The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

cambridge declaration on consciousness

On the 7th of July, 2012, a group of scientists released the “Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness”.1 The statement puts forth the case that many animals are conscious, even if in different degrees and qualities than humans. There is enough evidence to render untenable Descartes’ conception of animals as automatons without any inner life. We endorse this declaration and hereby reproduce the declaration in full below:


The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at The University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observations can be stated

  • The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving. Abundant new techniques and strategies for human and non-human animal research have been developed. Consequently, more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field. Studies of non-human animals have shown that homologous brain circuits correlated with conscious experience and perception can be selectively facilitated and disrupted to assess whether they are in fact necessary for those experiences. Moreover, in humans, new non-invasive techniques are readily available to survey the correlates of consciousness.
  • The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures. In fact, subcortical neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals. Artificial arousal of the same brain regions generates corresponding behavior and feeling states in both humans and non-human animals. Wherever in the brain one evokes instinctual emotional behaviors in non-human animals, many of the ensuing behaviors are consistent with experienced feeling states, including those internal states that are rewarding and punishing. Deep brain stimulation of these systems in humans can also generate similar affective states. Systems associated with affect are concentrated in subcortical regions where neural homologies abound. Young human and nonhuman animals without neocortices retain these brain-mind functions. Furthermore, neural circuits supporting behavioral/electrophysiological states of attentiveness, sleep and decision making appear to have arisen in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, being evident in insects and cephalopod mollusks (e.g., octopus).
  • Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex. Magpies in particular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.
  • In humans, the effect of certain hallucinogens appears to be associated with a disruption in cortical feedforward and feedback processing. Pharmacological interventions in non-human animals with compounds known to affect conscious behavior in humans can lead to similar perturbations in behavior in non-human animals. In humans, there is evidence to suggest that awareness is correlated with cortical activity, which does not exclude possible contributions by subcortical or early cortical processing, as in visual awareness. Evidence that human and nonhuman animal emotional feelings arise from homologous subcortical brain networks provide compelling evidence for evolutionarily shared primal affective qualia.


We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”



Photo: Asiatic Elephant, Sirkaanth Sekar

1 – The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness
The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness



Tagged with:    

Popular Articles

Elephant looking in mirror
List of Animals That Have Passed the Mirror Test
Posted in: General, Main

The mirror test was developed by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr.1 in 1970 as a method for determining whether a non-human animal has the ability of self-recognition. It’s also known as the “mark test” or “mirror self-recognition test” (MSR). When conducting the mirror test, scientists place a visual marking on an animal’s body, usually with scentless paints, […]

Read More

Most comments

altruism in chimpanzees
Altruism in Chimpanzees
Posted in: Main, Mammals

In 2005, Drs. Felix Warnecken and Michael Tomasello conducted a study on altruism in human infants and chimpanzees.1 Altruism is taking action to help someone else, even when that action won’t be reciprocated or otherwise benefit oneself. To put it simply, altruistic actions are motivated purely by the desire to […]

Read More


Animal Cognition (.org) explores and covers research on the mental capacities of animals: how animals think, solve problems, understand concepts, communicate, and empathize.