Fun with non-human consciousness, Or: What does it mean to be cephalopodic?

The concept of the image of God is often linked to human attributes. Two of the biggest ones seem to be: 1) biological ancestry with other humans; and 2) consciousness. Humanists similarly define a “human” as someone possessing “our common humanity” and similarly emphasize consciousness as a fundamental aspect of being human.

How big is the role of consciousness in the notion of the image of God? I asked Gemini the question and got this interesting and reasonable-sounding response (public page is here):

Does the concept of the “image of God” emphasize the fact of human consciousness?

Yes, the concept of the “image of God” (imago Dei) in many theological traditions is closely linked to human consciousness. Here’s how:

Distinct from Animals: The idea is that humans, unlike animals, share some of God’s characteristics. Consciousness, with its ability for self-awareness, reason, and morality, is a key part of what sets humans apart.

Reflection of Divine Qualities: Some qualities associated with God, like creativity, love, and a sense of justice, are also seen as reflections of human consciousness. Through these, we can act in ways that honor the divine.

Moral Compass: The ability to discern right from wrong, a key aspect of consciousness, is seen by some as a reflection of God’s own moral nature. Our conscience is a way God guides us.

It’s important to note that the exact interpretation of “image of God” varies. Some emphasize our role as God’s representatives, while others focus on our capacity for love and relationships. But consciousness is a common thread in many understandings.

The concept/possibility of non-human consciousness has always been a lively discussion topic but seems to be getting more concrete and common. Two cases in point: 1) relatively recent changes in rules for the use of non-human primates in biomedical research, esp. chimps; and 2) recent discussion of the possibility of cephalopod consciousness.

On that latter topic, I recommend this interesting recent paper, not just because of its excellent title:

I guess there are a lot of things we might discuss here at PS about all this. One direction might be this: how does non-human consciousness figure into the moral valuation that has been till now reserved for humans?


There’s a novel that tries to explore the idea of multiply-conscious octopodes:

Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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I’m in a book club that read The Mountain in the Sea for our inaugural book. I liked it a lot. No spoilers.

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