Are Animals Conscious?
New research suggests that animals, including the bee, might be conscious.
Posted August 21, 2016
New research published in the journal Animal Sentience suggests that animals, including insects like the honey bee, might possess a basic form of consciousness. (Click here for a blog about this new journal, which is focused on the fascinating topic of consciousness in animals.) The research, “Insects Have the Capacity for Subjective Experience,” was conducted by Professor Colin Klein and Professor Andrew Barron from Macquarie University. In the article, the researchers, in addition to supporting their important proposal regarding the possibility of consciousness in arthropods, provide a very informative diagram revealing the basic architecture of the arthropod nervous system. It is a fascinating diagram. (Click here for more information about the Klein and Barron article.)
It is important to note that other researchers (e.g., Prof. Jeffrey Gray) have made the claim that, given the similarity of nervous systems across animals (especially in the vertebrate line) and based on other grounds, the burden of proof today is to demonstrate, not that (at least) the higher mammals are conscious, but that these animals do not possess any form of basic subjective experience (e.g., the ability to experience pain). It is also important to appreciate that, until certainty is reached regarding whether or not a certain creature possesses basic consciousness, the ethical thing to do is to treat that animal as if it were conscious, just in case. (Click here for more information about this point.) One would not want any organism to experience pain needlessly. Regarding subjective experience, pain is pain, for a human, a gorilla, a rabbit, or a turtle. When René Descartes declared that only creatures with language can possess consciousness (a view which is not supported today), this was not at all welcome news to the dog, the horse, the cow, and all other members of the animal kingdom.
Click here for a framework that, though focused on human consciousness, has implications for the study of consciousness in nonhuman animals. For a brief blog about this framework (Passive Frame Theory), click here.