Conscious Animals


 

Increasingly, animal consciousness is being recognized by the scientific community, which could encourage the protection of animals on a global scale. 

The most recent evidence of this shift comes from,  the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousnessa statement written by an international group of scientists from various fields. Although research on animal consciousness is hindered by the inability of animals to express their internal states, the group supports the notion that animals are unequivocally conscious. 

"Non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors," the declaration says. "Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates."

The group found striking similarities between animals and humans in regard to consciousness. "Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness," the declaration says. "Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex." 

Although the scientific community largely accepts animal consciousness, not everyone else believes that animals are conscious. As Philip Low of Stanford University announced to the group, "It might be obvious to everybody in this room that animals have consciousness; it is not obvious to the rest of the world." This declaration goes a long way in establishing a scientific argument for animal consciousness. It may be difficult to influence the world to act altruistically toward animals in the areas of science, food, and entertainment, but treating animals in a humane manner is now more important than ever.

Image by Bruce McKay Yellow Snow Photography, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.