Animals conscious say leading neuroscientists

A group of leading neuroscientists has used a conference at Cambridge University to make an official declaration recognising consciousness in animals.

The declaration was made at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference and signed by some of the leading lights in consciousness research, including Christof Koch and David Edelman.

You can read the full text as a pdf file, however, the main part of the declaration reads:

We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. 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.”

You can also see all of the talks on the conference’s webpage. Curiously, physicist Stephen Hawking was there and the declaration was signed in his presence.

Link to conference website.
pdf of full declaration.
Link to coverage from Janet Kwasniak.

25 thoughts on “Animals conscious say leading neuroscientists”

    1. Vegetarians logic is downright stupid, what about plant ? if they discovered Plants have feelings and consciousness will vegetarians/vegans stop eating plants and live only through taking energy from the sun maybe.

      Even Animals eat their counterparts and in ways more cruel and savage than what humans do.

      humans have certain teeth for reason I guess which is eating meat I have to add that people who are very active in getting animal rights should invest more time preventing human trafficking and the killing done against other humans.

      1. It is your logic that is faulty. Lacking a brain or a nervous system, plants do not have a consciousness. In addition, the animals eat animals justification for meat-eating is ignorant. Humans are able to reason, reflect, and participate in discourse. As higher level sentient beings, we have the ability to make choices. Our cognitive evolution allows us to be morally responsible. Humanity already has a collective understanding that atrocities perpetrated on other humans is wrong. Advocates for animal rights push everyone to question right and wrong. This is how we evolve morally. People eat meat because other people ate meat is only justifiable until you know it is wrong.

      2. How does accepting consciousness in animals prove eating meat is wrong?

        Surely there are varying degrees of sophistication in brains. Surely some come closer to consciousness than others. Should we then conclude that eating a mouse is better than eating a cat?

        Vegetables are far enough removed that they’re taken as “safe” and trotted out by whose that try to prove an idea wrong by suggesting a ludicrous extreme (see above). But really it’s still life. If you accept that eating meat is wrong when it causes pain (otherwise it’s based on what, phylogeny?), then surely eating conscious meat is already bad.

        If pain is not enough to disuade you, why should consciousness? Really, that animals might be conscious should be no surprise. They have emotions, feel pain, react in ways only marginally separate from our own, all of these things being demonstrable.

        I agree that vegetarianism is the morally preferable choice, but do not see how animal consciousness proves the point.

      3. “Lacking a brain or a nervous system, plants do not have a consciousness.”

        I believe that the point being made was based on a hypothetical, not actuality. Like discovering consciousness in animals, say for the sake of argument and understanding “vegetarians’ logic,” what if we found out that plants were conscious? Should we stop eating plants, as well? However, I think the argument is lame because we are lucky enough to live in a world where plants do not seem to be conscious, and we are lucky to be able to metabolize some plant matter.

        “Our cognitive evolution allows us to be morally responsible.”

        I am not sure you understand how morality works. Who holds us responsible? Morality only works because each human holds every other human responsible for his/her actions. This is also regulated by conscience. But what happens in a community that is not emotionally affected by the death of animals? Nothing. The conflict arises when you combine those people with vegetarians, for example. So to whom do you cater? You can’t please everyone. Sacrifice and compromise are the glue of society.

      4. This is a reply to the post below countering my statement regarding morality.

        I understand morality. We hold each other to a common standard but sometimes it takes a dialogue to raise the consciousness of human beings on the whole.

        Take for example, slavery. Despite the fact that there were people who found it morally repugnant, it took time for our collective consciousness to agree. Wiping out native people to take over their land? Child labor? What about smacking children to make them do what you want? Morality is what keeps us from harming one another.

        “But what happens in a community that is not emotionally affected by the death of animals? Nothing.”

        Nothing, for now. But as we evolve as a species, we recognize that there are actions we took that caused harm and our sense of what is wrong begins to encompass those new beliefs. There are human beings who are not emotionally affected by the death of other humans. Should we compromise? Of course not.

        The fact that animals are sentient, have a consciousness, means they are capable of feeling pain, not just physically. Animals form attachments, they are capable of trust, and have a will to optimize their quality of life. Taking that away is wrong.

        What makes this worth considering? The fact that there is no moral justification for eating meat.

        The only reason we eat meat is because we have always eaten meat. This is morally irrelevant.

      5. plants don’t have brains they PROVED THAT you stupid person obviously you are proof that eating meat ruins the brain for sure

    1. Totally agree with Mike too. Now, we all are waiting eagerly to see when they’re going to announce that they’ve discovered the presence of consciousness in neuroscientists!

  1. Great, this is clearly a positive development. Sad that most people won’t question it on a deeper level. why do we always measure non-human animal cognition against humans? All animal body forms and adaptations are based on their respective ecosystems.

    I get that cognition and intention are easier to measure in humans. But haven’t they understood this about the brain and cognition for some time now?

    The saddest thing is that we ignore species cognition on its own level. Avian neuroscience for example has been completely overhauled, yet it’s still in the shadows.

  2. Will this save them from human predators? Or will some other difference be adduced to excuse our exploitative practices?

  3. Personally I have always believed this, as Mike Cope states “Anyone who has spent more than 5 mins…”.

    However now that this has been ‘decided’ should it and will it be the cause of the rewriting of some of the laws regarding ‘pets’ etc

    In a slightly larger context, I personally believe that the Universe has all the necessary ‘neurological substrates’ for us to be able to declare it as conscious too. In this particular case, I believe these substrates are generally known as ‘life’.

    I know it’s lightly off-topic, but one could also say that everything (in the universe) has memory. Otherwise how could it ‘remember’ to be itself, to retain it’s existence as ‘is’, from one moment to the next? This seems only logical to me, in the same way that experiential evidence of animal behaviour suggests that the findings shown in the article above would eventually be accepted, I can but wonder how we as a species haven’t accepted my own (and other’s – Teilhard de Chardin etc) hypothesis.

    1. No reasonable person would make an equivalency between human and animal consciousness. And how dare you diminish the suffering of slaves by comparing it with carnivorism or forgetting to feed your pet.

      1. “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
        George Bernard Shaw

      2. The act of beginning one’s comment on this subject with the declaration that an opposing point of view is ‘stupid’ should, with reasonable certainty, indicate a level of consciousness that would qualify the commentator as both participant in and subject of this discussion.

        It is a perceptive limitation in the human species that allows it, on a whole, to fumble about in its arrogance and its ignorance all the while seeing itself as something superior, separate, and apart from all other sentient beings on this planet. The destructive tendencies of this species will abate only with the realization that it merely a part of the whole. Neither more nor less than any other…simply a part of the whole with the same responsibilities to all others as it has to itself. In other words, once it is gone.

      3. One may ask, what is the authority that defines what makes a person ‘reasonable’?
        Also the ability to make comparisons between apparrently unconnected things is one of the ‘gifts’ of human consciousness. Who put you in charge of deciding which ones we are allowed to connect and which ones we aren’t? How dare you….!!

  4. well den i gues dat forces ys to think that their is nothing unique in human beings about their property of being consvious so is this sciences another attempt to hide their earlier failures in understanding the issue.You can name n define 1000 things lucid dreaming n unconscious behaviour bt y does science fail to solve d problem of consciousness like other thngs maybe bcz it is not fully scientific

  5. “fail to solve d problem of consciousness”

    What do you mean by the above phrase? What ‘problem’ is science supposed to ‘solve’ re. consciousness?

    Science’s original root word was ‘scien’, which translates/means ‘to know’… ‘science’ therefore could be taken to mean ‘knowledge’. Science (the discipline) builds in an incremental fashion and adds to this body of knowledge from many sources. It may miss sources in the short term and therefore not have a complete picture, or it may make hypothesese which prove to be incorrect in the long-term and science is prepared to accept this as part of the onward quest for information and it’s applications. However, stating ‘consciousness’ as something to be solved, I don’t personaly believe comes under the remit of science or any avenue of it (as I ‘know’ it anyway!). I am unaware of any current study or experimentation designed to ‘solve’ consciousness because consciosness is a ‘problem’.

    So could you please clarify your statement, so as to aid me in understanding your question or point of intent. Thanks.

  6. Wez, I believe the writer was referring to the “hard problem” of consciousness. This phrase was first introduced in the December 1995 issue of Scientific American, by David Chalmers. As far as I know (I’m a clinical psychologist) there has been an almost (not entirely) universal acceptance of the fact that there really is a “hard” problem (the easy problem is how to correlate our experiences with activity in the brain; the hard problem is how experience arises from supposedly dead matter in the first place).

    By the way, the hard problem is incredibly easy to solve. It arises because of a non-scientific assumption that dead, unconscious matter precedes the existence of consciousness. If consciousness of some kind exists throughout the universe – as Freeman Dyson and nobel prize winnig physicist Brian Josephson suggest – then there’s no hard problem.

    Taking Ockham’s razor, if we acknowledge the incredibly obvious fact that prior to knowledge of any objective phenomenon there is the fact of “knowing”, the burden of proving that dead matter can exist apart from “knowing” is on the materialists.

    Hence, hard problem, solved.

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