If Elephants Aren't Persons, Could They be One Day?

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Elephants might have the necessary capacities for personhood – we just need to help them acquire the cognitive scaffolding

by Don Ross

Quote:Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that elephants currently express the full range of personal and creative capacities that humans do. But I suspect all that’s missing are certain informational and institutional structures, along with the motivations to innovate upon them. In humans, we know what those structures look like: they are the books, movies, museums and laws that manifest in the world what otherwise exists only in our heads. It might be that there’s a lot going on in the heads of elephants, but they just haven’t been moved to externalise and store it in the environment the way we have.

However, if elephants do have all the raw mental material it takes to be persons, a time could come in the near future when we might draw them into a more expansive kind of personhood. The behavioural economics experiments that a colleague and I are planning to run with a group of semi-wild, female elephants in South Africa should begin to test the plausibility of this arresting speculation.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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I just finished an essay exploring what it would take for a machine to be sentient. It is based on the assumption that the model I use is correct, so there are dependencies.....

The essay also talks about animals other than humans functioning as avatars for etheric personalities.

If you are interested, it is Avatar at https://ethericstudies.org/avatar/
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Blind elephant appreciates classical piano.

I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.
Freeman Dyson
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The notion that elephants may be sentient beings that should be given personhood runs into some complications. One would be the fact that male elephants will periodically go into a condition of animal lust and rage beyond any definition of human personhood. In these periods the elephant is totally driven by animal instinct. Is such a being a person in any meaningful sense? 
  
"Musth or must is a periodic condition in bull (male) elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones. Testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 6 times greater than in the same elephant at other times. Even the most placid (male) elephants become highly violent toward humans and other elephants during musth" (Wiki). Elephant sanctuaries apparently typically only harbor and protect female elephants because of this problem with the males.
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(2018-10-31, 09:34 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: ... periodically go into a condition of animal lust and rage ...

Oh, I can think of human males who do that.
I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.
Freeman Dyson
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(2018-10-31, 09:34 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: The notion that elephants may be sentient beings that should be given personhood runs into some complications. One would be the fact that male elephants will periodically go into a condition of animal lust and rage beyond any definition of human personhood. In these periods the elephant is totally driven by animal instinct. Is such a being a person in any meaningful sense? 
  

After considering all manner of apparently irrational behavior exhibited by humans you should reconsider this position.
(2018-10-31, 09:34 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: The notion that elephants may be sentient beings that should be given personhood runs into some complications. One would be the fact that male elephants will periodically go into a condition of animal lust and rage beyond any definition of human personhood. In these periods the elephant is totally driven by animal instinct. Is such a being a person in any meaningful sense?

Yes, I would certainly say so.

Besides, how can we say that the elephant is truly "totally driven by animal instinct"? We have no way of looking directly into their mind to be able to know what they're truly thinking, or how they reason in those states.

I mean, we go into similar states ourselves, but we do not consider ourselves as any less of a person ~ it is part of our person. Just as it is part of an elephant's.

Also, we're animals, complete with a whole gamut of animal instincts. We're far from as rational or sophisticated as we like to believe ourselves to be. Indeed, we love to rationalize our emotions, and pretend we're completely rational, when we're actually lost in a sea of emotions we've blinded ourselves to.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
~ Carl Jung


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(2018-10-31, 11:47 PM)Kamarling Wrote: Oh, I can think of human males who do that.

I don't think it is exclusively a male phenomenon. All humans are subject to emotional turmoil - indeed it has also been considered an exclusively female phenomenon too. I'd say it is simply an integral part of being human, or of being a person. If we want non-emotional activity, we look to machines.
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If being "driven by animal instinct" eliminates an entity from being bestowed with personhood, then it follows there are no people according to the pure materialist, determinist position since there really isn't any personal volition in that worldview; just predictive behavior driven by chemicals and other matter/energy stuff.
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(2018-11-01, 01:44 PM)Silence Wrote: If being "driven by animal instinct" eliminates an entity from being bestowed with personhood, then it follows there are no people according to the pure materialist, determinist position since there really isn't any personal volition in that worldview; just predictive behavior driven by chemicals and other matter/energy stuff.
Right to the point. Pretty much sucks doesn't it.

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