Research shows that consciousness isn’t what makes humans special

In a time where there is increasing recognition of animals as "sentient" in the law of countries around the world, the question is "where do we draw the line"? If an animal is not defined within the relevant piece of legislation, then it doesn't have the benefit of the respective protections. So what do YOU think about the octopus? Is it "in" or "out" as a sentient creature warranting the protections of the law?

ctopuses are the most complex animal with the most distant common ancestor to humans. There’s some uncertainty about which precise ancestor was most recently shared by octopuses and humans, but, Godfrey-Smith says, “It was probably an animal about the size of a leech or flatworm with neurons numbering perhaps in the thousands, but not more than that.”This means that octopuses have very little in common with humans, evolution-wise. They have developed eyes, limbs, and brains via a completely separate route, with very different ancestors, from humans. And they seem to have come by their impressive cognitive functioning—and likely consciousness—by different means.

“A real alien would be a sentient being with no common ancestry with us at all, arising completely independently,” says Godfrey-Smith, who published a book on consciousness and octopuses earlier this year. “We might never meet that—if we do, that would be great. If we don’t, the octopus is our best approximation because there’s a historical connection but it was a long time ago.”

There’s no clear way of evaluating consciousness in other animals (or in other humans, for that matter—it’s quite possible that you’re the only conscious being alive and everyone you know is merely displaying signs of consciousness rather than truly experiencing it). But we can certainly make educated guesses. Broadly speaking, consciousness is often defined as there being an experience of what it’s like to be said creature. 

Read more in the source article.

See also:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/15/other-minds-peter-godfrey-smith-review-octopus-philip-hoare