Recently, a group of notable scientists from around the world have signed The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. This declaration expresses their support for the notion that animals are as conscious and aware as people. The list of animals contains every mammal, every bird, and even the octopus.
Cognitive scientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists comprised the group. All of them were present at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and Nonhuman Animals. In the presence of Stephen Hawking, the declaration was signed by Christof Koch, David Edelman, Edward Boyden, Philip Low, Irene Pepperberg, and numerous more.
Important here is the scientific community’s recognition that many nonhuman creatures possess conscious states. Due to the growing mass of scientific evidence indicating that most animals are sentient in the same manner that humans are, we can no longer disregard this reality when considering how to treat the creatures in our world.
What else has been discovered is likewise very intriguing. It has been demonstrated that consciousness can originate in species that are substantially different from humans, such as birds and some encephalopods, which evolved along separate evolutionary paths. Scientists have concluded that the absence of a neocortex does not prevent a creature from experiencing affective emotions. Consistent evidence suggests that non-human animals possess the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological bases of conscious experiences as well as the ability to exhibit deliberate activities.”
The signature of this declaration was prompted by the following observations:
The field of Consciousness study is undergoing fast change. Numerous novel techniques and strategies have been created for human and non-human animal research. As a result, additional facts are becoming accessible, necessitating a periodic reevaluation of previously held beliefs in this sector. Studies on non-human animals have demonstrated that homologous brain circuits associated with conscious experience and perception can be selectively stimulated or inhibited to determine whether they are in fact required for these experiences. In addition, new non-invasive techniques are easily available to investigate the correlates of consciousness in people.
It does not appear that the neurological underpinnings of emotions are restricted to cortical structures. In fact, subcortical brain networks that are activated during affective states in humans play a crucial role in the generation of emotional actions in animals. In both humans and non-human animals, artificial stimulation of the same brain areas produces similar behavior and emotional states. Wherever in the brain instinctive emotional actions are evoked in non-human animals, many of the subsequent behaviors are compatible with experienced feeling states, including those that are rewarding and punitive.
Deep brain stimulation of these systems can likewise produce comparable affective states in people. Affective systems are centered in subcortical regions where neuronal homologies are abundant. Without neocortices, young humans and other animals retain these cognitive functions. In addition, brain circuits supporting the behavioral/electrophysiological states of attentiveness, sleep, and decision-making appear to have formed in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, as observed in insects and cephalopod mollusks (octopus, etc.).
In their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy, birds provide a dramatic example of parallel evolution of consciousness. African grey parrots have exhibited the most striking evidence of awareness comparable to that of humans. The affective networks and cognitive microcircuitries of mammals and birds appear to be far more similar than was previously believed. Moreover, it has been shown that certain species of birds exhibit neurological sleep patterns comparable to those of mammals, including REM sleep and neurophysiological rhythms previously assumed to need a mammalian neocortex, as proven in zebra finches. Studies on mirror self-recognition have revealed that magpies in fact showed surprising parallels to humans, big apes, dolphins, and elephants.
Certain hallucinogens appear to be connected with a disruption in feedforward and feedback processing in the human cortex. Pharmacological interventions in non-human animals using substances known to impact conscious behavior in humans can result in behavioral perturbations comparable to those observed in people. Evidence suggests that awareness is connected with cortical activity in humans, however this does not rule out the possibility of contributions from subcortical or early cortical processing, as in visual awareness. Evidence that emotional emotions in humans and nonhuman animals come from homologous subcortical brain networks provides persuasive evidence for evolutionarily conserved primordial affective qualia.