Tuesday, September 25, 2012
From The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness
* The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures. In fact,
subcortical neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically
important for generating emotional behaviors in animals. Artificial arousal of the same brain
regions generates corresponding behavior and feeling states in both humans and non-human
animals. Wherever in the brain one evokes instinctual emotional behaviors in non-human
animals, many of the ensuing behaviors are consistent with experienced feeling states, including
those internal states that are rewarding and punishing. Deep brain stimulation of these systems
in humans can also generate similar affective states. Systems associated with affect are
concentrated in subcortical regions where neural homologies abound. Young human and nonhuman animals without neocortices retain these brain-mind functions. Furthermore, neural
circuits supporting behavioral/electrophysiological states of attentiveness, sleep and decision
making appear to have arisen in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, being evident in
insects and cephalopod mollusks (e.g., octopus).
* Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of
parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has
been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional
networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously
thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns
similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches,
neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex. Magpies in particular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.
I'll still be eating chicken tonight, but it wouldn't surprise me if this kind of research doesn't eventually lead to changes in how we treat, for example, our industrial animals. Also, though octopus made the cut, so far no reptiles are on the Cambridge list, although I think any Monitor or Boa owner will tell you that their pets can also feel and engage in "intentional" acts.
A bit more on the broader implications here.
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Kudos to Dr. Berkoff for seemingly understanding that, once again, "science" has discovered (or rather declared...declared?) what nobody has ever doubted or denied. This would not have surprised the meanest medieval peasant, especially if you told him the word consciousness can be reduced to feeling emotions and experiencing pain and pleasure. Poets, artists, philosphers, inventors, etc. might have quibbled about such reductionism.
Our affinities with animals are fascinating and important, but our differences remain profound. We really don't need science to tell us that animals are like us in some ways and not at all like us in others. Both propsitions can be established by the same imperative: Just Look Around!
Yes, and the meanest medieval peasant would have told you that the sun went round the earth, that the stars were lights fixed to the solid dome of the firmament, that a bone from the carcass of a black cat which had been boiled alive would, when placed under the tongue, render one invisible, and so on and so on. And he would never have doubted or denied any of these facts either, having established them by Just Looking Around. Or other epistemological tricks of about the same calibre.
If you want to know what they thought about the nature of animals in the Age of Faith, read a medieval bestiary - the one TH White translated is a good start - and you'll see what a farrago of rubbish medieval beliefs about animal cognition were.
Lars, why when anyone critiques a specific scientific finding or assertion can he or she now expect to be met with a splentic rant that suggests he is questionning science, progress, the Enlightenment and rational thought itself?
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