BY NICOLA GROBE
As an animal lover, animal mother and letter writing political activist for the animals, I was delighted to see on the Internet that on July 7, 2012, a panel of prominent International neuroscientists, cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at The University of Cambridge, U.K., to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non human animals and they signed their Declaration on Consciousness at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference of Consciousness in Human and Non Human Animals in the presence of Dr. Stephen Hawking.
They found that, although non human animals as well as retarded (through injury or genetic dysfunction) humans have problems to communicate their individual brain processes to others, the neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures and that the same 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. Instinctual emotional behaviors in animals and humans can bypass the neo cortical processing stages and still function well on their own. Instincts are indeed part of our decision making processes, as well as part of our emotions, as well as part of our cognitive functions. Instincts are therefore not just robotically mechanistic behavior motivators as believed in the 50s. Subcortical function as observed in animals with much less neo cortex mass, applies not only to the vegetative nervous system functions like sleep, eating, drinking, fight and flight, but also to some decision making like in nursing infants. These observations lead scientists to conclude that those primal surviving mechanisms (and not only those for the survival of one individual, but also for the survival of another as in caretaking) have already existed in animals like early cephalopod mollusks like octopus and other prevertebrate animals. Today’s octopus are much more evolved with a very large brain and complex decision making. Octopus evolved parallel to more complex animals on land. Birds also developed parallel to mammals while never leaving the bird- or premammal stage of evolutionary development. Therefore some birds have developed more complex brains with larger neo cortices, as seen in African Gray Parrots who are able to learn sign language like primates. Magpie birds who are related to Jays and Crows, and Zebra Finches, have neuronal sleep patterns similar to those in mammals including REM sleep. Magpies show complex social conduct as well as self recognition in mirrors, like elephants, dolphins, whales and primates.
The International panel of scientists gathered at The University of Cambridge came to this unanimous conclusion:
>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.”<
Every person who lived with animals would have already noticed for millennia ever since humans began living with domesticated animals, that the non human animals are just like them, they feel the same way, they act very much like them, they communicate similarly although not through a complex language but through body language and even with the same body language as humans use. Matter of fact, one could have noticed that the non humans have always been our distant cousins. And many of us have noticed this. We have seen how unconditionally dogs love us, we have seen pigs open gates for their cow friends to escape fires, we have seen dogs and pigs save humans in dangerous situations just to name a few examples.
But hierarchical systems throughout human history have ordered animals under humans out of greed and because they could. They could because the animals were not able to defend themselves against their enslavement. Hierarchical systems then used religion to sanction their self made hierarchies and dictate them to society. Once such dogmatized hierarchies were in place it was sure hard to dissolve them. Those humans who have rocked the hierarchical boats were declared heretics and they were often severely punished, they were even executed. But that was then, and this is now. Most human societies today have surpassed those stone age stages of social development and we have set the stage now to move even further ahead by acknowledging that the matters on Earth are not only the matters of the humans, but instead they are the matters of all Earthians. This Declaration on Consciousness can therefore be seen as an official stage setting for the new age of love and kindness for all living beings alike.