There are people who deny animal consciousness. I’m not sure if they’re just in denial or if they’ve never met an animal.
But the fact remains that there are still those out there who don’t believe animals have emotions or feel pain. For the record, I am NOT one of those people.
by David Stone
Why it’s important
Animal consciousness is interesting and often overlooked, but it’s important. That’s because of its implications for animal welfare, animal rights activism and humanity itself.
Consciousness is generally defined as having thoughts, feelings, emotions and awareness of the self and the environment.
These traits were traditionally thought exclusive to humans (or at least vertebrates). But we now know that’s wrong to some extent, maybe to a massive extent.
That’s a human-centric point of view molded by religions, but there’s no reliable proof of a human monopoly. And many scientific studies over the years say, in so many words that its hogwash.
But what about free will? Is it a byproduct of consciousness?
The question of whether free will is a byproduct of consciousness is one that has been debated by philosophers, psychologists and scientists for centuries.
And it matters in considering animal consciousness because it opens a whole new gateway of concern and responsibility.
While some argue that the concept of free will is deeply intertwined with consciousness and certain aspects of the human experience, others believe that it exists independently from any conscious thought process.
Throwing animal consciousness into the discussion opens a whole new ball of wax. That would make our cats, dogs, squirrels and cheetahs even more like us.
Like it or not, animal consciousness is a proven fact
Whether or not animal consciousness exists is a hotly debated topic. While researchers have made advancements in animal behavior studies that suggest animals are capable of complex thought processes, many even trained scientists can’t get their arms around it.
Now, that resembles an observation by Max Planck, the father of quantum physics. Contemporary scientists could not accept the revolutionary theory.
While definitive explanations elude us, Planck thought that conservatives would never accept the obvious. They would have to die out before quantum physics with its world-changing revelations p general acceptance.
But why does animal consciousness matter anyway?
We need to continue scrutinizing animal behaviors in order to truly understand our fellow creatures.
Knowing whether or not animals possess sentience will push us to treat them ethically and make decisions about how we interact with them from a place of informed understanding.
But will also break the philosophical and religious underpinnings
most belief systems are based on.
Who knows – maybe we’ll end up learning something about ourselves along the way!
How animals show signs of consciousness
In something many cat lovers recognize, I found that our cat George knew when I was coming home from work.
He drove my wife nuts, sitting at our door, demanding to be let out so he could greet me at the elevator. When he saw me, he’d jump up for a kiss on the forehead.
Thinking, maybe, he keyed on the usual telephone call I made as I was leaving my office, about 45 minutes away by subway, I stopped making that call.
That made no difference. George continued asking – demanding, really – that my wife let him out at roughly the time I got out of the subway, about 10 minutes away.
Somehow, he knew. That is, he was aware, conscious and acting on it.
How> We’ll never know, but I later ran into a similar experience. This time, it was a herd of elephants.
In his book, The Elephant Whisperer, conservationist Lawrence Anthony recounted how a herd of wild elephants he adopted left their bush habitat to wait for him at his home when he returned from trips.
Once they were observed turning around at precisely the time he canceled a planned flight. But the herd was right there on time when he arrived the next day.
How did they know? While no answer is available, what really matters is that, somehow, they knew.
Better respect and care for animals is essential, now that we know
By recognizing that animals possess conscious awareness, we can tap into a deeper respect and appreciation for all forms of life on our planet.
Recent discoveries strongly suggest that trees and other plants have some other form of awareness. Even single-celled, brainless bacteria act with intention.
Creatures around us, from birds and reptiles to mammals like cats and dogs, are just as capable of experiencing the world with their own internal sentience.
That awareness is highly-specific though. The mind’s eye of a turtle is far different from that of a bat or a tree sloth. Every brain conjures a different universe.
With this recognition comes an obligation to respect and care for them with respect and recognition of their right.
From limiting animal testing to reducing our consumption of animal products, there are countless opportunities to show respect for animals’ consciousness by fostering a sense of compassion
Learn more about animal consciousness and make changes
Learning more about animal consciousness isn’t just an opportunity, it’s an invitation. We can power up our grasp of the physical world and the creatures in it.
And who knows? Gaining this knowledge might encourage us to make some changes in our own lives. The possibilities are truly endless.
So why not accept this as a call to action? You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to learn.
Final thoughts on animal consciousness
Scientists have only begun to scratch the surface of consciousness in animals. We’re learning more about how clever and aware animals can be.
Next time you see a dog playing fetch, remember that they might just be showing signs of self-awareness. And the next time your cat stares intently at you while you’re talking, they might actually be trying to understand what you’re saying.
If we want to create a world where humans and animals coexist peacefully, start by acknowledging animal consciousness and respecting their needs, thoughts and feelings.