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Study Shows Babies Are Conscious Beings, Two-Month-Olds Still in Question

April 24, AD 2013 74 Comments

Infants have a conscious experience of the world at as early as 5 months of age, new research finds.” – Stephanie Pappas, Live Science

That is the opening sentence in a report about a new study that supposedly shows for the first time that babies have consciousness. (As if parents don’t know.)

New parents may raise an eyebrow at the idea that their baby might not be a conscious being, but scientists have, until now, not been able to clearly show that infants react with awareness rather than reflexively. “Even in adults, much of the brain’s processing of the world occurs without conscious awareness,” said Sid Kouider, a neuroscientist at the Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique in Paris and the Technical University of Denmark.

The researchers wanted to find out whether babies respond to their environment in an “automatic manner” or if they are doing it consciously, lamenting the fact that babies don’t talk so we can’t ask them about it.

How do they define consciousness then? They define it as brain activity. When the eyes see an object, there is a spike in brain activity. If the image is “consciously registered”, the scientists say there is a second spike in brain activity.

So they put the baby in front of a screen with these things on the head…

A mother holds a 5-month old baby wearing an electrode cap to measure the child's conscious experiences.  CREDIT: Sid Kouider

Image of a mother holding a 5-month old baby wearing an electrode cap to measure the child’s conscious experience, courtesy of Live Science.com.
CREDIT: Sid Kouider

…and lo and behold, the baby indeed registers the image (one brain activity spike), and has a “conscious experience” of it (two brain activity spikes).

The delay in the spike was reduced for older babies.

But there was one important difference between the babies’ neural patterns and those seen in adults, Kouider said. In 5-month-olds, it took 1.3 seconds for the second flurry of brain activity to show up. In adults, the timing is closer to three-tenths of a second, or 0.3 seconds.

“It’s about four times slower, actually, in the younger infants,” Kouider said.

Older babies show snappier processing, though still not as quick as adults, the researchers found. In 12- to 15-month-olds, the second phase is stronger than in 5-month-olds and occurs around eight-tenths to nine-tenths of a second.

They say they are interested in this for the safety of the baby, to know whether or not anesthesia is needed when doing surgery on very young infants.

The thing is, they say that about studying fetal consciousness too.

However, policy decisions about limiting abortion before 24 weeks depend on these studies. If they admit that a fetus is conscious and can feel pain, people start thinking harder about abortion. But as long as the clump of tissue isn’t conscious, then it’s not really “there”, not really a human “being”, and since “it” can’t feel pain, well, abortion must be no big deal then, right? That’s what abortion advocates say.

Further, ethicists argue for the acceptance of after-birth abortions, and Planned Parenthood already admitted they allow infanticide after failed abortions.

The researchers say they plan to test babies as young as two months old for consciousness next.

Wonder what happens if they don’t pass the test?

Hello, and thank you for reading. I am a wife, mother of seven, and joyful convert to Catholicism. I write from my tiny office in a 100-year-old restored Adirondack mountain lodge. Read more about me here, with pictures. Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. "Like" my Facebook page Science Was Born of Christianity to follow updates about my book. God bless you!

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  • http://contemplativehomeschool.wordpress.com Connie Rossini

    This is scary, Stacy. If a scientist/doctor can’t see a spike in brain activity on a machine, does that mean an infant isn’t human? Of course not! Who’s to say that science can measure everything? Even the scientists can’t be sure what they are really measuring is consciousness, can they? And who in his right mind would question whether they should give anesthesia to infants? Are they denying infants can feel pain? I thought we’ve already proven, as you said, that pain can be felt by at least halfway through gestation. Sigh! Sometimes I long for the 19th century, pre-technological world.

    • Proteios1

      You raise a valid point and an inherent limitation of science. As a scientist we not only learn our science, but we learn to avoid ‘bad science’. One example is dream research. Connect the brain to devices detecting brainwave activity. See a wave and correlate that to dream activity. Eventually, one correlates dreams to that specific brain activity, even when the person declares otherwise. Redefinition is at times an underlying fact in order to measure and examine. I do this to study protein binding. I correlate it to the activity of a dye molecule I attach to it, but not the protein itself. It’s close, but one must understand the benefits of my work and also it’s limitations. Is science, which is fact. Not Catholicism, which is truth.

  • Nicole C

    Yea I can’t imagine where this is headed. *eye roll*

    Isnt it sort of common knowledge that your baby recognizes your voice even in the womb? I’ve always heard that, for as long as I can remember. Wouldn’t that signify consciousness???

  • http://catholicstand.com/author/john-darrouzet/ John Darrouzet

    The baby’s face says it all: “What on earth are you thinking, tying me up to these electrodes? My God, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing!”

  • Bobby

    Dear Lord…science again studying something that is so evident to the majority of us. What has science become?

    • Andre

      “science again studying something that is so evident to the majority of us”

      Yes, the study of gravity should have ended with, ‘well of course things fall down’.

      Don’t despair too much at the acquisition of knowledge though, as Stacy points out, this might lead to people thinking harder about abortion. So, besides greater understanding of ourselves in this world, it has that going for it.

      • Proteios1

        Maybe. But it’s equally probable that it won’t. The politically minded never let facts interfere with their preconceived notions. One example..ultrasound. A logical and reasoned person would say this alone would end abortion. It has reinforced prolife advocate. Prodeath advocates don’t dispute it, but do everything to prevent women from seeing the ultrasound.

  • Stacy Trasancos

    Andre,

    Seriously though, what could possibly be the purpose of studying whether babies are conscious?

    If they had said they wanted to study the differences in brain responses to certain stimuli, that would have been like saying you want to measure the rate of free fall.

    But to couch it in terms of asking an absurdly obvious question?

    Why? Can you elaborate on that?

    Because to me, it sounds like they are laying the groundwork (so to speak) to say that science can determine consciousness, and therefore, “If Science says you are not conscious, who are you to argue against it?”

    You don’t think so?

    • Andre

      Stacy,

      “Seriously though, what could possibly be the purpose of studying whether babies are conscious?”

      You’re asking me to speculate on the motivations of people I know nothing about. I can’t help you there.

      Clearly you’re seeing something nefarious beyond expanding the body of scientific knowledge: “They say they are interested in this for the safety of the baby, to know whether or not anesthesia is needed when doing surgery on very young infants.”

      I’m curious, is administering anesthesia to infants dangerous (my guess would be yes)? If it is, why then would you question their motives? Maybe these scientists are devout Christian (Catholic even?) who, guided by their faith, hope to save more infants lives this way.

    • Stacy Trasancos

      Andre,

      “You’re asking me to speculate on the motivations of people I know nothing about.”

      No, I’m asking you to make an argument instead of throwing spit balls.

      “Clearly you’re seeing something nefarious beyond expanding the body of scientific knowledge…”

      No, I asked why they chose the terminology.

      If it’s about anesthesia, you don’t need to ask whether a person is conscious or not.

      • Andre

        Stacy,

        “No, I’m asking you to make an argument instead of throwing spit balls.”

        I believe I made my argument; I posited that administering anesthesia to infants is probably dangerous.

        “No, I asked why they chose the terminology.
        If it’s about anesthesia, you don’t need to ask whether a person is conscious or not.”

        Well, maybe anesthesia isn’t all this is about, but they seem to offer a compelling argument that it is quite a valid concern. Here’s the full context of the article re: anesthesia:

        “For example, Kouider said, researchers may be able to use similar brain-monitoring methods to determine when babies develop a conscious experience of pain. Until the 1980s, pain-relieving anesthesia was not automatically given to infants undergoing surgery, because doctors believed that infant pain was merely a reflex, not a conscious experience. (Surgeons weren’t trying to be heartless: Anesthesia brought extra risk of death to the infant, a risk doctors didn’t want to take given the accepted notion that babies weren’t bothered by pain anyway.)”

        Did you catch the “extra risk of death to the infant” part? Given that the advances in medicine have led to many more situations where doctors are performing surgery on infants (and fetuses), isn’t this a reasonable concern? Quite a different tone than your dismissive summary, that “[t]hey say they are interested in this for the safety of the baby.” You barely entertain the possibility that this research will save the lives of children, and instead want to spin an abortion conspiracy theory. But wait, there’s more!

        “Our study suggests that babies are much more conscious than we believed before, and they’re probably much more conscious of pain when they experience [it],” Kouider said. Researchers might also be able to detect abnormalities in conscious experience before babies learn to talk, he added, perhaps leading to earlier diagnoses of disorders such as autism.”

        Not just emphasizing concern for conscious pain in infants, now we’re talking about helping autistic kids. Here’s another dismissive statement: “The thing is, they say that about studying fetal consciousness too.” Yet when one reads the abstract you link to, one finds: “The mere possibility of consciousness and an experience of pain (however rudimentary) would appear to mandate the provision of appropriate anesthesia and analgesia to fetuses undergoing surgical intervention.” Look at that, concern for the unborn.

        Stacy, you might be right, maybe this study’s real goal isn’t its stated goal to save lives while preventing pain to conscious beings, but is instead to create a benchmark for abortions (or that the study’s findings will be misused to that end). However, if the latter is the case, it’s at least partially backfiring by showing evidence of fetal consciousness, and drawing the line much earlier than you say the proponents of abortion want it. In any event, the mere pursuit of this knowledge isn’t the fool’s errand you make it out to be. You and all the parents out there may laugh at the notion that consciousness in infants needs to be studied scientifically, but there’s a good chance that more parents will have healthier children as a result of this. So, laugh away.

        • Stacy Trasancos

          Like I said, study the brain activity all you want. No problem with that. But to question whether 2 month old babies are conscious or not? Come on.

          “They also plan to test babies as young as 2 months old for consciousness.”

          That says in no ambiguous terms whatsoever that they do not know if 2 month olds are conscious.

          That, my friend, is insanity. :-)

          I’ve wiped a lot of butts, believe me, they are conscious.

          EDIT: The babies, not the butts.

          • Andre

            Stacy,

            “But to question whether 2 month old babies are conscious or not? Come on.
            “They also plan to test babies as young as 2 months old for consciousness.”
            That says in no ambiguous terms whatsoever that they do not know if 2 month olds are conscious.”

            Yes, and in no ambiguous terms, they also explain why sometimes things seem conscious but are not:

            “One odd phenomenon, “blindsight,” occurs in people with damage to part of their visual cortex. Although they cannot consciously see, they’re able to “guess” the location of a visual stimulus or even catch objects tossed at them. Blindsight reveals that even unconscious processing in the brain can result in seemingly goal-directed behavior.”

            Now, perhaps you’d just like scientists to poll all the mommies out there about the reality of their children, get there unbiased views on what’s going on with there infants, and leave it at that. Or, we can do actual studies and, even though the results might have been perfectly predictable, we might also stumble on something that allows for earlier detection and treatment of things like autism. That’s why you seek knowledge for it’s own sake, because you never know where it leads. And, by all means, feel free to tell the parents of autistic kids that these endeavors are a waste of time.

          • Stacy Trasancos

            Last time I’m saying it…

            You don’t need to question whether babies are conscious just to be able to study brain activity.

          • http://equusnomveritas.blogspot.com/ JC

            “I’ve wiped a lot of butts, believe me, they are conscious.
            EDIT: The babies, not the butts.”

            You just made my entire day.

          • Andre

            Stacy,

            “Last time I’m saying it…

            You don’t need to question whether babies are conscious just to be able to study brain activity.”

            Yes, when in doubt, it’s much better to assume rather than question. That’s the basis of the scientific method.

            Stacy, I’m curious, do you think a fertilized egg is conscious? An embryo? Do you think that humans become conscious at a certain point? Should we try to establish what point that is? Is studying the brain activity of infants useful to this end?

            “Older babies show snappier processing, though still not as quick as adults, the researchers found. In 12- to 15-month-olds, the second phase is stronger than in 5-month-olds and occurs around eight-tenths to nine-tenths of a second.”

            They’re showing that the response they think indicates consciousness is weaker and slower in the 5-month old than it is in the older infants. Should they guess what it would be in a 2-month old, or should they try to test it? Your attitude towards this seems oddly unscientific.

            EDIT:

            Again, in the context of performing medical procedure on ever-younger infants (and sometimes fetuses), it’s probably worth figuring out when you have to use anesthesia. As terrible as the idea of not using anesthesia during surgery is, if the risk of administering anesthesia to infants/fetuses is drastically higher, and they aren’t conscious of pain, it’s worth figuring out if it’s necessary.

          • Stacy Trasancos

            JC,

            LOL!

            I’m sure you can appreciate!

          • Stacy Trasancos

            Andre,

            Taking this to a fresh comment.

            Something I need to explain about brain activity.

    • Proteios1

      Dangerous ground. Mix some Teri shiavo not cognitively aware, with one part gosnell aborting babies at birth and one could come to the Dawkins postulate that until children are two they can be euthanized if they are deterred to not be useful. It might not be 2 per se, but there could be a selection process that occurs after birth. No more silly than abortion.

      • Andre

        I think you meant Singer, not Dawkins. Lets not confuse boogey-men.

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  • Ez

    I’m no scientist. I’m a mum.

    I currently have a 4 month old. She is my third child, and she has recognized and responded to me since she was 2months old. She would smile and respond to my voice. At 4months now she squeals and smiles and coos and has expressive “conversations” with me.

    My first child was 1 month old when she first cooed to my mothers voice. My mother still reminds me of this 5 years on.

    So needless to say, this “study” is a complete and utter load of rubbish.

    Whatever research money is being wasted on this idiotic inaccurate study should be better spent. Like maybe feeding starving 2month olds in underprivileged parts of out world.

    • Stacy Trasancos

      Bingo! Couldn’t have said it better, Ez. Thank you.

    • Andre

      Ez,

      I doubt that parents of infants in need of life-saving surgery will think it’s a waste to determine whether or not their child is experiencing pain during open-heart surgery. However, I’m not a parent, so what do I know?

      • Ez

        What has life saving surgery got to do with useless studies like this?!

        They already perform life-saving surgery on unborn babies in-utero!

        I’m telling you, without a scientific degree and without years of observational research, that a baby is,in fact, a human Being. What’s to clarify?!

        • Andre

          Ez,

          I’m beginning to think you’ve not read the article in question.

          • Ez

            Andre,

            I read the article. I don’t understand your or the researchers “logic”, that they “aren’t sure” whether babies feel pain. It seems devoid of common sense. Or whether babies are conscious responsive human beings. Have you never been around babies? At all? Didn’t Stacey explain to you that the number of brain spikes is not indicative of consciousness. There are other indicators. It’s idiotic research.

            At the hearing of Gosnell the abortionist, witnesses testified to hearing horrific painful screams coming from babies who were born alive then had their spines snipped by Gosnell.

            I can’t believe you need an explanation but this is “evidence” that babies obviously feel pain.

            A newborn baby is born crying- expressing to the outside world it’s uncomfortable. It cries from day one, when it’s hungry, when it’s cold, when it’s in pain, when it’s uncomfortable from a pooey nappy. It’s nervous system s fully formed. So babies feel pain. Their cries are the way they communicate- which is how mothers for thousands of years been able to understand how to respond and care for their babies. Therefore telling me they are conscious. And therefore “viable” humans.

          • Andre

            Ez,

            “I read the article. I don’t understand your or the researchers “logic”, that they “aren’t sure” whether babies feel pain. It seems devoid of common sense.”

            Then we’re facing a larger problem that you’re not understanding, or don’t care to understand, what is being said. The question is not whether babies feel pain, it’s whether they’re conscious of that pain. Many things react to stimulus without consciousness. Nobody doubts that infants and fetuses feel pain, and there’s science to back that up.

            “Or whether babies are conscious responsive human beings.”

            This is the question, and it’s valid for the reasons stated in the article. There’s a distinction between ‘conscious’ and ‘responsive’. Dead muscle tissue is responsive to electrical impulses, though it’s obviously not conscious.

            “Didn’t Stacey explain to you that the number of brain spikes is not indicative of consciousness.”

            No, actually Stacy made no attempt to debunk the methods in the OP, and has done little explanation since. Also, I don’t think you can say that the number of spikes isn’t indicative of consciousness. It clearly may be, again for the reasons stated in the article. What you can’t say, and what neither the article nor I have said, is that brain spikes are conclusive evidence for consciousness, or that absence of spikes is conclusive evidence for unconsciousness.

            “There are other indicators.”

            This is entirely possible, and I would think probable. Again, who said this was the only test for consciousness?

            “It’s idiotic research.”

            If that’s the case, you’ve done a woeful job demonstrating it.

            As I’ve stated elsewhere, the article makes the points that, until the 1980s, infants were not given anesthesia because it was thought they weren’t conscious of pain. Studies like these are therefore important, as they help to demonstrate that consciousness might begin much earlier than previously thought. Further, as we become increasingly able to save infants and the unborn from more serious ailments earlier in development, we might run into a tipping point where the anesthesia is more dangerous than the surgery. If that is the case, it would be nice to know if we could do surgeries, without anesthesia, and not risk conscious pain to the child.

            But yeah, other than that and the part about treating autism, what a waste of time.

          • Ez

            Very good Andre, dissected like a true scientist.

            But seriously *crickets*.

            Makes me see why some scientists have such a hard time in the real world. They dont beleive the grass is green until they’ve tested the he’ll out of it. Only then will they confirm the grass is green.

            Off to bath some screaming kids!

      • Proteios1

        No doubt. But what happens in our budget strapped world when science says all is lost, it’s a waste and you want to save your child…you pay. Which means many wont.

        • Andre

          Protieos,

          I was talking about whether or not administer anesthesia, based on the risk to the child, not the cost.

  • Stacy Trasancos

    Andre,

    {cracks knuckles}

    “Yes, when in doubt, it’s much better to assume rather than question. That’s the basis of the scientific method.”

    Consciousness is NOT, I repeat NOT reducable to two spikes in brain activity. Determining if pain is felt is not reducible to two spikes in brain activity. This has been long known. Just the mathematical process to map out something as simple as a preference for Hydrox cookie vs. and Oreo, taking into consideration all the choices that might go into that, requires an algorithm that our biggest computers couldn’t manage, and that’s just for a binary choice.

    It’s absurd to ask this question. What they seem to be doing is redefining consciousness to something ridiculously inhuman. Two brain spikes. What in the world has happened to science?

    —–

    “Stacy, I’m curious, do you think a fertilized egg is conscious? An embryo? Do you think that humans become conscious at a certain point? Should we try to establish what point that is? Is studying the brain activity of infants useful to this end?”

    If we use the definition of “conscious” as “knowledge or awareness” no, of course an embryo is not conscious. Theologians and natural philosophers (what they called scientists) in the Middle Ages (even before) long ago addressed this question too. A human soul is not rational until it matures (not intelligent) but it is still a human soul. In other words, our humanity precedes our consciousness, and it is our ability to have consciousness that sets us apart from other animals, our intelligence and free will.

    No, I don’t see the point in determining when we become conscious. You cannot know that, and it almost certainly isn’t a constant from one person to the next. If this is a question of whether or not to use anesthesia, then study what the different medicines do the body. That’s a much better way to find out what you need for infant surgery. If it were my child, I’d want the safest medicine, but I have no doubt whatsoever that newborns experience pain. The time interval in two brain activity spikes will never, ever answer the question about experiencing pain. It cannot. That’s what you are missing.

    —–

    “Older babies show snappier processing, though still not as quick as adults, the researchers found. In 12- to 15-month-olds, the second phase is stronger than in 5-month-olds and occurs around eight-tenths to nine-tenths of a second.”

    You said: “They’re showing that the response they think indicates consciousness is weaker and slower in the 5-month old than it is in the older infants. Should they guess what it would be in a 2-month old, or should they try to test it? Your attitude towards this seems oddly unscientific.”

    Again, no. They know without a doubt that two brain spikes from seeing an object and mentally reacting to it are NOT the definition of consciousness. It’s way more complicated than that. Awareness cannot be reduced to two brain spikes. The human brain is far, far, far more complex, and this has been known for decades. That test would tell you nothing about needing or not needing anesthesia.

    • Andre

      Stacy,

      “Consciousness is NOT, I repeat NOT reducable to two spikes in brain activity. Determining if pain is felt is not reducible to two spikes in brain activity. This has been long known.”

      Not only did you not question their hypothesis or methods in the OP (only the rationale & conclusion), but it’s not enough to say “this has been long known”. It might well have been long known, but you cited no studies, and gave only butt-wiping as evidence.

      “It’s absurd to ask this question. What they seem to be doing is redefining consciousness to something ridiculously inhuman. Two brain spikes. What in the world has happened to science?”

      It’s far from absurd to ask the question (any question, really), especially when efforts to scientifically prove what had previously been common sense yield surprising answers. IF they thought they could answer the question entirely and conclusively using only the method they did, then it is certainly worth arguing that point that they are using a shallow definition of consciousness (and I would agree with you that 2 brain spikes is far too simplistic a test to base proof of consciousness on). However, I’m not sure they would say they closed the book on how to define consciousness, or that their test is the best way to do so.

      “No, I don’t see the point in determining when we become conscious. You cannot know that, and it almost certainly isn’t a constant from one person to the next.”

      The why and the how of determining consciousness are two separate things. We might never be able to determine precisely when consciousness begins, but not searching for it seems very unscientific.

      “If this is a question of whether or not to use anesthesia, then study what the different medicines do the body. That’s a much better way to find out what you need for infant surgery.”

      I agree they should study that too, but again, the background is that we are operating on younger and younger bodies. It’s quite possible that we could reach a point where we are medically capable of saving a life at an age where the use of anesthetic is far more dangerous than the surgery. In that case, or even in cases where it was 50/50 which was riskier, it would be nice to know if you were risking conscious pain.

      “If it were my child, I’d want the safest medicine, but I have no doubt whatsoever that newborns experience pain. The time interval in two brain activity spikes will never, ever answer the question about experiencing pain. I cannot. That’s what you are missing.”

      I don’t think I’m missing your point. I wasn’t arguing that the findings represented some complete knowledge of how to define and determine consciousness. I was arguing against your abortion conspiracy theory, noting that there were legitimate scientific reasons to study this, motivated by concern for the possible conscious suffering of infants.

    • Longshanks

      “Determining if pain is felt is not reducible to two spikes in brain activity. This has been long known.”

      Strictly speaking this is false. The livescience article you link to is seven days old, I can’t imagine original study having been done much above a year ago if it’s just now getting press. On the other hand, you reminded me of one of the favorite sayings of the wildlings, “it is known.”

      “taking into consideration all the choices that might go into that, requires an algorithm that our biggest computers couldn’t manage, and that’s just for a binary choice.”

      Truly fascinating, no? Have you ever run across D. Hofstadter’s book Godel, Escher and Bach? It’s an interesting foray into the patterns of emergence.

      “It’s absurd to ask this question.”

      Well, there’s a true declaration of scientific spirit. I hope you still have enough imagination to be able to hop into non-religious-fundamentalist shoes and see how that sentence looks. I perfectly understand that from your point of view this is not only cogent but nearly self-evident. I also perfectly understand that your god of the gaps has been shrinking for millenia. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1te01rfEF0g)

      “No, I don’t see the point in determining when we become conscious. You cannot know that” Oh good. Some more of the same. (Lifts his eyes pleadingly to Heaven.)

      (As a side note, scientists often self-identified as “natural philosophers” until into the 18th and 19th centuries, it was not a term peculiar to the “Middle Ages”. I mention this in case your aside was an attempt to link science to your cult, instead of just trivia. Trivia is good. I like trivia.)

      *EDIT*
      Oh shoot, I “know nothing, Longshanks.” It’s a dothraki of which I am thinking.

      • Stacy Trasancos

        Yawn.

  • Stacy Trasancos

    Let me say it another say.

    The idea that consciousness is only a function of brain activity (however complex it might be) is an idea that belongs to materialism, the thought that our mental activity is totally the product of physical processes.

    It presumes that to be correct, and even the strictest materialists knows he still cannot find the full answer.

    If, however, the consciousness is a function of the soul (the mind, the spirit, the will) then no amount of brain studies will ever answer the question. The brain may affect knowledge and awareness, but it cannot fully account for them (just as being hungry can make you grumpy). Science cannot study the spiritual; spiritual things are beyond physical science.

    If consciousness is connected to whether or not it is okay to end the life of a human being (AND IT IS, not just for abortion but also for the care of the mentally disabled) then the materialist route is dangerous.

    • Andre

      Stacy,

      “The idea that consciousness is only a function of brain activity (however complex it might be) is an idea that belongs to materialism, the thought that our mental activity is totally the product of physical processes.
      It presumes that to be correct, and even the strictest materialists knows he still cannot find the full answer.”

      We might never find the full answer, but that can be said of many things, and is not a good reason to not try to find fuller answers.

      Even if this study is totally misguided as to the possibility of ever being able to fully define and detect when we become conscious, it’s is worth trying to get closer, for it’s own sake. Not to mention the many possible by-products, including earlier detection and treatment of autism.

  • Stacy Trasancos

    Andre, are you familiar with the Terri Schiavo case?

    http://catholicstand.com/oh-what-a-tangled-web-they-weave/

    • Andre

      Yes, I’ve heard of it.

  • https://thebestthingireadtoday.wordpress.com/ Philokalos

    This is not hard. Trasancos is questioning the reason for the phrasing of the title, viz. the use of the word “consciousness”.

    A contumacious question was asked, whether Trasancos believed that an embryo was “conscious”. If an embryo were conscious, would it be possible, using any means available (actually at this moment or within the realm of reasonable imagination), to ascertain this scientifically?

    Again, this is not hard. The answer is no.

    So when you say you’re testing to see if a baby is “conscious”, you’re stacking the deck, because eventually you’re going to get to a point, *NOT* where you discover that the organism is not conscious, *BUT RATHER* where your ability to detect consciousness fails.

    By starting the inquiry with these semantics, you create a framework within which you can (fallaciously) identify failure to detect with nonexistence.

    Once you make that equivocation, you acquire the power of subjective judgment of subjects as persons or not persons.

    This would be very unscientific, not to mention that it has been, is being, and will be in the future the justification of things like slavery, genocide, abortion, euthanasia.

    • Andre

      Philokalos,

      “A contumacious question was asked, whether Trasancos believed that an embryo was “conscious”.”

      I think it was less ‘contumacious’ and more ‘Reductio ad absurdum’ (reduction to absurdity), but reasonable people may differ. I think an honest reading of the entire exchange makes this clear.

      “By starting the inquiry with these semantics, you create a framework within which you can (fallaciously) identify failure to detect with nonexistence.”

      Again, I don’t think that’s what follows from an honest reading of either the article in question, or my comments. If you’ve not already done so, I’d invite you to read the entire article in question, and the entire conversation I’ve had with Stacy.

      • https://thebestthingireadtoday.wordpress.com/ Philokalos

        “A contumacious question was asked, whether Trasancos believed that an embryo was “conscious”.”

        I think it was less ‘contumacious’ and more ‘Reductio ad absurdum’ (reduction to absurdity), but reasonable people may differ. I think an honest reading of the entire exchange makes this clear.

        ———

        This can be a reductio ad absurdum if we take for granted that am embryo is not conscious, but that is precisely the point at issue, isn’t it? Not only whether the embryo is conscious, but whether we would be able to know, not being the embryo, in any case.

        ———

        “By starting the inquiry with these semantics, you create a framework within which you can (fallaciously) identify failure to detect with nonexistence.”

        Again, I don’t think that’s what follows from an honest reading of either the article in question, or my comments.
        ———

        This is not a matter of opinion, so what you *think* about it is not relevant to it’s *validity* as a deduction.

        It does, however, *follow* from the proposition. Perhaps you meant, though, that you don’t think that’s what anyone is trying to accomplish here. Fine. Let’s assume the best intentions. I’m not particularly interested in anyone’s intentions right now.

        What am interested in, and what I have done, is to show that this consequence follows from this premise.

        Why do I care so much about the unintended (or intended) consequences of the proposition? Because it doesn’t matter what my intention was when my argument justifies murder. At best, I regret what I have done, at worst, I am guilty of compounded crime.

        • Andre

          Philokalos,

          “It does, however, *follow* from the proposition.”

          The only proposition I’m seeing in the article is that they think they can detect consciousness. I’ve seen no attempts to define ‘consciousness’, or to suggest that their study was sufficient to demonstrate consciousness conclusively in the affirmative, let alone the negative.

          Unless I’m missing something, the rest of your conclusions are baseless. Neither the article nor myself are proposing what you say we are.

          P.S. I was disappointed that didn’t have to look anything up this time. Did you lose your list of pretentious words and phrases?

          • https://thebestthingireadtoday.wordpress.com/ Philokalos

            “Unless I’m missing something[…]”

            Yep.

        • Longshanks

          “This is not a matter of opinion, so what you *think* about it is not relevant to it’s *validity* as a deduction.

          It does, however, *follow* from the proposition.”

          True.

          When making logical arguments, one’s opinion about the conclusions is irrelevant to the validity of the argument structure, or the truth of the premises.

          Unfortunately for your case, neither the form, nor the premises you chose, were sound.

          • https://thebestthingireadtoday.wordpress.com/ Philokalos

            In a demonstration, the choice of premises is not susceptible of validity or invalidity; deductions from the premises can be valid or invalid. There is not any such thing as a “sound” premise, nor as an “unsound” one.

            A premise is the starting point, and logic, like science, is not competent to prove the truth (this is the correct word here, not “soundness”) of a starting point.

            As for formal errors, one might observe them specifically instead of merely alleging their existence abstractly, so as to seem not to be attacking a person, but a formal error.

          • Longshanks

            “As for formal errors, one might observe them specifically instead of merely alleging their existence abstractly.”

            I think you’ll find, with a bit of digging, that I did endeavour to do just that somewhere above, providing my comment had time to reach you from jail.

            “In a demonstration …. invalid.”

            As to this…well. Reading comprehension is a skill learned through repeated practice; you’ll get there. Upon re-reading my comment, you’ll notice that I first use the words “validity of the argument structure, or the truth of the premises,” which might have indicated to you that I needed little schooling in the various ways an argument can fail to find a true conclusion.

            “There is not any such thing as a “sound” premise, nor as [sic] an “unsound” one.”
            True, few premises of online arguments agitate the inner ear, save perhaps in the striking of the keys. Oh, what is that you say, there are other meanings to the word? I should have expected such an observation from a self-proclaimed philologist, of course you are in the right of it, let’s take a look shall we?

            http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sound

            I don’t have much faith in your ability to find things on your own, so I’ll just serve this up here for you:
            sound2 [sound] Show IPA adjective, sound·er, sound·est, adverb
            adjective
            1.
            free from injury, damage, defect, disease, etc.; in good condition; healthy; robust: a sound heart; a sound mind.
            2.
            financially strong, secure, or reliable: a sound business; sound investments.
            3.
            competent, sensible, or valid: sound judgment.
            4.
            having no defect as to truth, justice, wisdom, or reason: sound advice.
            5.
            of substantial or enduring character: sound moral values.

            A kind and intelligent reader may have done me the courtesy of assuming that I chose one word with multiple facets, one that might indicate both FREEDOM FROM DEFECT in truth as well as form to describe the dual ways in which you mauled formal logic above.

            I will admit that I took flight, in an attempt at turning a nice phrase. I wished to describe the defects both in your form and in your premise to arrive at a concise statement. “Unfortunately for your case, neither the form, nor the premises you chose, were sound.” It rolls off the tongue, don’t you find? So much more elegant than all this laborious explaining. A point, like a joke, is a terrible thing to have to explain.

            So perhaps “soundness” is not such an incorrect adjective to apply in this instance as you wish to claim.

            “A premise is the starting point, and logic, like science, is not competent to prove the truth”
            Whether or not logic and science are competent systems to justify belief in themselves is a deep and interesting (to me anyway) question, one whose corollary in Mathematics Godel took such pains to explore. That to one side, logic is surely sufficient to assess the SOUNDESS of a premise, observe:

            Says one: If P then Q. P, so Q.
            Says the other: Aha, but if A then not P. A, so ~P, therefore Q is unknown.

            And finally:
            ” so as to seem not to be attacking a person, but a formal error”

            My dear sir, but I am attempting both. Your flawed grasp and utilization of logic, rhetoric, semantics and grammar are bad enough, but you’re deploying them in an effort to stun and dismay, to “shock and awe” as it were your opponents, and doing so badly.

            You do a disservice to pretentious people everywhere who have a solid grasp of these things.

            *Edits because it’s late for 3rd shift and I’m impatient.*

          • Longshanks

            Philokalos,

            My apologies. The post where I lay out my understanding of your formal errors has yet to be made public.

            It is still in jail, and my lack of awareness caused me to question more strongly than I otherwise would have your reading of my points.

            In other words: how dare you not read what I hadn’t posted yet.

          • Stacy Trasancos

            There aren’t any more comments in jail. Scroll up and see if you see it.

            FYI, if there’s more than 3 links (or more than 2, I forget) WordPress thinks it’s spam. I can change that, but I’m hesitant because spam gets through too much already. Just post multiple comments if you have a lot of links.

    • Stacy Trasancos

      Thank you Philokalos!

    • Longshanks

      Lover of ?words?:
      If you’re going to give ye olde well thumbed thesaurus a good going over in an online comment arguement thread, maybe don’t misuse words if you’re going for gravitas?

      “A contumacious question”

      vs.

      “con·tu·ma·cious
      /ˌkänt(y)əˈmāSHəs/
      Adjective
      (esp. of a defendant’s behavior) Stubbornly or willfully disobedient to authority.”

      —-

      “If an embryo were conscious, would it be possible, using any means available (actually at this moment or within the realm of reasonable imagination), to ascertain this scientifically?

      Again, this is not hard. The answer is no.”

      Aaaand your reasoning shoring this assertion issss……?

      —–

      My problems with your premise aside, this is your (cough) argument, as I read it.

      1) We will never be able to determine embryonic consciousness scientifically.

      2) Testing infants is ‘stacking the deck,’ because:
      a) Currently we can perform a certain physical experiment which yield measurable results which might be indicators of conscious experience.
      b) We can keep testing younger and younger subjects using this methodology, potentially arriving at an age region where a “no result” is found.
      c) A “no result” on any particular consciousness indicator would not be a reliable indicator of a real lack of consciousness.

      3) Using “these semantics” allows you to systematically conflate lack of consciousness with inability to register a result on a particular test.

      4) Once you’ve managed to produce a weak test for consciousness, you have an unscientific basis for world domination, slaughtering of innocents, and hearing the lamentation of their women.

      (As a side note I think it likely that this particular methodology will not be workable in utero, thereby making it unlikely that this particular test will be used on subjects young enough not to register.)

      Problems:
      I) You provide no scientific evidence, logical reasoning, or even, God help us, theological support, for your position in 1, it is the merest bald statement. I couldn’t find a link describing the fallacy of “Just saying something wild and crazy,” so I went with (https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/begging-the-question)(https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/personal-incredulity).

      II) You lead off with an (https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/appeal-to-emotion), they’re playing unfair cards…against babies! Why and how are they doing this?? By doing bad science which they know will not lead to a full understanding of consciousness. The inability of one experiment to completely elucidate consciousness *edit* does */edit* not mean that anyone is actively attempting to stack anything, except Minecraft players.

      III) Wut. A hypothetical non-result on this or some putative future test means that we suddenly forget that lack of evidence is *edit* not */edit* evidence of lack? Where is your proof, your reasoning, or Zeus have mercy, your dogma on this? (https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/burden-of-proof) (https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/composition-division)

      IV) Now that scientists have systematically relied on this and other inherently flawed experiments to come to the conclusion that they have absolute knowledge of consciousness, never a false positive or negative to trouble a guilty conscience, chaos ensues. (https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/slippery-slope) (https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/begging-the-question)

      As a final comment, let me attempt to avoid being tarred with the same feather (people in glass houses shouldn’t black kettles you know), and state that I am particularly interested in consciousness, conscious beings, and their welfare. I believe I am not alone in this, even on this site, even if it is a narrow and bigoted view of consciousness some defend, and I recognize that your inability to form a coherent argument against testing early cognition of infants in no way lessens their worth as conscious beings. I would hate to be accused of falling to the (https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/the-fallacy-fallacy).

      • Stacy Trasancos

        FYI, you were caught in spam jail because of all the links. As you can see, I’ve released you. Good day and you’re most welcome.

        • Longshanks

          I appreciate being heard.

          I’m sure contentious voices don’t hurt the comment counts on these posts.

  • Stacy Trasancos

    Andre,

    I have an idea.

    Come here. I want to test whether you are conscious or not? Okay? Okay.

    First I’m going to define consciousness (we don’t know whether you are or not, so sorry, you don’t get to have input).

    Then I’m going to make up a test, who cares whether it’s really related to consciousness or not, heck, we just need to study it!

    I’m going to make up the criteria for passing my test too.

    Now, you will take the test, and I will let you let you know whether you passed or not.

    [Tick, tick, tick...hang on, I'm doing the test. What? You don't even know I am doing the test right now? Well, silly, that's because you probably aren't conscious. Hold still...]

    Okay, the results are back.

    You failed.

    Sorry. Maybe you’ll grow into into in a few years.

    Thanks for participating.

    • Andre

      Stacy,

      As much as I appreciate your renewed interest in actually investigating things vs. assuming them, I’m still not sure what you’re railing against. I didn’t catch the part of the article where anyone made an attempt at an all-encompassing, definitive definition of ‘consciousness’ (in fact, I don’t see any links to the actual study itself). Further, I see no indication that they’re saying this is the only way to measure consciousness, or that failure to “pass” the test was sufficient to claim lack of consciousness.

      What I took from it was the possibility that we can detect consciousness, and the implications that has to things like administering anesthesia to infants and fetuses, as well possibly helping to detect and treat disorders such as autism. By hey, why take people at their word?

      • Stacy Trasancos

        Wow, I never knew an unconscious person could type. Another round of the scientific method, coming right up. :-D

        Just kidding…

        • Andre

          Kidding re: unconscious typing, or more scientific method?

  • Gene

    I remember the moment of my birth. It happened when I was in my Mother’s womb. I was awakened by a shake. It felt like a wake-up call (if you were in the military you would know what I mean). I remember seeing the darkness of the amniotic fluid and things that sparkled. I remember going through the birth canal (I was looking to my left). I remember being handled and looked over by people. I remember being presented to my Mother at her right side, and then… the lights went out with some very early and smaller memories thereafter.

    I had asked my Mother about this strange memory recall, because this memory recall didn’t come until decades later. And, as a test, I had asked her whether I had my eyes open when I was born. My Mother said, yes, that I had my eyes wide open. I was not even crying. It seemed I was just “looking around”.

    This memory will never leave me.

  • Anna Roataligia

    It is painful to watch commentary sections degrade. We need to remove comments to avoid the distractions.

  • kel

    My son was born at 24 weeks, and had surgery at 2 weeks after birth. Yes he did have conscious. Whenever nurses placing a needle in him to get blood samples, he sreamed and wailed. And yes he did have aenesthesia, I even agrued with the nurses, my nerves were shot, My baby was premie, he had complications, he was my firstborn, and the Nurses kept pricking him at least 10 times. He’s 11 now, straight A student, my pride and joy, but lord those moments are vivid in memory.

    • Stacy Trasancos

      kel,

      Awesome story! I’ve held one-year olds for a single needle stick for a lead test, and it was awful. I can’t imagine going through that with such a tiny baby.

    • Longshanks

      That sounds awful, nerve-wracking, terrifying and awful.

      I think I’ve read somewhere that some studies (look at that outstanding scientific and journalistic method) have shown that vicarious or sympathetic pain is not merely “psychological,” that is to say that there is evidence to show that when we subjectively feel gut-wrenched or apprehensive for the fate of another, actual pain pathways are firing inside our own brains.

      “I even agrued with the nurses, my nerves were shot”
      I have never been in a similar situation, it seems trite to say “I empathize” or something potentially indicating commonality, but imagining being in a social situation where I felt compelled to argue with the people I simultaneously had to trust with the life of my child sounds like Scylla and Charybdis to me.

      “He’s 11 now, straight A student, my pride and joy, but lord those moments are vivid in memory.”
      Always nice to hear stories of agony and uncertainty which wend their way to a happier place.

  • Ez

    I’m waiting to see Andres response to your story Kel…

    • Andre

      Ez,

      I don’t doubt her account, I just don’t think that response to stimulus is, in and of itself, proof of consciousness.

    • Andre

      Ez,

      Also, I’m waiting to see your response to Gene’s story.

      • Ez

        Gene- that gave me a good chuckle.

        Just because you can’t remember pain, doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt at the time. I know childbirth hurt. I just can’t remember how it felt like. If babies senses are present and formed then they feel pain…

        Whether they forget about the pain after the event does not, in my opinion give reason to not administer anesthetic during the procedure, if it is safe to do so.

        Stacey what do they do when they perform in-utero surgery, do they administer anesthetic?

        Another real life analogy- when my daughter was 3 days old in hospital, she was put on my chest to nurse and fell asleep. The nurse took the opportunity to take blood sample from her heals- She shrieked and woke up crying a lot. So Andre is she too the minority that feels pain so early…I don’t think so. She won’t remember it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Do we allow them to feel pain because they cant properly say “it hurts”?

      • Ez

        Andre Kel did a better job than I ever could.

  • kel

    Just because you can’t remember something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or you didn’t feel pain. I remember 3 years ago when my grandmother passed away, we were cleaning out her apartment and she had a picture of me when I was 3 years old and I had a cast on my arm. I could not remember ever hurting my arm and my mom never mentioned it. I’m sure it hurt, the cast certainly signified it was a a bit serious injury, but my mother never mentioned it, until I ran accross the pictures. I cannot remember for the life of me that incident. Maybe some phycologist might explain it as a traumatic event I experienced at 3 that my brain supressed. Who knows. But I;m sure I was concious then of what was going on. Thanks Stacy and Longshanks for your statements. And Andre, I’m not asking you to believe my account, far as I know you are make believe myself, I am no activist, just a private citizen trying to comment on a story. A lot of people feel I should share my story but I want my kids to be normal kids, living their lives as normal kids, and now he certainly has catched up to the rest, but it was tough at first being the smallest child for a while. Even if he is the one off, to all this scientific data, that ONE life is certainly worth the benefit of the doubt. He is worth Living even if he had .00001 percent chance. Whatever if was. I don’t know if hospitals can give out private patient information, but you can check the hospitals for surgery on a 2 week baby. Or even yet, check the surgeries on in-utero babies, I can’t think right now when I saw that, but I saw an article going around on a surgery performed in-utero. I don’t think it’ll be that hard to find since this is rare. I always read stories about that 1 off person who reacted after being comatose for 20 years, or that 1 off person who had hiccups at 8 weeks in utero and the bubbles were seen in the sonogram.

  • kel

    also response to stimulus=unconcious ???

    • Andre

      Kel,

      “also response to stimulus=unconcious ???”

      That’s not what I said. I said that response to stimulus is not sufficient to show consciousness. For example, you can electrically stimulate dead muscle tissue and get a response. Would you consider that tissue conscious, or would it need to exhibit some other characteristics? There are countless species of animals which react to pain and other stimulus, do you think they all have consciousness?

  • eddie too

    seems very intellectually presumptuous to determine human consciousness based on the efficacy of an engineer’s machine.

    these people say you are not conscious because our machines do not detect your consciousness?

    aside from the fact that better machines will be built in the future, how arrogant is it for a scientist to define consicousness based solely on one aspect of human existence, even if that aspect is detectable brain activity?

  • eddie too

    does humanity come and go with an individual’s consciousness or is that simply a way to reject the humanity of some human beings?

    • Andre

      Eddie too,

      Thank you for taking the time to read not only the article, but also all the comments, and really engage with the arguments being presented. It’s a rare trait indeed.

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