Sentience

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Thu Jul 08, 2010 8:19 am

Sanghamitta, thank you.

Would you say that intention, intentional activities and memory require 'thoughts'?
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Thu Jul 08, 2010 8:34 am

A recent studies shows ants who contracted a terminal disease would choose to leave their colony so not to spread it to others and they die alone.


I'll watch the documentary if I have time to, but your example above is not evidence of awareness but perhaps of a biologically programmed response chosen by natural selection. The sick ant could act in exactly the same way if it had no awareness at all and you'd never know the difference.
Last edited by Riverbend on Thu Jul 08, 2010 8:48 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 8:38 am

I think we have to be careful about our terms of reference here. The khandas do not equate in a simple way to western psychological models. Within the khandas there is a clear demarcation between sanna and sankhara*. Some mental activities fall into the first catagory and some into the second. Volitional activity and cognitive activity can be in association or not.

Just as a reminder this was my response.
* To which I would add vinnana.

I think its also worth recapitulating the basic discussion which is to do the nature of sentience. Which Buddhadhamma doesnot define in a clear cut way. There is some agreement about that which is not sentient. But sentience itself is a modern westernised concept which only partially corresponds to ancient Indian thought.
If your basic question Riverbend is if you become a Buddhist should you allow yourself to killed, by a lion or anything else, then my own answer would be absolutely not. You should take action at the lowest level necessary to preserve your life. That lowest level necessary might be quite a high level of response in fact.
Last edited by Sanghamitta on Thu Jul 08, 2010 9:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 8:40 am

Riverbend wrote:
A recent studies shows ants who contracted a terminal disease would choose to leave their colony so not to spread it to others and they die alone.


I'll watch the documentary if I have time to, but your example above is not evidence of awareness but of a biologically programmed response chosen by natural selection. The sick ant could act in exactly the same way if it had no awareness at all and you'd never know the difference.

Quite. To ascribe altruism to an invertebrate is a particularly extreme variety of anthropomorphism. Dr Dawkins would spit out his Darjeeling.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Thu Jul 08, 2010 8:52 am

Sanghamitta, if you speak to beginners like Riverbend, terms like sanna and sankhara will make no sense. Could you add an explanation or link to those?

And ...

Would you say that intention, intentional activities and memory require 'thoughts'?
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Re: Sentience

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Jul 08, 2010 9:02 am

Annapurna wrote:Sanghamitta, if you speak to beginners like Riverbend, terms like sanna and sankhara will make no sense. Could you add an explanation or link to those?


Khandas or "aggregates":
http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... tm#khandha
Khandha: the 5 'groups of existence' or 'groups of clinging' upādānakhandha alternative renderings: aggregates or clusters, categories of clinging's objects. These are the 5 aspects in which the Buddha has summed up all the physical and mental phenomena of existence, and which appear to the ignorant man as his ego, or personality, to wit:

1 the materiality group khandha rūpa-khandha,
2 the feeling group vedanā-khandha,
3 the perception group saññā-khandha,
4 the mental-construction group sankhāra-khandha,
5 the consciousness-group viññāna-khandha
...
[/quote]
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Thu Jul 08, 2010 9:05 am

Sanghamitta wrote:
Riverbend wrote:
A recent studies shows ants who contracted a terminal disease would choose to leave their colony so not to spread it to others and they die alone.


I'll watch the documentary if I have time to, but your example above is not evidence of awareness but of a biologically programmed response chosen by natural selection. The sick ant could act in exactly the same way if it had no awareness at all and you'd never know the difference.

Quite. To ascribe altruism to an invertebrate is a particularly extreme variety of anthropomorphism. Dr Dawkins would spit out his Darjeeling.


The thing is, you could build a robotic ant which responds to stimuli in exactly the same way as a biological ant so that a casual observer would not know the difference.

As for mosquitoes or just normal house flies, we too have inbuilt responses chosen by natural selection. Mosquitoes and house flies spread disease and we are evolved from humans who knew that and who acted accordingly. On the other hand, being subjectively self aware we are able to question our actions and even the intention that motivates them. We can judge a situation and override our instincts. We can turn on a fan to discourage mosquitoes or open a window to let out a fly. That's the difference between us and ants. Some instincts are pretty deep rooted though, like the instinct of survival. If the aforementioned lion runs at me and I have a gun (I am a game keeper which is why I have one) then I am not going to let the lion maul me any more than the lion would let me harm it without raising a paw. If that means I can never be a Buddhist then it's probably just as well I asked this question at the beginning and found out early!
I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 9:08 am

I think Riverbend can speak for himself dont you Annapurna ? I dont think that we can assume that he doesnt know or cant find out what sanna and sankhara refer to.
And I have answered your " and".. In as much as i have pointed out that in its present form it cant be answered, and you will need to rephrase it using either the khanda model or the psychological model but without conflating the two.

:anjali:
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 9:12 am

Sanghamitta wrote:I think we have to be careful about our terms of reference here. The khandas do not equate in a simple way to western psychological models. Within the khandas there is a clear demarcation between sanna and sankhara. Some mental activities fall into the first catagory and some into the second. Volitional activity and cognitive activity can be in association or not.

Just to make it clear Annapurna the above was in reponse to yours, not to any post of Riverbends directly.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 9:14 am

Annapurna wrote:Sanghamitta, thank you.

Would you say that intention, intentional activities and memory require 'thoughts'?

Specifically my response was to this. Actually of course your post could correspond to sanna, skandha, OR vinnana.So which do you mean ?
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 9:48 am

Sanghamitta wrote: I have added to this.
I think we have to be careful about our terms of reference here. The khandas do not equate in a simple way to western psychological models. Within the khandas there is a clear demarcation between sanna and sankhara*. Some mental activities fall into the first catagory and some into the second. Volitional activity and cognitive activity can be in association or not.

Just as a reminder this was my response.
* To which I would add vinnana.

I think its also worth recapitulating the basic discussion which is to do the nature of sentience. Which Buddhadhamma doesnot define in a clear cut way. There is some agreement about that which is not sentient. But sentience itself is a modern westernised concept which only partially corresponds to ancient Indian thought.
If your basic question Riverbend is if you become a Buddhist should you allow yourself to killed, by a lion or anything else, then my own answer would be absolutely not. You should take action at the lowest level necessary to preserve your life. That lowest level necessary might be quite a high level of response in fact.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Thu Jul 08, 2010 10:08 am

Sanghamitta wrote:I think Riverbend can speak for himself dont you Annapurna ?


Surely, I know he can, but many of us subscribe to this voluntary courtesy for beginners....

I dont think that we can assume that he doesnt know


He said in his intro he is new to Buddhism. Perhaps you didn't read it. Besides that, I know him.

I have answered your " and".. In as much as i have pointed out that in its present form it cant be answered, and you will need to rephrase it using either the khanda model or the psychological model but without conflating the two.


Could you be so kind and give a simple, direct answer to a simple and direct question, if you can?

Do you think that memory and intentional action require thoughts?

Yes or no?

I think it is quite obvious....it does require thought.

That said, methinks Brennagands point 4 is valid.

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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 10:34 am

No I cant give you a straightforward answer Annapurna. Because your question is meaningless as it stands.
I suggest you rephrase it in terms of the khandas as this is a the General Theravada discussion forum.
Using that model what do you mean by "memory " or "intentional activity " ? And how would they relate to cognitions ?
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 10:36 am

Just a guess Riverbend but does this all actually refer to your activities as a gamekeeper ?
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 10:44 am

Riverbend wrote:In Buddhism, how exactly is sentience defined? I hesitate to say this as it will sound facetious but I do not intend it: is it okay for a Buddhist to wash his or her hands because bacteria are not sentient? What about ants in your kitchen? One definition I have heard of sentience is a subjective self awareness. Is that what Buddhists think?

Thank you.

Just a reminder, this was the OP. It asks if Buddhists hold the view that sentience is subjective self awareness. The answer is no. They dont. Because such a definition would preclude much of the animal kingdom. Depending how we define self awareness.
Clearly a worm cannot think in any way that accords to the usual definition of thinking-as-cognition. But a worm is considered by the rule of thumb ( and thats all it is ) that applies in Buddhadhamma to be sentient.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Thu Jul 08, 2010 10:49 am

Sanghamitta wrote:
Sanghamitta wrote:I think we have to be careful about our terms of reference here. The khandas do not equate in a simple way to western psychological models. Within the khandas there is a clear demarcation between sanna and sankhara. Some mental activities fall into the first catagory and some into the second. Volitional activity and cognitive activity can be in association or not.

Just to make it clear Annapurna the above was in reponse to yours, not to any post of Riverbends directly.


Perhaps indirectly?

Either way, because you neither quoted nor adressed me, and posted after someone else's post, its a bit hard to tell who exactly you wished to explain things to.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 10:57 am

As is the way with internet forums a post was made between your question and my reply. From context it should have been obvious which point i was addressing however.
Annapurna you are making this much more difficult for yourself than is necessary by using terms from one model i.e, western psychology and using them to ask questions about another model i.e. the khandas. It does not compute.
It cannot compute.
For example answer this apparantly simple question..where does memory fit in to the khandas ? Or even more simply where does thinking fit into the khandas ?
As to the physiological aspect of mental functioning and its relationship to biology that might have to wait until my husband returns from his "forum vacation," as it is his speciality.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Thu Jul 08, 2010 11:09 am

Sorry, Sangahamitta, I'm at work. You're off this week?

See you a lot here.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Thu Jul 08, 2010 11:10 am

Sanghamitta wrote:Just a guess Riverbend but does this all actually refer to your activities as a gamekeeper ?


No. I am not a gamekeeper; nor am I a poacher. :) For the record, I am a writer.

I am also an organic vegetable gardener and I am constantly battling pests. I do so by attracting other insects which eat the ones that destroy my crops. I also avoided killing several hundred black fly that were devouring my broad beans (fava beans) by simply chopping the top off the plants and that, for some reason, makes them fly away. I also go to great lengths to discourage slugs in ways that won't kill them.
I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 11:12 am

Annapurna wrote:Sorry, Sangahamitta, I'm at work. You're off this week?

See you a lot here.

I am off . Back to the grindstone next week.I enjoy my job but it doesnt leave much time for anything else.
So after friday i wont be around for a while or not much anyway.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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