Okay, it’s August, but anyway …
In “Octopuses Gain Consciousness (According to Scientists’ Declaration)” (Scientific American, August 21, 2012), Katherine Harmon reports,
Elephants cooperate to solve problems. Chimpanzees teach youngsters to make tools. Even octopuses seem 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 beyond Homo 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 octopus was the only invertebrate that made the list so far. Declaration here.
There seems to be a fair amount of confusion here. Few people who have lived with dogs, cats, parrots, or horses will find any reason to doubt that they have consciousness.
The problem is that no one knows what consciousness is, exactly, or how it arises, and – hat tip to Thomas Nagel – no one knows what it is like to be a bat. Or octopus.
That is more or less admitted:
“Exactly how organized brain matter gives rise to images and sounds, lust and hate, memories, dreams and plans, remains unclear,” Christof Koch, chief science officer at the Allen Institute of Brain Science, and co-presenter of the new declaration, recently wrote in the Huffington Post.
The Declaration insists that great strides are being made, but under the circumstances, it would be really hard to know.
At least the octopus is finally being recognized as an intelligent creature:
Did you know that octopuses can walk on land?
See also: Can the concept of information explain consciousness?