Sentience

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 11:16 am

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

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![/quote]
So the above reference was to a situation if you WERE a gamekeeper ? I thought that you were stating that you were, in an act of commendable honesty in terms of a Buddhist Website where cyber lynchings would be likely to follow :lol:
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Thu Jul 08, 2010 12:26 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
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
...

Mike[/quote]

Thank you, Mike. :smile:
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 12:48 pm

So Annapurna where would you see "thoughts" and " mental" processes fitting into the schemata that Miken66 kindly provided ?
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Thu Jul 08, 2010 12:58 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:No I cant give you a straightforward answer Annapurna. Because your question is meaningless as it stands.


It is actually very meaningful, because you resist the idea that an octopus can have # 4 =thought-processes.

What is clear is that no invertebrate has the neurological equipment for thought processes which was a key part of brennanmangs list of five qualities.


Sanghamitta wrote:what do you mean by "memory " or "intentional activity " ? And how would they relate to cognitions ?


Here:

maze and problem-solving experiments have shown that they do have both short- and long-term memory.


In laboratory experiments, octopuses can be readily trained to distinguish between different shapes and patterns. They have been reported to practice observational learning[10]


Training is only possible with a memory.

Intentional actions:

Octopuses have also been observed in what some have described as play: repeatedly releasing bottles or toys into a circular current in their aquariums and then catching them.[11]


This requires intention and decisions, both are only possible with thoughts.

Based on observation, the mimic octopus may decide which animal to impersonate depending on local predators. For example, when the octopus was being attacked by damselfish, it was observed that the octopus appeared as a banded sea snake, a damselfish predator.


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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 1:12 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:So Annapurna where would you see "thoughts" and " mental" processes fitting into the schemata that Miken66 kindly provided ?


You are leaping too far ahead in the discussion and missing out a whole section of the debate.
In order to make sense of my reply about Octopuses and thought processes can we first start by addressing the above, we can then move on the the question of human and non human learning processes. Lets start with the khandas.
Where are "thoughts" to be found in the khandas ? lets asume for discussion purposes that we are talking about human thought.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Thu Jul 08, 2010 1:17 pm

I thought that you were stating that you were, in an act of commendable honesty in terms of a Buddhist Website where cyber lynchings would be likely to follow


I don't think I meant gamekeeper! Who are the fellows who drive around African reserves making sure the animals are okay and that poachers are kept at bay?
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 1:22 pm

I think you meant Gamewardens Riverbend.. :smile: The chap that featues in Lady Chatterley is a gamekeeper..
Last edited by Sanghamitta on Thu Jul 08, 2010 1:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 1:28 pm

OK Annapurna I sense that we are not going to get too far with a discussion of the khandas..lets try something else.
I think that there is a fascinating discussion to be had about the interrelationship between the khandas and physiological models of functioning but PeterB my husband is far more adept than me at exploring that.* So lets leave that aside.

*Incidentally he is currently involved in a project which is looking at the relationship between brain imagery and cognitive functioning as the basis of a possible whole new look at a therapeutic approach to repetitive negative cognition's..but its very early days.

Do you accept that earthworms are sentient beings ?
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Thu Jul 08, 2010 1:52 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:So Annapurna where would you see "thoughts" and " mental" processes fitting into the schemata that Miken66 kindly provided ?


Are you asking because you don't know, or are you testing and probing?
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 1:55 pm

Lets put aside possible motivations and just exchange views. :smile:


Do you accept that earthworms are sentient ?
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Thu Jul 08, 2010 2:09 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:OK Annapurna I sense that we are not going to get too far with a discussion of the khandas..lets try something else.


You don't have to try anything with me, Sanghamitta, you're not my teacher... :smile:

You seem to assume that the lack of a reply is tantamount to not knowing an answer.

But many of here have jobs, and can't spend their whole day in front of the computer throwing out one post after the other. :tongue:

Do you accept that earthworms are sentient beings ?


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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Jul 08, 2010 2:14 pm

Yes Annapurna, Do you accept that earthworms are sentient beings ?
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Thu Jul 08, 2010 7:07 pm

I already explained animals and humans are sentient.

An earth worm is an animal.
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Re: Sentience

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Jul 08, 2010 8:05 pm

Moderator note: Off-topic stuff has been removed. Please stay on topic with no further meta-discussions.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Sentience

Postby octathlon » Thu Jul 08, 2010 10:56 pm

Sanghamitta wrote: Do you accept that earthworms are sentient beings ?


I, for one, am not confident of that... but I accept that they could be. Either way, I have no desire to kill them, so that's not a problem. Brown recluse spiders on the other hand, I still feel the urge to kill (only if they are inside my house). This is from fear, because I have been bitten by one before and it's really not good. :(

Anyway... :focus:
From dictionary.com
sen·tient
–adjective
1.
having the power of perception by the senses; conscious.
2.
characterized by sensation and consciousness.
---------
con·scious
–adjective
1.
aware of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc.


I imagine they do feel sensation, but that would also include the aforementioned amoebas and bacteria, which respond to stimuli, and were said not to be sentient.

Also, I suspect that the definition of 'consciousness' from the dictionary might not correspond with the Buddhist sense of 'consciousness', which I am still learning about. So, I sympathize with Riverbend's thoughts and confusion on all this.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Jul 09, 2010 6:22 am

Clearly my input into this discussion was unhelpful so I shall withdraw.

:anjali:
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Re: Sentience

Postby PeterB » Fri Jul 09, 2010 2:59 pm

Sentience in Buddhism is not defined by secondary characteristics such as form or from abstract concepts like intelligence. It is that state of self awareness that is prior to the arising of the khandas.
For pragmatic reasons bacteria and viruses and the plant kingdom are regarded as not possessing sentience and all multi celled organisms are. But this is not a scientific classification and will not yield much in the way of consistency if pushed too far.
The Buddha was not dealing with taxonomic divisions.
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Re: Sentience

Postby PeterB » Fri Jul 09, 2010 3:45 pm

Peter wrote:
Riverbend wrote:As someone said in this thread, a line must be drawn.

And as was said, the line is humans and animals including insects, and not plants or bacteria or viruses. It's a very simple and clear line and I don't understand why people find this so difficult.

I was wondering where that line is and, more specifically, what lies just either side of it. Not because I am interested in abstractions but because I want to get it right.

If you want to know where the real line is I will tell you: it's in your mind. On one side of the line are actions motivated by greed, hatred, and delusion and on the other side of the line are actions not motivated by these. Thus a man can unknowingly kill an animal (like running over an unseen mouse with one's car) and he doesn't create suffering for himself whereas a man can wave his arms around thinking "I hope I hit and injure all the ghosts and spirits in this room" and even though the room is empty he creates suffering for himself.

That is why I wanted to get to the bottom of exactly what sentience is.

I think this is a red herring, that getting to the bottom of this will not lead you closer to ending suffering.

This post actually nailed it early on in the thread. There is no standard definition in Buddhadhamma of sentience. There are various views even in the Theravada, Basically we know it when we see it and we try not to kill it.
Its a consensus, not a credo.
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Re: Sentience

Postby Annapurna » Fri Jul 09, 2010 4:42 pm

It just occurred to me that the Buddha probably didn't know about bacteria and viruses anyway, or did he?

Plus, if he had classified plants as sentient, we'd have nothing left to eat.

:popcorn: No more popcorn, it is sentient- :(´ 8-)
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Re: Sentience

Postby PeterB » Fri Jul 09, 2010 4:56 pm

He clearly had all sorts of insights that are quite surprising Anna, but iin his instructions he was always practical as well as emphasising the ethical view.
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