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Scientists Declare: Animals Are as Aware as Humans

Published August 26, 2012 in Love For Earthlings, What's New |
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An international group of prominent scientists has signed The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in which they are proclaiming their support for the idea that animals are conscious and aware to the degree that humans are — a list of animals that includes all mammals, birds, and even the octopus.

While it might not sound like much for scientists to declare that many non-human animals possess conscious states, it is the open acknowledgement that makes it big news here. The body of scientific evidence is increasingly showing that most animals are conscious in the same way that we are, and it is no longer something we can ignore.
It is also very interesting to note that the declaration is the group’s acknowledgement that consciousness can emerge in those animals, very much unlike humans, including those that evolved along different evolutionary tracks, namely birds and some encephalopods.

“The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states,” they write. “Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviours.”
Consequently, say the signatories, the scientific evidence is increasingly indicating that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness.

The group consists of cognitive scientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists — all of whom were attending the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals.

The declaration was signed in the presence of Stephen Hawking, and included such signatories as Christof Koch, David Edelman, Edward Boyden, Philip Low, Irene Pepperberg, and many more.

The declaration made the following observations:

  • 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 re-evaluation 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 behaviours in animals. Artificial arousal of the same brain regions generates corresponding behaviour and feeling states in both humans and non-human animals. Wherever in the brain one evokes instinctual emotional behaviours in non-human animals, many of the ensuing behaviours 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 non-human animals without neocortices retain these brain-mind functions. Furthermore, neural circuits supporting behavioural/ 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 behaviour, 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 micro-circuitries 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 articular 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 behaviour in humans can lead to similar perturbations in behaviour 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 nonhuman animal emotional feelings arise from homologous subcortical brain networks provide compelling evidence for evolutionarily shared primal affective qualia.

    Read more about this here and here.
    This story originally appeared on io9.com.

    Heartbreaking Animal Mourning Rituals

    Published August 1, 2012 in Love For Earthlings, What's New |
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    The complex social structures of gorillas and their higher level of thinking makes it easier for them to form strong connections to their children and pack members. As a result, gorillas have been recorded exhibiting sadness and concern for their dead, sometimes even burying the bodies.

    One heartbreaking example is Gana, who could not accept the death of her child. Gana carried the infant’s body with her around a German zoo for days, trying to restore life to it multiple times, and protecting it from zookeepers.


    Elephants are extremely emotional animals, easily bonding with other elephants or the humans who care for them. These deep attachments can lead to terrible grief when a loved one dies.

    Elephants are known to shed tears, bury their dead, go into depression and starve themselves in reaction to a loss. One elephant at an Indian zoo was so distraught over the death of her friend that she refused to eat or drink, leading to her own death.


    Geese are very serious about commitment, devoting themselves to one bird for a lifetime. After a goose dies, its mate will undergo a rigorous mourning process, including weight loss, separation from the flock and submission to other geese.

    Eventually, the goose will find a new mate in another bird that has lost its partner. One goose made an unusual choice for her new mate, choosing to leave her flock and bond with humans working at the zoo.


    Sperm whales form close relationships with the members of their pods, even following those who stray from the group so they would not be alone. If a member is removed from the group through death, the remaining whales become mentally agitated for long periods.

    Research shows that this turmoil is so far-reaching that the teeth of the animal will become weaker during these periods.


    Scientists have found that baboons’ physiological response to death is very similar to humans, with both seeing an increase in stress hormones called glucocorticoids. To lower glucocorticoid levels and cope with loss, baboons also respond like we do: they seek out friends.

    The animals will expand their social circles and spend more time with other baboons, engaging in activities like grooming.


    Stereotypes say that cats are loners, but observation has shown that many felines grieve when they lose their owner or cat friend. This process can include running away, not eating, excessive meowing and house-training mistakes.

    One example of an inconsolable cat is Muschi, who lost her unlikely bear friend, Mausi. Zookeepers said the cat refused to leave the bear’s old exhibit, and would not stop meowing for her companion.


    Sea lions have been seen to cry out in anguish when their babies are taken by predators. A sea lion will continue wailing in mourning after its child has died. The same behaviour has also been seen in sea lions dealing with companions taken by hunters.


    The bonds a human can form with a dog are deep, and research indicates that canines feel them too. Studies show that dogs can feel grief, especially after the loss of an owner. The pets will react to their emotions by not eating, sleeping more than usual and generally being lethargic.

    Some dogs will also show a lack of acceptance that an owner has died, and will try to stay with him or her. This was seen with a dog that belonged to a slain Navy SEAL. The dog, Hawkeye, refused to leave the side of his owner’s coffin during the funeral.


    Chimpanzees’ close genetic makeup to humans means they get some of our faults as well. The primates are known to become distressed when they lose close members of their groups. The animals will often cry, refuse food, mope and separate themselves during grieving periods.

    One poignant example of chimpanzee mourning was the case of Dorothy. When the older chimpanzee died and was taken away from her rescue centre, all the other chimps gathered seemingly to say their goodbyes and to watch the body leave.

    Excerpted from Animal Planet