Monday, February 20, 2017

An argument that insects are not conscious

Suppose insects are conscious. There are at least about a billion insects per human being. So, if insects are conscious, we should be surprised to find ourselves not being an insect. But if insects are not conscious, there is no surprise there. So, it seems, observing that we are not insects gives us very strong evidence that insects are not conscious.

But this just doesn’t seem to be a good argument… Perhaps the self-sampling thesis—the thesis that we should count ourselves as randomly selected from among observers—needs to be restricted to intelligent and not merely conscious observers? But isn’t that restriction ad hoc? If we're doing such restricting, maybe we should restrict even more finely, say to observers at our exact level of intelligence?

10 comments:

IanS said...

The argument seems to require that I could be aware of myself as an observer, aware of the difference between humans and insects, but not initially (i.e. until I observed it) aware that I was human. This seems implausible.

zorionto said...

This sounds a lot like someone born to a very remote tribe of people on a small island, who learns that the world's population is 7.4 billion, remarking that it was very unlikely that 'he' be born to that tribe.
Of course if 'I' could be born to any couple across the world with equal distribution of likelihood (not true, of course, I'm much more likely to be born to a family with many children) then the probability that I be born to any couple is equally (un)likely.
Similarly, this could be extended across time.
The problem is of course that 'I' cannot be separated from my origins, and if 'I' were born to another couple then I would not be me.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Ian:

When dealing with old evidence, one's actual order of learning doesn't have to match the order of Bayesian update from some sort of deemed priors (which aren't actually temporally prior). Maybe.

zorionto:

I am sympathetic to this essentiality of origins line of thought. But I worry that it destroys too many arguments at once, some of which seem to be good. Suppose I am trying to figure out on the basis of probabilistic evidence about DNA whether Darth Vader is my father. Yes, either he is, in which case I couldn't exist without him being my father, or he is not, in which case I couldn't exist with him being my father. But nonetheless I can reason probabilistically about this.

Heath White said...

I think this argument runs afoul of the total evidence requirement. (Cf. discussions of problem of evil, fine-tuning). The fact that I am conscious, by itself, makes it surprising that I am not an insect. On the other hand, given the fact that I am conscious, *plus everything else I know*, it is not very surprising that I am not an insect. (pace Kafka)

Note you can run the same argument substituting "embodied" for "conscious" and get equally, um, surprising results.

Alexander R Pruss said...

There is also a curious argument for solipsism along similar lines...

IanS said...

Here is a related argument. A soul is now linked to a human body. The soul is wondering whether insect bodies also have linked souls. Arguing as in the post, it might take the fact that it is now linked to a human body as a reason to think this unlikely. I don’t endorse the background assumptions, but the self-sampling aspect seems reasonable.

Anderson Brown said...

The fact that I am alive, by itself, makes it surprising that I am not an insect.

antman said...

http://file.scirp.org/pdf/OJPP_2013020717152405.pdf

Ted Parent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JDB said...

It sounds like you're well-positioned to make a contribution to Philosophy Phridays at the Daily Ant:
https://dailyant.com/category/philosophy-phridays/