Now that scientists have belatedly declared that mammals, birds and many other animals are conscious, it is time for society to act
ARE animals conscious? This question has a long and venerable history. Charles Darwin asked it when pondering the evolution of consciousness. His ideas about evolutionary continuity – that differences between species are differences in degree rather than kind – lead to a firm conclusion that if we have something, “they” (other animals) have it too.
While dogs can’t yet compose music, birds do it every day.
I have no doubt that numerous nonhuman animals (animals) are conscious beings, and I know I’m not alone in taking this strong and uncompromising position. Whenever I publish something to this effect and write about a new study or review that clearly shows animals are indeed conscious, I often receive emails that go something like, “Gee, isn’t this reinventing the wheel and a total waste of time?” or “We’ve known this for centuries” or “Tell me something we didn’t know.” I couldn’t agree more that the real question at hand is why has consciousness evolved in other animals rather than if it has evolved. And, the position that it is unquestionable that other animals are conscious and sentient beings is not only or merely that of animal activists or pro-animal people. Indeed, the recent Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness signed by 16 well-known scientists, some of whom do or have done invasive research, concluded:
“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.”
They could also have included fishes, for whom the evidence supporting sentience and consciousness is also compelling…