It’s impossible to really know what it is like to be a cow, an octopus or an elephant but if you were to try and explain what it is like to be a human you would be hard stuck to give a concise answer.
One dominant perspective in our quest to understand animals has been to draw a distinction between humans and animals; humans are conscious beings, animals aren’t. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy. Although considering the notion that animals are sentient beings is gaining ground there is still a significant inherent belief that animals don’t have consciousness because scientists fail to know anything about their minds.
Is science the answer to understanding animals? It’s very difficult to prove consciousness in a laboratory but scientists still insist that we can’t assume that animals think and have emotions without scientific proof.
Animal behaviourists that observe animals in the wild have been scrutinised in the past for not taking a more scientific approach to analysing animal behaviour.
Jane Goodall wasn’t taken seriously for many years because she named the chimpanzees that she was observing instead of allocating numbers to them but nonetheless she made some groundbreaking discoveries through her observations. Now we know that chimpanzees express confusion, boredom, worry, embarrassment, play games, hold hands, dance in the rain and in fact live complex emotional lives within highly sophisticated social structures.
While some believe that animals are sentient they have difficulty in agreeing that animals have a mental experience, rather they sense things without having any sensation of what they are experiencing.
Whatever consciousness is, cows, elephants, octopuses and bees, they too, experience life. Who are we to say otherwise? They don’t need to be able to talk to communicate this, they communicate well enough, it is us that don’t understand. To those who observe them it’s very obvious that animals are conscious.. Animals snort, bark, roar, grunt, cry and squeak but the question should not be do they communicate but rather, what do they mean?
Dr. Carl Safina, a biologist and conservationist, in his book Beyond words, argues ‘In our estrangement from nature we have severed our sense of the community of life and lost touch with the experience of other animals.’
A recent study published in iScience suggests that octopuses are likely to feel and respond to pain like mammals. The San Francisco state University conducted a study on vertebrates to see if pain leads to suffering. In other words to see if they have a mental or emotional experience when pain is inflicted ie: consciousness.
But due to the absence of proof on consciousness awareness or sentience in cephalopods and to prove the hypothesis, octopuses were specifically included in the test as they were the most neurologically complex invertebrates.
The octopuses had their arms crushed or cut off and acid injected to see if they were capable of experiencing both the physical and emotional aspects of pain. I think you can probably guess the outcome of the experiment.
If you have had the pleasure of watching ‘My Octopus Teacher’ on Netflix you’ll discover, if you didn’t already know, how absolutely amazing octopuses are and how humans and other animals can form the most profound and intimate relationships based on mutual respect and love.
Millions of sentient, conscious beings that experience love, pain and joy are being tortured daily in laboratories all around the world in the name of science. Billions of other sentient, conscious beings are suffering everyday in factory farms justified by self-interested motives and many animals, stolen from the wild, are suffering to the degree where they go insane are kept in enclosures too small for them, purely for our entertainment.
Denying that animals have a conscience or whether humans can know if they have a conscience is an absurd ongoing debate within science. We need to spend more time advocating for ways to stop humans causing other animals so much pain and terror.
“From the heart, for the greater good.”