What is consciousness like for other animals and when did it evolve?

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The conscious experiences of non-human animals, from whales and birds to octopuses and bees, are revealing caller clues astir erstwhile consciousness evolved and what it’s for

Life 7 July 2021

By David Robson

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Each limb of an octopus could beryllium independently conscious

Azoor Wildlife Photo/Alamy

Children cognize the amusive of throwing a shot into the sea, lone to ticker the waves fling it back. Jennifer Mather and Roland Anderson astatine the Seattle Aquarium were amazed to find octopuses playing akin games. Their artifact was a floating pill bottle, which they were escaped to disregard oregon research arsenic they wished. Six of the aquarium’s octopuses soon mislaid interest, but 2 showed childlike curiosity, pushing it with their arms oregon shooting jets of h2o to determination it against the tank’s current. It is hard to interpret this arsenic thing other than play, which galore researchers reason requires immoderate signifier of conscious awareness.

Many animals grounds behaviours likewise suggestive of an interior life. Conscious creatures whitethorn see our primate cousins, cetaceans and corvids – and perchance galore invertebrates, including bees, spiders and cephalopods specified arsenic octopuses, cuttlefish and squid. The challenge, of course, is to recognize however the interior lives of these creatures disagree from our own.

In the past, scientists spoke astir “levels of consciousness”, arsenic if determination were a hierarchy with humans connected top. But successful a insubstantial published successful 2020, Jonathan Birch, a philosopher astatine the London School of Economics and his colleagues reason that we would bash amended to see five abstracted elements of conscious experience. The archetypal is perceptual richness, oregon however good an carnal tin discriminate antithetic details successful each of its senses. The 2nd is evaluative richness – broadly speaking, the capableness to differentiate betwixt affirmative rewards and noxious stimuli, which could beryllium …

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