One Of Us: Discussing Descartes & Animal Consciousness

Relating to CC201’s study of The Renaissance is the essay ‘One Of Us’ by John Jeremiah Sullivan on animal consciousness, in which he discusses Descartes’ views on the topic. Here is an extract:

Descartes’ term for them [animals] was automata—windup toys, like the Renaissance protorobots he’d seen as a boy in the gardens at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, “hydraulic statues” that moved and made music and even appeared to speak as they sprinkled the plants.

This is how it was with animals, Descartes held. We look at them—they seem so full of depth, so like us, but it’s an illusion. Everything they do can be attached by causal chain to some process, some natural event.

Picture two kittens next to each other, watching a cat toy fly around, their heads making precisely the same movements at precisely the same time, as if choreographed, two little fleshy machines made of nerves and electricity, obeying their mechanical mandate.

The essay ( proceeds to expand and discuss these ideas, and is an interesting read.

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