Consciousness in non-human animals

March 24, 2013

Charles Darwin made the intriguing claim that among the naturalists he knew it was consistently the case that the better a researcher got to know a certain species, the more each individual animal’s actions appeared attributable to “reason and the less to unlearnt instinct.” The more you knew, the more you suspected that they were rational. That marks an important pivot, that thought, insofar as it took place in the mind of someone devoted to extremely close and meticulous study of living animals, a mind that had trained itself not to sentimentalize. […]

If we put aside the self-awareness standard—and really, how arbitrary and arrogant is that, to take the attribute of consciousness we happen to possess over all creatures and set it atop the hierarchy, proclaiming it the very definition of consciousness—it becomes possible to say at least the following: the overwhelming tendency of all this scientific work, of its results, has been toward more consciousness. More species having it, and species having more of it than assumed. […]

The animal kingdom is symphonic with mental activity, and of its millions of wavelengths, we’re born able to understand the minutest sliver. The least we can do is have a proper respect for our ignorance.

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