For example, I have heard many say that ants don't have consciousness but humans do. I have always thought that our bodies/brain works more like computers (inputs and outputs). An analogy I can give (may not be the best) is that ants are like calculators and humans are like computers. It's the same idea of input and output but the outputs we give are a lot more complex.

How can we definitely say that we are conscious and not responding to inputs albeit much more complexly than ants?

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    $\begingroup$ Another similar question: cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/10551/… $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Feb 13, 2016 at 5:34
  • $\begingroup$ Sam Harris said: "Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion." I would say that everything down to photons has awareness (see the Two-Slit Experiment) and everything is on a continuum of some level of consciousness. Else how do you draw a hard line, and how do you explain the way that elementary particles behave? $\endgroup$
    – user9634
    Feb 14, 2016 at 2:22

1 Answer 1


This reminds me of a similar question I answered a few weeks ago. Not exactly the same situation, but the leading theory is that it comes down to complexity.

I'll start out by saying that we don't know for sure what animals are conscious or even what consciousness is, exactly. In fact, it's not even possible to prove without a doubt that you or I are conscious.

We do mostly seem to have a general intuition of what consciousness is, and which things are or are not conscious. Probably most people would say that an ant does not possess consciousness, and the complexity argument would back that up. While ants do have brains, the structure of their brains is very different from the brain of a mammal. Most people would say that a human has consciousness; from experience for one thing. How about a killer whale, a monkey, or even a human infant? There might be less of a consensus in these cases. In my opinion, we should err on the side of consciousness whenever possible.

Lastly, I get what you're saying with the computer analogy, but the human brain is so much more complex than a computer and it definitely works differently than any kind of man made computer. Even some of the new chips that are built to mimic networks of neurons are missing a lot of what is going on in vivo. There are interactions occurring between living neurons that aren't fully understood yet. A more accurate analogy would be that the human brain is like a high-end future computer-like object and an ant nervous system is like a very low-end future computer-like object. One difference between high-end and low-end future computer-like objects might be the ability to experience consciousness.

  • $\begingroup$ You can't doubt your own consciousness. $\endgroup$
    – user9634
    Feb 14, 2016 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ I can't prove it to anyone else $\endgroup$
    – K A
    Feb 14, 2016 at 2:24
  • $\begingroup$ Right, but all they have to do is prove it to themselves. Then look at you and do the Duck Test: if you walk like a conscious being (oneself) and talk like one, the most reasonable explanation is that you are one. Why is this so hard for people to take on? Realistically, we cannot prove anything that our senses present: it is all just an assumption. So, assume away! As long as it works out well, it is probably correct! $\endgroup$
    – user9634
    Feb 14, 2016 at 2:30
  • $\begingroup$ Sometimes it feels like my computer is actively plotting against me, but then I come back to my senses. My computer was probably not conscious during that short time I was believing that it was. $\endgroup$
    – K A
    Feb 14, 2016 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ One time I was writing an angry email to my manager (I was not angry at him, I was just expressing myself) and my computer crashed 3 times while I was writing it and twice while sending it. He later wrote to me (he was working from home and had not read my message yet) saying that his computer had crashed repeatedly while attempting to receive email and when he tried to open my message (not other peoples' messages). I apologized later. Normally, our computers never crashed, let alone several times in a day! This has not happened to me again in the intervening 20 years. Computers are sensitive. $\endgroup$
    – user9634
    Feb 16, 2016 at 13:40

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