Animals Have Consciousness
The Theology and Science
of Animal Consciousness
Theology of Animal Consciousness
The Bible couldn't have said it better:
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.”
The passage above comes from a declaration on the right. The declaration is delightful but not surprising to many around the world who enjoy and work with animals. They - we -- know from first-hand interaction and observation that animals are subjects of their own lives and not simply objects for human observation. But it's nice to have confirmation from our scientific friends.
Among process theologians, the idea that animals are subjects of their own lives means that they have perspectives of their own, not reducible to human perceptions of them. Where the philosopher Heidegger wrote that human beings have worlds of their own and that we humans are always already being in a world, so process theologians believe that animals are being in their worlds, too. This means:
1. They have subjective aims of their own. They seek to survive with satisfaction relative to the situation at hand and foreseeable future.
2. They prehend their surrounding worlds: that is, they feel the presence of the worlds around them with something like awareness.
3. They have emotions: that is, they feel the presence of the worlds around them with emotions of pleasure and pain, attraction and repulsion, curiosity and fear.
4. They make decisions. This means that, in the moment at hand, they consciously or subconsciously select certain possibilities for responding to the situation at hand, and simultaneously cut off or eliminate other possibilities in that moment.
5. They have intelligence. Along with educational theorists such as Howard Gardner, many process theologians recognize multiple forms of intelligence: verbal-linguistic, mathematical-logical, bodily-kinesthetic, visual-spatial, musical-rhythmic, naturalistic, interpersonal (knowing the subjective states of others), and intrapersonal (knowing one's own subjective states), Animals have many of these forms of intelligence, and in many instances their intelligence exceeds that of humans.
6. They have unconscious as well as conscious experiences. The unconscious and conscious dimensions of experience include purposes, feelings, decisions, and intelligence, too.
7. Animals deserve to be treated with respect and care: in ways that protect them from unnecessary pain and that honor their needs to survive with satisfaction as individuals and groups.
8. Respectful care requires special consideration for individual animals in human communities, including farm animals, and preservation of habitats for wild animals. The guideline should be: Treat animals kindly and do no harm.
God and Animals
9. The subjective states of animals are known, appreciated, and shared by God. God feels the feelings of animals and is affected by what is felt. God -- the very Soul of the universe -- knows what it is like to be a frog, a cat, a bird, a dog, an octopus.
10. God appreciates animals on their own terms and for their own sakes, not just for value (aesthetic, spiritual, or utilitarian) for human beings.
11. Moment by moment, animals, too, are inwardly lured by the very spirit of God toward whatever forms of richness of experience are possible for them. When animals seek to survive with satisfaction, God is within them as their very seeking.
Animals and Spirituality
12. Animals are conduits of grace in human life. They can be means by which people make contact with God even as they are also subjects of their own lives, God or no God.
13. Animals can receive grace from human beings, too. When treated with respect and care -- as they should -- they become places where human beings awaken to their own capacities for love and care.
14. If, as some process theologians believe, the journey of consciousness survives the demise of brain activity, entering into other planes of existence on a continuing journey, then the journey continues for animals as well as humans.
And if the planes of existence in life after death involve individuality, then humans can rightly hope for reunion with beloved companion animals.
15. Religious rituals can and should include animals in respectful ways, and the deaths of animals can and should be memorialized when possible.
16. Animals and humans can enjoy mutual benefit from respectful bonds. Human-animal bonds are sacraments in their own right, worthy of appreciation and respect.
17. The need in our time is to create sustainable communities that are humane in their treatment of animals, respectful of the earth, and enriching for human beings in community for one another. The creation of such communities is the very will of God as done "on earth as it is in heaven."
Science of Animal Consciousness*
The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness
"On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at The University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observations can be stated unequivocally:
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. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex. Magpies in particular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.
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 nonhumananimal emotional feelings arise from homologous subcortical brain networks provide compelling evidence for evolutionarily shared primal affective qualia.
We declare the following: “
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.”
The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was written by Philip Low and edited by Jaak Panksepp, Diana Reiss, David Edelman, Bruno Van Swinderen, Philip Low and Christof Koch. The Declaration was publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on July 7, 2012, at the Francis Crick
Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals, at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, by Low, Edelman and Koch. The Declaration was signed by the conference participants that very evening, in the presence of Stephen Hawking, in the Balfour Room at the Hotel du Vin in Cambridge, UK. The signing ceremony was memorialized by CBS 60 Minutes.