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There are no known Differences in Brain Mechanisms of Consciousness Between Humans and other Mammals

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Recent scientific findings indicate that consciousness is a fundamental biological adaptation. The known brain correlates of consciousness appear to be phylogenetically ancient, going back at least to early mammals. In all mammals, alertness and sensory consciousness are required for the goal-directed behaviours that make species survival and reproduction possible. In all mammals, the anatomy neurochemistry and electrical activity of the brain in alert states show striking similarities.

After more than seven decades of cumulative discoveries about waking and sensory consciousness, we have not yet found any fundamental differences between humans and other mammals. Species differences such as the size of neocortex seem to be irrelevant to the existence of alertness and sensory consciousness, though different mammals obviously specialize in different kinds of sensory, cognitive and motor abilities.

Sceptics sometimes claim that objective evidence for consciousness tells us little about subjective experience, such as the experience of conscious pain. Scientifically, however, plausible inferences are routinely based on reliable and consistent patterns of evidence. In other humans, we invariably infer subjective experiences from objective behavioural and brain evidence – if someone yells 'Ouch!' after striking a finger with a hammer, we infer that they feel pain. The brain and behavioural evidence for subjective consciousness is essentially identical in humans and other mammals. On the weight of the objective evidence, therefore, subjective experience would seem to be equally plausible in all species with human-like brains and behaviour. Either we deny this experience to other humans (which is rarely done) or, to be consistent, we must also attribute it to other species that meet the same objective standards. It seems that the burden of proof for the absence of subjectivity in mammals should be placed on the sceptics.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2001


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