Scientists sign declaration, in the presence of Stephen Hawking, stating that animals possess consciousness much like humans
On August 26, 2012 At 6:21 pm
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Animal lovers, who care about other animals, almost religiously, will be thrilled to hear that an international group of scientists signed The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, concerning non-human animals, in the presence of Stephen Hawking. The event took place in Cambridge, U. K. on July 7, 2012, at the First Annual Francis Crick Memorial Conference, which focused on "Consciousness in Humans and Non-Human Animals".
Francis Crick Memorial website uploaded the various talks concerning animals with consciousness, but CBS allegedly memorialized it in a 60 Minutes episode.
Behavioural biologist demonstrated that other animals have complex cognitive abilities, in which, if they were humans, we would considered the process consciousness. Christof Koch, chief science officer at the Allen Institute of Brain Science, and co-presenter of the new declaration stated in an article, concerning consciousness, for Huffington post:
The two principal features that distinguish people from other animals is our hypertrophied ability to reflect upon ourselves (self-consciousness) and language. Yet there is little reason to deny consciousness to animals simply because they are mute or, for that matter, to premature infants because their brains are not fully developed. There is even less reason to deny it to people with severe aphasia who, upon recovery, can clearly describe their experiences while they were incapable of speaking. The perennial habit of introspection has led many intellectuals to devalue the unreflective, nonverbal character of much of life. The belief in human exceptionalism, so strongly rooted in the Judeo-Christian view of the world, flies in the face of all evidence for the structural and behavioral continuity between animals and people.
The cerebral cortex is remarkably constant across different species. Indeed, it takes an expert neuroanatomist to distinguish between a pea -sized chunk of cerebral cortex taken from a mouse, a monkey, and a person. Our brains are big, but other creatures — elephants, dolphins, and whales — have bigger ones. There are no qualitative differences between mice, monkeys, or people at the genomic, synaptic, cellular, or connectional levels. The differences are quantitative — the human brain has about 86 billion neurons, a thousand times more than the brain of a mouse.
Allegedly, this consciousness and awareness, according to the scientists and animal lovers, makes non-human animals entitled to humane treatment, but io9 asked if it would change how humans treat other animals? The list of animals with conscious, according to io9, includes all mammals, birds, and even the octopus.
George Dvorsky, author of io9 writes:
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."
Those who signed the declaration say, “The scientific evidence is increasingly indicating that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness.”
The group who signed the declaration consist of cognitive scientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists. The list of signatures include and included such signatories as Christof Koch, David Edelman, Edward Boyden, Philip Low, Irene Pepperberg, and many more, all in the presence of Stephen Hawking.
According to Scientific America’s Katherine Harmon, associate editor for Scientific American covering health, medicine and life sciences, emotion or their “neural substrates”, as the declaration calls them, are not dependent on non-human animals having a cortex or other brain structures that humans possess, but other regions of our brains, in both humans and non-humans also generate emotions. These regions activate when in reaction to a given stimulus.
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.
That does not necessarily mean that you could have a distraught octopus or an elated cuttlefish on your hands. But this new, formalized conception of consciousness does suggest that the octopus has used its own, more foreign-looking brain to develop some sense of subjective experience.
Scientists are finding that consciousness is not located in a particular area of our brains, but in various regions, which both humans and non-human animals possess.
“The weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness,” the scientists wrote. “Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
This group of scientists acknowledged in the declaration that consciousness can and has emerged in other species, besides humans, despite the lack of a neocortex, as well as evolving in different evolutionary tracks.
“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 presented the most advanced cognitive techniques for measuring and monitoring consciousness during the conference, with topics ranging from exploring the properties of neurons deep in the brainstem, to assessing global cerebral function in comatose patients. The various model organisms ranged from flies to elephants to humans, with viewpoints from three branches of biology: anatomy, physiology, and behaviour.
"Until animals have their own storytellers, humans will always have the most glorious part of the story, and with this proverbial concept in mind, the symposium will address the notion that humans do not alone possess the neurological faculties that constitute consciousness as it is presently understood."
- The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving. Abundant new techniques and strategies for human and non-human animal research have been developed. Consequently, more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field. 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. Moreover, in humans, new non-invasive techniques are readily available to survey the correlates of consciousness.
- The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures. In fact, subcortical neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals. Artificial arousal of the same brain regions generates corresponding behavior and feeling states in both humans and non-human animals. Wherever in the brain one evokes instinctual emotional behaviors in non-human animals, many of the ensuing behaviors are consistent with experienced feeling states, including those internal states that are rewarding and punishing. Deep brain stimulation of these systems in humans can also generate similar affective states. Systems associated with affect are concentrated in subcortical regions where neural homologies abound. Young human and nonhuman animals without neocortices retain these brain-mind functions. Furthermore, neural circuits supporting behavioral/electrophysiological states of attentiveness, sleep and decision making appear to have arisen in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, being evident in insects and cephalopod mollusks (e.g., octopus).
- Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex. Magpies in articular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.
- In humans, the effect of certain hallucinogens appears to be associated with a disruption in cortical feedforward and feedback processing. Pharmacological interventions in non-human animals with compounds known to affect conscious behavior in humans can lead to similar perturbations in behavior in non-human animals. In humans, there is evidence to suggest that awareness is correlated with cortical activity, which does not exclude possible contributions by subcortical or early cortical processing, as in visual awareness. Evidence that human and nonhuman animal emotional feelings arise from homologous subcortical brain networks provide compelling evidence for evolutionarily shared primal affective qualia.