If you have been reading any of my posts on animal consciousness, you know that I don't believe that animals think like humans. But there are also humans that don't think like humans and one large group are the babies. In the documentary film Jesus Camp, there is a very disturbing section where a middle aged man preaches to a group of children about abortion. Part of his act involved handing out foetus replicas whilst declaring that god put every child inside their mother's womb and that he has a plan for everyone.
Firstly, approximately 50% of fertilized eggs die before the woman even knows she is pregnant. For known pregnancies, the number of spontaneous miscarriages (not caused by human intervention) is about 10%. The number of stillborn babies is approximately 1 in 200 pregnancies. That's some bad planning, if god really was involved.
Why is this information important? Because building a human inside another human is a difficult task. Let's look at it in more detail. The average ejaculate contains 180 million sperm cells. Females are born with about 1 million eggs inside of them. When you were conceived, a single sperm (containing a random mix of your father's DNA - which in itself is a random mix of his parents DNA) combined with your mother's egg and grew. The fact that you are sat reading this article is not divine intervention, but blind luck. There are billions of different combinations of DNA that could be sat there instead of you.
Now if you were lucky enough not to get spontaneously aborted or die before birth, you were pushed out of your mother's womb too early. It all comes down to the female pelvis and the size of the babies brain. Chimpanzee gestation is about 8 or 9 months, but their offspring are considerably more developed than human babies. Human babies need to stay inside their mother's for as long as possible, but the size of the pelvis means that there is a limit to the amount of growth that can occur in the womb. Our brains are just too big to carry on growing in our mothers. Hence we are popped out before we should be (in comparison to other animals).
As a consequence humans give birth to undeveloped foetuses, that are not able to care for themselves. The first years of human life are then about building the machine that is the human body. Zygotes begin as single cells and grow into naked apes capable of extraordinary feats (no other animal has built space probes that have left the solar system). Is there a line in the process of development, where we can say that the foetus is conscious? Lots of theists and non-theists alike get very emotional about this particular question. But if we look at the evidence it seems to me that humans only develop consciousness over time. A single zygote is not conscious. A 22 week baby is not conscious in the same way we are. And I might go as far to suggest that it is only with the acquisition of language that the 'I' develops. Some psychologists argue that this is why you do not have any real memories before the age of about 3. Because without language you cannot think in the same way as adults.
But my baby is aware of me, I hear the doubters cry. My girlfriend has just spent the last few months as a paediatric surgeon and I asked her to consider my opinion. That babies are bundles of reflexes and innate programming designed to elicit responses from adults. Babies that are not attended to by their parents, die. Genes that cause a baby to get more attention from their parents survive. As George the nintendog demands to be played with, so too babies require interaction, food etc but not consciousness like you or I have. Just sophisticated programming and a lot of anthropomorphism.
Despite her initial scepticism, she has slowly been convinced, not by me banging on about infant consciousness, but by actually stepping back and watching young infants doing what they do. And babies really are the best example of the changes that occur as we move from non-conscious animal to conscious human.Go Top