Scientists have formally bestowed consciousness on non-human animals.
While this is certainly not a novel idea for animal lovers or pet owners, and is perhaps centuries late in finding its way to formal acknowledgement, The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness
will hopefully push animal rights forward and give a louder voice to those who cannot verbally share their own experience.
The declaration, which was signed at the end of the Francis Crick Memorial Conference
held in Cambridge in July, was prepared by scientists from several fields, with noted physicist Stephen Hawking in attendance.
Why has it taken science so long to recognize what most laymen know to be true? Have they not been privy to the wonderful documentaries on elephant families or lived with a clowder of cats? Are these neuroanatomists working so hard that they miss all the wonderful YouTube videos of dogs ingeniously opening the refrigerator door to get a much needed snack or never comforted one during the terrifying rantings of a summer thunderstorm? Have they not studied an animal in their lab and gotten to see firsthand the range of emotions they suffer or watch them navigate their life, even in such a limited environment?
Apparently, it all boiled down to brain structure. While the declaration attends to this and several other details, it concludes with a statement ascertaining that, "The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. 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, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates."
What will this declaration do for the animal kingdom? Probably not much right now, although the study of consciousness itself is a growing field that can only benefit animals the more they are determined to experience life in a similar fashion to humans. It makes it official that not only do animals think, but that they have true emotions and feelings. The scientists also acknowledged species that aren’t often protected, such as birds, which could help guard them legally when issues of animal cruelty and welfare surface.
In his article for the Huffington Post
, declaration contributor Christof Koch goes so far as to attribute consciousness to bees, as they "can recognize individual faces, learn to navigate by landmarks, and chose a new hive site by deliberations and several days of dancing."