The elephant facility is equipped with a wide range of cameras, there is a "control room" for running the camp. In the first years, there was a web stream (anyone remembers real player?) running 24/7 allowing everyone to watch the elephants close up. Especially after in the hours after the zoo is closed for the public, a lot of highly interesting behavior could be observed. The stream for example settled the question: do elephants lie down to sleep? Yes, at about 1am in the morning the would lay down for a few hours, often in a larger group together.
The observations via the web cams gave me a deep impression of the social interaction of elphants. They have a lot of individual personality and the groups have a tight social structure and interaction.
If you ever visit, down some of their Kölsch and get a Kölsch key (their beer-rival is the nearby region of Alt - at the company I was consulting for, many of the folks had replaced their Alt keys with Kölsch ones)
The Cartesian world view on biology has been catastrophic to our fellow mammals and even today aspects of this perspective survives. Physiologically, humans are not very different from other mammals, even if we want to be. We all have a limbic system and that means we all have the same emotions. Animals have feelings and emotions. When things happen to them, they react with emotions be it sorrow, anger, happiness, fear.
Before Descartes, it wasn't at all clear and obvious that mere things had no intention, no wants, no "soul". In fact, Aristotelian physics considered that a stone drops because of its "grave" nature, that it somehow wishes to go down (The last gasp of this magical thinking lasted well into the 19th century, until Pasteur finally demonstrated that there is no spontaneous generation).
By excluding everything non-human from any "soul", Descartes made science as we know it possible. It was a paradigm shift of immense conceptual importance.
Usually we just edit titles that are triggering people. If I were to do that here, I might rename it "Elephants and Anthropomorphism". But when an article is this rich, moving, even profound, taking away its title would maim it. It bears a much better discussion than the thread has given it so far, so please let's talk about what's interesting.
Btw. - and off-topically - almost shockingly for a magazine style publication these days: The New Atlantis pages stand on their own - they work ouf of the box, without any of the usual reliance on scripts and external crutches. I am hereby a fan.
Most would agree there's a point at which moderation goes too far. I can't tell if you're making an appeal as a person, or making a decree as a moderator.
I read the article, and it's absolutely full of metaphysics. From the questions surrounding determinism and free will, to the questions of the moral responsibility of those in dominant positions, to the nature of love and pain and grief.
These metaphysical topics interest me, and apparently they interested the writer, even if they don't interest you.
I'm making an appeal as a moderator person. When the delta between an an article's quality and the HN discussion's quality gets that severe, it's proven helpful.
And I realized that the fact is probably for most of HN the question of "Do souls exist?" is just more interesting to them than "Emotional bonds with 1 out of the X million species." And I realized there was a time in my life when those philosophical topics didn't seem exhausted.
That big gap between in ways of looking at the world ("Wow what a beautiful emotional article about connection" vs "Human connection is just some evolutionary detail, let's look at Objective Big Picture (TM)") is something worth minding; it can help us understand each other.
There are references to literature ( Pope ) and scientists ( Darwin ) and elephant researchers, but the central themes of this article is a philosophical one. The ethical and metaphysical questions that cannot be answered by science or emotions.
Cogito, ergo sum
I strongly believe that anyone who believes a human has a soul would believe an elephant has a soul if they observed them for as long as I have. They are incredible, extraordinarily intelligent and as the article says, capable of very sophisticated social structures like empathy, justice and vengeance.
For these people, it’s just a shallow and transactional relationship masked with pretty words.
Edit: I'll add this quote from Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
What they don't seem to have is a grasp of the nuances of language in the way we do. They undoubtedly communicate but it's hard to see a sense of analogy and synthesis of new ideas in anything elephants communicate to us.
Of course on the same measures we fail to communicate these metanconstructs back to them and since overwhelmingly our treatment of elephants lacks evidence of empathy and concern and shows no sense of justice perhaps the real question is:
First of all, he said all living things have souls because a soul is the principle of life. By definition, it is the thing that is the difference between something that is alive and something that is not. Although we know a lot about the mechanisms of life today and how that breaks down as something dies, I think it's safe to say we still don't know exactly what makes a thing alive, and we certainly don't know how to create or restore life. If nothing else, soul is a useful label for that principle.
According to Aristotle and Aquinas, what makes humans different from other animals is not the existence of a soul, and neither is it consciousness or emotions. What makes us different is that we have a rational soul, which means we are capable of recognizing universals and dealing with abstractions, which is connected with our use of language that can express and communicate these concepts.
I recommend biologist and theologian Rev. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P.  for an explanation of how this developed and how the biblical idea of Adam fits in with modern evolution. I also recommend philosopher Dr. Michael Augros  for a very rich explanation of how we can understand that we have a rational soul, and what are its characteristics. Both of these men draw heavily on Aquinas, but they bring his ideas into modern biology and philosophical discussion.
>"Also a matter of conventional wisdom is the idea that human beings are on one side of a great divide while all animals are on the other"
>"To modern science it is, if anything, the hard problem of consciousness, also commonly thought to be the province of just one species."
My usual response to these kind of assertions is to direct people towards, 'The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness' - http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConscious...
Here's the summary;
>"“The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and manyother creatures,including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
Also, I'd add something to the section on anthropomorphism. One that is touched on by the first paragraph in that section;
>"Though thanks to Darwin (if not Aristotle) it should come as no surprise that animals seem to experience in some way many of the same things we do, physically and emotionally, in science the supposed imposition of “human” characteristics on non-human animals is a powerful taboo."
I have long thought that from an evolutionary perspective it would be incredibly surprising if the characteristics of humans appeared in some catastophic development, such as in Julian Jaynes' book, 'The Origin of Consiousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind'. Anthropomorphisis of animals is often dismissed as being an arrogant practice that serves the person and not the animal. I would argue that a flat denial of 'human' attributes to other animals is far more so.
On the other hand, Aristotle (who is only mentioned by the author in passing) and his philosophical heirs like Aquinas do not deny the common sense view that animals are conscious, have emotions, show affection, etc. However, Aristotelians and Thomists (A-T) don't always appear to be comfortable with the word "soul" perhaps because of the connotations it has acquired in the modern era, Cartesian or otherwise (think ectoplasm or ghost in the machine). For A-T philosophers, the "soul" is the form of the organism, that is to say, that which makes the organism what it is (by analogy, the form of a bronze sphere is sphericity). Thus, at the moment of death, the form is no more and what we have is not an organism nor even a body but the remains of the organism (here, A-T philosophers would say that the substantial form had ceased to enform the organism while the accidental form may persist and hence why the remains of the organism continue to hold the shape and structure of the living organism for some time after death).
In any case, according to this view, all living things have "souls" because the soul is just the form of the organism. However, what A-T philosophers do accept is that the known non-human animals lack immaterial faculties like the intellect (i.e., the faculty by which humans beings abstract univerals from particulars). Thus, animals do not possess general or universal concepts like "Man" or "Number" or "Triangularity". But none of this is to deny that non-human animals are conscious, experience emotion, form bonds, and so on.
And by that, we probably just mean (in the most roundabout of ways) how much of ourselves do we see in them.
Sufficiently intelligent beings may be inscrutable, but our aggregate responses are fairly predicable.
 if you’ll permit “really smart” rather than “three times as smart as anyone else” — it’s not like smart is defined in a way that permits the multiplier anyway
As far as sufficiently advanced intelligences go, I'm not sure I'd even be able to tell if they're alive, much less soulful.
"The soul through all her being is immortal, for that which is ever in motion is immortal; but that which moves another and is moved by another, in ceasing to move ceases also to live. Only the self-moving, never leaving self, never ceases to move, and is the fountain and beginning of motion to all that moves besides. Now, the beginning is unbegotten, for that which is begotten has a beginning; but the beginning is begotten of nothing, for if it were begotten of something, then the begotten would not come from a beginning. But if unbegotten, it must also be indestructible; for if beginning were destroyed, there could be no beginning out of anything, nor anything out of a beginning; and all things must have a beginning. And therefore the self-moving is the beginning of motion; and this can neither be destroyed nor begotten, else the whole heavens and all creation would collapse and stand still, and never again have motion or birth. But if the self-moving is proved to be immortal, he who affirms that self-motion is the very idea and essence of the soul will not be put to confusion. For the body which is moved from without is soulless; but that which is moved from within has a soul, for such is the nature of the soul. But if this be true, must not the soul be the self-moving, and therefore of necessity unbegotten and immortal?"
I think I particularly like it for being a proto-physics and non-religious attempt at a proof for the immortality of soul.
But there is no social consensus thereof (whether or not they have the same thing we seem to have), between them or us, because they cannot speak, write or use sign language, to communicate their subjective experience to each other or any other species.
We are the only species to represent a best bet for noticing their sentience, and we would not have contemplated such a thing in a meaningful way that overrules to collective preference among humans, to hunt and poach for things like sport and trophy ivory, at least not until roughly the middle of the 20th century.
i can think of some others doing similar things that were jailed and not applauded. if we do it for science its ok? or only sometimes?
First, you're obviously applying your current world view to 1640, which doesn't make any sense. OK, all people from the past were barbaric, racist, violent, misogynistic, credulous so whatever they did and say should be dismissed without any further reflection, is this your point?
Second, I don't even understand what you're trying to convey. Did Descartes advise to torture puppies for science?
sorry, i don't subscribe to his nonsense, never will. and i wasnt trying to make any point, i was asking you a question about yours.
have a good day.
If anything we need a justification _against_.
No souls: you take a definition of "soul" as something supernatural and reject it's existence.
Binary souls: souls exist in some beings in an absolute way either existing or not. A body gains a soul at some point during birth or development and loses it at death. Some creatures have them others do not.
Continuous souls: everything has one, some more than others. A rock has a tiny bit, a tree some more, an intelligent animal more, and a human the most. Soul develops as you gain consciousness in childhood. A philosopher has more soul than a comatose person.
Souls can be an emergent phenomenon out of certain kinds of complexity like consciousness. Souls can also be something outside physics as we understand it now. You can accept or reject either one.
Whatever elephants have, there is quite a lot of it. You wouldn't be so wrong calling it soul.
> No souls: you take a definition of "soul" as something supernatural and reject it's existence.
This position is technically called eliminative materialism, that consciousness or the first person experience of reality is an illusion. I find this to be the most absurd idea in the history of ideas, for the simple fact that I have direct experience of consciousness (my own). Or, to quote Descartes: I think, therefore I am.
> Continuous souls
This is a version of Panpsychism. I do not hold this view, but a lot of people that I respect do (for example, Ben Goertzel, the AGi researcher).
> Souls can be an emergent phenomenon out of certain kinds of complexity like consciousness.
This is known as emergentism. It is more or less the mainstream view nowadays with the scientifically literate. I consider it to be pseudoscience, because it uses the term "emergence" to hide a magic step. It is a complicated and technical discussion, but long story short, things emerge from building blocks. Markets emerge from individual transactions. Swarms emerge from certains behaviors of birds, and so on. What are the building blocks of consciousness in this model? I am not saying that they do not exist, but just saying "well it emerges somehow" is the same as believing in the supernatural, but hiding it in scientific language (aka scientsim).
The list above only contains hypothesis based on physicalism (a not super rigorous definition: the belief that matter is the fundamental stuff of reality). Physicalism seems obvious to the current status quo, but if you become more sophisticated with the mind-body problem you will see that it does not really rest on a sold foundation. For example:
What the list omits are the idealistic or neo-plationist hypothesis: that consciousness is the fundamental stuff of reality and matter is a second-order phenomenon. I am not defending any sort of supernatural or religious idea, I am simply pointing out that people assume too much out of a lack of philosophical sophistication. Idealism is perfectly compatible with all of modern science, and there is no particular reason to assume physicalism. The absolute belief in physicalism is akin to a modern religious dogma and it does violence to science and extends logical reasoning and empiricism beyond its current limits.
What is an illusion, but a thing that can be experienced yet is not real?
> Physicalism seems obvious to the current status quo, but if you become more sophisticated with the mind-body problem you will see that it does not really rest on a sold foundation.
The ability to induce altered states of consciousness (such as death) through entirely physical means demonstrates that consciousness is a physical phenomenon.
The logical possibility argument for philosophical zombies is essentially flawed. It posits that the conceivability of a philosophical zombie is sufficient to demonstrate meaningfulness, but plenty of conceivable things are not meaningful. Suppose I conceive instead of a person who knows a counterargument to mind-body dualism. Accepting the philosophical zombie argument requires accepting its refutation.
With consciousness, "the experience of the trick" and "the trick" are one and the same: if I have a "first person experience of reality" (which I have), then I struggle to see how it can be viewed as a trick. Due to the property of consciousness being a subjective state, it seems that eliminative materialists claim that even the EXPERIENCE of the rabbit being pulled from the empty hat is an illusion, which to me is just nonsensical (but I assume that with suitable definitions you can work around that).
Certainly you can successfully argue that a tree doesn't have a soul, but what is impossible, I think, is drawing a line somewhere that says this thing has a soul and this other thing doesn't.
Humans 4,000 years ago? 40,000? 400,000? How about the closely related hominids Homo Sapiens interbred with and extincted? Find me the child who had a soul whose parents did not. I think finding and binning animals into soul and no-soul is absurd. The only alternative is some sort of continuum.
>I consider it to be pseudoscience, because it uses the term "emergence" to hide a magic step.
I get it, the objection to the hand-waving non-explanation of "emergence". I see it differently as a zoomed out understanding that we just have yet to fill in the details. Many mundane things are emergent. "Temperature" and "pressure" don't fundamentally exist, they are bulk properties which emerge from the physics of quantum electrodynamics (QED) of large numbers of atoms. We can fully derive and explain that emergence. We can't do that with consciousness, but the conjecture is that there is one.
>onsciousness is the fundamental stuff of reality and matter is a second-order phenomenon
I see this as a restatement of 'you take a definition of "soul" as something supernatural' or seeing it from a different angle. Perhaps what is missing is "Yes souls: you take a definition of "soul" as something supernatural and accept its existence. 'Supernatural' meaning nothing more than something which cannot be explained by current physics.
>The absolute belief in physicalism is akin to a modern religious dogma and it does violence to science and extends logical reasoning and empiricism beyond its current limits.
No disagreement. Mythos underlies everything, and "scientific" understanding of the universe rejecting all religions is based just as much in mythos as any of them.
I'm not sure I agree here. Nothing strikes me as unreasonable to hypothesize that consciousness can be something that "emerges somehow", say from a certain system of computations. Yes, it does hide a magic step, but is that not the crux of it? We don't know enough about consciousness to say otherwise. To so thoroughly dismiss this possibility as supernatural from the one statement seems undeserved.
I oscillate between believing that electrons probably feel, believing that multi-electron systems with any level of information processing (i.e. any implementations of any functions besides the identity function and the constant functions) probably feel, and believing that some more complex, not yet fully understood subset of implemented functions are all that feels. I'm not actually trying to argue for or against emergentism, I'm super undecided about it. I've been leaning more towards it since my last acid trip, but the one before that had me going the other direction.
This is the one I like. If you have a self, then you have a soul.
My neighbor has a Soul. Cute little car.
It's there and it's real.
In that regard, the more different you "think and react" the most unique your soul is. This is largely based on observation. Since we can't observe, typically, differences in behavior among chickens, we think they have no soul.
Own chickens and observe them for a little while and you'll see otherwise if you allow yourself.
One part of the anthropomorphism part they touched on (but I'm not sure the last line is universally agreed to), is that humans will do that to more than living things. We once talked about the souls of ships and lately a piece of metal, mechanisms, and circuits was mourned like family member when it lost its battle against the conditions on the next planet over. We pack up and form tribes with other humans, animals, and even inanimate objects that we claim have lives of their own. We invest in things. To the point, I'm pretty sure someone, somewhere added retrieving our lost probe to the must do immediately upon getting their ourselves list. I get the feeling if we have souls, then we invest little parts of them in the things we value.
1) from article: Meanwhile, on our end, we the human race are masters of projection, from the teddy bears (or in my case, stuffed raccoons and walruses) that we befriend as children to the humanoid robots that we may build or purchase as adults, engineered to cue us to respond to them like sentient beings. We like to feel that these inanimate objects have reciprocal affections for us, although we always know at some level that they do not.
Is it your memory? No.
Is it consciousness? No.
Is it your cognitive ability or creativity? No.
Is it your what defines your emotions? No.
Drink enough or hit your head hard enough and you'll see that all of those get affected in one way or another. So they're not incorporeal.
So what is the "soul" really? It is an ambiguous and archaic term.
If souls are real then "surviving" becomes much easier. That's why people like the concept.
I saw an interesting interview with her many years ago. She talked about experiences where she seemingly channeled the personality and preferences of the donor for a time following the surgery.
A soul usually implies a religious / supernatural energy that survives our death. It's an inherently non-testable theory.
I think the question if "do humans have souls?" is just an example of how the question "do elephants have souls?" can have no testable answer, just personal opinion based on your belief system.
It's all a simulacra in 4D anyway. I think it's fine to go with whatever mental models float your boat in that regard.
(Mind you, I reserve the right to do the same thing and don't feel compelled to agree with anyone else about such topics.)
I generally do not debate such things.
Different strokes for different folks.
I would argue that cells don't have souls, and by extension, humans don't have souls. But if you disagree, do atoms have souls? If no, and humans are made of cells which are made of molecules which are comprised of atoms, where does the soul come in? At any rate, I accept that's a very scientific perspective - but it's my perspective.
It must be an emergent property. Cells don't have nationality either, but through some complex interactions people have nationality.
We could give cells nationality if we wanted to.
Cells don't have intelligence, but people obviously do, so it's possible for all of something's parts to lack something that the whole has.
Intelligence in the sense that you’re describing it is basically the increasing complication of a system that adapts to its environment.
So I would say cells by that definition do have intelligence, but it’s not complex.
I do think an emergent property of complexity is consciousness, but the “soul” as many people think of it is more than just consciousness. The idea of the soul as something detached from the body and non-transient is just wishful thinking.
That's as good a definition as any, doesn't require religious belief, and it doesn't depend on whether Chalmers is right, Dennett is right, or whether your soul (i.e. phenomenal consciousness) survives your death.
Do any scientists claim only humans are conscious though? I can't think of any.
They sure show a lot of empathy and emotions.
In short, most mystical schools view the soul as something that defines the being. It's not a physical thing, but rather spiritual, or in other words - informational.
I'm not a huge fan of things that get that close to all or nothing, but I do know quite a few religious people and they aren't particularly concerned with the definition of it so much as what it represents. Whether it is a fear of questioning something or just finding it of minimal value, I do not know.
Not in my experience though. But I agree that it depends on religion.
Now show me how to measure them in some capacity.
We cannot make informed decisions without a way to measure these things. Without measurement, is no science. It is belief, not science.
Assumption: metaphysics isn't interesting.
Clearly many in the HN community disagree.
Yes, that's a case I'd make quite strongly. Internet metaphysics isn't interesting in the way the HN guidelines use that word. Such comments tend to be generic, predictable, and self-referential. They're rarely motivated by the article at hand—this case being a perfect example, since it was only the word "soul" that triggered the discussion, not anything the article actually says. They're not inspired by curiosity, and don't gratify it. They're mostly about rehearsing philosophical scripts, and the internet comment is too trivial a format to support genuine reasoning about those.
Edit: How dare I have an opinion on opinions.
isn't the proper question, phrased scientifically (albiet a nascent science), whether elephants have consciousness?
EDIT: skimming the article i see it's quite literary so i think the choice of words was meant to reflect more humanism than merely saying "concsious" would capture: ie, meaning or purpose, emotion, etc
Your face is pressed up against the ceiling.
Or to rephrase, if we don't know what a soul is, how can we hope to answer it WRT elephants? So how and why should a reasoning person rate an article like this?
The brand was originally devised as an inexpensive, mass-market product. Its imposing pachyderm logo, designed by Rollin Binzer was often paired with bright orange or yellow and black packaging, which was in stark contrast of the more conservative silvers and blues used by competitors like IBM. Shane's advisers feared this would undermine the credibility of the product. However, Elephant eventually became viewed as a premium product, eventually becoming one of the highest-margin floppies on the market and one of the best-selling media brands in history.