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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VI. Life’s Cerebral Cognizance Becomes More Complex, Smarter, Informed, Proactive, Self-Aware

1. Animal Intelligence, Persona and Sociality

    As these anatomical, physiological, and neural faculties evolve and emerge they achieve a generally increased measure of cognitive acumen and retained memory, appropriate to a organism’s diverse ecological niche. But before the 21st century, a preferred view was that only humans had consciousness and culture. Animals were insensate automatons, and treated as such. A revolution was initiated by this 1992 edition by the Harvard zoologist Donald Griffin (1915-2003), a pioneer advocate for creaturely intelligence and aware behavior. In the years since, an expansive project has studied and quantified the presence of a relative cognizance, stored knowledge, emotional personalities, clever tool use and more through every animal kingdom from primates to dolphins, crows, parrots, zebra fish, to colonial invertebrates, which is actually quite akin to ourselves. While anthropomorphism was long frowned on, today it would seem that a common repertoire of animal cognitive selves occurs in beneficial kind across all Metazoan vertebrates and beyond.


2020: As the cover image bookends, a revolution has taken place since the early 1990s when animals were still seen as instinctive, dumb beasts. Today, as we well know, all great and small creatures are known to possess an intelligent sentience, personality, clever behaviors, quorum senses, empathy, salutary groupings and more. Rather then anthromorphic concerns as before, it seems that animals actually have a whole human-like array of cognitive and communal qualities. As references here and elsewhere convey, it could appear as if an independent, common cognitive and social repertoire extends through life’s evolutionary fauna and flora from the earliest neural occasion to our nascent personsphere.

Into 2021, we add an expanded title by way of a Natural AI: Animal Intelligence and Behavioral Sociality. In regard, recent contributions by wise women scientists such as Lori Marino, Jennifer Mather, Nicola Clayton, Tanya Latty, and Suzanne Simard reveal the deep communal sensitivities of emergent life’s fauna and flora.

Allen, Jenny. Community through Culture from Insects to Whales. BioEssays. October, 2019.
Baluska, Frantisek, et al. Memory and Learning in Plants. International: Springer, 2018.
Birch, Jonathan, et al. Dimensions of Animal Consciousness. Trends in Cognitive Science.. August 2020.
Gagliano, Monica. The Mind of Plants. Communicative & Integrative Biology. 10/2, 2017.
Japyassu, Hilton and Kevin Laland. Extended Spider Cognition. Animal Cognition. 20/3, 2017.
Kelly, Debbie and Stephen Lea. Animal Cognition: Past Present and Furute: a 25th Anniversary Special issue. Animal Cognition. December 2022.
Marino, Lori and Debra Merskin. Intelligence, Complexity, and Individuality in Sheep. Animal Sentience. Vol. 4, 2019.

Mather, Jennifer. What is in an Octopus’s Mind? Animal Sentience. Volume 5, 2019.
Pfeffer, Sarah and Harald Wolf. Anthropod Spatial Cognition. Animal Cognition. 23/11, 2020.
Regolin, Lucia and Giorgia Vallortigara. Rethinking Cognition: From Animal to Minimal. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. Volume 564, 2021.
Simard, Suzanne. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. New York: Knopf, 2021.
Vonk, Jennifer and Todd Shackelford, eds. Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior International: Springer, 2019.
Yong, Ed. An Immense world: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us. New York: Random House, 2022.


Animal Consciousness. wp.nyu.edu/consciousness/animal-consciousness. The website for a conference held at New York University in November 2017 with an international array of scientists and philosophers such as Eva Jablonka (Abstract next), David Chalmers, Todd Feinberg, Joseph LeDoux, Diana Reiss, Bjorn Merker, and Marian Dawkins.

There has been a recent flourishing of scientific and philosophical work on consciousness in non-human animals. This conference will bring together philosophers and scientists to ask questions such as: Are invertebrates conscious? Do fish feel pain? Are non-human mammals self-conscious? How did consciousness evolve? How does research on animal consciousness affect the ethical treatment of animals? What is the impact of animal consciousness upon theories of consciousness and vice versa? What are the best methods for assessing consciousness in non-human animals? (Summary)

Consciousness As We Know It: The Role of Learning: I present an evolutionary framework for the study of minimal biological consciousness that is inspired by the study of the transition from inanimate matter to life. According to this approach, consciousness, like life, is a teleologically-intrinsic mode of being, which should be understood as a dynamic system of interacting biological processes. I identify an overt behavioural trait of the system — unlimited associative learning (UAL) — as the evolutionary transition marker for consciousness. This evolutionary marker corresponds to an evolved capacity that enables the functional reconstruction of the system that supports it, a system that instantiates the set of properties that are considered individually necessary and jointly sufficient for minimal consciousness. This approach leads to experimental predictions, has implications for the taxonomic distribution of consciousness in the animal world, and dissolves the problem of attributing a special “function” for consciousness. (Eva Jablonka)

Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals. www.fcmconference.org.. As the proceedings of the Francis Crick Memorial Conference held in July 2012 at the University of Cambridge. Francis Crick (1916-2004), as you know codiscover with James Watson of the DNA double helix, in later decades turned his unique acumen to studies of cognitive sentience. This meeting brought together a leading array of neuroscientists such as Irene Pepperberg, Christoph Koch, Diana Reiss, Ryan Remedios, Jaak Panksepp, along with physicist Stephen Hawking. A typical presentation is “Through the Eyes of an Octopus: An Invertebrate Model for Consciousness Studies” by David Edelman. And a result, a closing “Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness,” excerpted below and which gained much press, (Google for full online), affirmed (or gave scientific blessings to what we all know) that our creaturely companions large and small are much as aware and smart as we.

The First Annual Francis Crick Memorial Conference, focusing on "Consciousness in Humans and Non-Human Animals", aims to provide a purely data-driven perspective on the neural correlates of consciousness. The most advanced quantitative techniques for measuring and monitoring consciousness will be presented, with the topics of focus ranging from exploring the properties of neurons deep in the brainstem, to assessing global cerebral function in comatose patients. Model organisms investigated will span the species spectrum from flies to rodents, humans to birds, elephants to dolphins, and will be approached from the viewpoint of three branches of biology: anatomy, physiology, and behavior. Until animals have their own storytellers, humans will always have the most glorious part of the story, and with this proverbial concept in mind, the symposium will address the notion that humans do not alone possess the neurological faculties that constitute consciousness as it is presently understood.

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. ….the following observations can be stated unequivocally: Furthermore, neural circuits supporting behavioral/electrophysiological states of attentiveness, sleep an 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.

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.”

, . Schnell, Alexandra, et al. The Inner Lives of Cephalopods. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 63/6, December 2023.. Integrative and Comparative Biology,. 63/6, 2023. In a special section on Cephalopod Science: from Ecology to Cognition, University of Cambridge biopsychologists including Nicola Clayton spell out a respectful, muti-part program going forward which now allows that these highly intelligent, clever beings do possess a deeply sensitive awareness. In more regard, it is now accepted that all manner of great and small vertebrate and otherwise creatures are graced with degrees of cleverness, empathy, foresight that we have just begun to appreciate. See also Cephalopod-omics: Emerging Fields and Technologies in Cephalopod Biology by Tom Baden, et al and Climate-Change Impacts on Cephalopods by Francisco Borges, et al in this segment.

The minds of cephalopods have captivated scientists for millennia, yet the extent to which we can understand their subjective experiences remains elusive. In this article, we consider scientific progress towards these insights. We consider three broad research categories about whether soft-bodied cephalopods (octopus, cuttlefish, and squid) have an awareness of self, others, and of time. We argue that investigations, especially framed through the lens of comparative psychology, have the potential to extend our understanding of the inner lives of this extraordinary class of animals.

A cephalopod is any member of the molluscan class Cephalopoda such as a squid, octopus, cuttlefish, or nautilus. These exclusively marine animals are characterized by bilateral body symmetry, a prominent head, and a set of arms or tentacles modified from the primitive molluscan foot.

Gunturkun, Onur, et el. Why birds are smart. Trends in Cognitive Science. December, 2023. Ruhr University Bochum, Germany neuropsychologists (search OG) offer a uniquely perceptive explanation of how very minimal CNS brain densities and sizes of Metazon avians are yet capable of intelligent, social, even human-like behaviors. Bird brains are just a few grams in weight. But as the quotes say, the latest neuroscience findings open to new appreciations of neural cognizance.

Many cognitive neuroscientists believe that both a large brain and an isocortex are crucial for complex cognition. Yet corvids and parrots possess non-cortical brains of just 1–25 g, and can exhibit cognitive abilities comparable with chimpanzees, who have brains of about 400 g. This paper explores how a cognitive equivalence is yet possible. We propose four features that may be required for complex cognition: a large number of associative pallial neurons, a prefrontal cortex (PFC)-like area, a dense dopaminergic innervation, and neurophysiological fundaments for working memory. These four neural features have convergently evolved and may represent ‘hard to replace’ mechanisms. (Abstract)

We have described a speculative list of neural features that characterize convergently evolved neural systems for complex cognition in birds and mammals. This collection and the concepts from which they originate need thorough empirical testing in a large variety of species. To study these and other endeavors is not easy, but its reward could be the discovery of universal neural mechanisms for cognitive prowess. If indeed nature faces limited degrees of freedom to evolve smart brains, we should be able to identify such common neural patterns across a wide variety of species. (10)

Agrillo, Christian, et al. Evidence for Two Numerical Systems That Are Similar in Humans and Guppies. PLoS One. Online February 15, 2012. As a result of clever counting experiments with undergraduate students and aquarium fish, University of Padova, and University College of London, neuroscientists find the same cognitive faculties in effect across widely disparate, yet related, species.

Our results suggest that two distinct systems underlie quantity discrimination in both humans and fish, implying that the building blocks of uniquely human mathematical abilities may be evolutionarily ancient, dating back to before the divergence of bony fish and tetrapod lineages.

Allen, Jenny. Community through Culture from Insects to Whales. BioEssays. Online October, 2019. After some two decades of wide ranging, clever studies, a Griffiths University, Australia environmental philosopher can now aver that a variety of creaturely groupings such as insects, fishes, elephants, and cetaceans are graced by behavioral attributes of cooperative foraging, resource sharing, educating young, many ways to communicate, and so on. While not overly anthropomorphic, a familiar suite of human-like social activities is quite evident. See also, e.g., Cultural Flies by Etienne Danchin, et al in Science (362/1025, 2018) about fruit fly relations.

Angier, Natalie. Parrots Are a Lot More Than “Pretty Bird.”. New York Times. March 22, 2016. The Psittaciformes order of parrots, parakeets, macaws and cockatoos never ceases to amaze and inform, as this review of current research conveys. The premier investigator, Irene Pepperberg of Alex the parrot fame, advises that they are “feathered primates,” just as relatively intelligent and creative. By virtue of their clever food gathering, tool making, articulate calls, mimic skill, and group sociality, it would seems that such a behavioral complex similar to human cultures will evolve and develop wherever it possibly can.

Anthes, Emily. Cold-Blooded Does Not Mean Stupid. New York Times. November 19, 2013. A Science Times report on how smart and foxy mammals are, which goes on to findings by Duke University’s Manuel Leal that all manner of reptiles – lizards, turtles, snakes - have similar acumens for navigational skills, problem solving to get food, learning through observation, along with social strategies.

Anthes, Emily. Why Did the Chicken Cross the Barn? To Sign Up for Scientific Study. New Yortk times. November 22, 2022. And a growing body of research suggests that domestic species are brainy beings: Chickens can anticipate the future, goats appear to solicit help from humans, and pigs may pick up on one another’s emotions. Farm Sanctuary, which was founded in 1986, has always held that farm animals are sentient beings, even referring to its feathered and four-legged residents as “people.” “They have their own desires, and their own wants and preferences and needs, and their own inner lives — the same way that human people do,” said Lauri Torgerson-White, the sanctuary’s director of research.

Aplin, Lucy. Culture and Cultural Evolution in Birds. Animal Behavior. Online June, 2018. A zoologist with dual postings at MPI Ornithology and Oxford University describes novel ways that along with a comparable cognitive acumen of individual creatures, animal groupings of many foraging and migratory kinds are being found to possess external, accumulated social mores.

Social learning from the observation of knowledgeable individuals can allow behaviours, skills and techniques to spread across populations and transmit between generations, potentially leading to emergent cultures. An increasing body of research has not only evidenced the occurrence of cultural behaviour in nonhuman animals, but also hypothesized that such cultures could ‘evolve’ over time in a way that shares key characteristics with biological evolution, including through a process of selection on variance, inheritance and adaptation. Outside of humans, song and contact calls in birds provide by far the most comprehensive evidence for culture and cultural evolution. I discuss the evidence in birds for four key concepts of cultural evolution: (1) variation, selection, inheritance, (2) adaptation, (3) geographical and demographic processes and (4) the accumulation of modifications. (Abstract excerpt)

Arhem, Peter and Hans Liljenstrom. On the Coevolution of Cognition and Consciousness. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 187/601, 1997. An advocacy of the parallel increase of brain complexity and sentient mind.

We suggest that cognition, that is knowledge processing mediated by a centralized nervous system, shows the same principal features as non-neural adaptive processes. Similarly, consciousness can be said to appear, to different degrees, at different stages in evolution. (610)

Avital, Eytan and Eva Jablonka. Animal Traditions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. A contribution to the incipient witness of culture in primates and mammals, which introduces a new domain of behavioral inheritance to supplant molecular genetic effects alone.

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