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About time: science and a declaration of animal consciousness

Are animals conscious? Notoriously, the famous 17th century philosopher René Descartes thought they were not. He believed that possession of a soul was necessary for rational thought and for consciousness…

That’s me: Scientists agree animals are conscious, but public attitudes still lag behind. flickmor/Flickr

Are animals conscious? Notoriously, the famous 17th century philosopher René Descartes thought they were not. He believed that possession of a soul was necessary for rational thought and for consciousness, including the capacity to feel pain and pleasure. He therefore believed that there was nothing inherently wrong with kicking or cutting animals. Even though they would engage in pain behaviour (crying, shrinking back, attempting to escape) they would not actually experience pain.

In the 1970s and earlier, it was common to hear scientists claiming that it was mere sentimentalism to attribute the capacity for suffering to animals. However, even then it was clear that there was little reason to agree with them. So the recent Cambridge Declaration, signed by leading neuroscientists, that “the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness” really should come as no surprise.

Lacking belief

There are three possible reasons why a scientist might once have thought that animals can’t be conscious. First, they might agree with Descartes and with many other thinkers steeped in a Christian worldview that animals lack a soul. However, the postulation of a soul is no part of science - there is no scientific reason to think that we have any kind of non-physical properties that animals lack.

Second, they might subscribe to behaviourism, according to which there is no need to postulate internal mental states to explain behaviour. But behaviourism, once influential, has now almost entirely vanished because rival perspectives that explain behaviour by reference to internal mental states have been so much more successful.

The third reason why a scientist might deny that animals are conscious is that unlike adult human beings, they can’t tell us (in language) that they’re conscious. That, I suspect, was the most popular reason why some scientists were holdouts for so long. But it really isn’t a very good reason. For one thing, lots of human beings can’t tell us that they’re conscious – infants, and people who are paralysed, for instance. There is little temptation to think that the ability to feel pain is lost along with the ability to tell other people about it. For another thing, pain behaviour seems at least as good an expression of pain as does language (and harder to fake).

Defining consciousness

The problem of course is that the word “consciousness” is multiply ambiguous, and different kinds of consciousness have different ethical implications.

“Consciousness” is probably most frequently used today to refer to what philosophers often call phenomenal consciousness. This is the sense of consciousness in which pain is conscious: we are phenomenally conscious of the taste of wine, the warmth of the sun on our face, of the blueness of the sea, and so on. The badness of pain consists largely (though perhaps not entirely: after taking certain drugs people report that pain still feels the same way but they don’t mind it anymore) in the way it feels. So if animals are phenomenally conscious, then it matters how we treat them and whether we inflict pain and suffering on them.

When Freud talked about the unconscious, however, the conscious/distinction he had in mind was a different one. In that sense of “consciousness”, a state is conscious when we access it; typically, if we are conscious of something, in that sense, we can report it.

Consciousness scientists disagree with one another whether the two kinds of consciousness always go together, or whether they can sometimes come apart. This matters, because this kind of consciousness is probably required for the kind of psychological complexity that many philosophers think is needed to have a life worth living - to think of oneself as an being persisting in time, with plans and projects of one’s own.

It follows that if animals are phenomenally conscious but lack this kind of consciousness, it would be wrong to cause them pain (that is, we could only cause them pain if we had a good justification), but not wrong to kill them painlessly.

A third sense of consciousness is also relevant here, and that is of the self. Scientists have a variety of tests for self-consciousness. The most famous is the mirror test - a dot is painted on the forehead of an anaesthetised animal and its reactions when it sees itself in a mirror are studied. Does it rub the spot or contort its body to get a better view, indicating that it recognises that the reflection is itself? Only a few animals pass this test: great apes and dolphins, almost certainly, some other primates more controversially. Again, this seems good evidence that only some animals have the kind of consciousness that makes painless killing of them wrong.

Alike enough

The Cambridge declaration represents a public acknowledgement of what most scientists have known for decades now: non-human animals are more like us than we typically suppose. They are alike enough that it is clear that inflicting pain and suffering on them requires justification. The evidence is growing that many of them are alike enough to have lives worth living, so we require good justifications for killing them.

Exactly which species have lives worth living, and exactly how good a justification we require for killing them, requires further scientific and philosophical research. But we already have good grounds for thinking that we tend to be cavalier in our treatment of animals. Public attitudes lag well behind the scientific consensus.

Ironically, research on animals raises more public concern than their casual slaughter for food (google UK animal activists for some disturbing evidence), but that very science is showing us that concern should be broader than it is.

Join the conversation

60 Comments sorted by

  1. Roy Niles

    logged in via Facebook

    Shouldn't the question be, to what degree are certain animals conscious, and/or what and how much are they conscious of, comparatively speaking. Every living creature is aware of what it senses and communicates to other creatures, and consciousness was, in my view, a concept invented by more conscious humans to separate our degree of conscious awareness from the apparently "unconscious" awareness of "lower" creatures.

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    1. Roy Niles

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Roy Niles

      The knowledge that animals have feelings that they are arguably as conscious of as we humans are doesn't seem to hold much water in the cultures that are devoted to eating certain of the most intelligent among them in any case. Japanese to a great extent kill whales and dolphins routinely for food and do it with what seems to be uncaring cruelty. Filipinos, Chinese, among other cultures, keep dogs as pets both for the purpose of friendship and of eating them. They don't seem to bother with false excuses based on lack of intelligence or pain, etc. So the big problem would seem to be, how to erase what appear to be blind spots in those cultures.

      On the other hand, up to now, life has survived and evolved by eating other life in one form or another. Would we continue to evolve without what is essentially a competition as to what gets to eat what first and most?

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    2. Paul Goodsell

      Eco-Warrior / Business Owner

      In reply to Roy Niles

      I don't think anybody is claiming that a cow is as "conscious" as an adult human. In the same regard, an infant is arguably not as conscious as adults human.

      We are no different than these other cultures you reference. We will bring up a child to appreciate their pet lamb or chicken and then slaughter it as some sort of "good example".

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    3. Roy Niles

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Goodsell

      True, but I always feel better eating chickens than dolphins. Dolphins have been known to save humans and I'd hate to give them a good reason not to.

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    4. Roy Niles

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Goodsell

      Well yes, I've never actually eaten dolphin, although mahimahi (dolphin fish) tastes real good.

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    5. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Roy Niles

      @Roy,

      I think the main thing that sets us apart from other animals is that we have learned to talk and write.. this has enabled us to accumulate knowledge to pass from generation to generation.

      whether of not animals can contemplate the universe? do not know but am not surprised if they can.

      The ritual of eating other living things is something that i contemplate while eating my live apple and even eat the seeds for good measure.

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  2. Laurie Willberg

    Journalist

    "He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."
    Immanuel Kant

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  3. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    A definition of what is a living thing normally includes the ability to reproduce, grow, metabolize, respond to stimuli, adapt to the environment etc.

    http://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Living_thing

    Seems like an animal has to have consciousness to exist, but it may not matter if an animal has consciousness as we know it, as long as we treat the animal with dignity.

    If a researcher fails to treat an animal with dignity, then eventually the researcher lacks human dignity.

    I cannot see how so many animals are being treated with dignity in so many science experiments, and some of those experiments amount to nothing more than junk science that unnecessarily place the animal at risk.

    This is an example.

    http://theconversation.edu.au/tweet-twoo-beauty-is-in-the-right-eye-of-the-beholder-9947

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    1. Joe Gartner

      Tilter

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      See the different forms of consciousness. A sea slug will withdraw from painful stimulus but probably reflects little on the experience.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      If the sea slug didn’t reflect on experience, they wouldn’t withdraw from uncomfortable or dangerous stimuli.

      Perhaps humans rely more on thinking than senses, and human senses are very primitive compared to many other animals.

      However, thinking requires energy, and that requires food intake. Our brains use 25% of our energy when at rest, and that energy requirement increases as we move about or carry out thinking.

      If a species exists in a niche that has limited food available, the species does not require much brain capacity, which uses up too much energy.

      This does not make humans a higher order, it simply means that many species do not need much thinking ability to exist, and that extra thinking ability would require too much food and energy intake.

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    3. Joe Gartner

      Tilter

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I'm not sure that your definition of reflection is the same as mine. If you mean that the sea-slug can learn from the experience and avoid the stimulus again; well yes. What i mean with reflection is consideration, judgement, attachment of value, comparison, exploring one's feelings about an event and using these mindstates to predict future events. I'm fairly certain animals with primitive nervous systems are incapable of this form of reflection.

      Humans are not a 'higher order' as you say, we've evolved complex brains because they've offered an competitive advantage in the past - it attaches no actual worth of humans; this worth comes from attaching emotional or ethical judgement to the mental life produced by these more complex brains.

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    4. Joe Gartner

      Tilter

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      The quality of the judgement is a completely different topic. The ability to make judgement is what is in question.

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    5. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      It depends on the niche and needs of the animal.

      If the animal is an oyster, it needs to do nothing except stay on a rock, and extract nutrients from sea water when the tide is in.

      It requires little judgement, but the oyster is living, doing its thing, and harming basically nothing.

      As opposed to this

      http://www.google.com.au/search?q=nuclear+bomb&hl=en&qscrl=1&rlz=1T4GGHP_enAU424AU424&prmd=imvnsu&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=soBuUO7DNoO6iQeOv4CIBQ&sqi=2&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1024&bih=559#hl=en&qscrl=1&rlz=1T4GGHP_enAU424AU424&tbm=isch&q=nuclear+bomb+falling&revid=169221227&sa=X&ei=uIBuUMBWiZOIB7qZgPAI&ved=0CFsQgxY&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=bf78fe4818bd59db&biw=1024&bih=559

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    6. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      It depends on the niche and needs of the animal.

      If the animal is an oyster, it needs to do nothing except stay on a rock, and extract nutrients from sea water when the tide is in.

      It requires little judgement, but the oyster is living, doing its thing, and harming basically nothing.

      As opposed to this

      http://www.google.com.au/search?q=nuclear+bomb&hl=en&qscrl=1&rlz=1T4GGHP_enAU424AU424&prmd=imvnsu&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=soBuUO7DNoO6iQeOv4CIBQ&sqi=2&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1024&bih=559#hl=en&qscrl=1&rlz=1T4GGHP_enAU424AU424&tbm=isch&q=nuclear+bomb+falling&revid=169221227&sa=X&ei=uIBuUMBWiZOIB7qZgPAI&ved=0CFsQgxY&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=bf78fe4818bd59db&biw=1024&bih=559

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    7. Roy Niles

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Oysters have learned to do a lot more than suck in sea water. They have had to find ways to reproduce in enough numbers to make up for being eaten in droves by animals like us, for example. They have also evolved protective shells from learning to take advantage of what we like to call random accidents. They have become immune to certain diseases, have adapted to the presence of parasites, and on and on.

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    8. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Roy Niles

      It is true oysters have learnt to cope with many things, but unfortunately naturally occurring oysters have not able to learn how to cope with humans, except perhaps by becoming poisonous.

      I have seen every rock near towns and tourist resorts picked clean of black lipped oysters.

      It is not an infinite world, and there will be no hope for many animals unless human population numbers are reduced.

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    9. Clifford Heath

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Ability to reproduce, eh? So by that definition it's ok to kill and eat menopausal women?

      You need to be a bit more careful with your arguments.

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  4. Isabel Storey

    Retired but writing

    I recall the horror experienced on reading that (until recently) surgeons believed that babies did not feel pain and were not anaesthetised for an operation. This would explain my four month old son's scream of terror when viewing the ceiling of the hospital ward within which he had been housed following a repair of an oesophageal atresia. My reassurance the "they are not going to hurt you this time" was poo-hooed by a nurse who claimed he would not be able to remember (something which happened when he was 36 hours old.)

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    1. Isabel Storey

      Retired but writing

      In reply to Isabel Storey

      Also recall being told that the capacity to feel pain is the definition of life as applied prior to turning off life support systems.

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    2. Laurie Willberg

      Journalist

      In reply to Isabel Storey

      Practical experience has shown us that the typical application of a "scientific" mind-set is one of the practitioner/experimenter taking an unfeeling, consciousless approach to other living beings. It's paradoxical that this detached attitude is then transferred to the subject as if it is an unfeeling, unaware, unconscious object.
      In the medical trade it's called a "professional attitude". Hard to distinguish from psychopathy actually.

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    3. Joe Gartner

      Tilter

      In reply to Laurie Willberg

      It is more akin to sociopathy than psychopathy but detachment is important to medical practitioners, otherwise conducting immediate life saving measures that are painful would be impossible.
      I have contributed to clinical procedures that are painful to the patient. Where possible adequate analgesia is afforded prior to the procedure. UNfortunately, this is not always possible to achieve in some emergency procedures and so the sensation of pain for the patient is balanced against a life or limb preserving procedure. It is about balancing risk not a pain as the desired outcome. That is the 'professional attitude' that you are referring to.

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    4. Isabel Storey

      Retired but writing

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      I had already given consent for the life support system to be withdrawn - problem was this was on a Sunday and they possibly had not enough time to get together all those necessary to proceed with consented transplantation/s. My recollection is crystal clear. The statement made was the excuse for not turning it off that day.

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    5. Joe Gartner

      Tilter

      In reply to Isabel Storey

      What you have said is unclear, are you saying that a person was still responding to pain and therefore did not fit the definition of brain death or are you saying that the only criterion for brain death is response to pain?

      Youoriginally stated:
      ' the capacity to feel pain is the definition of life as applied prior to turning off life support systems'

      It is not THE definition, there are several criteria to establish brain death, these criteria ar elisted in the reference I posted im my reply to you.

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    6. Emma Anderson

      Artist and Science Junkie

      In reply to Isabel Storey

      Infantile amnesia is a questionable concept considering findings in numerous fields. It would seem to me that we do have memories of infancy but these are of a different sort to the ones we seem to refer to as adults. Imprinting is probably an effective term for it.

      Take some comments on articles on The Conversation about the ethical dimensions of historical adoption practices. Looking into some of those arguments, it seems that there is at least the belief that adults who were previously adopted…

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  5. Siobhan O'Sullivan

    Research Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences at University of Melbourne

    Isn't it possible that there are four reasons why scientists might once have thought that animals can’t be conscious? It is a very effective self-serving belief and therefore a belief only to be relinquished under pressure.

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    1. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Siobhan O'Sullivan

      have you seen this presentation by Paul Davies on the subject of consciousness? http://youtu.be/9tB1jppI3fo

      We as "Western" humans seem so precious of the domain of "Consciousness" and the spirit. The Practice of Shamanism has placed a high value on the consciousness of animals for thousands of years. If we look around the words today, animals seem to have much kinder spirits than some humans.

      I suspect that there is some sort of continuum of consciousness with a degree of overlap at times.. I believe that everything has a degree of consciousness from a atom through to humans and beyond. To think that consciousness just exists in humans is absurd.

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    2. Wil B

      B.Sc, GDipAppSci, MEnvSc, Environmental Planner

      In reply to Siobhan O'Sullivan

      " It is a very effective self-serving belief "

      How's that then? In what way do "scientists"(the great amorphous mass of them) benefit form thinking that animals can't conscious?

      please explain, using logic only.

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    3. Wil B

      B.Sc, GDipAppSci, MEnvSc, Environmental Planner

      In reply to Wil B

      so many typos *shakes head*

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    4. Alison Moore

      Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, University of Western Sydney

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Nagel's famous paper on the issue is massively outdated now due to the huge increase of neurobiological data in recent years which throws a whole new perspective on the issue. Read the Cambridge statement linked above.

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  6. Joe Gartner

    Tilter

    It is entirely possible that animals possess the first type of conssciousness (phenomenal consciousness), the second type of consciousness (an inner life) and the third type of consciousness (self awareness).
    The first type is not really in question as all animals possess a response to stimulus that could be classified as a pain response. Th equestion lies that at which degree that animals possess the second and third types of consciousness. It is impossible to determine at which degree any animal…

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    1. Roy Niles

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      But when discussing advanced self awareness, aren't we really discussing degrees of intelligence? We tend to believe that since we not only have the capacity for advanced oral communication but for written languages as well, and hence a much more advanced cultural learning system, then we're far superior to all the other creatures that don't have these advantages. But then we learn that even without a written language, some animals have developed empathetic capacities on much the same levels as ours, and have an ability to handle abstract concepts in different but sometimes even better ways than ours.
      All of this perhaps being beside the point when the species that we are most cruel to are the various physical and cultural subspecies of homo sapiens.

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    2. Joe Gartner

      Tilter

      In reply to Roy Niles

      self awareness and intelligence are two different things that intersect, our definition of intelligence seems to have a strong assumption of self awareness. Empathy is difficult or impossible to establish in all but strongly social animals, and even then it waxes and wanes. A lioness may appear to be empathetic to responding to distress in her cubs but doesn't disply a whole lot of empathy towards an antelope.

      Can animals manipulate abstract concepts? I'm not the right person to answer that…

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    3. Roy Niles

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      I wouldn't have chosen lions as the best example of empathetic animals in the wild, although in a sense empathy is used to understand the probable behaviors of prey and thus outsmart them. In other words it's more than a conduit for sympathy. So maybe lions are as good an example as any.
      I also think that awareness is essential for intelligence, and may be in fact, not different, but a necessary part of it. (A theory that needs work, but may have promise.)

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    4. Joe Gartner

      Tilter

      In reply to Roy Niles

      well, yes, awareness is a necessary component to cognition. If you mean self awereness than this is not critical to cognition but it is to higher critical faculties.

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    5. Roy Niles

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      I know it's commonly believed that microbes and such have no self awareness, but those views are changing.
      It appears that to react intelligently, they need to at least separate themselves from their environment, no matter how limited their view of it. Biological intelligence is turning out to be much the same as biological awareness.
      And if course it may turn out that all of us are wrong and there's a more important evolvig evolving function there that we have no present knowledge of.

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    6. Clifford Heath

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Self-awareness is just a result of additional brain wiring. Animals fuse their different senses into a coherent view of the world. At some level of sophistication, there also exists a sense of thought (which contributes to the same sensory fusion process). That combines with the general ability to identify the source of each sensation to create the "conscious" perception of independent thought, and the possibility of hypothesis and abstract thinking.

      Put another way, it means we're capable of forming a computable model of computation. Microbes may evolve their responses to stimuli, but they lack this level of sophistication. Somewhere in between them and us, there's a dividing line... and it's not the human/non-human one.

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    7. Peter Gerard

      Retired medical practitioner

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Empathy is the ability to imagine one's self in the position of the human or non-human animal who we perceive to be suffering and about whom we are concerned and wish to help.
      In the case of the lioness the concern shown to the cubs is, I think, mainly instinctual rather than empathetic behaviour, but it may be altruistic if, while protecting her cubs, she puts herself at risk of harm.
      Even with humans empathy sometimes seems to have an instinctual character; for example when family members are favoured ahead of strangers. Not a lot different from the lion, cubs, antelope situation.

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    8. Joe Gartner

      Tilter

      In reply to Peter Gerard

      Altruism and empathy are likely to be instinctive or gentically determined behaviours in us as well. My example of the lioness was to illustrate context - dependantness. Without trying to resort to the naturalist fallacy, what makes empathy towards another species at all a desirable trait? Surely empathy should only be reserved to those entities to which we hold some sort of obligation.
      I can understand empathy to the extent that we should do no unnecessary harm or create no unnecessary suffering but why should that extend to not killing animals or not holding them in some form of servitude?

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    9. Joe Gartner

      Tilter

      In reply to Clifford Heath

      "At some level of sophistication, there also exists a sense of thought"
      there is no evidence that animals 'think' at all in the same way that we do.

      Whether animals have a 'conscious perception of independant thought' (i take it you mean self-awareness here) is also pure speculation. It is quite possible that animals other than us live completely in the moment and possess no ability to reflect upon their awareness.

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    10. Jamie White

      Dilettante

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Joe, have you heard of Alex the African Grey? He certainly seemed to display very high levels of abstract thought.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_(parrot)

      That's some pretty complex behaviour from a brain the size of an almond. If you're proposing that human cognition has some innate quality that sets it apart from that of other animals, perhaps you could describe it? I'm not sure 'higher critical faculties' is an identifiable property. In the last few decades a great deal of the criteria proposed to identify uniquely human cognitive behaviour have been met by animals of many shapes and sizes, which I'd assume is what the report is on about.

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    11. Alex Cannara

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Since "animal" is our naive term for other, animate life forms, we might want to be a bit more humble, Joe.

      Bonobos have been studied using iPads to communicate via graphics with humans and among themselves. Many researchers have found similar language abilities in primates and even other mammals over the years. Migratory whales obviously communicate with one another over great distances and clearly think about what's going on around them.

      A recent study determined that Jay birds can solve a physics puzzle as well as our preschoolers can. So, thinking animals can't "think" is not only not thoughtful, it's wrong.

      Think about that next time a pet surprises you.
      ;]

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    12. Alex Cannara

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Even bacteria are "conscious" of their environs and take specific measures to alter it or to protect themselves from it.

      In fact, certain parasite, like Sleeping Sickness trypanosomes, sacrifice some of their number to divert our immune cells in order that others may survive.

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    13. Alex Cannara

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Here's what might be a problem for folks not thinking Ma Nature knows the value of intelligence, thought, communication, etc. for other species.

      A recent documentary on genetic studies of disease included a discussion with a geneticist who was attempting to find a genetic cause for diminished brains, as occur with micro-cephalic humans -- the forebrain is greatly diminished and the skull looks very much like an ape's sloped-back head.

      The researcher decided for ease, to sample his own DNA for…

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    14. Peter Gerard

      Retired medical practitioner

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Joe we agree that humans and non-human animals share instinctual traits and this includes many of the common emotional responses which include empathy and altruism. The difference between us and other animals is that our emotional responses are modified by an ability to think abstractly and mull over the benefits or disadvantages of acting in a particular way. For this reason an altruistic act by a human is more significant than that of a non-human animal because it is done knowing there is the possibility of a disadvantageous outcome This explains, in part, why we get such variation in the expression of empathy and altruistic behaviour in humans whereas in non-human animals it is more stereotyped and predictable.
      I'm not sure what you mean by unnecessary harm and suffering or what you imply by 'servitude' ?

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    15. Alex Cannara

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Peter Gerard

      "an ability to think abstract" isn't an exclusively human trait, since such thinking has long been demonstrated by other primates. This includes the studies for many years of primate sign-language proficiency and more recently, with specific communication abilities of Bonobos using tablets.

      It's remarkable that one species, which thinks itself so smart, denigrates others via an abstract concept "instinct". And yet, we cannot even decipher other species' natural languages.

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    16. Peter Gerard

      Retired medical practitioner

      In reply to Alex Cannara

      In the context of the whole debate about a non-human animal's potential for suffering I was not thinking specifically about the primates but about the broader species of animals who have been very much in the news lately, especially those we raise to supply us with food. I don't think that they are likely to think abstractly, but that does not imply I am trying to denigrate these animals, far from it, as I'm very much an advocate of respect and compassion for all living things and I put this into…

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    17. Emma Anderson

      Artist and Science Junkie

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Actually no. In altered states of consciousness, such as trance or meditation, it may be possible for a person to dissociate from their self awareness whilst experiencing a conceptual level of awareness.

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    18. Emma Anderson

      Artist and Science Junkie

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Abstract concepts? Hmm. Okay, what is abstract? That is difficult to tell.

      When an animal uses an object for a creative purpose, is that abstract?

      Such as otters that use rocks to get food from a shell, or many apes that use sticks to poke holes in ants nest (and some even 'go to war'!). Or what about the birds that use blue human made objects to decorate their nests.

      When an animal thought to be incapable of language, which is usually construed as the basis for abstraction, provides…

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  7. Tim Scanlon

    Debunker

    So, we should stop sending animals to war, make sure they aren't starving to death in countries run by despots, grant them asylum when they come here by boats, make sure they aren't slaving away in sweat shops, and make sure that the animals are being paid more than $1 per day to live.

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Tim,
      I don't think humans have to do much for animals, as they seem quite capable of looking after themselves.

      The best humans could do is not to torment animals in science research laboratories, and to provide animals with lots of national parks and natural areas, so they can live well away from humans, such as yourself.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Nah, I've begun to admire non-humans more than humans.

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    3. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Glad someone got my point Joe. I was highlighting that we are quite happy to treat other humans as less than human on a daily basis.

      Having grown up on a farm, we always approached animals with a level of compassion and "humanity" so that they were happy and as stress free as possible. You only have to be around animals to understand that there is a level of personality to most; go and stand in a cow paddock doing anything for a few minutes and you'll have them sticking their nose in to see what you're up to.

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  8. Alex Cannara

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Did anyone actually think animals made less use of consciousness than we? Maybe observing some humans could suggest the opposite?
    ;]

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  9. Peter Gerard

    Retired medical practitioner

    We can be thankful 'The Cambridge Report' puts, once again, we humans firmly back into the animal kingdom. As other commentators have noted, anyone who has had anything to do with animals, especially mammals, realizes that they have personalities, they socialize and they care for one another and of course they feel pain and can experience terror.
    The concept of the soul originated, I think, with Plato and was suggested as that part of us that survived our earthly existence. It was an attempt to…

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  10. Emma Anderson

    Artist and Science Junkie

    On the ethical dimensions of food, it may be safe to argue that on some level both the lion and the antelope have consciousness, just as the human and the cow do. In all cases, pain can be experienced; and this clearly is a very ancient experience that occurs in many many species (such as the sea slug).

    Yet, we don't argue that it is unethical for a lion to kill the antelope. We assume that it is just nature doing it's violent, hungry business as usual. Likewise, because humans are omnivores…

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