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You are probably familiar with how your pets behave under different conditions, whether it feels happy, nervous, scared, and uncomfortable. These are all raw animal feelings that can be attributed to basic animal instinct. However, there is a lot more to these animals than instinctive mechanistic response. The primary animal instincts show you just a little about how your pet feels. There is a lot more to them.
Do animals think? If yes, how do they think? These two questions are beginning to carry a lot of weight on the topic of animal consciousness. It used to be the idea that only humans can use the brain to perform complex tasks such as thinking, dreaming, and feeling. We cannot be more wrong; recent studies have shown that they have the intellectual ability to do more than primary mental duties. Even better, they possess feelings, emotions, and self-awareness.
Animals live their lives to the fullest. They have higher status ambitions, compete, try to stay alive, and raise their young for the next generation, just like us.
Animal consciousness: can it be measured?
Tom White, an Ethics professor, said this about animal consciousness, “Science has shown that individuality – consciousness, self-awareness – is no longer a unique human property.”
The dictionary definition of consciousness is the ability to experience wakefulness, have a sense of selfhood, and executive control of our minds. It is also related to the ability to solve problems and learn from experience. Animal consciousness means that animal exhibits every one of these properties.
Consciousness used to be a term that sets humans apart from other animals. We consider ourselves higher than other animals due to the ability to have feelings, emotions, and self-awareness. All of these mental abilities used to be attributed to the size of our brains.
The truth is that we are more alike with these animals than we know. These animals can experience all of these properties, even with their small brains. They have thought processes, emotions, and social connections that are as important to them as they are to us. Research has shown that some animals like chimps and bonobos experience as many emotions as humans. The only difference is that we can experience human consciousness at a much higher level and use our brains to think more deeply.
Animal consciousness also explains the concept of individuality, problem-solving abilities, cognition, and teamwork. Many animals have different unique personalities. Some of them are more playful than others; some are shy; some are bold. Others may lack the social skills to mingle effectively in the park. Also, social animals like elephants and chimpanzees are known to communicate and cooperate to perform everyday tasks.
Consciousness in animals
Animals express their consciousness and self-awareness in many ways. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
We already know dogs are smart creatures, varying in intelligence from breed to breed. However, it might surprise you to know that your dog has cognitive abilities, a conscience, and feels emotions. For instance, I came across a family dog video that felt remorse (and shame) after damaging some furniture in the home; the dog bent its head low and couldn’t look straight up at its owner. Funny right?
Dogs are also very expressive of their emotions. You can predict a dog’s mood through its face, ears, and body movement. Not only dogs but cats also display specific characteristics to express how they feel.
They are also self-aware, capable of distinguishing their own smells from other dogs.
A recent study involving the dog’s MRI brain-scan analysis shows that they demonstrate neurological activity very similar to humans. Aside from that, there are claims that dogs can sense when their owners are about to come home.
Some years ago, there was a movie- Dolphin’s tale’ – about the friendship between a dolphin and a boy who rescued the dolphin from a crab trap. We could easily see that the dolphin and the boy could communicate, play together, and forge a beautiful friendship. The exciting part about the movie is that a true-life story inspired it.
Dolphins rank among the smartest animals on earth- even more intelligent than dogs. They have a high cognitive ability. As a result, they can solve problems, create objects to play with, and give peck rubs to each other. Also, they have a high level of memory retention.
One fantastic fact about dolphins is that they can pick out their own reflections in a mirror. This indicates that they have proprioception-they can track their own movement. This shows that they have self-awareness. Even better, they can use the mirror to look at parts of their body beyond the range of their eyes.
Elephants have a savant-like brain and a spatial memory type. Scientists are usually fascinated by the adventurous ways that these amazing creatures think and solve problems. They can carry tools and use them to play and pluck fruits.
Like many other social animals, they can feel empathy. There are many stories of elephants protecting people from the dangers of the wild.
Elephants have self-awareness and proprioception too. They can also recognize their image in the mirror.
Representing the bird family, crows rank among the most intelligent animals. As a matter of fact, crows are as smart as a seven-year-old kid. They can understand analogies, exercise self-control, fashion tools, and play. Aside from that, they have self-awareness, personalities, community-oriented behaviour, and personal attachment.
Fun fact, crows hold grudges. They can remember what you did to them and scold you for it. Even more impressive, they can tell their community about what you did. Imagine a whole flock of crows chasing you through the park.
Other notable examples are bonobos and chimpanzees, which display different attitudes under various conditions.
Healing benefits to humans
Animals provide healing benefits to humans. Many studies show that the human-animal bond has a considerable effect on human health.
The good news is that more and more animals are getting adopted by many people as pets. You may not be able to adopt a dolphin, but owning a dog, cat, monkey, or any bird can have considerable effects on your health.
For instance, research has shown that interacting with animals can increase oxytocin in your body system. Oxytocin promotes feelings of love, social bonding, and well-being. Likewise, they can decrease cortisol levels (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure.
Besides, these animals make good friends. They can boost your moods, reduce loneliness, and increase feelings of social support. We get to enjoy higher levels of life satisfaction, psychological well-being, and companionship from our pets.
Many animals are being used for therapeutic purposes. Horses, dogs, and birds are gaining significant use in therapies. A notable example is the practice of psychologist Fine, who works with troubled children. He claims that the animals help him go under the radar of a child’s consciousness because they put his patient at ease.
Another significant example is the training of animals to perform chores and tasks. Dogs can detect seizures and cancer. Moreover, they can read emotional states more reliably than a lie detector. The exciting part is that our interaction with animals is a win-win situation for both parties. Many social animals need (and love) interaction and can live healthier lives.
Animal consciousness is a fact.
Animals have consciousness and should be treated as such. They can feel emotions, think, and even dream. Animals are sentient, self-aware individuals with different personalities and histories. They have an emotional brain; they can get happy, sad, nervous, and angry.
We stand to benefit from studying how animal consciousness works. The more we begin to understand what goes on in animals’ minds, the easier it is to find familiar patterns.