Anyone who’s ever owned a pet will definitely, absolutely know this for a fact already, but scientists have now moved to officially declare that mammals, birds and many other animals are indeed conscious, and therefore should be treated as such. The declaration was made at a special gathering of scientists during a conference at Cambridge University in the UK back in July of this year.
The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, featuring a self-described ‘prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists…’ states in very scientific terms the fact that animals experience the same kind of mental emotional states as humans, as far as can be discerned from monitoring brain regions for activity.
African grey parrots are singled out as an example of the dramatic levels of ‘near human like levels of consciousness‘ and the research has even apparently demonstrated that magpies exhibit striking similarities to humans (and apes and dolphins) in terms of self-recognition.
So what does this mean for the rest of us? Well according to this report in New Scientist, the declaration should prompt calls for more humane treatment of animals in various research and agricultural processes. However there’s already legislation around – namely the EU Treaty of Lisbon, 2009 – which states that declares animals to be sentient beings and should be treated with full regard to their welfare, so this doesn’t seem to be a massive move forward in any significant way.
The fact is that we humans are not very good at looking out for each other, let alone worrying about poor animals lower down the evolutionary totem pole, so it’s probably not going to mean a whole world of change for our relationship with the birds and the beasts. Animal lovers will continue doing what they do, while those who think it’s all new age, tree-hugging nonsense will carry on whipping the cat whenever the opportunity arises.
It’s probably fair to say that we’ll stop abusing animals just as soon as we stop abusing each other, which could take a little time to work out.