Non-Human Consciousness Exists Say Experts. Now What?

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Phillip Low at Singularity University

Have you ever considered the consciousness, or unconsciousness, of your dog? Well, a group of neuroscientists have been thinking on the subject pretty seriously, and it was announced last week that “humans are not the only conscious beings in the universe“.

Earlier this month, some of the leading scientists from around the world congregated at the Hotel Du Vin in Cambridge to discuss the evidence that has amassed over the years. The experts reached a unanimous decision that animals – specifically mammals and birds – are in fact conscious beings. Through advancements in brain imaging techniques such as fMRI and EEG machines, the scientists concluded that animals show a sufficient degree of characteristics that indicate they are not as non-human as some had believed. The official decision was reached late into the night after the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on July 7th.

the declaration of consciousness

Organized by Philip Low, CEO of NeuroVigil and inventor of the iBrain, the group consisted of 25 of the planet’s top minds on the mind, including honorary guest Stephen Hawking.  The scientists discerned the key differences in human and animal brains, mainly found in the frontal cortex, do not play a role in the phenomenon we associate with consciousness. The decision does not in any sense define what consciousness is, which will be a debate that continues to rage on. But moving forward, there are many consequences to this finding that will need to be addressed as we look to develop a more humane relationship with animals.

This announcement arises in a manner similar to the Pluto files in 2006, when the world’s leading astronomer’s demoted Pluto from planet to “dwarf planet”. Both of these events took place outside of the public sphere, and, while not necessarily groundbreaking conclusions, comprise much room for debate. It seems in this day and age, with prolific scientific discoveries being heralded left and right, it is time for some sort of established framework for making decisions of this order. The “philosopher king” mentality, where leading experts decide for the group, has emerged as the status quo – but moving forward it will be interesting to see how the groupmind of the Internet will react.

As mankind continues to explore the universe, many more discoveries will prompt an official announcement such as the one Phillip Low delivered this week at Singularity University.  Concluding animals have consciousness might be news, but it’s not as revolutionary as some of the things we can expect in the future. What happens when we build the first robot that passes the Turing Test? Would it be considered conscious too? Who would have the final say in the matter?

On another note, with the recent Higgs discovery Astronomers and Theoretical Physicists are entering their next phase of scientific inquiry. Super Symmetry, dark matter, dark energy and the multiverse are all questions waiting to be answered. Both in the microcosm of the quantum field and the macrocosm of the cosmos, there exist potential discoveries that could totally transform our perspective of life in the universe. All of these open-ended questions, in addition to the black swans we should (paradoxically) expect to encounter along the way, will need to be accounted by some type of bureaucratic standard. How this plays out is still up in the air – but at this point it would be hard to bet against the Internet. Hypothetically speaking if the old-school establishment says one thing but the powers-that-be on Wikipedia say something else, who would you listen to?

For more on the conference and the Cambridge declaration, check out http://fcmconference.org

Discussion — 13 Responses

  • Roland July 27, 2012 on 10:25 am

    Has it done anything and has any one asked it why?

  • msentesy July 27, 2012 on 12:29 pm

    Where can I find out more about this? I want to know details! :)

    • why06 msentesy July 27, 2012 on 4:24 pm

      Really this was a rather weak article. 2 paragraphs about the topic, not going into much detail, and the rest is some digression about scientific authority. The answer is simple: no one has authority in science, only data. That’s why we need details as to why they think so so that we can decide for ourselves.

    • Alaina Hardie msentesy July 29, 2012 on 7:09 pm

      There are lots of videos at the conference website:

      http://fcmconference.org/watch/

  • why06 July 27, 2012 on 1:51 pm

    I’d like to have more detail on why they think its conscious. Or at least a source link with more detail.

  • Gorgand Grandor July 28, 2012 on 5:14 am

    I thought this was known for years. Animals are certainly aware, and many of them are able to emulate the problem solving abilities of humans, so they are certainly intelligence.

    Are they saying that animals know that they know stuff?

  • PeterKinnon July 28, 2012 on 2:12 pm

    Within the context of modern biology, particularly our understanding of the evolution of species, there is no question that animals have some degree of consciousness

    It is necessary for most creatures to be aware of their external environment for navigation to such things as food, shelter, and reproduction.

    Sensory awareness of the environment, particularly in higher vertebrates, necessarily involves an awareness of self as part of that environment.

    It has been, for some time now, fully apparent that our own exceptionally degree of self-awareness is a feature that has been thrust upon us by natural selection.

    This difference, however, is quantitative rather than qualitative.

    The well-established process of biological evolution by natural selection has given us considerable insight as to how structures arise in creatures and reasons for their function.

    In fact, it is an evolutionary necessity.

    Simply the navigational facility which enables an organism to interact optimally with its environment. The selection pressure for such a crucial function being obviously strong.

    The level of interaction of our species being inordinately high and the extent of consciousness (which we must remember, can be inactivated rather easily by a whiff of anaesthetic ) being correspondingly sophisticated.

    This latter point, in particular, is expanded upon (very informally) within the context of the wider evolutionary model presented (very informally) in my latest book \”The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?\”

    It is a free download in e-book formats from the \”Unusual Perspectives\” website

  • Singularity Utopia July 10, 2013 on 5:45 am

    What now? The answer is simple. All the “animals” can start using their “consciousness” to build ultra-advanced AGIs, quantum computers, nanobots, stem cell regenerative cures, and photonics processors. I’ll ask the pigeons outside my window what they think about current graphene research, perhaps they will have some good ideas regarding novel research lines.

    All animals have a level of intelligence, they are not rocks, even plants have been shown to do sums. A short while ago Physorg wrote: “New research shows that to prevent starvation at night, plants perform accurate arithmetic division. The calculation allows them to use up their starch reserves at a constant rate so that they run out almost precisely at dawn.”

    BUT, the intelligence, consciousness, self-awareness of a mouse or rabbit is very dim. The consciousness of lesser animals is essentially insignificant. With dolphins or apes their intelligence or consciousness is becoming more significant, perhaps to a point which cannot be ignored.

    I am sure lesser animals have always been considered conscious, unless they have been knocked-out into unconsciousness, but animals don’t exhibit human-level consciousness, which is what people mean when they say lesser animals don’t exhibit consciousness. If robots have only a minimal amount if consciousness they will have little rights similar to how dogs do not have very many rights, but with increasing consciousness rights will increase.