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Consciousness in Plants, Animals, and Man

Analysis of Mind“In attempting to understand the elements out of which mental phenomena are compounded, it is of the greatest importance to remember that from the protozoa to man there is nowhere a very wide gap either in structure or in behaviour. From this fact it is a highly probable inference that there is also nowhere a very wide mental gap.”

Bertrand Russell’s The Analysis of Mind was published back in 1921, yet remains prescient and informative today.

“We know a great many things concerning ourselves which we cannot know nearly so directly concerning animals or even other people. We know when we have a toothache, what we are thinking of, what dreams we have when we are asleep, and a host of other occurrences which we only know about others when they tell us of them, or otherwise make them inferable by their behaviour.”

[…]

“We know, for example, that we have desires and beliefs, but we do not know what constitutes a desire or a belief. The phenomena are so familiar that it is difficult to realize how little we really know about them. We see in animals, and to a lesser extent in plants, behaviour more or less similar to that which, in us, is prompted by desires and beliefs, and we find that, as we descend in the scale of evolution, behaviour becomes simpler, more easily reducible to rule, more scientifically analysable and predictable.”

From our perspective it can be easy to assume that we are nothing like other animals, and therefore our conscious experience is unique and far beyond that of other creatures. Yet, we don’t really know how far beyond it we are, and given research into animal behavior, it might all lay a little closer than we thinkā€”or feel comfortable with.

“On the whole, therefore, there is probably more to be learnt about human psychology from animals than about animal psychology from human beings; but this conclusion is one of degree, and must not be pressed beyond a point.”

Check out Bertrand Russell’s The Analysis of Mind by picking it up from Amazon.

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