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Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals

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 nonhuman animal 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.

animal consciousness



Based on the overwhelming and universal acceptance of the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness I offer here what I call a Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience. For the purpose of this essay I am defining “sentience” as “the ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to experience subjectivity(link is external)” (for wide-ranging discussion please click here(link is external).)

I don’t offer any specific location for this declaration because with very few exceptions, people worldwide, including researchers and non-researchers alike, accept that other animals are sentient beings. However, a notable exception is Oxford University’s Marian Dawkins who continued as of a few months ago to claim we still don’t know if other animals are conscious using the same data as those who wrote The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. I call this Dawkins’s Dangerous Idea.

It’s also important to note that the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare(link is external) is based on the indisputable fact that animals are sentient and that they can suffer and feel pain, as is theTreaty of Lisbon(link is external) and the rapidly growing field of compassionate conservation.

“Evidence of animal sentience is everywhere”: It’s a matter of why sentience evolved, not if it evolved

A strong and rapidly growing database on animal sentience supports the acceptance of the fact that other animals are sentient beings. We know that individuals of a wide variety of species experience emotions ranging from joy and happiness to deep sadness, grief, and PTSD, along with empathy, jealousy and resentment. There is no reason to embellish them because science is showing how fascinating they are (for example, mice, rats, and chickens display empathy) and countless other “surprises” are rapidly emerging.

A large amount of data are available on an interactive website called the “Sentience Mosaic(link is external)” launched by The World Society for the Protection of Animals(link is external) (WSPA; for more details please see also) dedicated to animal sentience.

A systematic review of the scientific literature on sentience in an essay written by Helen Proctor and her colleagues at WSPA concluded, “Evidence of animal sentience is everywhere.”

Using a list of 174 keywords they reviewed more than 2500 articles on animal sentience. And, what is very interesting is that they also discovered “a greater tendency for studies to assume the existence of negative states and emotions in animals, such as pain and suffering, than positive ones like joy and pleasure.”

This is consistent with the historical trend of people who readily denied emotions such as joy, pleasure, and happiness to animals accepting that animals could be mad or angry (see also Helen Proctor’s “Animal Sentience: Where Are We and Where Are We Heading?(link is external)“. There is also an upward trend in the number of articles published on animal sentience (using sentience-related keywords) from 1990-2011…..

A Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience: No Pretending


Your dog really does know what you’re saying, and a brain scan shows how

By Karin Brulliard August 30, 2016. The Washington Post,

Your dog really does know what you’re saying, and a brain scan shows how

Your dog gets you. I mean, he really gets you. No, really — he actually does. So say scientists in Hungary, who have published a groundbreaking study that found dogs understand both the meaning of words and the intonation used to speak them. Put simply: Even if you use a very excited tone of voice to tell the dog he’s going to the vet, he’ll probably see through you and be bummed about going.

It had already been established that dogs respond to human voices better than their wolf brethren, are able to match hundreds of objects to words, and can be directed by human speech. But the new findings mean dogs are more like humans than was previously known: They process language using the same regions of the brain as people, according to the researchers, whose paper was published in Science.

To determine this, Attila Andics and colleagues at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest recruited 13 family dogs — mostly golden retrievers and border collies — and trained them to sit totally still for seven minutes in an fMRI scanner that measured their brain activity. (The pups were not restrained, and they “could leave the scanner at any time,” the authors assured.)

A female trainer familiar to the dogs then spoke words of praise that all their owners said they used — “that’s it,” “clever,” and “well done” — and neutral words such as “yet” and “if,” which the researchers believed were meaningless to the animals. Each dog heard each word in both a neutral tone and a happy, atta-boy tone.

Using the brain activity images, the researchers saw that the dogs processed the familiar words regardless of intonation, and they did so using the left hemisphere, just like humans. Tone, on the other hand, was analyzed in the auditory regions of the right hemisphere — just as it is in people, the study said.

And finally, they saw that the dogs’ “rewards center” — which is stimulated by pleasant things such as petting and food and sex — did the brain equivalent of jumping and yelping when positive words were spoken in a positive tone.

“It shows that for dogs, a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match,” Andics said in a statement. “So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant.”

The researchers said it’s unlikely that human selection of dogs during their domestication, which occurred at least 15,000 years ago, could have led to this sort of brain function; instead, they say, it’s probably far more ancient.

That means we aren’t as special as we like to think, at least when it comes to how our brains deal with language. What makes words uniquely human, Andics said, is that we came up with using them.

How dog brains process speech (Andics et al., Science, 2016) YouTube

Video: The first study to investigate how dog brains process speech shows that our best friends in the animal kingdom care about both what we say and how we say it. Dogs, like people, use the left hemisphere to process words, a right hemisphere brain region to process intonation, and praise activates dog’s reward center only when both words and intonation match, according to a study in Science.

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