It isn’t breaking news but it is a significant moment in the history of the battle to educate the public that animals, even those that seem so different from humans, are as conscious and aware as we are. Last week a prominent group of international scientists came together to sign and present the “Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” which states their support for the idea that animals are just as aware as humans are. The declaration includes a list of mammals, including birds and an octopus, all of which they agree are conscious and experience things that are done to them.
“The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states,” the document proclaims. “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.”
This symbolic development is of importance among other reasons, for the fact that it is increasingly hard to find any scientific evidence or scientist in general that disputes the idea of animal awareness. At the same time there is still an alarming amount of animal abuse and a significant percentage of the general public that don’t see any problem with cruelty to animals because they don’t believe animals experience things the way humans do.
Who are the signatories of of the Cambridge Declaration? The group includes cognitive scientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists. Stephen Hawking attended the signing ceremony for the document, which also features the signatures of Christof Koch, David Edelman, Edward Boyden, Philip Low, Irene Pepperberg, among others.
Photo: hto2008 / flickr