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Acknowledging Animal Consciousness


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For most of human history, the possibility that animals experience sensations and feelings has been dismissed. The New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness (NYDAC), which is signed by nearly 300 university educators and scientists worldwide, challenges this view. The signatories assert that there is “strong scientific support for attributions of conscious experience to other mammals and to birds,” and that “the empirical evidence indicates at least a realistic possibility of conscious experience in all vertebrates (including reptiles, amphibians and fishes) and many invertebrates (including, at minimum, cephalopod mollusks, decapod crustaceans and insects).”

The declaration is supported by 10 years of scientific discoveries about the possibility of animal sentience, including crows that can be trained to report what they see, octopuses that avoid pain and value pain relief, cuttlefish that remember details of specific past events, zebrafish that show signs of curiosity, and bees that display apparent play behavior. The signatories conclude, “When there is a realistic possibility of conscious experience in an animal, it is irresponsible to ignore that possibility in decisions affecting that animal. We should consider welfare risks and use the evidence to inform our responses to these risks.”

This article was published in the July 2024 issue of Natural Awakenings.
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