Scientists State Animal Consciousness is Similar to Ours

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One of the things the science community has been at odds with for decades is whether animals have the same type of consciousness we humans have.

The general consensus has been that they don’t, despite growing evidence that many animals do have a high level of consciousness, such as orcas, dolphins and elephants. The battle still rages, but something new has surfaced. An international group of scientists have signed The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness.

So what is The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness? Despite its hefty title, it’s an easy-to-read two-page paper created in 2012 by, as the declaration itself states, “a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists” to reassess the presence of consciousness in humans and animals. The paper states that despite the inability for animals (or humans, for that matter) to be able to clearly communicate information about their internal thought processes, the animals were able to make statements the scientists believe “can be stated unequivocally.”

The scientists also wrote how a surprising level of consciousness has been found in birds. “Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots,” states the paper. “Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microscircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought.” The paper also states that certain bird species share a similar type of sleep pattern to mammals, including REM sleep and, in the case of zebra finches, neurological patterns. These neurological patterns were originally thought to only occur in the mammalian neocortex.

One of the statements is that the study of consciousness is still evolving and more data is making itself known. “Studies of non-human animals have shown that homologous brain circuits correlated with conscious experience and perception can be selectively facilitated and disrupted to assess whether they are in fact necessary for those experiences,” the paper states. Also, emotions don’t belong just to the cortical structures in the brain. “The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures,” states the paper. “In fact, subcortical neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals.”

The conclusion the scientists reached was this: “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.”

This isn’t the first time animal consciousness has been acknowledged; it’s just the most recent instance of acknowledgement by the scientific community. One of the most recent instances of animals receiving acknowledgement of consciousness is when India declared dolphins non-human persons, granting them freedom from captivity. 

What do you think? Does it give you a different perspective on the types of emotions animals might be able to experience, such as emotional states stemming from abuse and captivity? Let us know in the comments section below of join the discussion on the GEEK Facebook page!

Image: Creative Commons

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