A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Sunday, October 26, 2014

In Psearch of Psyche: Man the Animal

Man, the Animal

Man, the Animal: Making Sense 

It seems like only a couple days ago that we were speaking of that strange borderline between plants and animals; viz., the possibility of sentient plants. Wait a minute, it was only a couple days ago! How time flies when you're having fun. Or reading this blog, which is not always the same thing.

Today, we take up the animal soul and see what that means for human life.

Additional powers provided by the animal soul comprise the stimulus-response loop.
  • external sensation 
  • internal sensation (perception)
  • emotion (behavioral reactions), and 
  • locomotion (motive power). 
These are tinted blue-gray in the stimulus-response model, right. There is an additional immanent link from Perception to Motion which corresponds to reflexive acts.

Animals do not have two souls. The stimulus-response loop subsumes the vegetative soul (green) and the inanimate powers (dark blue) as shown in the model. This means for example that gustatory and reproductive acts are brought under the purview of the stimulus-response loop.

We will start with the external senses. Each external sense apprehends some "natural quality of corporeal substance" (color, sound, heat, etc.) This quality is called it proper sensible.

Making Sense

Animals have senses, hence they are sentient. That means some modicum of consciousness, even if only a rudimentary one. However, a sleeping animal is not conscious, but remains sentient: smells or sounds may bring it awake. Neither term implies intelligence, although that may be also present in the higher animals.

Sensation differs from pure reaction or tropism in three ways.
  1. Specialized sense organs associated with various forms of awareness: e.g., eyes¹ for visual awareness, ears for sonic awareness, etc.  (Plants have no such organs.) 
  2. Variability of response. An animal may respond to a stimulus in several ways: creep toward a perceived prey, bound toward the prey in a blitz attack, avoid the prey if a stronger predator is seen, etc.  A plant will simply grow toward the light or toward a source of nourishment.
  3. "Packaged" with appetite and locomotion.²  These acts comprise empirical evidence of awareness of the sensation. Their absence is further evidence that plants lack this faculty. 
Certainly, animals also have reactions, just as they have weight or pH. But remember, sensitive powers are "in addition to" and not "instead of" vegetative powers. There are things even humans do without thinking.³ Nearly all our internal organs -- digestion and absorption at the endothelial lining, circulation of foodstuff, movement of substrate across the cellular lining, etc. -- fall under autonomic control. Our hearts beat not because we have willed them to, but because our homeostatic system (i.e., the autonomic nervous system) keeps our vegetative lives in balance. The skeletal muscles -- and hence locomotion -- fall under the somatic nervous system.

Sensation is, after digestion, the Second Way of knowing. When we eat something, we incorporate the matter without preserving the form. When we sense something, we incorporate the form without preserving the matter. Otherwise, when we stop to smell the roses, tiny little roses would grow in our brains and the thorns would give us headaches.

The external senses are, in order of fundamentalism, touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight.
1. eyes. When we say "eyes" (et al.), we mean the entire sensory apparatus, including nerves and processing regions of the brain.
2. appetite and locomotion. Awareness would be pointless in plants and Darwinian selection would "ruthlessly eliminate" it as "excess baggage." Oderberg (in Real Essentialism) notes that plants "do not exhibit behavior that we could properly call flinching, or escaping, or avoiding stimuli," yet even bacteria do all of these things.

3. things even humans do without thinking. Faithful Reader may insert his or her own list here, as humor inclines.
Reach Out and Touch Someone

A touching scene
 1. Touch is the most basic sense, the one without which no animal can exist. Its organ is the skin and its proper object is the tangible. Its function is to apprehend bodily qualities -- hardness, heat, sharpness (pain), and so on -- which it does through direct body-to-body contact. Some animals have special portions of their skins dedicated to particular tangibles, such as the pit of the pit viper, which is sensitive to heat. Pain¹ is vital to survival, since without it animals would not know to avoid certain things, would not know when they were wounded, etc. Somesthesis (touch) is so fundamental that if any higher plants can be said to sense rather than react, it would be through some form of touch. (cf. the trigger hairs of a Venus Fly-trap.)

2. Taste is a specialized form of touch and its organ, the tongue, is among the most sensitive of tactile organs. Its proper object is flavor. It is also a logical outgrowth of the vegetative soul, since all living beings must eat to live, and this would be the next "advance" past mere ingestion of nutrients from the air and soil.

3. Smell is a less obvious form of touch -- actual molecules of the substance must touch the olfactory receptors -- but it is so tightly conjoined to taste that a stuffed-up nose inhibits the palate. The organ is the nose and the proper object is odor. Some animals, like rats, devote nearly all of their brains to processing smells. It is the sense most connected to intuitions and deep memories, and seems to be far more acute in infants than in older humans. Unlike touch, it is poorly developed in Man; yet mankind is the only animal to have made an art of smells! 

This hearing will come to order.
4. Hearing senses the impact of sound waves. Its organ is the ear and its proper object is the audible. Various animals can hear different ranges of sounds, as for example dogs can hear higher frequencies than humans; and some, like bats or dolphins, extend their hearing to sonar by emitting sounds and processing the echoes.  Hearing contributes the most to the growth of intelligence in humans, since the spoken word is a symbol of thought. Speech is the human equivalent of bat and dolphin sonar: we emit sounds in the form of ideas, and listen for the echoes these elicit from others.

Holy cow! Wouldja look at that!
5. Sight harvests the most information-rich stimulus field, since all bodies reflect light (colors). Its proper object is light (color) and its organ is the eye. This is true even of animals that are color blind, as are dogs. Black, white, and gray are still colors. Sound without sight can be deceptive, much as taste without smell. Try the experiment of identifying sounds made by a friend while you sit with your eyes shut.

Animals vary in their reliance on these senses. Some, like cave-fish lack the sense of sight. In lightless caverns, since the fish would be unable to act on it there is no selective advantage in sight. Some are almost entirely reliant on touch; others on smell. Some folks would count additional senses:
  • proprioception: the sensation of the placement one's own limbs
  • balance: the sensation of one's body's attitude.
But we should note that these are not external senses. That is, they are not the impact of external stimuli on a sense organ.

These sensations are all very different from what is done by artifacts. A photovoltaic cell does not "see." A smoke alarm does not "smell." A tape recorder does not "hear." It's not a sensation unless the sensor is aware of the sensation.   

A final point. Light is the proper object of the eye; but too much light destroys the eye. Too much sound harms the ear, and so on. Sometimes, after a rest, the sense organ will recover; but sometimes the damage to sight or hearing is permanent.
Example. Once, returning from a run to rear echelon to secure anti-tank grenades for an anticipated Japanese counter-offensive on Iwo Jima, the father of TOF came face to face with a Japanese artillery shell. A good thing he had not been running faster, for the explosion lifted him up and sent him sailing backward through the air, where he lay stunned and senseless for time. He could hear nothing and could feel nothing. The concussion had overwhelmed his sense of touch and the explosion had overloaded his sense of hearing. He thought he was paralyzed; but gradually feeling returned and he completed his mission. To this day, however, he has a ringing in his ears.²
1. pain. The 17th century Scientific Revolutionaries believed that animals were simply meat puppets that did not feel pain. That belief entitled them to perform vivisection on living and conscious animals.
2. blown up. He was no John Kerry, however. Back then, you had to bleed to get a Purple Heart.

The Inner Sense of the Lambs 

The objects of the outer senses were called the proper sensibles by the Medievals and dismissed as subjective by the Moderns. Color, sound, pain, cold, et al. existed not in the object perceived, but in the mind of the perceiving subject. The Medievals held that the apple really was red (and cool, tart, etc.) and that these sensations were in the mind did not mean that they were not real. In fact, they regarded all sensation is an interaction between the physical world and the perceiving subject. We now call this the "observer effect."

The Early Moderns had not degenerated so far as to say subjective things were not real, just that they were not amenable to the tools of the new Science. They could not be measured and mathematized, so they said they were all in our minds. It was left to the Late Moderns to lose their minds.

Sense Knowledge
Note: The estimative power has been omitted.
All these sensations that cascade upon the senses like waves upon a beach come separately to the animal, and there are other things we sense that the outer senses do not account for. Thomas tells us that in addition to the external, or "proper" senses, there are four other powers "required for the perfect sense knowledge which an animal should have." [Quaes. disp. de anima, Art 11]
  1. The animal must distinguish the sensible qualities received from one another, and this must be done by a power to which all sensible qualities are related. This power is called the common sense
  2. The animal needs to apprehend sensible things not only when they are present, but also after they have disappeared. So there must be a power by which the species of sensible things are retained. This power is called imagination
  3. The animal must know certain intentions which external sense does not apprehend, such as the harmful, the useful, and so on. For example, the sheep flees naturally from the wolf as something harmful.¹ This is called the estimative power, is acquired generally by natural instinct and in some cases by learning.
  4. The animal must recall to actual consideration those things first apprehended by sense and conserved. This power is called memory.  
1. flees the wolf. Those which did not (if there ever were such) are no longer in the gene pool. Instincts can be very hard won indeed.

Various qualities of the apple present themselves to different
proper senses, but are assembled by
the common sense into a
singular object. (Ignore lower half of this diagram.)
6. Common Sense. 
Modern science has confirmed that the various sense impressions reach the brain at different times, an idea explored in the TOFian story "Captive Dreams," found in the eponymous collection. There is no sensible reason why all these signals should be experienced as coming from the same object. The eye sees red, but it doesn't see sweet. The tongue tastes sweet, but not red. Unless these disparate sensations are somehow united in a singular object, they are functionless: just a cascade of sounds and colors and such with no apparent connection one with another. Such a perceived world would make no sense. The animal would smell its food but not connect the smell with the nearby munchies.

Hence, there must be what Aristotle called a common sense that unites sensations into perceptions, as illustrated above, right. The proper sensibles -- the cool feel, red color, fruity smell, tart taste, and crunchy bite -- are combined into a cool, red, fruity, tart, crunchy apple. In effect, it is from this unifying sense that the proper senses are derived. While distinguishing between redness and tartness, it links them into a singular whole: E pluribus unum. So various sensations of colors becomes a perception of an apple; various sensations of sounds becomes a perception of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. 

The proper object of the common sense is the present qua present, and its product is the percept.  

Why, what sort of rag did
you think TOF meant?
In addition to synthesizing the proper sensibles into a common object, the common sense is also responsible for the common sensibles: shape, magnitude, motion, number, et al. The apple for example is not only red and tart, it also has size and shape, a distance from the observer, and so on. A rag is not only a series of auditory stimuli, it also has tempo, key, rhythm, a four-phrase organization, etc. The spatial features of the apple and the temporal features of the rag are not perceived by any one particular sense the way red or tone are perceived by the eye and ear.

There is no one sense that senses these things directly, but they are susceptible to multiple senses; e.g., the number of apples on the table can be verified both by sight and by touch. [In de anima, II.1.13] The common sensibles were regarded by the Early Moderns as residing in the object and were called "objective" properties. Since these are the properties that are amenable to mathematics, the Late Moderns took matters a bridge too far and regarded them as the only really truly properties. 

Common Sense is the principle of sensitive consciousness. By it, we identify some sensations as belonging to ourselves or to external objects. We not only see, smell, etc., but we are aware of doing so and so become conscious of the subject/object duality. This self-consciousness, although denied by the Early Modern scientists, was quite evident to the medievals.
What is it like to be a bat?
7. Imagination is the power of forming and manipulating images, not necessarily visual ones. Bats are proverbially as blind as... well, themselves, but form sonar images of their senses surroundings. It is impossible for humans to imagine what it is like to be a bat precisely because we aren't imaging from the same sensory powers. The work of the imagination implies that the sense impressions persist even after the stimulus that produced them is removed. The imagination "brings back to consciousness the images of objects that have ceased to be present." Without such re-present-ation¹ we would be conscious only of a kaleidoscope of transient sense impressions which, once gone can never be recalled. This is precisely what happens when, deprived of sensation during sleep, the imagination conjures up dreams from scraps of old sensations which are seldom remembered after awakening. [Brennan, p.16-17]

The proper object of the imagination is the absent, and its product is the ymago or phantasm. The organ is the brain. 

"Image" is a weak term inasmuch as it implies a specifically visual image, but the imagination is limited only by the senses and images may be auditory, olfactory, etc. Some people are better at imagining things seen than things heard; others are better imagining tunes than scenes. 

In addition to the reproductive memory, humans also exercise a creative imagination: Krenken aliens, Prince Charming, a big rock candy mountain,... things never perceived by the senses. But even such things are fabricated from bits and pieces of things that have been perceived.  That is why no one can ever imagine a genuinely alien alien.

The imaginary power
The judgments of physics terminate in the senses, the first degree of abstraction from matter. The judgments of mathematics terminate in the imagination, the second degree of abstraction from matter. The imagination is therefore of greater immanence because it is further removed from the world of sense objects.

The imagination forms a basis for knowledge. "By imaginal power we can live in other places and are able to to project ourselves into situations that we have never actually experienced." [Brennan, p.128]

Together with the other powers of the inner senses, it endows the animal (especially the higher animals) with abilities that resemble a sort of washed-out intellect, and leads many folks to mistake the imaginitive powers of animals for the intellective powers of humans.
1. representation. versus presentation. Like a stone making ripples in a pond, stimuli initiate a motion in the sense organs that eventually ripple into the imagination and create what can be described as "a washed out sensation" or the "echo of a sensation." Because it is not directly a physical sensation, the re-presented image is less distinct and detailed than the actual presented sensation.

8. Memory. TOF is sorely tempted to say he forgets what this is, but will manfully resist the cheap laughs. The proper object of the memory is the past, as past. It closely resembles the imagination in that it deals with objects not immediately present and so, like imagination, is a re-presentative power. Both memory and imagination:
  • presuppose original presentations on the senses
  • imply unconscious retention of the effects of these impressions
  • exhibit an ability to re-present these impressions in consciousness
So what's the diff? Imagination provides the basis for memories, but "memory always recognizes its revived products as images of past events" and "places them in a different temporal context." [Brennan, p.129] To see the difference, imagine a daffodil. Now try to remember the last actual daffodil you encountered. The second is more difficult and involves a particular daffodil at a particular time and place.¹

Furthermore, memory is always associative. Just as the original perception consisted of parts linked together, the memory will tend to bring the remaining parts back with it. Your puppy will remember making a puddle in the house and will in association remember the smack of the rolled up newspaper. Just as imagination complements the common sense, memory complements the estimation.
1. memory. Computers are said to have memory, but they do not. They have only been assigned the same name. In memory, the past is recalled as past. But when a file is recalled from memory in a computer, it becomes present on the desktop. As far as the computer is concerned, that file is happening "right now." It is more like retrieving a file from a file cabinet and placing it on the desk before you than it is like recollecting the information in actual memory. [cf. Jaki, Brain, Mind and Computers] Comparisons of mind [soul] with computers is fraught with such skewed analogies.

9. Estimation. Animals also have the power to "discern the useful or obnoxious character of certain objects" and therefore to approach or avoid them. Thomas observes:
Some things act without judgment; as a stone moves downwards; and in like manner all things which lack knowledge. And some act from judgment, but not a free judgment; as brute animals. For the sheep, seeing the wolf, judges it a thing to be shunned, from a natural and not a free judgment, because it judges, not from reason, but from natural instinct. And the same thing is to be said of any judgment of brute animals.
The combination of imagination, memory, and estimation is what allows many animals to be trained to marvelous feats, such as pressing buttons on a keyboard or making hand signs that it remembers will obtain a treat. But "animal prudence" will always involve an apprehension of concrete relationships, while "rational judgments" involve abstract relationships.

Late Moderns confuse the estimative power with rational thought for several reasons.
  1. The Dolittle Desire to "talk to the animals," a tradition running from Aesop to Disney. We see apes or elephants exercising reason in part because we want to see them do so, just as we want to meet angels or aliens from outer space.
  2. Late Moderns spend very little time interacting with animals, as our more  rural ancestors did, and our attitudes are shaped by Pets and by Theory.
  3. Behavior governed by instinct is not the dead, mindless operation of meat puppets the 17th century imagined. The imagination (by which we mean imagination+memory+estimation) is capable of great feats, both in nature and by training. It is, in fact, what the intellect builds on, as we will see in a later episode. The intellect modulates the inner senses, adding a more reflective, syllogistic element.

The Living Brain

Now all this stuff -- coordinating sensory inputs, forming, storing, and retrieving images, estimating response for fight or flight and all that -- is governed by the brains. (Not by "the" brain. There are several mutually interconnected organs up in the noggin, each with specialized functions.) Hence, most acts of imagination show up in fMRI scans and the like. But Pollan notes in his article Intelligent Plants, "Most neuroscientists would agree that, while brains considered as a whole function as centralized command centers for most animals, within the brain there doesn’t appear to be any command post."

Even attempts to reduce sensation to functional explanation run into the problems Nagel and others have pointed out. Deogolwulf, at the now quiescent The Joy of Curmudgeonry, quoted the following:

[A] functional explanation of pain might go something like this: Pain is a signal that tissue has been injured. It is useful to an organism’s survival and reproduction for the organism to minimize tissue injury, to learn to avoid what has caused injury in the past, to avoid contact between an injured body part and other objects while the part is still damaged, and so forth. The sensorimotor and neural machinery for accomplishing all this, including the computational mechanism that would do the learning, the remembering, the selective attending and so forth, could all be described, tested, confirmed and fully understood. The only part that would remain unexplained is why pain feels like something: the functional explanation accounts for the functional facts, but the feeling is left out. And so it goes: every time you try to give a functional explanation of feeling, the feeling itself turns out to be functionally superfluous.
-- Stevan Harnad, “No Easy Way Out”, The Sciences, 41:2, 2001.
Hence, Late Modern philosophers have called the issue "The Problem of the Qualia." It apparently has not occurred to them that the problem is with Late Modern philosophy, and the solution is a return to the perennial philosophy of Aristotle and his successors. Deogolwulf also paraphrases Bertrand Russell in The Analysis of Mind (Oxford: Routledge, 1992), himself a Late Modern philosopher, as noting a supreme irony:
In regard to some of the difficulties involved, it is interesting to note that in the early twentieth century, whilst psychologists were coming to regard mind as more and more material, seeking to reduce it the physical, physicists were coming to regard matter as less and less material, and even in some cases coming to regard it as mental. In other words, the physicists were shifting the terms of the physical upon which the psychologists were seeking to set the terms of the mental. 

Looking Forward

In our next episode, we will examine the animal responses to the stimuli, sensations, and perceptions; viz., the appetites and acts. [Let's Get Moving]

Homework Assignment

Deogolwulf, "The Hard Problem of Feeling; or, What is it Like to Be a Batty Philosopher?" (The Joy of Curmudgeonry, 22 July 2008)
Nagel, Thomas. “What is it like to be a bat?”, The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4, October 1974.
Jaki, Stanley. Brain, Mind and Computers (Regnery Pub; Reprint edition (December 1989)
Thomas Aquinas, De anima Book III Ch.2-3
Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones disputatae de anima, Art 11, (Whether the powers of the soul are distinguished from one another by their objects) respondeo.
Thomas Aquinas, Sentencia libri De sensu et sensato


  1. “. . . and the solution is a return to the perennial philosophy of Aristotle and his successors.”

    It hadn’t quite sunk in with me when I wrote that blogpost. Your final quote, by the way, is my paraphrase of Russell, not the words of Russell himself.

  2. This is excellent & I hope to have a coherent question pretty soon. While reading it, I dropped a glass of Thai tea & will probably be thinking of the estimative power every time I look at the memorial on the carpet for a year. Made me giggle a little, 'though, because fear of broken glass is probably learned so well most people find it instinctive, but I learned stained glass making as a kid & unlearned that fear. Memory overpowering the estimative?

  3. Animal senses like infrared, electroreception, magnetoreception and echolocation / sonar allow them to perceive the environment in different ways to humans but there are more than five senses that humans can use but sight and hearing dominate our perception. -

  4. A plant has memory--

  5. Dodder plants have something that amounts to a sense of smell that lets them detect chemicals from potential host plants nearby and grow in the right direction to parasitize them.


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