The reality of animal consciousness

If you may remember from previous posts, mostly last May ( The reality of us-mind body conundrum, parts1 &2, A question of consciousness the ultimate reality, Who do we think we are, a question of reality), I discussed what makes us human beings, different from the other animals around us on Earth. The answer was, of course, our human consciousness. That means generally our thinking and aware mind. This  is the part of the mind that is  separate from the automatic, body organising, part of our brains. It makes our decisions and is responsible for our imagination and any abstract thoughts we might have. It is how we are aware we are alive.  It is considered to be  what makes us us.

Other conscious beings

Are any other beings around us conscious in that special way? What about the other creatures that we share our planet with? Animals are aware of their surroundings, but they are not necessarily conscious. They are not thinking about the meaning of life, or what they have to do next week. They are not concerning themselves with tomorrow or yesterday, only what is needed for survival today. They are not worrying about appearances, or the state of the world. Generally, their, so called, animal instincts and biologically driven hormones guide their behavior.

Is this wholly true?

It is worth mentioning however that recent studies have found that many animals have more, albeit lower level, consciousness than was previously thought. Even cows form friendship groups and bear grudges. Elephants have prodigious memories. Killer wales co-operate in complex ways to catch seals. But generally even the more complex animals (apes, dogs, cats and horses etc) are not considered wholly conscious beings as we are. The famous naturalist Charles Darwin studied animal emotions in the 19th century.  He found that higher animals, at least, felt emotions, sorrow rage etc. Any cat owner these days might report that cats exhibit feelings such as frustration and happiness, as well as the above. This is not the same as the capacity for abstract thought though. The sort of thinking consciousness, or self awareness, we have is special. As far as we are know we are the only species in the world to have this gift fully. Although some higher primates can be shown to have a degree of it, human beings are the only one considered to have it completely.

Why does this matter?

We tend to feel that our superior  consciousness sets us above the other animals on this planet. This superiority enables us to use animals for our own ends. We do have to eat, and nature itself relies on food chains, of bigger animals eating smaller animals.  Most people would agree that animals do have a right not to be cruelly treated. The question has to be asked though, if they are conscious beings, should we be eating them at all?

Aspects of reality

In poor and food shortage or starvation situations, hungry people are entitled to find and eat what food nature provides for them. In these cases, it could be held that, as top animals in the food chain, any lower animal would be fair game.

In more abundant situations, the reality may be that as we do not need to eat intelligent  conscious animals, perhaps, as civilized beings, we should not. The truth is that we actually do not know, to what  degree, other animals are really conscious, thinking beings.  Food for thought really!!!!!!



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