How would you the describe the consciousness of an insect?

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How do they process information? can they think? do they have a sense of self? do they feel fear, pleasure etc?

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haysoos2 - AM Capo of Canada

It’s hard to answer this positively without actually possessing animal telepathy. There are some who would argue that even cats and dogs don’t fit many categories you list there.
But from the neurological and behavioural data gathered in the study of insects, it seems as though most insects process information very much in similar fashion to a computer. Most of their behaviour is kind of hard-wired in, and consists of feedback loops and ‘if then’ statements.
For example, a flying insect whose legs are lifted off the ground will start flapping its wings – its all based on the position of tiny hairs called campaniform sensillae on the insect’s body near the legs. If the legs are up, the wings don’t flap. If they are down, the wings flap. These same actions occur even if the actual legs and/or wings are missing – it just runs the programming and starts flapping.
These programmed responses, and the relative simplicity of the nervous system, indicate that most insects are not capable of feeling ‘pain’ the same way you or I might. They simply aren’t hooked up to register that kind of sensory input. At best, they can detect such things as “leg 5 is missing, need to find new efficient walking stride algorhythm”.

Roger S

The arthropod nervous system is analogous to the vertebrate nervous system in several ways.
First of all it, reflects the fact both arthropods and vertebrates have a body plan based on bilateral symmetry. This means the body is made of two identical halves which join along the spinal cord. Both arthropods and vertebrates have a nerve cord which runs from the front to back end. There are nerve bundles known as ganglia evenly spaced along the cord, usually one for each body segment. Like arthropods, vertebrates have segmented bodies as well, and this is seen in the bones of the vertebral column. Both vertebrates and arthropods have a brain. The arthropod brain consists of an especially large ganglion in the head region. This nerve center recieves sensory input from organs such as eyes and antenna. The vertebrate brain has a similar structure called the pons. It sits just under the rest of the brain and is the attachment of the spinal cord.
Unlike the arthropod brain, the brain of vertebrates has developed separate sections totally dedicated to specific mental tasks. The first to develop were the optic lobes. Vertebrate eyes recieve far more input than the simple compound eyes of arthropods. Because of this, optic lobes evolved to handle the extra nerve signals. There are also olfactory lobes in vertebrate brains. These process smell. Higher vertebrates have added a thalamus and limbic system to coordinate sensory input and enable raw emotional responces. The highest vertebrates have a hippocampus to enable short term memory and frontal lobes which are dedicated to abstract problem solving.
The pons in humans works in association with a brain structure called the cerebrum. This is responcible for coordinating reflex actions. Humans walk by constantly falling foreward and then moving the feet to translate this momentum into foreward motion. This task involves an enormous amount of processing power from motor neurons in the legs and feet feeding input back back into the balance sensors in the inner ear. Most humans walk without ever thinking about what they are doing, despite the complexity of the task.
Because of this, I think insect conciousness is somewhat similar to the human ability to walk. Everything an insect does is totally instinctive, and I doubt there is any lasting reflection on any action an insect accomplishes. Because insects lack higher brain centers, there is also a lack of emotion and insects can’t solve problems individually. Some social insects have limited problem solving abilities as a large group, however. The most evolved insects can use memory. Bees are known to communicate the location of flowers to other bees with a special dance.

bill b

Two great answers above, but the short answer would be:
The only information they process is what is necessary to survive and reproduce.
ie: they can’t become lazy, have enjoyment, love, or even fear in the sense of being afraid of something because of the unknown like mammals can [but survival defense or retreat could be mistaken as “fear”]


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