Week7_Animal consciousness by Khoa Truong-N

Are humans the only beings who possess consciousness or are there more out there like us?  According to Siddharth Ramakrishnan, consciousness is present in nearly all forms of life.  Humans have consciousness, but so does every other species on Earth.  One of Ramakrishnan’s examples in lecture was the octopus.  He made a very interesting point of how octopi have the ability to camouflage themselves whenever they sense that they are in danger.  The fact that the octopus camouflages itself indicates that it is not only physically but also mentally aware of its present situation, and the octopus understands the need to protect itself from danger.  There are also many more animals that exhibit a consciousness.  For example, in my neurobiology seminar class this quarter, we studied the behavior of rainbow trout when placed in a tank with another one of its kind.  When two of the fish were placed in the same tank, they would confront each other and begin to fight each other for dominance of each other’s territory.  The rainbow trout felt threatened by the presence of the other fish, so it would fight the other to not only increase its territory but to control its fellow fish as well.  This type of behavior is also seen in some human beings too.  When threatened by a foreign presence, some human beings will confront the threat and attempt to subdue their opponent.  Bullies are known to do this, but entire countries can also do this if they feel that they have been threatened (such as the United States).  Not only do the fish possess a consciousness, but they are also aware of a social hierarchy as well.  The fish recognize   With this being said, Siddharth Ramakrishnan’s lecture has led me to see a different perspective on the ways animals are treated by humans.  Although animals do not have the capabilities to better their situations, they are still driven by the instinct to survive by any means possible.  Isn’t that what we humans try to do as well? Survive by any means possible.  Humans go to school to learn the skills to survive in the “real world”, work hard for each other to create a steady income, find places to build a habitable shelter, and in general, will do whatever it takes to ensure that all their needs and wants are readily available whenever they want it. All humans and animals contain the basic instinct to survive.  I believe that   awareness is an indicator of consciousness regardless of how large the brain.
Animals may not be as mentally developed as humans but I believe that they too have the ability of sentient thought.  While animals may not be able to directly communicate with us, they interact with us in ways that transcend exchanges of sound.  When I was a child, I used to help feed my father’s chickens nearly everyday, so after a few weeks, whenever the chickens saw me they would run up to me expecting their next meal.  The chickens remembered me and perhaps even understood the role I played in their lives.  Despite what some people may think, animals have the capacity to remember many things including their own image.  After Ramakrishnan discussed the elephant that could recognize itself in the mirror, I was reminded of a video I saw on youtube where an elephant not only remembers itself but also is even able to paint itself.  I found that especially entertaining since some human beings could not have done a better job.  Of course, there are some animals that can talk too such as some birds and even dogs!
Overall, it was fascinating to see how close to animals we humans are.  I believe that sometimes as humans, we see ourselves as the ultimate beings and analyze only ourselves.  In doing this, we are not only taking for granted the presence of the other life forms we share this Earth with, but we are underestimating their significance as well.  Once we see how much we have in common with animals can we begin to study them and perhaps from them we can learn something new about ourselves.

Elephant paints a self-portrait

Magpie recognizes itself in a mirror

Siamese fighting fish

These animals know their way home!


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