This is very exciting news: experts and scientists admit non-human consciousness exists and signed a declaration publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on July 7, 2012. I only learned about it today – has it been reported in the mainstream media?
In short, it means that now it is official: they reached a unanimous decision that humans are not the only conscious beings in the universe, and animals – specifically mammals and birds, but also insects and mollusks – have same brain-mind functions develop a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness, with similar states of attentiveness, sleep and decision making.
The implications of this finding are huge – and may change for good the way we relate to animals. It is hight time we develop a more respectful and less exploitive relationship with our fellows in evolution.
Check the videos of the conference out: http://fcmconference.org and the full text of The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, from which I republish the conclusion:
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.”
Also, a very good post on Earth in Transition (my source), by Michael Mountain, who says:
“It’s a really important statement that will be used as evidence by those who are pushing for scientists to develop a more humane relationship with animals. It’s harder, for example, to justify experiments on nonhumans when you know that they are conscious beings and not just biological machines. Some of the conclusions reached in this declaration are the product of scientists who, to this day, still conduct experiments on animals in captivity, including dolphins, who are among the most intelligent species on Earth. Their own declaration will now be used as evidence that it’s time to stop using these animals in captivity and start finding new ways of making a living.”
Update: Saturday, Aug 11
As I watch the silence in the mainstream media, I was glad to see this piece just published in Psychology Today: Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings. Marc Bekoff says:
It’s said that repetition is boring conversation but there’s now a wealth of scientific data that makes skepticism, and surely agnosticism, to be anti-science and harmful to animals. Now, at last, the prestigious Cambridge group shows this to be so. Bravo for them! So, let’s all work together to use this information to stop the abuse of millions upon millions of conscious animals in the name of science, education, food, amusement and entertainment, and clothing. We really owe it to them to use what we know on their behalf and to factor compassion and empathy into our treatment of these amazing beings.
For my part, I have recently started my journey in vegetarianism, and I really hope to turn out nicely a vegan. Yet, last week I could not resist eating a piece of squid. Now I know it was the last time. Causing any type suffering to animals is against my principles and since I woke up to the fact that eating them is also a way to cause suffering, not only by filling but by feeding an inhumane and greedy food industry where very few profit. With the Declaration, I am now aware that even octopuses and squids are conscious – and like me, suffer too.
Update: August 24
While I have been tracking (non) media reactions and finding plenty of interesting pieces on this:
Katherine Harmon, in Octopus Chronicles, Scientific American, a post that was quickly mentioned in the Atlantic Wire:
What was keeping scientists from accepting the existence of consciousness outside of our own family tree? Simple brain anatomy. Older models of brain activity lodged complex, conscious experiences—like musing about a piece of music or reminiscing about a piece of cake—in our highly evolved cortex. But, as the authors of the new declaration noted, many nerve networks involved in “attentiveness, sleep and decision making appear to have arisen in evolution as early as invertebrate radiation, being evident in insects and cephalopod mollusks (e.g. octopus). Even emotions (or, according to the declaration, their “neural substrates”) are not dependent on an animal having particular brain structures, such as our cortex, after all. In fact, many other neural regions are activated when we emote and “are also critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals,” the scientists noted.”