“You can no longer say that we did not know.” – Philip Low
It appears to have passed under a number of radars, but last month the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals was held in Cambridge, UK, closing with the signing (witnessed, for some reason, by Steven Hawking*) of the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals, which reads in part:
We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
The site – scroll down on the home page - offers several videos of the presentations. I’ve watched the one by David Edelman, “Through the Eyes of an Octopus: An Invertebrate Model for Consciousness Studies,” which seemed slightly disjointed (though this may be due to my lack of background knowledge and context) but interesting.
Certainly worthy of note is that person asking the last question in the Q&A refers to another conference participant, Christof Koch, and his statement that he’s become a vegetarian, and asks Edelman if he still eats octopuses. He replies that in fact the insights gained through his research have affected him: calamari hasn’t passed his lips in six years. Similarly, if I’m reading this exchange correctly – which I might not be, since I don’t really know Portuguese specifically – Philip Low has become a vegan as a result of his work. In all of these cases, then, it appears that scientific knowledge has influenced ethical choices, which is as it should be. (It should go without saying that I’m not commenting on any of their views on other matters, about which I know almost nothing.) I’d be interested to hear about the rest of the signers of the declaration….
*And recorded by 60 Minutes, so I assume they’re doing a story about it.