose pain it is, but that fact would not license us to inflict painful stimuli on babies or animals any more than we are licensed to abuse the living bodies of people in comas who are definitely not conscious. If selfhood develops gradually, then certain types of events only gradually become experiences, and there will be no sharp line between unconscious pains (if we may call them that) and conscious pains, and both will merit moral attention. (And, of course, the truth of the empirical hypothesis is in any case strictly independent of its ethical implications, whatever they are. Those who shun the hypothesis on purely moral grounds are letting wishful thinking overrule a properly inquisitive scientific attitude. I am happy to give animals and small children "the benefit of the doubt" for moral purposes, but not for scientific purposes. Those who are shocked by my hypothesis should pause, if they can bear it, to notice that it is as just as difficult to prove its denial as its assertion. But it can, I think, be proven eventually. Here's what it will take, one way or the other... MORE)
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#2
Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare) :-
“If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?". - (Act III, scene I).”
The start requires no conscious effort or language but the last point '..if you wrong us shall we not revenge?' is much more sophisticated. I would agree that you can (probably) train any animal (or human) to the point where it abandons all hope and all 'self'. It may well be that the belief that an animal (or human) has no 'self' will result in treatment of the animal in such a way that the animal (or human) will lose the ability to have a 'self'.
More Tales from the Hamster cage:-
I have always done my best to make sure any hamster of mine is their own hamster. If they allow me to pick them up (all have) that is their choice. I have been bitten a few times - which is their (I Hamster) way of telling me what they really don't like.
I may be misquoting (or wrong book) from 'Last of the Just Men' (André Schwarz-Bart) - the last words of love from the mother to her child in the gas chamber were "Breath deeply" (let it be over quickly).
Shame and sadness.
The other 'I' is always in the eye of the beholder. The blind beholder will see no other "I".
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#3
(Oct 13, 2019 02:20 AM)confused2 Wrote: Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare) :-
“If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?". - (Act III, scene I).”
The start requires no conscious effort or language but the last point '..if you wrong us shall we not revenge?' is much more sophisticated. I would agree that you can (probably) train any animal (or human) to the point where it abandons all hope and all 'self'. It may well be that the belief that an animal (or human) has no 'self' will result in treatment of the animal in such a way that the animal (or human) will lose the ability to have a 'self'.
More Tales from the Hamster cage:-
I have always done my best to make sure any hamster of mine is their own hamster. If they allow me to pick them up (all have) that is their choice. I have been bitten a few times - which is their (I Hamster) way of telling me what they really don't like.
I may be misquoting (or wrong book) from 'Last of the Just Men' (André Schwarz-Bart) - the last words of love from the mother to her child in the gas chamber were "Breath deeply" (let it be over quickly).
Shame and sadness.
The other 'I' is always in the eye of the beholder. The blind beholder will see no other "I".

Sign language exemplifies complex communication as another form of organized action or pattern-following behavior. And many animals bodily signal meanings to each other in various ways without vocalization and a formal system of language. Emotions and certain feelings are probably a kind of internal precursor to language in that they are about something, also prescribing a course of action (fear -- flee, hide, or be silent/still; hunger -- find food and eat). Similarly, there's surely a raw concept of "self" that's expressed in terms of how an animal ensures its continued existence and defense of itself, as well as the applicable feelings. Not just the acquired, human linguistic version of self.

Feral child Anna
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_(fera...)#Recovery

It seems to be interaction with any kind of significant environment that activates a native concept of self. Otherwise, there's that zombie-like indifference to everything -- even surviving -- like Anna had, as if a passive machine gathering dust, waiting to be turned on. Not unlike how a child needs to be exposed to language use by other people early on in order to active whatever general, innate template for grammar abides in a toddler's brain. A feral child can still learn words when older, but struggles to grasp the specific syntax a local population is using.

Rationalists tend toward logocentrism when they slide in a pathological direction, since by definition they place more stock in reasoned and described accounts of "what's going on" than the experienced, sensed, manifested version of that. Eliminative materialism is perhaps a high fruit of logocentrism, in its deeming that there is nothing allowed to be "transcendent" (like phenomenal properties and entities) to the level of language and the abstract cataloging of causal relationships and renderings of the world via quantitative symbolism (i.e., physicalism). The "shown stuff" in senses and thoughts are a mere illusion generated by language-mediated conceptual activity slash understanding (there's "invisible" content to consciousness, but not really "visible" content). Even apprehension of the microscopic neural processes of the brain depend upon their account in terms of measurements and language, not qualitative properties and entities (or so the story/belief goes in that school of thought).
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