December 31, 2011 @ 3:54 pm
I just came across AntBlog.co.uk via Twitter and I’m glad I did.
On questions of animal consciousness (or the nature of human consciousness), I find myself in the camp which cries, “wrong question!”. I think we overprivilege the notion of consciousness to the detriment of cognition, intelligence, sentience, ego… or other complex phenomena making up the self.
I also think it’s high time we develop more models of animal intelligence—or intelligences even more alien to our quotidian personal experience, such as superorganisms. I want to hear good ideas about how we would even recognize sentience or intelligence… nascent self-awareness… if and when we find it staring us in the face.
Blue sky here… I even want a branch of cognitive science to investigate how to remove—or abstract away—the time component from naive notions of intelligence, so we at least have the capability to recognize whether a virus complex or fungal mat might be modeled as some form of intelligence in the (chemical, genetic, sexual-reproductive) messaging between parts of its network. As a non-specialist, I keep looking for developments in this area.
The Honey Bee has a brain one cubic millimetre in size, but in this space it crams just shy of a million neurons, giving it almost 10 times the density of its mammalian counterparts. Ants have fewer neurons, with (still impressive, given their size) 250,000; two and a half times as many as a lobster. Contrast this with a human’s one billion neurons, and we see that the ant and the bee are some way off in the synapse stakes. That said, it pays to remember that an Elephant has twice as many neurons as a human.
The neurons in a bees brain, as with other species, are interconnected in ways that we are yet to fully understand. Neuroscientist Christof Koch works on the neural basis of consciousness and has this to say on the subject of Bee intelligence; “Bees live in highly stratified yet flexible social organisations with group decision-making skills that rival academic, corporate or government committees in efficiency. They communicate information about the location and quality of food sources and can fly several kilometres and return to their hive. A remarkable navigational performance. Their brains seem to have incorporated a map of their environment”. He goes on to comment about the possibility of bee consciousness “Given all of this ability, why does almost everybody instinctively reject the idea that bees or other insects might be conscious?”
I’m interested in notions of selves (minds, psyches) as interacting complexes with strong feedback loops and intercommunication: both networks within a single brain, and networks of signaling between multiple brains.