Consciousness

Other Animals had Essentially a Consciousness like Ours for Half a Billion Years

Consciousness

The current state of empirical research around cognition and consciousness shows that no evidence has ever been found for any of the earlier claims of exclusive states of consciousness in humans. Rather, the entire body of evidence indicates that for a good half billion years other animals have possessed fundamentally the same ego-consciousness, cognition, and enjoyment as the animal species Homo sapiens. Such alleged exclusivities, like “divine ensoulment,” “reason” or “free will,” were constructions created with the help of the cognitive capacity for abstraction in order to artificially elevate the human being and to humiliate other animals. The capacity of abstraction is relatively strongly developed with us, but it is a neutral function in regards to genuine consciousness and enjoyment. Substantially higher capacities of the sense perception and complete development of original cognitive characteristics suggest that other animals species existing freely in nature have a substantially higher intensity of perception and enjoyment than today’s “civilized” humans.

The question of the consciousness of other animals is of the greatest importance for the understanding of the world

The fundamental question of whether the animals that have inhabited planet Earth for over 500 million years had consciousness is of paramount importance in understanding the overall context of the world, including its meaning. If it was so, as wide parts of the civilizing philosophies, religions and other forces claimed, that only the species Homo sapiens can possess a perception of itself, an experience horizon, and the ability to enjoy its own existence, then this enormous period was a rather barren thing. All the many animals which existed in it would have been something like senseless biorobots, and only when man emerged, relatively recently, would the enjoyment of free development and the adventure of the life have really arisen for the first time.

But if it was completely different, namely that all the other animals which developed freely in nature had such a consciousness and felt enjoyment, maybe to even much higher degrees than we, today’s people, can achieve, then the planet was an incomprehensibly gigantic space of intensive adventure and the conscious enjoyment of freedom secured by the natural laws and regularities for half a billion years.

The planet earth has been populated by consciously perceiving living beings for at least 450 million years

In fact, a reflection on the current state of knowledge of relevant sciences, such as cognitive or neuroscience, reveals that there is nothing empirically proven that points to a fundamental difference between the conscious perception and sensation of humans and, at least, other vertebrates. Corresponding claims to alleged exclusivities inherent only in humans, like ego-consciousness, reason or free will, have – in the sense of exclusivity – all been unmasked as artificial inventions spread by lies.

In the meantime, it can be reconstructed on the basis of manifold empirical proofs that vertebrates, for about 450 million years, have possessed basically the same organic preconditions to perceive and enjoy their existence as today’s human beings. And it can be concluded beyond that, for several reasons, that their free existence in nature was actually accompanied with essentially higher intensity of both consciousness and enjoyment than humans living in civilization.

What actually is “consciousness”?

At first, it seems very difficult or even impossible to define and describe consciousness at all. But if one does not get entangled in the search for complicated solutions, but seeks explanations that are as clear as possible and, above all, solid, taking into account the state of empirical neuroscience, then an astonishingly stable picture emerges rather quickly. And it shows then that other animals, for example the blackbird or the squirrel, must have just as much of an “I,” a conscious perception horizon, as well as experiencing fundamentally the same sensations as we humans.

The easiest way to understand consciousness is the mechanical reflection of our own horizon of experience, so what we perceive as soon as we wake up in the morning. It can then first be stated without doubt that this perception is determined, to a substantial part, by stimuli and information, which the sense organs supply to us; this means, for example, the taste of food or drink, the seeing of optical information, the smelling of scent molecules and the hearing of acoustic stimuli, as well as the sensory feeling of warm or cold air on the skin.

Another undoubtedly essential component of perception, from the moment we wake up in the morning, is sensations and emotions, which in turn are produced in the brain itself. These include the “feelings of happiness” triggered in the so-called neuronal reward system by the body’s own opiates and other hormones, but also such perceptions as pain or anger among others.

The point of concentration of perception is the actual “I”

So, there are two very specific main qualities of which consciousness is essentially composed: on the one hand, the information that the sense organs provide us with, for example, through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or touching; and on the other hand, that of emotions and sensations triggered by organic structures and hormones in the brain.

And these two qualities must come together in something like a “point of concentration” and be “perceived” there. If this were not so, then there would be no sensory organs, no neural pathways and no neural reward systems with their hormones. And since all animals equipped with a central nervous system have sensory organs, neural pathways and neural reward systems, it is impossible for them not to have such a point of concentration and perception. This is already the clearest and most stable proof for the fundamental existence of their perceiving consciousness.

All exclusivities of man were inventions without any evidence

Before we now take a closer look at the relevant empirical findings concerning organic structures, we can insert further, indirect proof in the form of a counter-check of all such earlier assertions, which refers to alleged fundamental peculiarities and exclusivities of human consciousness compared to that of other animals.

In this way it becomes apparent that not a single one of these assertions stands up to examination, no matter whether they were of religious, esoteric or philosophical origin. It was always a question of illusions of the collective subconscious and targeted lies, often formed trickily and with much imagination and fantasy, mostly on the basis of written constructs put together over many years for the purpose of negating the consciousness of the other animals.

Among the best known and oldest of these trickeries was the exclusive “soul” of man. In this concept, the animal species Homo sapiens is supposed to have a special soul, which does not exist in other animals. The problem with this rather cheap trick, which is now somewhat out of fashion, was that no one could ever really pinpoint exactly what this “exclusive human soul” was supposed to be.

In the course of empirical research around cognition and brain, accordingly, nothing was ever found to confirm such an exclusivity of humans. In the sense of exclusivity, it was simply nothing more than a product of invention and fantasy. If one wants to define the “I” of the perceiving concentration point as a soul, then other animals have also had a soul for hundreds of million years.

The trick with the exclusive reason as a condition of the freedom

Another very well-known trick to forge an exclusive state of consciousness was invented by philosophers, and it went like this: Man is the only being on earth who has real “reason.” This concept of “exclusive reason” had two funtions: One of those was to create a characteristic that would support the idea of exclusive consciousness. And as a decisive addition to this,  the “exclusive reason” was also declared to be the absolute prerequisite for the state of freedom. Thus, the position of man was well settled: Only he had reason and, therefore, a proper consciousness and, therefore, only he could be in the state of freedom.

But, in recent times, this construction – which had been established for centuries – has gone somewhat out of fashion for several reasons. On the one hand – just as with the “exclusive soul” – a conclusive, or even empirically provable definition of the alleged exclusive reason of man has never been found. The only logical definition of the real reason would be the cognitive orientation of the decisions and actions of the rational being for the best possible and, thus, lasting self-survival, as well as the successful and sustainable transfer of the hereditary information onto following generations.

Ironically, today’s human beings seem, in relation to practically all other animals, to be equipped with a particularly low degree of such genuine reason. In the present, the destruction of our own bases of existence by us even makes the assertion of the “exclusive reason” of humans sound like an embarrassing joke.

Descriptions by early philosophers, like Descartes and Kant, of the alleged “exclusive reason” of man, which were often elaborated over hundreds of book pages, were, to a large extent, intellectual air knots. Their enormous popularity lay in the fact that the collective of mankind demanded exactly such a thing, i.e., an artificial elevation of man with simultaneous humiliation of the other living beings. The main goal was to legitimize the enslavement of other animals. So, it was surely no coincidence that the constructed “exclusive reason” should also be the basis of the “exclusive freedom” of man.

The simplification of the question of consciousness in the lay audience

Another well-known assertion to trick humanity into believing in their exclusive state of being was that of an I-consciousness, again without further substantiation. So, one said or wrote, for example: “I realize that I have a self and only we humans can realize this, but not the animals, and so only we humans can have a self and a real consciousness.”

This diffuse concept still sits quite firmly in the worldview of mankind. That this is different in relevant scientific circles is again due to the fact that, in the course of research on brain and cognition, simply nothing stable has been found that can justify the difference of our I-perception to that of other animals.

While the layman – well observable on the Internet – can simply babble: “But that is so. I know that only I as a human being can think and perceive myself and animals cannot do that,” such assumptions in empirical research need at least something tangible, i.e., something that can be proven beyond the pure idea and fantasy – which was never found.

The relatively strongly developed cerebral cortex is not the home of the “I” and of consciousness

Until the end of last millennium, there was actually still one rudimentarily justifiable argument left in serious research, which, however, has also dissolved since. Namely, it was assumed that the cerebral cortex, which is strongly developed in human brains relative to most other vertebrates, is the prerequisite and home of the ego-consciousness. From the 1980s on, more and more voices from the relevant expert circles pointed out that the cerebral cortex is not a central organic functional unit of the vertebrate brain, but a rather subordinate device compared to most organic brain structures.

In the 1990s, when computers became popular, comparisons with a hard disk, that is relatively powerful in humans but neutral with respect to consciousness, finally emerged. The fact that humans are actually capable of much higher levels of abstraction, usable for complex information exchange, was now recognized as a consequence of this “hard drive.” But, at the same time, the logical corollary insight crystallized that the actual “I” and the perception of the same must originate in the much older and more central regions of the brain.

When science realised that the cerebral cortex could not be the home of consciousness, it fled in another direction

The consequence of these new insights within serious regions of cognition research was practically a flight into another direction: From about the turn of the millennium, it was widely acknowledged that the cerebral cortex cannot be the place of origin of the consciousness and, therefore, other vertebrates must also have a consciousness, due to largely identical brain structures. But now it was said that the relatively strongly developed cerebral cortex in humans is not only to be regarded like the cold hard disk, but also as an amplifier of the richness of perception. This would mean, therefore, that the blackbird is also equipped with a perceptive concentration point and, thus, basically the same consciousness, but its experience horizon is substantially “poorer” than that of humans.

The following quotation, by António Damásio, professor of neurology and psychology at the University of Southern California, who is renowned in the field, illustrates the current view of cognitive scientists. He is on the cutting edge of his guild and summarized the relevant point as follows:

“Another thing that is interesting is that the brain stem that we have is shared with a variety of other species. So throughout vertebrates, the design of the brain stem is very similar to ours, which is one of the reasons why I think those other species have conscious minds like we do. Except that they’re not as rich as ours, because they don’t have a cerebral cortex like we do. That’s where the difference is. And I strongly disagree with the idea that consciousness should be considered as the great product of the cerebral cortex.“ [1] External Link: TED.com .

An animal freely existing and developing in nature must have a much more intense and richer horizon of experience than a “civilized” human

So now that the idea of the exclusive consciousness of man in relation to that of other animals has dissolved for lack of any proof and due to the evidence about the largely similar brain system, a completely new concept arises: One tries to find at least a gradual reduction of the consciousness of other animals. Their horizon of experience is to be shrunken to a rather pale and dull matter, while that of the human being is colorful, large and rich. However, it can easily be shown that also this assumption has no real basis and a deeper analysis even reveals the opposite.

Basically, a high richness within the concentration point of the consciousness can only arise from the fact that the perception there of incoming and processed sensory information, as well as the sensations, are as varied and intense as possible. And it can be assumed on the basis of much evidence that these parameters must be substantially higher on average with an animal freely existing in nature than today’s humans could experience.

The first reason for this assumption is that man, living in civilization, is at a level in terms of the intensity of his sensory perceptions far below that of most other vertebrates freely existing in nature. The visual, acoustic, olfactory, gustatory and sensory impressions perceived in the point of concentration, i.e., the ego, have, in the course of civilization’s development, greatly declined in terms of their intensity because they were much less needed and, therefore, much less used. Thus, there has been a far-reaching regression through disuse.

Practically all freely existing vertebrates’ performance abilities of sense perception exceed those of civilised man many times over. This was also the case in humans who still existed as hunter-gatherers and for whom much higher degrees of sensory performance of all kinds were described in earlier documentation.

One can assume, therefore, on the basis of the relatively much more sensitive sense organs and sense perception, that, for example, a deer or a blackbird in the forest hears, sees and smells much more than a human coming from the system of civilization. And there is no reason to assume that our relatively highly developed capacity for abstraction should cause an amplification and intensification of these essential building blocks of the horizon of experience and overall perception. Obviously, the new idea of a greater abundance of perception in civilised man has again sprung from the imagination and has no logic fundament at all. It may again take root in the minds of the general public, but it cannot be empirically justifiable in any way.

The neuronal reward system is built up, to a large extent, in the same way in all vertebrates

So, as far as it can be stably assumed that the main quality of sensory perception in “civilized” man takes place in relatively small degrees of intensity in comparison with another animals freely developed in nature, the next question would concern the intensity of sensations such as happiness, which proceed from organic structures of the brain.

First of all, it can be stated again with certainty that all formerly assumed fundamental exclusivities of man, with respect to emotions and feelings, have collapsed under the pressure of the findings of empirical research. In terms of vertebrates, there is nothing today that could provide an empirical justification for a difference between the feelings and emotions of, say, robins, pine martens, humans and salmon.

In 2011, for example, researchers at the University of Austin, Texas published the results of an extensive, systematic analysis for which several hundred relevant studies from the fields of neuroanatomy, neurochemistry, and genetics, for example, were examined. This evaluation, (The vertebrate mesolimbic reward system and social behavior network: a comparative synthesis) [2], showed that in all vertebrates, those parts of the brain that are responsible for the generation of most emotions and sensations have existed anatomically almost unchanged for 450 million years and have remained largely the same in all fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals to this day. This applies, among other things, to the aforementioned neural reward system, i.e., those areas in our brain which, with endorphins and other endogenous opiates, control behavior to a considerable extent and which, at an organic level, produce the pleasant feelings of happiness. And it also applies overall to the so-called “social network,” which extends far beyond the reward system, through the diencephalon to the anterior brainstem.

The sameness regards even the genetic structures and the various hormones and neurotransmitters. Thus, not only are the same dopamines used, but also the range of steroid and peptide hormones, such as the “social hormone” oxytocin. This study, which is practically universally accepted in the scientific community, is factual proof that everything we humans feel is basically felt in the same way by all other vertebrates.

Many scientists regarded the findings obtained in Austin as a departure for their entire guild into a completely new level of knowledge. The Viennese behavioral scientist and head of the famous Austrian Konrad Lorenz Research Center, Professor Kurt Kotrschal, called it a “once-in-a-century event.”

Free development in nature is the basis for the maximum intensity of sensations

As far as the question of the intensity of the basically equal sensations of all vertebrates is concerned, it is true that this cannot be measured as directly as sensory performance. But in view of the inevitably more intensive everyday use of all evolutionary developed and, thus, innate characteristics, qualities and needs in the original development space of nature, it can be assumed that the organic structures of the neuronal reward system must be used likewise, again, substantially stronger than in “civilized” humans.

In the logical sense, the complete free existence of all evolutionarily developed and innate characteristics of the individual in the original development space of nature is even the decisive basis and precondition for the maximum intensity of all sensations. This is because the evolutionary purposes of these sensations lay, without doubt, over several hundred million years, in the best possible existence in this space.

The many substitute actions of “civilized” man for the stimulation of the reward system can only approach this level but cannot possibly reach it. It doesn’t matter how this substitute stimulation is achieved, for example, by sports, art, drugs, food, media or any consumption of civilization products. Thus, it can be concluded that besides the first main quality of sensory perception, the intensity of sensations in free vertebrates in nature takes place on much higher degrees than we could experience and that this has been the case for almost half a billion years.

Invertebrates also have neural reward systems, including “happiness hormones”

Numerous empirical studies have been published in recent years, according to which not only vertebrates, but all animal species equipped with a central nervous system are endowed with largely the same organic prerequisites with regard to emotions and sensations. Evidence has been available for several decades that arthropods, such as insects and spiders, possess a neural reward system that functions very similarly to that of vertebrates [4]. The same structures and functions have even been demonstrated in relatively “simpler” animals – right down to the tiny nematodes, for example [5]. These are then really much less complex than those of blackbirds or humans. But, thus, not only the consciousness perceiving the sense impressions, but also its enjoyment of the self-determined and freely unfolded existence, becomes a fact proven in the empirical sense, which practically applies to the entire animal kingdom of the planet Earth.

The human language as philosophical “last lifeline” and the illusion of its function for thinking and consciousness

For the complete dissolution of the illusion of the exclusive consciousness of man, there is now one more point, which is used especially in the current philosophical guild like a last lifeline: Language. The hope is that this tool, with which all the artificial and, meanwhile, disproved constructions of the human exclusivities were built, simply becomes the proof in itself. But the fact that it is, again, only a trick for the invention of a special state of consciousness can be, likewise, proven easily in numerous empirical ways.

The human language is a method of exchanging information between the individuals of the animal species Homo sapiens. Other animal species also use diverse and often complex methods, most of which are just as closed to us humans as is the case, conversely, with other animals vis-à-vis our language. Thereby, the tools of information exchange used in the totality of other species extend over all senses and they are often incredibly complex and subtle. Insects, for example, sometimes use single-molecule scents for information transfer. And many birds, bats, fish, and other vertebrates use sounds that we cannot even hear.

Actual thinking and consciousness have nothing to do with the use of a language

A widespread illusion surrounding human language is to imagine that thinking only comes about through it. That this is really based on pure illusion can be seen quite practically: If one just wants to say something – i.e. to convey it abstractly – and the appropriate term does not come to mind. You know exactly what you want to express, what it is about, and “the word is on the tip of your tongue,” but you just can’t find it. Language is, therefore, only a secondary abstraction of the thoughts, which would exist otherwise, just the same, without language. And the actual thinking can be no more than the processing of incoming information in the conscious point of concentration, which must be just the same for other animals.

Due to the relatively strongly developed ability of abstraction of the human being, he might be able to extend his thinking to fields which are not mentally touched by other animal species. However, it can be recognized, for example, on the basis of most religious and philosophical concepts, that these fields are often or even to the greatest extent fantasy constructions which have nothing to do with reality.

Thus, language is in no way a precondition for an extended or more strongly felt “I,” nor otherwise for any sensations or for thinking. Even the physicist Albert Einstein, who succeeded in applying his thinking processes successfully to grasp reality and thereby demonstrated a very high capacity for abstraction, placed language in a completely void position in this regard:

“Neither written nor spoken words and language seem to play any role in my thinking process.” Albert Einstein, 1935 [6]

An obstacle to understanding lies in the shrunken horizon of experience of today’s man

Now, even for somebody from within civilization who understands and accepts everything written above, two problems remain, which, so to speak, make the complete comprehension of its enormous scope very difficult. The first consists in the fact that the higher intensity of perception of an animal existing freely in nature cannot be felt by him. While, so to speak, lying in the comfortable bed of civilisation without the need of developing our senses, and even the windows to the fresh air closed, we do not experience this intensity anymore and, therefore, logically cannot really “feel” it.

This problem can be counteracted somewhat by trying to put oneself mentally into the position of such an animal, freely existing in nature. On the foundation of the understanding that its consciousness is basically the same, this exercise can offer a good deal of insight into the undoubtedly very adventurous horizon of experience of, for example, a bird that is completely self-determined, flying through the air with nothing but its own body, spending the nights in the dark, swaying tree, and whose days are filled with exactly those activities that fit all its innate characteristics.

Today’s civilized man mistakenly imagines free development in nature as an unpleasantly perceived struggle for survival

Now the second problems appears: The person existing in civilised society tends to imagine this free existence, even if he no longer denies the enormous intensity of perception that goes with it, as a constant struggle for survival, that is, something that should feel rather unpleasant and frightening. This is also a pure illusion. It was built up in the context of the repression of the perversion of the enslavement of other lifeforms.

Typical characteristics within this illusion are, for example, such concepts as “cruel nature” or “eating and being eaten.” Man made them the maxim of nature in order to conceal one’s own cruelty, especially in regards to the lifelong enslavement of the other animals.

This last problem can also be counteracted with an exercise in the form of observation and reflection of real animals in nature. If one concentrates on this, then one will increasingly recognize that, for example, the blackbird in the forest is equipped with everything that is necessary for a very pleasurable perception of its own existence. So, when it sits in the dark, swaying tree at night, it doesn’t freeze because it can fluff up its feathers and feel comfortable even at low temperatures. If it recognizes a danger, for example from a predator, then it will outmaneuver it in terms of its quick reaction, if it is healthy.

For the blackbird, this natural danger is not frightening; it is as commonplace as the cars of which the practiced city dweller is constantly wary without fear. And when the blackbird hunts and gathers food during the day, it is like when a person can pursue his deepest passion as much as he wants.

The development of the free animals in the space of nature must be associated with such an extreme intensity of joy, pleasure and adventure that we civilised people can no longer perceive

For the free bird or any other free animal in nature, it is not at all like the experience of a modern man, who has to work within civilization, bending his original cognitive being in order to get the money for food. Blackbirds do the things that exactly and completely fit all their characteristics, qualities and needs, developed over millions of years of the evolution and innate to them as individuals. And they do so in complete self-determination and thus freedom.

The reality of this joyful existence is supported by testimonies of such people who, in the nineteenth century in Australia, met the still-existing human hunter-gatherers. The intensity of their perception, existing as they did within the system of nature, was still at a similar height as that of other free animals there. In 1848, the explorer Major Mitchell, one of the very few early European settlers of the Australian continent who were respectfully dedicated to the hunting and gathering Aborigines there, wrote about their existence, widely witnessed by him:

“Such health and exemption from disease, such intensity of existence, in short, must be far beyond the enjoyments of civilised men, with all that art can do for them; and the proof of this is to be found in the failure of all attempts to persuade these free denizens of uncivilised earth to forsake it for tilt soil.” [7].

Mitchell has described the reality of cognition and perception in nature so well in a single sentence that it probably could not be better. And a fitting complement to this is found in the words of Tom Petrie, who lived several years of his youth in Australia with pure hunter-gatherers, learned their languages and got to know their way of life more intensively than hardly any other European. He recalled, as an old man in 1904:

“To them it was a real pleasure getting their food; they were so light hearted and joyful, nothing troubled them; they had no bills to meet or wages to pay. And there were no missionaries in those day to make them think how bad they were.” [8].

CONCLUSIONS:

It can be stably established, using the latest of the relevant empirical sciences in conjunction with logic, that the planet Earth has been populated for some 500 million years by animals whose existences were accompanied by the fundamentally same consciousness and sensations as are present in us humans. Not one of the many attempts to negate the conscious existence of other animals in this respect and to degrade them to rather unconscious and insentient beings can stand up to examination. On the contrary, we are justified in concluding that the perceptive and sentient consciousness at least of vertebrates, which develop freely in nature, takes place and took place with a much higher intensity than we today’s humans in civilization could experience. Thus, as a final conclusion of this chapter, it can be stated that the planet Earth in these approximately 500 million years was not only a space of regular freedom, but also one of very intense adventure, pleasure and enjoyment.

Sources

[1] https://www.ted.com/talks/antonio_damasio_the_quest_to_understand_consciousness/transcript
[2] Comp Neurol. 2011 Dec 15;519 (18):3599-639, The vertebrate mesolimbic
reward system and social behavior network: a comparative synthesis. O’Connell LA1, Hofmann HA, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Texas at Austin, USA. PMID: 21800319 DOI: 10.1002/cne.22735
[3] Die Presse 18.06.2012 Kurt Kotrschal: Vom Fisch bis zum Menschen: Eine
einzige Mischpoche / Abgerufen am 24.03.2017 um 15:00 Uhr:
http://diepresse.com/home/meinung/wisskommentar/766884/Vom-
Fisch-bis-zum-Menschen_Eine-einzige-Mischpoche
[4] 2010 Barron, Sovik and Cornish: The Roles of Dopamine and Related Compounds in Reward-Seeking Behavior Across Animal Phyla; Front Behavior Neurosci. 2010; 4: 163.
[5] Chase, D. L., Koelle, M. R. WormBook. 2007 Feb 20: 1-15. Biogenic amine
neurotransmitters in C. elegans.
[6] Keith Devlin, Das Mathe-Gen oder wie sich das mathematische Denken
entwickelt Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2003, S. 153.
[7] Tim Low, Wild Food Plants of Australia, Angus & Robertson
[8] Tim Low, Wild Food Plants of Australia, Angus & Robertson