Are Animals Conscious?

I recognize that I have consciousness and am aware of who and where I am. But what about animals? Are they conscious?

The relationship between humans and other animals is complicated, to say the least.

Some animals we fear. Sometimes, that fear is obvious: sharp claws or piercing teeth are things to avoid. Others may be an evolutionary development, like fear of snakes or rats.

At the other end of the spectrum are animals we love. Ones we keep as pets, in particular dogs and cats, can become emotionally bonded to us. They might cuddle with us or attempt to please us in some way.

Still others we treat as food sources. Cows, pigs, and chickens are raised alongside many human cultures, providing milk or eggs, as well as meat.

Still other animals may not fit neatly into any of these categories. However, we can recognize their innate grace or beauty, and also see them as an important part of our ecosystem.

Regardless of the relationship, we can ask the question: Are animals conscious? We recognize the consciousness of ourselves and our fellow humans, even if we disagree with them or fight with them. But what about other animals?

If an animal is thirsty and then finds someplace to get a drink, is that an awareness of itself and its surroundings? Or is that simply instinct and not true awareness? What role does intelligence play?

And whatever answer you give, what are the ramifications of that answer? If you think that animals are indeed conscious, does that change the way we should treat them? Conversely, if you believe they are not self aware or aware of their environment, what conclusions can you draw?

Related questions: Do animals have rights? How are humans like other animals? How are they different? What is your favorite animal?

How Can Humans Become More Humane?

Human history is filled with aggression, violence, betrayal, greed, and other negative acts. How can we become more humane?

While there are plenty of instances of people treating each other with grace and dignity, the opposite is alarmingly common. And all too often, the underlying cause is suspicion and mistrust of the other.

It is easy to understand bad behavior when life and death is on the line. If my family is going to starve, I might steal your food to feed them. That may not be right, but it makes sense.

However, what do we make of more abstract differences? Why do we attack or enslave someone else because their skin color is different from ours? Or they pray to a different god? Or they speak a different language?

There may be an evolutionary cause to our behavior. A person who mistrusted others in different tribal groups may have been more likely to survive into adulthood and have offspring. We may be hardwired that way.

Now however, that same behavior is counterproductive at best, and actively destructive at worst. We can see divisions growing between groups for the simplest of reasons. People are insulted and attacked online, which ruins the experience for everyone. Misogyny, homophobia, racism all run rampant in today’s society.

Is there any way we can improve things? Can we train ourselves to treat others with respect and compassion, even if we don’t know them? Can we overcome our baser instincts and be more humane? On a personal level, what do you do if you suspect you might be succumbing to your darker nature?

Related questions: How can we encourage meaningful conversation? Why do we hate? How can you love someone who does something you hate? Why does social media often bring out the worst in us?