Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings

Nonhuman animals are conscious beings. What, you ask, didn't we already know this? Of course we did, but now an international group of prestigious scientists has likewise come to this same conclusion. So now we need to use what we know to protect the millions upon millions of animals who are abused in a wide variety of contexts. Read More

physicists and animal consciousness

Marc Bekoff says:
" . . . It's interesting to note that of the 15 notables who spoke at this conference only one has actually done studies of wild animals."

This however shouldn't surprise us at all. "Public opinion" lead by the arrogance oh physicists themselves means that biologists and others of aligned disciplines are not seen as "genuine scientists."
So ethologists and physiologists (etc) can talk till they are blue about 'consciousness' but until a theoretical physicist has declated it true people seem to think it 'not proved'. :-(


You raise an interesting point. Theoretical physicists are for the most part very clever but they do not deserve worshiping. They are, after all, human....often making the best guesses (in fancy terms, theories) with the information they have.

However, as a general statement I have found theoretical physicists in the whole be quite willing to say something like "I don't really know". There is a good lesson for all, especially for folks who "know" (sic, as in sick) that animals do not have consciousness.

Its an absurd stance for these folks to take. It points out they do not even know that they do not know. Now that is sad. With respect to animal lives such a stance is too often tragic.

At best it is narrow minded; worse, it can and does so often lead into actions that are unethical by any reasonable standards.

Let's extend the premise that we don't really know

It certainly is important for scientists, and the rest of us, to be able to say "I don't really know." So I'm surprised that you endorse this humility only with respect to opinions you don't like. We know so little about the production of consciousness in the brain. There is still enormous debate. The brain evidence circulated at this conference still constitutes baby steps.

We certainly don't KNOW that animals are not conscious, as you say, but we don't KNOW that they are, either --- or where do draw the line. Octopi? I doubt that we KNOW that octopi are conscious.

Declaration on Consciousness

Okay, I'm glad that these fellow scientists have "decided" or "declared" that other animals are conscious. It is a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. But, be that as it may, its a good thing. But here is the REAL question - how many of these colleagues are going to stop doing research on captive animals and invasive research now that they have come to this realization? My hope: all. Reality: probably not a one. Anyone want to take me up on my challenge and prove me wrong?

Declaration on Consciousness

Okay, I'm glad that these fellow scientists have "decided" or "declared" that other animals are conscious. It is a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. But, be that as it may, its a good thing. But here is the REAL question - how many of these colleagues are going to stop doing research on captive animals and invasive research now that they have come to this realization? My hope: all. Reality: probably not a one. Anyone want to take me up on my challenge and prove me wrong?

How about you stop being

How about you stop being making dumbass "challenges" that can in no way be met or proven, which I assume makes you feel superior by a lack of response. Also how do we know his colleagues were doing animal testing in the first place which they could chose to stop? This shows your incredible lack of knowledge about the scientific profession, as not all scientists do animal testing.

Also next time you get sick I bet you'll be running to the doctor to get some meds which were SUPRISE tested on animals.

Please next time you think about making a comment online just call up one of your retard friends who will probably not challenge you on your dumbass opinions, save the internet some bandwidth theres already enough bullshit about.

Bad News for Doggies

Hi Marc,

This is an amazing development, but I have a few (understandable?) qualms.

First of all I was unable to find the manifesto via the link you provided. I also went directly to the web page devoted to the conference and clicked on the same link and got a two-page pdf document with no content, just a title.

Secondly, I have a number of questions. What are consciousness and sentience, exactly? I haven't had a chance to read through the input from all of the panelist, but there seem to be varying definitions. There also seems to be a lot of interpretation of various types of animal behavior as evidence of consciousness and sentience, but no hard data definitively proving their existence in the animals. For instance, self-awareness seems to require the presence of von Economo neurons in specific locations in the brain. They aren't found in abundance in most mammals, not found at all in others (like dogs), let alone birds and octopi. Couldn't some (if not most) of the animal data be explained through conditioned or learned behaviors that mimic some of the artifacts of consciousness, and not necessarily be the result of innate cognitive abilities? And how far does this "blurring" of the line between human and animal consciousness take us? Are there no distinctions at all between the levels of consciousness and awareness that seem to be the obvious result of human evolution and where most other animals (with the exception of cetaceans) stand on the evolutionary scale?

Finally, this declaration is bad news for dogs. Very bad. In my experience the more a dog owner believes that his or her dog does things deliberately and with conscious intent, the more that dog will suffer unnecessary and sometimes horrific punishment as a result. In my opinion, all the data suggesting that dogs act with deliberative intent, and think logically, etc. is based on two scientific errors: 1) that animals form dominance hierarchies and that 2) operant conditioning is a real model for learning in animals. Despite their pre-eminence in the literature, neither concept can be operative unless animals are capable of engaging in fairly high-level, humanlike thought processes. The more data are generated showing that these are "real" phenomena, the further we get away from a true understanding of the animal mind for what is, rather than how we project our own thought processes onto animal behavior.

Those are my spontaneous, initial reactions to the declaration. I would love to be able to read it but can't find access. Clearly the presence of Steven Hawking and Jaak Panskepp demand that some more attention be paid to it.

Thanks for listening...


scientists announce that sky is blue

Hi Marc,
In a long-ago post I asked you if you didn't think it slightly ludicrous whenever some "researcher" breathlessly announces that he has "discovered" what the village idiot with the most minimal powers of observation has known all along? I never received a response.

The pretense that science just hasn't been able to rule on the existence or not of animal consciousness because the database wasn't big enough until just recently is a sham. Anyone who has read Bernard Rollin's excellent book "The Unheeded Cry", published more than two decades ago, knows that 19th Century biologists including none other than Charles Darwin himself had no doubts as to whether non-human animals were conscious. Only with the advent of behaviorism in the first part of the 20th Century did mainstream biology and psychology allow itself to get highjacked down the dark corridors of neocartesianism. And only due to the likes of people like Donald Griffith, Jane Goodall and yourself has ethology found its way back into the light and reaffirmed what the observant shepherd or cowherder has had no doubts about for millenia.

This all reminds me of how bird behavior was interepreted in the 1950s when authoritative textbooks on ornithology assured their readers that birds were largely instinct-driven automatons, all based on a misunderstanding of normal avian neuroanatomy. Today we know that many (perhaps all) species of birds are really pretty smart. Have the birds gotten more intelligent in the intervening years or have the smug scientists who made foolish pronouncements in the past just been exposed as pompous asses? The humble bird watcher usually didn't have much problem in discerning whether birds were conscious or not.

As one writer has alluded to, the real question is whether scientists, having now ascertained that animals are indeed conscious, will respond to the ethical implications of their "discovery" and begin treating their research subjects with the respect they deserve.


'Consciousness' is an epiphenomenon of the integration of neural processing

'Consciousness' is an epiphenomenon of the integration of neural processing, so of course animals are 'conscious'.
There is hardly a 'cut-off' point back down the phylogeny at which it could be claimed that 'consciousness' ceases.
Even in pour own case, 'consciousness' is not at all what it is purported to be, in that experiments show that it has no efficacy -- decisions being shown to take place BEFORE they appear in 'consciousness', and but an irrelevantly tiny proportion of cognition ever features as being cognition we are even in dim reflection 'aware of'. So it is false to talk in terms of cognition being 'available' to 'consciousness'.
'Consciousness' is not some entity; not some centre in the brain where there is 'control' -- as should be obvious from any familiarity with 'systems biology'.

Conflation of consciousness

I think one of the problems both in this reply and in the article is a conflation of the philosophical terms and ideas about consciousness.
Consciousness as this poster seems to define it is merely an awareness of the outside world. This definition is generally seen in the lay world (i.e. I am conscious when I am awake) yet is also definitionally quite weak (i.e. am I not a conscious being when I am asleep/do not have "neural processing" signals being "integrated".
In philosophy there are two types of consciousness that are pretty well accepted, access and phenomenal consciousness. Access consciousnesses is being able to use what we have in our minds for logical behavior, talking, etc. and this can be demonstrated via experiments (i.e. maze experiments, reasoning experiments, tool use, and so on). For this reason, the fact that some animals have access consciousness is relatively widely accepted in the field of philosophy of mind.
On the other hand, phenomenal consciousnesses , or the ability to experience the quality of an experience (pain, the redness of a wall, pleasure) is impossible to demonstrate via experiments. Imagine you see an actor on the television screen who steps on a plate, then screams and recoils. Though we might interpret this as him feeling pain, there is absolutely no way to know any other individuals internal mind-state. With other humans, we generally give the benefit of the doubt to their consciousness (we're so much like other humans and are ourselves conscious... so they are too), but with animals the differences between ourselves (the only creature we know is conscious) and them (who have different biologies etc) is extremely difficult.

The problem is the

The problem is the nonsensical discussions of philosophers on this topic; there is not at all a problem conflation of terms.
As in several other areas, philosophers are keen to create a problem where none exists. Long ago philosophy gave up its proper job of being at the cutting-edge of science, and has ceased to have much to contribute -- other than obfuscation -- outside of where philosophers and scientists are one and the same, as in some philosophy of biology.
There is no such thing as "access consciousness". Consciousness is not an entity we need in order to do "logical" behaviour! Evolved biological organisms don't do "logical", in any case.
Experiments clearly show that decisions are made AHEAD of their appearance in consciousness, and therefore consciousness hardly can be efficacious!
It's likewise false to talk of aspects of cognition being 'available' to consciousness. In any case, the proportion of cognition that ever appears as even the dimmest reflection in consciousness is so tiny that consciousness could never have a function, because it would be a useless one.
There are at large fundamental errors in understanding the nature of the phenomenon, through a non-cognisance of basic principles of systems biology.
And of course there is no measure of "phenomenal consciousness", for the very reason that consciousness is an EPIphenomenon.

Philosophy of mind

Steve: whether consciousness or for that matter mind is epiphenomenal is of course much discussed in philosophy and remains unresolved (though epiphenomenalism is not widely accepted).

You say 'philosophers are keen to create a problem where none exists' - an assertion I've heard made by scientists at least once before - but this is just a rhetorical prelude to the scientist in question telling you that their own view is obviously right.

I was once of this opinion, but I rapidly learned (discovered for myself) in the first week of my philosophy degree that something only seems obvious until you've read and understood the usually very sophisticated arguments against it. And unless you, Steve, are very well read in philosophy of mind, you haven't done so.

It's not exactly wise to dismiss an entire subject, such as philosophy, until you have at least say a university degree in it. Do you? Otherwise you just don't know what you're talking about. (I.e. just displaying ignorant arrogance, rather than informed opinion.)

Come again?! Philosophers are the ones gulity here

The problem is that PHILOSOPHERS DON'T READ SCIENCE, or at least fail dismally to keep up to date with it; as I pointed out. Certainly some scientists who should know some philosophy make errors through not knowing any, but that's not the major problem. If you go to an academic philosophy lecture, it is alarming how ignorant the speaker is about biology. For example, those giving seminars here in Sheffield UK within the philosophy department about aesthetics and morality, on neither subject were aware of evenb ther basic science. The fool giving the lecture on aesthetics didnlt even knwo the names of seminal figures, and the other fool talking on morality dismissed any evolutionary basis of ethics on the supposed simple basis that all is 'normative'!
It's guffaw-inducing to cite the need for a degree in philosophy to know philosophy given the state of university education and teh abysmal lack of reading by studets and teh p[articaylr failiure to raed acrsoss disciplines. Anyone who spends many years reading up on subjects and their related disciplines will have a far deeper grasp than someone who has simply graduated.
Philosophers talk endless bilge about consciousness, having not bothered even to get a fleeting acquaintance with an elementary systems biology appreciation of the brain.


Most people intuitively suspect that animals are 'conscious' in some sense and they dislike cruelty towards animals. That's fair enough and I happen to feel the same way.

However, the article gives *no explanation* why animals are conscious beings. Instead it mostly consists of appeals to authority and hand-waving. Note that if you can't explain something simply this should set of alarm bells in your mind: it suggests that you do not understand it.

The fact is that we don't yet understand consciousness, free will, qualia, etc. If we did, we would be able to *program them* on computers, as David Deutsch has pointed out. This is because computers are able to simulate the behaviour of all other physical objects, including brains.

Gee I am glad

animals are conscious. What a mess it would be to see all of them lying around on the ground.

Funny! Good one!

Funny! Good one!

I'd like to raise 2

I'd like to raise 2 points.

First is my 2 cents experience.

In my life, I've had 2 cats, one dog and a fishtank.

I spent much time with all.

And I can say I experienced consciousness in the cats and dog; but not in the fishes. Fishes eat their own offspring.

Then it's about ideology: What do we do now we scientificly accept this fact?

Are we supposed to stop eating meat? stop using leather?

My own answer to this is: our society, while being a human society (by and for humans) still accepts oil in its cars that was gotten from warfare. Humans were killed or tortured for us to have gas, gold or rare earths (in our computers). Then I can accept animals being bruised or killed for our well being.

The less pain in the process being the better.

You can call me heartless, but face it, we can afford animal rights since we have gas to provide us energy. With the rarefaction of fossil energies, it wont be possible for long. We might even have slavery back in western countries within a century or two.

Fish not Conscious?

I don't know what type of fish you kept, but fish are delightful creatures and can be trained by anyone who cares to try.

They can also train us -- when we kept a small guppy alone, she had US trained to feed her when she asked us to.

I think consciousness also exists in non-vertebrates. We all know about the squid and octopus smarts,
but I had an unnerving experience some years ago now with an ant. A perfectly ordinary small black and that was walking along my trousered thigh. I lifted my hand to 'crush' it and the ant did a panicked u-turn and ran away. Very disconcerting :-( I still kill ants that get into my pantry, but never feel entirely comfortable with doing so.

Fish aren't conscious because

Fish aren't conscious because they eat their offspring? "Consciousness" doesn't not equal "in line with our human moral compass."

Does not* Silly typos.

Does not*

Silly typos.

Are we supposed to stop eating meat? stop using leather?

Eating flesh and wearing leather isn't critical to our survival - Neither is justified as there are countless options to replace said materials...

There are also options not to use gas and millions of people opt not to. And there's enough gold that exists without slavery to provide every individual on this planet with 100 computers. With plenty left over for other "trinkets" that aren't essential...

To say we shouldn't stop harming innocent, conscious creatures because other bad practices still exist is an odd notion that reveals one's unwillingness to change. It doesn't say a thing about what we *CAN and SHOULD* do. It's a pathetic excuse!

"Are we supposed to stop eating meat? stop using leather?" YES!

The real problem with...

... animal rights is the projection of human qualities on animals that do not posses them. Animals do not possess our knowledge, feelings or perspective. They are scarcely aware of their own existence. They are not little humans in the minature. Many of our pets would have no problem eating our dead bodies. Where as a human would. Trying to project our morality onto animals is a fruitless endevaor, we won the evolutionary race and we are the only hope for all life this planet because one day our sun will collapse when it runs out of fuel and kill all life anyway.

The idea that mother nature holds some special place for conscious beings given the destructive power of the giant balls of explosive gas that for a short period gives those life forms life, is more human hubris.

We can't save everything it is impossible task, we are not gods. The best we can do is treat other forms of life respect since all forms of life die at some point. "Human beings" (the chemicals/stuff that makes us up) go back to becoming other plants and animals when they decompose back into the cycle of life.

Trying to contravene the universes laws is a fools game. If we one day develop technology of abundance (like star trek replicators) we can then think of engaging in god like levels of benevolent morality to others besides ourselves. Until that time we have to survive in a hostile universe that doesn't give one iota of a crap whether we live or die (see virus's, bacteria, and all those other fun little animals who the animal activists would rather NOT save).

I love how scientists selectively apply consciousness only the animals we like, but not to the animals we are disgusted by. Pretty damn hypocritical if you ask me. The truth is all forms of life are aware at some level or else they couldn't survive, even plants. Just because that awareness is not close to anything like our pets doesn't mean they are not alive in some sense. Our hubris as a species is downright comedic.

Not gOds -

If we are not gods then I suggest we stop acting as if we were by arbitrarily exploiting everyone "beneath" us. We are acting as gods by our frivolous choices in who should live, who's useful to us and who should die!

It is not (Star Trek) fiction that man is capable -NOW- of benevolent morality - We make those choices all the time! It is certainly in our power to aim those choices with more intelligence, more compassion and more humility. We're certainly capable of kindness. Any excuse to avoid this responsibility inhibits our species from evolving the way we ought to.

Finally - IF consciousness was ever found in bacteria (or plants) - We would be justified in killing the former in self defense and the latter in the necessary ends required to survive. Harming cow, pigs, chickens, dogs, wolves, fishes and apes hardly fits into that criteria.


... except human beings are not free. Do you really think people are going to stop eating hamburgers just because you desire mankind to evolve according to your ideals? You are painfully naive my dear.

You engage in all sorts of predatory and irresponsible behavior daily you are not even aware of. If you were truly as moral as you claim, you'd take a vow of poverty and not participate and corporate consumerism. But I highly doubt that's how you live your life. You're a living hypocrit and you don't know it. You're not 'more evolved' more evolved beings are absolutely 100% consistent in their values. You are not.

Bug up your rear?

Couldn't help but notice the hostility dripping from your brain to your keyboard and onto these pages. What IS your problem? OH! I just thought! Maybe you aren't evolved enough yet. LOL!


I'm reading comment after comment from folks who just refuse to extend just as smidge of compassion towards our fellow creatures. Comments that deliberately ignore evidence that nonhumans deserve better treatment... Then in a civil manner I offer my opinion - And it's considered "hostile"?

I think it's what I argue for that you don't like... Not the presentation. I haven't been hateful to anyone by advocating kindness to innocent victims. I'm pleading with humans who have in their power to cause great suffering or cause improved lives to those who are helplessly caught in our world.

Believe it - The last thing I'd want to do is upset any carnist thug - For they may threaten to eat two hamburgers just to spite me. Heaven forbid!

Bea! I wasn't referring to

Bea! I wasn't referring to your comment. There was an "anonymous" remark right after yours that was very hostile. That person apparently deleted his comment. I found what I sent to him, but not his original remark. Here's part of how he responded to you. (The first sentence is mine.)

I couldn't help but notice what I saw as hostility. It isn't what you were arguing for, as you think. It's the words you used.
1. "You are painfully naive my dear."
2. "If you were truly as moral as you claim, you'd take a vow of poverty and not participate and corporate consumerism. But I highly doubt that's how you live your life."
3. " You're a living hypocrit and you don't know it. You're not 'more evolved' more evolved beings."

Doesn't that sound hostile? I'm on your side, Bea!

Ah! Now it's back! Go

Ah! Now it's back! Go figure.

On being a predatory carnist...

I never did claim that any existence would be 100% "cruelty-free" - As long as man consumes anything this will never be possible. But I do think we can and should remove the most blatantly obvious injustices from our daily habits. Eating little sausages and wearing leather are two such frivolous acts that are easily dispensed with and would reap immeasurable justice/kindness to innocent victims.

Not being able to do "everything" to solve the world's problems should not deter us from doing what we feasibly can - And we certainly can remove the creatures from our plates and from beneath our feet. - Easily.

Go ask Jane.

The article says no long term study has been done, or words to that effect. However, all you have to do is read Jane Goodall's books and articles. I remember in particular when she wrote about finding a secluded spot in the jungle where there was a pool and beautiful waterfall. It was tranquil and peaceful. On one occasion as she sat there enjoying the beauty of the spot, one of the chimps joined her and gazed at the waterfall. Jane could tell by the expression on the chimp's fact that it too, was enjoying the peaceful nature of that waterfall.