How Widespread Is Sentience in the Animal Kingdom?
A debate on this question is now available and contains much food for thought
Posted Nov 19, 2012
We all know that nonhuman animals (animals) such as chimpanzees, wolves, dogs, cats, and all other mammals are sentient beings. They have "the ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences." The recent Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness also noted that consciousness is more widespread than some people had previously thought and that certainly all mammals are conscious beings. But what do we know about other vertebrates and invertebrates?
An online debate between Indiana University's Colin Allen and myself was recently held, hosted by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) as part of their Sentience Mosaic, that focused on the question, How widespread is sentience in the animal kingdom? You can see the full text here. And, what's great about these debates is that you can also post questions after they are held.
More and more scientific data are showing that there are "surprises" in the extent of sentience in the animal kingdom and almost daily we're learning more and more about individuals of species previously thought to be non-sentient who are indeed displaying sentience, including fish (see also). However, when one pays close attention to how these animals live and to their cognitive and emotional capacities these discoveries really aren't surprises at all. It's best to keep an open mind about those animal beings who are sentient.
These live debates are wonderful opportunities for everyone to get involved. They are not exclusive to "academics" and indeed, the questions that are asked are incredibly thought-provoking and show just how much people outside of the "ivory tower" are thinking about these issues because they deal not only with what we know about the fascinating lives of other animals but also because they directly inform how nonhumans should be treated.
Stay tuned for more on the fascinating lives of animals.