Signed by several of the world’s leading scientists at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference in Cambridge, U.K., the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness asserts that animal and human consciousness are alike. It details their believe that a number of animals, such as birds, elephants, mammals, deer, and the octopus are aware of their own existence, as well as their surroundings. As a result, these animals have the ability to feel a variety of emotions including pain, mourning, and annoyance. What impact, if any, will these findings have on our tendency to treat so many of these animals in completely inhumane ways?
The direct acknowledgement of the fact that animals possess conscious states is big news. Knowing that animals are conscious to the same degree that humans are means that we can longer ignore the way many animals are treated. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this declaration is the inclusion of several animals that are completely unlike humans. This includes cephalopods and birds that developed along a distinctly different evolutionary track than humans.
The declaration states, “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence points out that nonhuman animals have the same neurophysiological, neurochemical, and neuroanatomical substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors.”
The declaration was signed in front of Stephen Hawking, the guest of honor at the Conference on Consciousness in Human and Nonhuman Animals, who is considered by many to be a genius in the scientific community. The declaration was written by Dr. Philip Low, Professor at the Stanford School of Medicine and Chief Executive and Scientific Officer at NeuroVigil, Inc. Those signing it include Edward Boyden, David Edelman, Chritof Koch, Irene Pepperburg, Diana Reiss, Bruno Van Swinderen, and more, all are well known and respected neuroscientists.
The Declaration on Consciousness made several points, including:
The neural substrates of emotions do not seem to be restricted to the cortical structures in the brain. Instead, it appears that the subcortical neural networks stimulated during touching moments experienced by humans are also important for producing emotional behavior response in nonhuman animals.
Birds seem to follow a striking case of corresponding evolution of consciousness when their behavior, neuroanatomy, and neurophysiology are examined. The most gripping evidence of near humanlike levels of consciousness has been seen in African grey parrots. In addition, the consciousness of birds, particularly magpies, and mammals appear to be considerably more similar to that of humans than once thought. Additionally, certain birds have been shown to display neural sleep patterns, such as REM sleep, parallel to that of mammals.
Consciousness research is continually evolving due to the development of a number of new strategies and techniques for human and nonhuman animal research. This means that data is more easily available and results in an increased need for periodic reevaluation of past notions in this field.
Finally, it appears that specific hallucinogens are linked to a disruption in cortical feedback and feedforward processing in humans. When compounds that have been demonstrated to influence conscious behavior in humans are introduced as pharmacological interventions to nonhuman animals, it results in similar trepidation in behavior.
As a result of the information presented in the declaration, it appears that it is time to stop treating animals inhumanely.
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