Animals, are they conscious?

Consciousness is the biggest mystery in science right now, how can it be possible? Certainly we are aware of ourselves right now, if we put our attention on our hands, the way our legs are placed in the chair that we are using to read this essay, we are able to capture that information and be aware of it. So, what is the reason for the lack of knowledge that we have about consciousness right now in science? The question about consciousness is as old as the approach that ancient philosophy had tried to understand it, around two thousand years ago, and we cannot figure it out yet.  Why does conscious experience exist? Does it depend on our physical system or any other animal can experience the same way we do? Why is all this processing accompanied by an experienced inner life? Can animals have an inner life?

It is really difficult for us to dictate that non-humans animals have an inner life if we cannot even understand what consciousness is. The term itself is ambiguous, something it is used to refer to a cognitive capacity, like the ability of recall or to report a mental state such as I am happy, I am thinking about this thing. Some other times it is used synonymously with awakeness, the ability to focus attention or being conscious of something. Therefore, when we are conscious we certainly know about something.

Is your dog aware about being a dog? We already know that your dog must be aware of being hungry and that is the reason you can see it searching for food around the house, and you already know that your dog recognize you when it hears your voice from the distance. Thus, your dog is aware. Your dog understands the information that it is receiving and it can process that data and make a response with it. If we go further with this idea we will see ourselves at the boundaries of our definition of consciousness.

Nobody can deny that your dog process and analyze information. However, nobody can be sure if our dog is having an inner life, have you ever been a dog before to be sure that it thinks? That is a common question that people ask you when you affirm that animal must have a sort of consciousness. Though they are not wrong remembering a common problem we have in Comparative Psychology, anthropomorphism.  The study of the behavior and mental processes of non-human animals can be biased by our own conscious’ experience.

Nevertheless, science needs to develop and clarify the facts around consciousness to comprehend it in other non-humans animals. We already know their behavior and the possibility of recognize some qualities that we share with them. Yet, we cannot settle completely what is happening inside their heads, and this is not the end of this story, neuroscience and philosophy of mind are working together to bring to light this mystery.


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