Monday, September 03, 2012

Being aware of consciousness

Anyone working with animals could have told them aeons ago. And did. But today, finally, the massed wisdom of science has acknowledged that animals have consciousness, just like man. Cross-species there always was a communication issue. But, people who have looked into the eye of the whale say that their lives somehow are changed. Indeed, anyone who has looked into the eye of a crocodile has felt a shift in the status quo. They have felt contact. I certainly did. To my amazement, meeting eyes with an old croc in the Northern Territory was a beautiful experience. It was a focused connection, a real hello. I was not expecting it. But I have changed my tune with those ancient reptiles.
Our relationship with cats and dogs, sheep and goats is based on mutual awareness and co-operation. It has been had to accept that the animals we kill for food have that astute conscious understanding of their fates. The smell of fear in the abattoirs. We shut off our knowledge to cope with the guilt - and the hunger. I am among those who has had a pet sheep, which followed one everywhere and recognised one years later when said sheep was retired to the country. There was no doubt about his consciousness. Then the two goats I milked each day in my farming years - smart, interesting, delightful and strongly bonding animals. Now the scientists have allowed us to go a step further and accept that octopus and squid are animals also with the mystery of consciousness. Perhaps even sense of self.
The dark mystery of the cleverness of cephalopods is their short-life span. But just look at the name. Cephalo means head foot. They are mobile brains. I have looked these creatures in the eye - and felt a connection. I also have eaten them. The emotions grow complex and the denial rises to protect one from the self-interest of comfort and survival - not to mention the decadent luxury and artistry of cuisine. I've witnessed hens dealing with threat. They are deemed pretty stupid animals against the Einstens of the parrot world. But they are intelligent and, damn it, clearly conscious. They establish relationships of love. Interspecies love. The scientists have put it down formally. Thank heavens. Here's the official edict.

Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex. Magpies in articular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.

What difference these "findings" will make to the top dog arrogance of humans remains to be seen.

Perhaps science will evolve a way species can speak to each other. Perhaps they will move on to other things - for just imagine if the slaughterhouse sheep could speak forth.