Alchemy, and I suppose others, purport humans occupy the ‘highest rank’.
Do species exist on a ranked spectrum?
If so, why are humans at the top?
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Well obviously turtles are on top.
No Turtles are under us , right? I mean they support the Earth.
Shall we name them Atlas?
@Nyarlathotep: Great observation; however, turtles are on the bottom as well. After all, it is "Turtles all the way down."
Turtles are on top if you're in Australia!!1!
I would rank species by how far removed they are from inanimate objects. In other words, "how alive" they are. I would argue that consciousness is the thing most representative of this distinction, so I would rank species by their access to conscious experience. This experience supersedes any physical specialization one species may have over another. Humans seem to hold the scepter in this regard. Something like bacteria, or even virus if you wish to include them, would be at the bottom. (Though its worth mentioning that bacterial colonies do behave in ways that seem conscious).
John, what does that access to conscious experience buy? Longer lives? More mates or progeny? Health? Satisfaction? What?
Your ranking criteria tell only a small story. Why is this access to conscious experience of value?
Well, consciousness is what allows you to experience a longer life, experience mating, experience the benefits of health, and arguably satisfaction only exists within consciousness.
My criteria is meant to find a way to distinguish living organisms from nonliving objects, as well as rank that distance. Conscious experience is of value to living beings, because without it they are indistinguishable from nonliving objects. For example, planes and helicopters can fly in ways that are better than birds, but they are not alive nor conscious of it. Computer can remember more than we can, but they aren't conscious of it. In the grand scheme of things, computers and planes are indistinguishable from rocks by this criteria.
I would add the question: What does it mean to be alive if you are not conscious of it?
How do you plan to measure that?
I'm sure the tools and methods will emerge over time.
So you think species should be ranked by a metric that does not (yet) exist?
Certainly; perhaps I don't see a problem with that statement because I'm in a field that often requires creating new tools to make the measurements we can't currently make; or designing clever experiments to isolate the variables we want.
So make one already. Can you at least tell me what dimensions it will have?
What do you mean by dimension? The units of measurement?
If we were talking about how long a board is, the unit would be meters(or feet or whatever, see below), the dimension is length. If you notice, meters and feet have the same dimension: length. You can use any unit you want, so long as it has the required dimension(s). You could express how long a board is in "standard banana lengths", and anyone who knew what a standard banana length was, could verify your result.
Then I think its too early to give a dimension; and it may be the case that there are more than one, some which we are in a better position to measure than others.
The big issue is finding a measure that works across species. We already know that we are conscious, so its easy to measure different aspects of consciousness in humans. We can measure how awake and oriented a person is. We can use reportability to observe how much a stimulus a person is conscious of. There's the P300 wave in EEG gives some indication of consciousness in people. Francis Crick is famous for hypothesizing that waves of 40 Hz are what allows binding to occur giving consciousness its cohesion across all its sensory modalities.
All of these measures, however, are correlates of consciousness. Without knowing if other animals are indeed conscious, or conscious in the same way, what we know about humans doesn't apply to them. So the issue is finding a universal measure.
John: A tree is not conscious but alive. Do trees have any meaning to you?
Rocks and rivers have meaning to me; and they are presumably neither conscious nor alive. But there used to be a tree in my back yard that rarely sprouted leaves. There was a big debate in my family as to weather or not to chop it down. My dad said it was dead, my mom said it was alive.
So I would rank vegetation very low on the scale.
John: "Rocks and rivers have meaning to me; and they are presumably neither conscious nor alive. But there used to be a tree in my back yard that rarely sprouted leaves. There was a big debate in my family as to weather or not to chop it down. My dad said it was dead, my mom said it was alive.
So I would rank vegetation very low on the scale."
So, do trees have meaning to you?
Some trees more than others, but in general id say yes.
John: "Some trees more than others, but in general id say yes.
So, would a grand, 1000 year old tree with incredible beauty mean more to you than a fly?
All other things being equal yes the tree means more.
John: "All other things being equal yes the tree means more."
So, a tree can have more meaning than a fly but a fly is more conscious than a tree.
Well, that's why I said earlier that rivers have meaning for me too. I don't think meaning has an interesting role to play in this conversation; or at least I don't see it.
A baseball that my grandfather gave me before he passed (hypothetical) will mean more to me than a raccoon.
In the case of fly and the tree I think meaning has nothing to do with consciousness, and everything to do with length of lifespan. A tree means more because a fly doesn't live as long.
Chimp's questions dovetail nicely with what I was asking. Clearly from what you said you need a way to weight the lifespan and the consciousness of objects so they can be compared to generate your ranking score. The dimensions of those weighting scores is very similar to what I asked you previously.
I understand the need to measure or weigh the consciousness of organisms to create the ranking. But I don't agree lifespan, or meaning, is essential to that. I would still place a fly higher in the scale since it presumably is more conscious than a tree.
Great, now you just need a metric that defines some scalar quantity that can be used to rank your objects from smallest to largest. Just make sure you cook up that metric so it puts the fly where you think it should be put. Then tell us your metric.
An example of a silly metric might look like:
(Score) = A*(age in years) + B*(amount of neurons) + C*(otherstuff, etc)
where A, B, and C are constants that need to be specified.
@ʝօɦn 6lX ɮʀeeʐy
You are attempting to determine a "higher" life form by inserting "conscious". But you cannot have consciousness without being alive. And the Tartigrade is the winner in that category.
Let me change your last statement.
What does it mean to be conscious if you are not alive?
Rock beats scissors.
If you could have consciousness without being alive, then it wouldn't be a useful tool for ranking species. Which is part of the reason I don't think things like memory, language, or anything else are good indicators; nonliving objects such as computers and other technologies can posses them as well.
In modern biology, species are not ranked. The whole business of placing species in ranks, is a historical accident arising from the Great Chain of Being idea that permeated Mediaeval and early Renaissance thinking, an accident that unfortunately, Linnaeus encapsulated to at least some extent in his taxonomy. Ultimately, from the standpoint of biology, we're no "better" than other species, an idea that assumes in advance that a rigorous metric for determining the requisite status exists, which, oops, it doesn't.
Though some here might have a jaundiced view of PZ Myers, his post in Pharyngula on the flaws in the whole business of ranking is wonderfully succinct and informative. It also destroys several creationist canards in one fell swoop, not least by demonstrating that one of their key assertions is entirely synthetic, with no basis in fact, and as a corollary, isn't even worth the effort to spit on it, though of course the demolition of that assertion in said post is a masterly piece of stiletto thrusting.
Whatever measures have been proposed, purportedly "ranking" humans at the top, has been found to be shot to pieces by, at times, hilarious exceptions. Size of genome is a classic example - there are fish species with larger genomes than humans, in terms of raw base pair count, and, even more hilariously, the single celled amoeba Polychaos dubium has a genome 200 times larger than that of humans. What reasons led to this hilarious level of endowment of said amoeba with genes have yet to be fully determined, but, this is merely one example of how our attempts to buff our egos as a species, have a habit of being shot down in flames by observable biological data.