Are Animals Conscious? Find Our Now!
By David Gass
Copyright: November 16, 2006
Qu’est-ce que c’est Consciousness
What is consciousness?
Simple Answer: To survive.
Complex Answer: To be human.
Are animals really conscious?
Simple Answer: If you kick your dog, does he not
whimper? If you take an AK-47 to a rabid Kodiak bear,
does his head not explode?
Complex Answer: Yes…more to come
Was ist Consciousness:
Heute der Cerebrum, morgen das Gehirn!
Consciousness is, like Dave said, difficult to define, hard to measure.
However, reasonable answers include: “awareness of one‟s own existence,
sensations, thoughts, surrounding, etc.; full activity of the mind and senses, as in
waking life” (www.Dictionary.com)
Our textbook and class subdivides it into:
• Consciousness as wakefulness
• Consciousness as voluntary action
• Consciousness as awareness
I went about it differently. Here‟s what I did:
• Consciousness as “Theory of Mind” (Awareness of others thoughts & actions)
• Consciousness as Awareness. (AKA Awareness of surroundings)
• Consciousness as Self-Awareness
• Consciousness as Conscience/Morality
• Consciousness as Intentionality
Why? It‟s not that difficult to see things sleep, and most, if not all, organisms do
Animals don‟t do things that purposefully and unnecessarily jeopardize their
Half-crazed loon, or just a regular
guy who lives with too many cats?
B: August 31, 1874
D: August 9, 1949
American psychologist, worked on animal
His work led to the theory of connectionism.
Most important contribution was the was on cats
learning to escape from puzzle boxes which led to him
creating the law of effect
This states that in regards to responses to stimuli that
produce a satisfying or pleasant state of affairs in a
particular situation, that they are more likely to occur
again in the situation if repeated, and conversely for
Theory of mind. If we had them.
Animals can’t speak no matter how much we make them
look human, because they’re not human.
Animals use communication that appears to seek
influence over the behaviour of others, but not their
Humans, however, know that others are different and
that others have minds similar to their own, whose
knowledge can be altered by words or actions.
Animals’ brains are wired for adaptations and
accomplishments that put us to shame.
We use our mental power to accomplish things.
Awareness of Environment:
What helps my Spider Sense prevent me
from hitting the Chrysler Building
• Awareness of environment is basically
navigating in this so called „Small World‟.
• So we don‟t bump into things. Bumping
into other animals creates defensive
procedures (what humans call „payback
Why is it there? Where did it come from?
Merker (2002) suggests that it arose as a solution to the
logistical problem of the complexity of nervous
systems, primarily as an interface between the spatial
and the motor. Different parts of the brain control for
The visual and auditory cortexes deal with our body in a
The hypothalamus controls motivation and drive
The nigral system deals with priorities
A ‘zona incerta’ as a ‘self’ to resolve conflicts
To be, or not to be.
Not to be
Self-awareness in domesticated animals, as in other vertebrates,
depends on the degree of external self-perception possible, on
social organisation, on social communication through emotional
signalling, and on acquisition of a symbolic language system.
We know we are conscious because of our introspection, and in
others through communication of their introspection, though this
is hardly objective.
Studies of self are difficult. Cannot claim human issues are
the only way to be conscious. Language for self-consciousness
is debatable. Not all behaviour patterns have direct fitness
Dawkins suggests self-awareness evolved to help us make
ourselves the objects of our thought.
Swinging through branches that allowed us to do it; size is
important for interacting with environment (spider floats,
squirrel bounces, elephants splat)
Povinelli and Cant’s Mirror Test
Not all animals demonstrate being self-conscious.
What makes the world go
round. Take that, gravity!
An animal is thinking when its behaviour is complex (to the point of
problem solving, abstract generalization, etc) and proves adaptable to
We have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals; give them human
traits, think of animal actions in terms of our own conscious intentions,
thoughts, and motives. We use language to penetrate the interior lives our
Just because one animal is ‘smarter’ does not mean we are more
adaptive,more ‘evolved’, or ‘better’. There is no Great Chain of Being; we
all evolved from the same thing.
Disobedient animals are every bit as clever as the ones that aren’t; as
quickly as the ‘smart’ ones learn obedience, the ‘dumb’ ones learn
Apes have hands allow them to deal with problems fish cannot (it has
hands and the tools to use them).
Animals can deceive each other and humans, but no self-deception.
Asking what an animal is “trying to do” is a way to creatively probe the
adaptive, evolutionary purpose for its behaviour; mock
Conscience and Morality:
What religion is supposed to be for
The thing that prevents me from ripping off the top of your head Alucard/Dracula-style just for a
bite to drink.
That, plus I lack the physical strength.
Animals are kind of moral. They’re moral enough not to attack each other for no reason, although
it does benefit them.
Altruism (especially reciprocal altruism) is the basis of morality
Confusion on the idea of a ‘selfish’ gene. Genes can’t be truly selfish because they have no
What we may see as kindness or conscience may actually have another reason behind it
We cannot show favoritism among our young.
Human morality remains rooted in moral sentiments we share with many other animals. Rational
morality enhances rather than transcends biology, and non-reflective generous caring behaviour
remains the vital center of animal moral life
“Can I Borrow a Feeling?”
Yes, only if you stop singing.
• Animals feel: when you rub a cat‟s belly, it purrs.
An elephant will rush you if you approach it and
its offspring too close.
• Emotions are subjective experiences, what
people refer to when they say “I feel
sad/happy”; mood, passion, feelings,
sentiments, and „affects‟ are inner feeling states.
• Can‟t expect an animal to be trained well unless
you understand it.
I didn’t do it. It was the one-armed
Chimps can discern intentionality. One study showed a person
either wilfully not giving food, and not knowing about the food.
The chimps could see it and remember for later.
Some animals do things that seem intentional, like deception.
Carnivores back off when a tougher carnivore shows up.
A chimp with a rock. He carries the rock to another chimp and
begins his intended intimidation display.
One thing to question the chimp’s idea of distinguishing truth
and deception, simpler to say he intends to deceive.
Animals have a sense of conscious. In
terms of awareness, even invertebrates,
like octopi and squid, have their „brains‟
spread out through their body.
Didn‟t find anything on animal unity of
consciousness; then again, how do we test
for animals assuming they are one whole
being and not a collection of things.
Why is Mr. Ed fictional?
Because animals can’t talk.
Why can’t animals talk? Do they really need to? Did it help them
If animals did develop language skills, would it increase their
Animals are simple: they do things that are purposeful.
Humans, by contrast, spend our lives studying things that don’t
affect our adaptability (outside of saving others’ lives and making
money to increase male reproductive fitness), lounging about
watching DVDs while eating chips and drinking Jägermeister, or
We didn‟t just evolve consciousness to ponder our
consciousness. Evo and natural selection would have
weeded out ponderers who wasted time not eating or
Animals are conscious, slightly
Animals do not have a theory of mind
Animals are aware
Not all animals are self-aware
Animals are intelligent in their own way that helped them and
their ancestors survive to breed
Animals are kind of moral; they utilize reciprocal altruism.
Some animals feel emotion.
Not much research on animals recognizing intentionality. None
at all on animals displaying it.
Animals are not humans.
We have to stop anthropomorphisizing animals.
Evolution is at a standstill.