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Scientists Proclaim Animal and Human Consciousness the Same

Scientists Proclaim Animal and Human Consciousness the Same

A remarkable thing happened at The First Annual Francis Crick Memorial Conference held at the University of Cambridge, July 7 in U.K. A group of prominent neuroscientists signed a proclamation declaring human and animal consciousness alike. Called The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, it states:

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. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.

To many pet parents and animal lovers, the conference only confirms what they already believed through their own observations and interactions with animals albeit, not with the credibility of scientific research.

Stephen Hawking — considered the greatest mind in physics since Albert Einstein — was the guest of honor at the signing ceremony. The declaration was authored by Philip Low and edited by Jaak Panksepp, Diana Reiss, David Edelman, Bruno Van Swinderen, Philip Low and Christof Koch, all well-respected neuroscientists. The signing was memorialized by 60 Minutes.

Joseph Dial, former Executive Director of the Mind Science Foundation, explains why this declaration is historic and groundbreaking:

What is Consciousness?

There is an important distinction between intelligence and consciousness. Intelligence is measured by the capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc. So, is it fair to say humans are more intelligent than animals? Animals certainly have a capacity for learning. They cannot create an atomic bomb; maybe that should define them as smart?

The dictionary defines consciousness as aware of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc. Take a good, hard look at your pet; for that matter, watch a zoo elephant or a deer in the woods. They are always aware of their own existence. They feel pain and other sensations. Your dog may get annoyed with you if you tease him with a treat for too long before tossing it his way. A deer caught in your headlights feels fear before deciding to take flight. Elephants mourn their family members just like humans.

What This Means for the Future

For millennia, humans have held onto their hubris regarding the belief in human superiority. Perhaps The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness will inspire a different attitude and further research into the minds of all non-human creatures.

Starting with animal rights through to veganism, changing the minds of those who believe humans are top dog will be a challenge. Notable scientists formally recognizing animal consciousness on a level with humans should make for some interesting conversations.

Related Reading:

Declare Human Rights for Dolphins and Whales, Scientists Urge

Freedoms New Frontier: A Guide to Animal Rights

7 Reasons Why We Have Not Evolved to Eat Meat

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Photo of Inca birds by Rennett Stowe via Flickr

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8:07PM PDT on Aug 24, 2015

8:01PM PDT on Aug 24, 2015

The Cambridge website has been suspended. Does anyone have any further details? How is it even possible?

11:43AM PST on Jan 7, 2014

Thank you for the article and to everyone who took the time to post these interesting comments. My personal belief is that animals are also spiritual, but there isn't really a way I know of to back this up scientifically. All in all, what a good post!

12:37AM PDT on Oct 29, 2013

As great as it is to have science on the side of animal rights, I fear that the knowledge that animals are conscious will not change the way most people view them. Look at the way we treat other human beings, we do not have a very good track record.

8:22PM PDT on Oct 27, 2013

Shamans and other people who depend on interactions with animals for their livelihood have always knows this. How sad it is that we have come to regard science as a quasi-religion upon which we put all of our faith. The greatest minds will tell us that the more we learn, the more we realize that there is so much that we don't know and so much more that we can't measure.
I am glad that we are opening our pathways for learning and that we are expanding what we believe to be real.

6:24PM PDT on May 14, 2013

Gotta love the Ice cream commercial to this story about torturing cows and calves for milk. WTF? Doesn't anyone screen this stuff? "Maybe this will inspire further research into their minds"? Vivisection is a horrible thing. The saddest part is? It took this long for "scientists" to figure this out, when morons like me have known it all our lives. :*( The human virus is definitely progressing, but at a very slow rate. We need to push this evolution along. These poor animals are paying for our ignorance and greed.

10:16AM PDT on May 5, 2013


11:37PM PST on Dec 13, 2012

Humans ARE Animals. They have feelings just like us. It's incredible how many people still don't get it.

9:28AM PST on Dec 8, 2012

Of course we have here the apocryphal story of the scientists climbing the mountain of truth, and hoping to be the first to reach the summit, only to find, as they step foot on the plateau, the theologians and philosophers already sitting there waiting for them. It is confirmation that all animals share our feelings, which we already know, but a bit late in telling us that when you
touch a cat's tail, he doesn't turn to look at who is touching his 'existence. That this belated declaration confirms equality of species is an intrinsically argumentative issue, since no scientist to date has recorded writing, or the act of recording. Animals know how to do many things, [parrots, dogs, monkeys, horses, porpoises] but they only 'know' that they know how to do these things, when interacting with humans. WE know that they are capable of certain responses and behaviors IF they are capable of intelligent reflection [a case for memory]but humans have no way to record the animals' own 'consciousness' of itself as is common in humans. And possession of the neurological substrates implies a potential that must always be humanly measured according to the degree of learning.

Our very first line of communication with animals is kindness, affection, care, and feeding. These are not intellectual capacities but emotional and sentimental. From that base we can establish a behavioral and interactive 'CO-consciousness' that includes humans in the equation. As Donne reminded us," no man is

5:05AM PDT on Oct 23, 2012

I trust this declaration will be urgently employed in the desperate legal battles for animal welfare and other animal rights cases around the world.

I agree with all previous comments about the Quick Poll question. I responded "No" because I also already knew this info. Unfortunately, some people will view the "No" result as a measure of people who disagree with the formal declaration. This is not the first time I've seen a poorly worded Quick Poll question on Care2, which is disappointing because it's a lost opportunity for readers to appraise public attitude about a topic that's important to them.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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