It will come as no surprise to pet owners, but an international group of prominent scientists has signed The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in which they are proclaiming their support for the idea that animals are conscious and aware to the degree that humans are – a list of animals that includes all mammals, birds, and even the octopus. But, as George Dvorsky writes, “Will this make us stop treating these animals in totally inhumane ways?”
While it might not sound like much for scientists to declare that many nonhuman animals possess conscious states, it’s the open acknowledgement that’s the big news here. The body of scientific evidence is increasingly showing that most animals are conscious in the same way that we are, and it’s no longer something we can ignore. What’s also very interesting about the declaration is the group’s acknowledgement that consciousness can emerge in those animals that are very much unlike humans, including those that evolved along different evolutionary tracks, namely birds and some cephalopods.
“The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states,” they write, “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, say the signatories, the scientific evidence is increasingly indicating that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness.
The group consists of cognitive scientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists – all of whom were attending the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals . The declaration was signed in the presence of Stephen Hawking, and included such signatories as Christof Koch, David Edelman, Edward Boyden, Philip Low, Irene Pepperberg, and many more.
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