The last couple of weeks or even months, I'm thinking a lot about consciousness. I have some ideas I would really like to discuss with some open minded, philosophical people. And in the search for what to start with I thought this would be a good idea.

Looking forward to your answers.


Since it isn't clear what I mean by consciousness. Which isn't really a suprise as there is no concrete definition yet.

I contemplate that consciousness is us being aware of being and able to think phylosophically and decide on our actions and thoughts. Which is not to say, other animals couldn't do that. I just think they don't do, yet. From what I observed and read until now, it is totally possible, and I think likely, that all actions animals take are instinct or sub-conscious. Meaning, they aren't able to decide. Altough it may look like it sometimes.

I accepted Slup's answer. Because, in the end SE is still a Q&A site. I love all your answers, they give a nice, wide perspective. Slup's just rings with me the most.

Thank you everyone

  • Welcome to SE Philosophy! Thanks for your contribution. Please take a quick moment to take the tour or find help. You can perform searches here or seek additional clarification at the meta site. Don't forget, when someone has answered your question, you can click on the checkmark to reward the contributor.
    – J D
    Jan 13, 2020 at 1:02
  • Consciousness is generally understood not to require use and analysis of language and is generally accepted to occur by degree. Zen Buddhists chase forms of consciousness that might be understood as prelinguistic. Animals, such as Kanzi even have the ability to manipulate symbols, though they lack a true language, and there is a branch of ethology called cognitive ethology. The cognitive difference among apes is one of degree.
    – J D
    Jan 13, 2020 at 1:13
  • It seems you have spent no time observing animal behaviour. I would suggest following up on JD's comment and looking into Zen or more generally mysticism. Elsewhere consciousness is little studied, just brains and behaviour. Perhaps you could start with some youtube talks by people like Rupert Spira. . . .
    – user20253
    Jan 13, 2020 at 14:30
  • I don’t know the answer to your question. Christianity (at least as religion) wanted to make a big separation between man and animal. Since many more people in the West are now non-believers, I think we will begin to get a more honest appraisal of the intelligence of animals in the future.
    – Gordon
    Jan 13, 2020 at 15:54
  • @JD i still don't see how we would be able to know how animals experience life until we are able to somehow experience what they do. And as long as we can't do that, I think everything we conceptualise is speculation. I will look into what you've posted though. I want this to be a discussion, not an argument. Hence why I posted it in philosophy.
    – dscham
    Jan 13, 2020 at 16:14

4 Answers 4


I am aware of at most one serious falsifiable attempt of constructing theory of consciousness beyond the usual, mostly not falsifiable discussions in the philosophy of mind. I am speaking about integrated information theory. The main authors of IIT are Christof Koch and Gulio Tononi. They wrote interesting popularization books on the subject, that contain no mathematical details, but with lots of information concerning neuroscientific research, that supports IIT.

IIT defines a quantity that measures a degree of consciousness exhibited by the system. This quantity is called phi.

IIT predicts that not only certain animal brains (mammals included) support consciousness with substantial phi's, but even some not very complex artificial neural nets have nonzero phi's, although feedforward neural nets and von Neumann architecture computers have phi equal to zero.

For a mathematically detailed presentation of the theory in which some toy examples are presented c.f. the paper. For an even more rigorous mathematical treatment c.f. the paper.

  • That sounds interesting I will have a look. Thank you!
    – dscham
    Jan 12, 2020 at 22:19

There is really no doubt that animals have consciousness in the basic sense of the terms. They are aware of the world around them and respond to it: avoiding threats, consuming food, seeking out others of their kind... There's a more difficult question as to whether animals have a sense of self. Higher animals seem to, since they can order themselves into organized activities and communities — e.g., the fact that a dog can learn commands to work effectively with a human suggests that the dog is aware of its own role with respect to the human, which implies self-awareness — but that argument becomes more difficult to make for simpler animals.

What sets humans apart is our capacity for symbolic expression. Wolves can organize into a hunting pack just by observing each other and picking up cues to each other's behavior. Humans can plan out strategies, teach each other useful skills, assign rules and roles... all because we develop sets of symbols by which we pass such information.

  • I think animals have sub-consciousness in the form of instincts. I don't think they have a consciouseness they are aware of. Being able to think about ourselves and being itself, is what really makes us different. Is what I think. Not to say animals have no self. Many surely react on being an indivdiual. But can we say that is really self-awareness, or just memory and instinct?
    – dscham
    Jan 12, 2020 at 19:32
  • @Sens — 'Consciousness' is usually used in the sense of 'awareness'; all living creatures have that. What you're talking about is self-awareness (self-consciousness), and there is evidence that at least some animals have an awareness of self. Hunting dogs an instinct to hunt, sure, but they do not have an instinct to follow human commands. That is something they learn to do, and learning to take a particular role suggests that there is a concept of 'self' that can be put in relation to an 'other'. Jan 12, 2020 at 19:56
  • Does it though? That is the question. Are animals really aware of being or is everything they do just instinct or sub-conscious. We have no way to know. Do we? Even being able to train dogs doesn't mean anything neccessarily. Usually we train them by giving them food for doing something we want. So they only thing they actually learn is, if I do this I get something I want. Which is probaly the most basic form of instinct.
    – dscham
    Jan 12, 2020 at 20:00
  • Also, does being able to differentiate between you and I really mean you are aware?
    – dscham
    Jan 12, 2020 at 20:03
  • 1
    @Sens — Robots cannot evaluate stimuli (and in particular, they cannot evaluate novel stimuli). Give an incorrect input to a machine, and it will stall or crash; it won't adapt the way a sophisticated animal will. I'm not saying that robots could not eventually reach a level of consciousness; I'm saying that the comparison falls well short of the mark. Jan 13, 2020 at 0:23

I think anybody who is interested in this subject must first explore scientific studies of animal behaviour.

In my opinion, there are studies which show that even animals have at least an under-developed consciousness.

Evolutionary biologists may argue that neo-Drawinism (DNA mutations + natural selection) can also explain these advanced behaviours and therefore it is not necessary to hypothesize that animals have kind of a primitive consciousness.

But I do not think that neuroscience supports the belief that there is a special reason that only human brain can give rise to consciousness and animal brains are void of consciousness.

  • Hi ! I think it's fair to point out that a 'kind of a primitive consciousness' is probably not what the OP intends by 'consciousness as we perceive' or experience it. Otherwise I agree with your answer - and, of course, I welcome you to PSE.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 12, 2020 at 16:33
  • I'm with @GeoffreyThomas. Altough I'm not sure if animals have any kind of awareness of consciousness. As all their behaviour could be instinct as well I think. So they probalby have sub-conscious. I think what makes us different is awareness of being. Thank you for the welcome :)
    – dscham
    Jan 12, 2020 at 19:29

During my sociology study we were reading about a sociologist, philosopher and psychologist George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), who proposed that conciousness is a form of behaviour. He argued that a person's personality consisting of self-awareness and self-image, is a product of social experience. I found this a very interesting perspective to think about.

  • That's the kind of direction my thoughts are going into as well. Humans stopped or severely slowed down evolution in their bodies through civilization and medicine. But looking at global development you could find that evolution went over to our social behaviour. In turn I cam to the conclusion that our consciousness may be just evolution working in real-time instead of generations.
    – dscham
    Jan 12, 2020 at 23:38

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .