Is self-consciousness hereditary?
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24-05-2011, 12:12 PM
Is self-consciousness hereditary?
Let's consider the following (rather cruel) experiment:
A child is born. He and his mother live in a perfectly white house with only the most necessary equipment, without any sounds (no music or talking at all). Then when his mother starts breast feeding him, we would separate the child and take him to a perfectly white room, that has only a hole as a toilet. We would also give him sufficient food both in quality and quantity (through a dispensing machine). Now let's wait like 20 years.

What would he be like? He would have no human relations, no experiences, no real memories or even language. Most importantly: would he be self-conscious?

What do you think?

I think the answer is no. All memories, emotions, thoughts, ideas, inspirations, (so: memes) we have, are all based on past (or recent) experiences. And these memes are what makes us who we are. In their absence we are only controlled by our genetically inspired behavior : our instincts.

..."we can be truly free - not because we can rebel against the the tyranny of the selfish replicators but because we know that there is no one to rebel."
Susan Blackmore : The Meme Machine
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24-05-2011, 12:32 PM
RE: Is self-consciousness hereditary?
(24-05-2011 12:12 PM)TheSelfishGene Wrote:  Let's consider the following (rather cruel) experiment:
A child is born. He and his mother live in a perfectly white house with only the most necessary equipment, without any sounds (no music or talking at all). Then when his mother starts breast feeding him, we would separate the child and take him to a perfectly white room, that has only a hole as a toilet. We would also give him sufficient food both in quality and quantity (through a dispensing machine). Now let's wait like 20 years.

What would he be like? He would have no human relations, no experiences, no real memories or even language. Most importantly: would he be self-conscious?

What do you think?

I think the answer is no. All memories, emotions, thoughts, ideas, inspirations, (so: memes) we have, are all based on past (or recent) experiences. And these memes are what makes us who we are. In their absence we are only controlled by our genetically inspired behavior : our instincts.

The answer is yes. This isn't a philosophical problem. It's simple fact.

The child would quite definitely be self-aware, because he was born with a functioning brain. He is human. Humans are self-aware.

He would quite definitely be socially maladjusted, uneducated, ignorant, and any number of other things, but he would be self-aware.

"Sometimes it is better to light a flamethrower than to curse the darkness."
- Terry Pratchett
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24-05-2011, 01:46 PM (This post was last modified: 24-05-2011 01:51 PM by LadyJane.)
RE: Is self-consciousness hereditary?
This is a form of neglect. There are real cases just like this, unfortunately, and the outcome is never good. Not only would this person be self conscious, they would have under developed brains- they most likely would lack empathy ( re: psycho serial killers) or be so lower functioning with social skills that they'd be a nervous wreck. I've worked as a children and youth councillor with these very people.
Being self conscious is definitely part of being a human being. With balance, it serves a social purpose (not building too much of an ego so that we hurt others feelings, keeping ourselves in check, etc.) too much self conscious isn't good either, though (can cause self esteem problems, anxiety, etc).
Balance! Smile
Wanted to add: this is basically a nature vs. nurture question. We are a sum of both, and always will be. Spending a lifetime in a white room is still an experience that "molds" someone. Existing is a nurturing experience we deal with with what we've naturally inherited.
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24-05-2011, 02:51 PM
 
RE: Is self-consciousness hereditary?
The child would *probably* be self-aware (depends on whether or not there is a mirror in the room as well) but he would not develop a verbal consciousness something that is detrimental to any cognitive development.

For more on verbal consciousness, read anything related to the cognitive/biological factors of infantile amnesia. Angel
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25-05-2011, 12:00 AM (This post was last modified: 25-05-2011 12:03 AM by daemonowner.)
RE: Is self-consciousness hereditary?
I concur, he would be self aware but wouldn't have learned a language, wouldn't know his parents or even other people, etc. It seems that you think that you require certain memories and feelings to be considered self aware. I'm not sure you do.

"Self-awareness describes the condition of being aware of one's awareness. It is the awareness that one exists as an individual being" - Wikipedia.

"Self-consciousness is an acute sense of self-awareness..." - Wikipedia.

"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use." - Galileo

"Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." - Voltaire
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29-05-2011, 03:43 AM
RE: Is self-consciousness hereditary?
There is a school of thought that consciousness or more specifically the ability to think and remember is the result of language and that without language there is no thought or memory. They claim as evidence that we remember little or nothing of our experience prior to language acquisition.

Thots?

He was part of my dream, of course--but then I was part of his dream, too!
--Alice
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29-05-2011, 08:49 AM
 
RE: Is self-consciousness hereditary?
(29-05-2011 03:43 AM)pilgrim Wrote:  There is a school of thought that consciousness or more specifically the ability to think and remember is the result of language and that without language there is no thought or memory. They claim as evidence that we remember little or nothing of our experience prior to language acquisition.

Thots?

I consider that to be very true. I, for one, have once written a paper on the subject of infantile amnesia and the theory you are describing (biological and cognitive factors of infantile amnesia) is far more compelling than Freud's "we forget because it's traumatic to be extracted out of a vagina"... Dodgy
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29-05-2011, 08:57 PM
RE: Is self-consciousness hereditary?
Cool! I never heard or thought of it this way before. A year ago I started to take fish oil in my diet and ended up having very vivid baby/toddler memories. I thought I was extra special, but both memories I remember being spoken to and understanding (but couldn't speak back). I explained my memory to the person I was with (the surroundings and event)- we hadn't been there since then- and I was bang on. It was all in relation to a conversation to me at the time, at the age of around 9 months.
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30-05-2011, 04:55 AM
RE: Is self-consciousness hereditary?
So, getting back to the isolated child, would such a child develop a personal language in which to think if it remained isolated beyond the normal age of language acquisition.

I think the issue of which is cause and which is effect is not obvious.

Does a normal child begin to think when they begin to acquire language from their companions, or does an emergent consciousness accept the language that is available as an easier path than creating a language of its own?

He was part of my dream, of course--but then I was part of his dream, too!
--Alice
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30-05-2011, 05:59 AM
 
RE: Is self-consciousness hereditary?
The child would be self-aware. It's not something you learn like language, because language changes and is easily taught, whereas consciousness is a way in which the brain fundamentally works, like the process of learning, which he will also still have.

A much more interesting experiment would be hooking up a third arm to his brain, which he can remotely control, and then see if it becomes a part of his self-awareness.
Now, something similar has been done with a monkey some time ago: they registered his brain waves and had a robotic arm move the same way his right arm moved. After a while they made some changes (I'm not exactly sure what), and the monkey managed to move the robot arm independently of his right arm.
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