The Cambridge Declaration on Animal Consciousness

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


• 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.”

* The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was written by Philip Low and edited by Jaak Panksepp, Diana Reiss, David Edelman, Bruno Van

Swinderen, Philip Low and Christof Koch. The Declaration was publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on July 7, 2012, at the Francis Crick

Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals, at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, by Low, Edelman and

Koch. The Declaration was signed by the conference participants that very evening, in the presence of Stephen Hawking, in the Balfour Room at the Hotel du Vin in Cambridge, UK. The signing ceremony was memorialized by CBS 60 Minutes.



It would be good to see animal sentience being recognized under the law in the U.S. In the U.K. this initiative is being questioned in the parliamentary division of the House of Lords which was reported by the British Veterinary Association, of which I am a member in their journal, the Veterinary Record. I sent the following response…

The Veterinary Record (1017 July 2021 p. 7) quotes by some peers in the House of Lords concerning government plans to recognize animal sentience reveals degrees of sentience and sapience within that august body.

Sentience is defined in the English Cambridge dictionary as the quality of being able to experience feelings the quality of being able to experience feelings.

According to Damasio, ( 1) sentience is a minimalistic way of defining consciousness, which otherwise commonly and collectively describes sentience plus further features of the mind and consciousness, such as creativity, intelligence, sapience, self-awareness, and intentionality (the ability to have thoughts about something). These further features of consciousness may not be necessary for sentience, which rests on the capacity to feel sensations and emotions.

Accepting that sentience can vary individually within and between species it is surely incumbent upon any civilized, humane society to acknowledge the existential reality of animal sentience, a quality of all sensate life forms once denied to our own species captured and sold into slavery.

While some of the peers voiced opposition from various perspectives, fearing anthropomorphism, increased bureaucracy and personnel costs and even the moral foundation of society, simply acknowledging animal sentience will help move society toward seeking humane alternatives, such as artificial fishing lures rather than live worms and minnows on hooks: And, as Lord Benyon stated, “we owe a duty of care to the animal kingdom”. Expert committees debating and defining degrees of sentience in different species are a poor substitute for promoting compassionate regard for all sentient life.

Michael W. Fox Golden Valley Minnesota USA REFERNCE 1.Damasio, Antonio “Fundamental feelings”. Nature. 2001;413 (6858): 781.