4 years ago a declaration was signed by a prominent group of scientists known as The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness following their conclusion that animals have conscious understanding, just as we do and to the same degree. This list includes all mammals and birds, along with many other creatures.
I know that some of you may be thinking this is self-evident — I mean, haven’t we known this all along? — but the vast majority of people clearly haven’t reached this understanding. The way we are currently treating animals on a mass scale on this planet speaks to this ignorance. Even though it seems like an obvious acknowledgment for scientists to make, the implications of this statement could truly change the world. The fact that animals are sentient beings can no longer be ignored.
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.
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.
Other Evidence To Support This Reevaluation
There is a lot of information readily available to us that can fully support this declaration. Take the hugely popular documentary Blackfish, which told the story of the psychological damage suffered by a whale who was kept in captivity for too long and the way he defied and rebelled his captors.
There’s also the story of the pregnant pig that jumped off of a moving truck on her way to the slaughterhouse. And then of course there are the countless animals that are held in captivity to be performers in the circus – their very intelligence makes them ideal for learning so many tricks — even though we all know that elephants and chimpanzees are some of the most sentient animals of all. The infamous KoKo the gorilla, for example, has a vast vocabulary and communicates with us directly.
Other evidence has surfaced that shows how intelligent even ocean dwelling octopi are. In fact they were the only species of their type that were mentioned in this study.
If this declaration were to be taken seriously by government officials and the citizens of the world, we could have a world where no being had to suffer, be forced to do tricks, or held in captivity, all for the sake of human pleasure — the only reason we treat animals in this fashion in the first place.
What Can You Do?
If you agree with the scientists who signed this declaration then you do not need to wait until new laws are passed to help protect animals. You have the power to help change these things right away, and it couldn’t be simpler. Stop supporting these industries that are exploiting animals.
- Don’t buy factory farmed meat and other animal products
- Reduce your overall consumption of animals products
- Don’t go to the circus
- Don’t go to the zoo
- Don’t buy products that have been tested on animals
- Spread the word and help raise awareness about these important issues
It is important for us to recognize that we do have a say in what is going on in the world around us, and only until we believe it will we be able to effectively initiate positive change.