It is official

What has been known/suspected for many years is now accepted science – consciousness is not unique to humans. On July 7 the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was signed by a group of recognized authorities (cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologiests, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomist and computational neuroscientists). They were the attentees at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals. The document was presented by Philip Low, David Edelmann and Christof Koch and was signed by all participants at the conference. They declared:

“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. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”


We have tool using, problem solving, and planning out of the way and now consciousness, so perhaps we can stop thinking that humans are so very, very difference from the rest of the animals. It is far more useful to be finding the evolutionary continuums between humans and other animals, rather than trying to find ways that we are unique. Of course we are unique in the sense that each-and-all species are unique. That is a trivial question of definition; species differ significantly from one another. But we are not uniquely unique. Everything we have must have a roots and commonalities in other primates. Accept it and use it to obtain a better understanding of ourselves.

Addition: thank you, Henk Poley, for your comment and link which I have brought up to the level of the post  -

 A direct link would have been nice:


11 thoughts on “It is official

  1. A declaration full of weasel words is not science, accepted or otherwise.

    The declaration points out that various animals have various bits and pieces-neurological substrates-of consciousness, but only humans have the substrates in the amounts and combination necessary to allow us to build civilizations. So, yes, we are unique, and uniquely so. No, consciousness is not unique to humans.

    Any cat owner could tell you that. But this need to devalue the exceptional differences between humanity and the most of the rest of the animal kingdom is suspicious to me.

  2. “But this need to devalue the exceptional differences between humanity and the most of the rest of the animal kingdom is suspicious to me.”

    No, that’s _science_. Being able to look past the “exceptional” to find commonalities is a tool for understanding, not devaluation. The fact that you even use the term ‘value’ here is exactly the sort of subjective bias that declarations like this are trying to overcome.

  3. Just to point out that “signed by all participants at the conference” is not correct. I was at this one day conference, but it was appallingly organised, was running stupendously late, and very many people left before the end, some in quite a huff (perhaps a quarter of the audience left early). This declaration might have been discussed and signed by just the conference speakers afterwards over dinner as a bit of a media event, but was completely unknown to the regular participants, like me.

    I’m not saying the declaration is right or wrong, which is a totally distinct question - just pointing out a detail about how many of the conference attendees actually endorsed it, which I would guess is a tiny fraction, certainly not “all”.

  4. I would say humans are unique from animals simply for the fact that we have a responsibility towards them. No other creature on earth weilds the power of life and death like we do. I know it’s not a scientific argument, but what do you think?

    JK: Unfortunately, most humans do not do a good job of being responsible for the well-being of animals. I do not know how many humans feel that they have a responsibility but I do feel that few actually go out of their way to do anything (except for their personal pets).

  5. Depuis des millénaires les hommes connaissent les “pouvoirs” des animaux ; Ils se comportent, ces animaux, souvent mieux que nous humains, vivent en groupes pacifiques.

  6. (responding to previous comment)

    I see what you’re getting at, and you’re right - a lot of people don’t show or even feel any responsibility there. But I would argue that they *have* an intrinsic responsibility regardless of whether they feel it or not, simply by being part of the species which has mastered all the others.

  7. This is an interesting declaration, thank you for circulating it more widely. However, there is no reason why anyone need choose to think of the place of humanity within nature in such stark terms as being either “very, very differen[t] from the rest of the animals”, or not so. Such a dichotomy ignores the complexity and piece-meal nature of the evolutionary process. Some morphological and behavioral traits that humans possess are quite distinct (unique) among the clade of extant hominoids (e.g. habitual bipedalism; small canines; EQ > 7; nuclear families; language; large-scale cooperation; regular food sharing among adults; post-weaning provisioning of offspring, etc.). Many other traits we share in common with other hominoids. Natural selection acts on specific traits (and their underlying genes) and shapes organisms bit by bit. We humans possess a mosaic of traits, some unique, some not-so-unique. We certainly share most of our DNA with other mammals, and many of our traits are “analogous” to traits possessed by closely related species. A systematic understanding of human evolution proceeds by defining what human traits are different from and which are similar to other species, in order to deduce what traits are derived or ancestral. This kind of phylogenetic approach rejects the dichotomy that humans are either very different or not from the rest of primates or mammals, and has been accepted science among human evolutionary biologists for a long time.

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