Last week I wrote about Professor Dean Radin and the team at IONS (the Institute of Noetic Sciences), who are conducting experiments at Burning Man as part of their research into consciousness. Some scientists debate whether consciousness exists at all, since there is no mathematical formula, chemical compound, or law of physics to explain it. They don’t “think” it is there – the ultimate irony. The word “scientist” has only been with us since 1837, but the idea of magic has been with all cultures for all time.
It seems that these days, the world of science is taking a turn for the better. The sort of things that were formerly dismissed as impossible, or viewed by the more primitively inclined as magic, are being recognized as true phenomena. We should study the things we don’t understand, learn from them. Maybe one day we’ll figure them out and then they can become “science” too. Supposedly, we had no idea about gravity before an apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head. No matter that the Chinese and Greeks had already built flying machines, thousands of years earlier…but I digress.
There’s a lot of stuff that happens at Burning Man that science can’t completely explain. The wicker effigy we burn has no consciousness of its own, yet there is a measurable rift in the space-time continuum formed by it. There’s also a lot of expansion of consciousness going on – the transcendental theme of the hippie Sixties. Many Burners like to accessorize this process with some sort of psychotropic substance. In fact, the father of drugs, Dr Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, who synthesized 217 different psychoactive compounds, still lives today in the East Bay and is a repeat Burner.
Would it surprise you to learn that animals seem to get off on that stuff too? It’s part of Nature, right. “All in the game!” Apparently hallucinogen-injecting scientists have been doing consciousness experiments on animals, just like government agencies here did to unsuspecting humans in the hijinks and capers of “Operation Midnight Climax – How the CIA Dosed S.F. Citizens with LSD”.
One scientist who loved him some acid was Dr Francis Crick. He discovered DNA while on an acid trip – not a bad contribution to humanity, right?
At Dr Crick’s Memorial Conference at his old college, Cambridge University in England, some of the world’s leading scientists gathered together to acknowledge that animals have consciousness, too.
From Scientific American:
Elephants cooperate to solve problems. Chimpanzees teach youngsters to make tools. Even octopusesseem to be able to plan. So should we humans really be surprised that “consciousness” probably does not only exist in us?
This privileged state of subjective awareness in fact goes well beyondHomo sapiens, according to the new Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (pdf), which was signed last month by a group of cognitive neuroscientists, computational neuroscientists, neuroanatomists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists who attended the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals at Cambridge University in the U.K.
“The weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness,” the scientists wrote. “Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
An international group of prominent scientists has signed The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in which they are proclaiming their support for the idea that animals are conscious and aware to the degree that humans are — a list of animals that includes all mammals, birds, and even the octopus. But will this make us stop treating these animals in totally inhumane ways?
While it might not sound like much for scientists to declare that many nonhuman animals possess conscious states, it’s the open acknowledgement that’s the big news here. The body of scientific evidence is increasingly showing that most animals are conscious in the same way that we are, and it’s no longer something we can ignore.
What’s also very interesting about the declaration is the group’s acknowledgement that consciousness can emerge in those animals that are very much unlike humans, including those that evolved along different evolutionary tracks, namely birds and some cephalopods.
“The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states,” they write, “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.”
…The group consists of cognitive scientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists — all of whom were attending the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals. The declaration was signed in the presence of Stephen Hawking, and included such signatories as Christof Koch, David Edelman, Edward Boyden, Philip Low, Irene Pepperberg, and many more.…
The declaration made the following observations:
- The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving. Abundant new techniques and strategies for human and non-human animal research have been developed. Consequently, more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field. Studies of non-human animals have shown that homologous brain circuits correlated with conscious experience and perception can be selectively facilitated and disrupted to assess whether they are in fact necessary for those experiences. Moreover, in humans, new non-invasive techniques are readily available to survey the correlates of consciousness.
- The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures
- Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. …Magpies in articular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.
- In humans, the effect of certain hallucinogens appears to be associated with a disruption in cortical feedforward and feedback processing. Pharmacological interventions in non-human animals with compounds known to affect conscious behavior in humans can lead to similar perturbations in behavior in non-human animals. In humans, there is evidence to suggest that awareness is correlated with cortical activity, which does not exclude possible contributions by subcortical or early cortical processing, as in visual awareness. Evidence that human and nonhuman animal emotional feelings arise from homologous subcortical brain networks provide compelling evidence for evolutionarily shared primal affective qualia.
Wait a minute...”non-human animals”…that seems to imply that there must be such a thing as “human animals”. Are all these scientists really signing a statement that says “humans are animals”? What does that then make Transhumanists and cyborgs?
Google is a hotbed of glasshole Burners, from the very top down to the bus stop brigade. It also has more than its fair share of transhumanists. Their Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil, who hopes to be immortal, thinks we should all merge with machines and extend our lifespans through a combination of genetic engineering, nanobots, and “reducing the biological component” that’s attached to our Android device. As they say in poker, “if you’ve been in the game 30 minutes and you don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy”.
Are corporations people? Are corporations animals? What about a massive Artificial Intelligences like Google’s that know everything we watch, read, speak, write, spend, do…is that an animal? Does it have a consciousness? What about Apple’s one, called SIRI? Hundreds of millions of people have interactive conversations with it every day. It is constantly answering questions from all over the world, and learning as it goes. Does that have consciousness? Does it have rights? The experiments going on around you at Burning Man, as we worship The Man and then immolate him on a pyre in an ancient Druidic tradition, are helping to answer these questions, some of the 21st Century’s most significant.