What evidence is there that animals are conscious beings? | Frans de Waal


Well, my cynical reaction to questions about
consciousness is, “You tell me what it is, and I tell you if an elephant has it.” And that usually shuts people up, because
you will not be able to tell me what it is and how I should measure it. That is not a good reaction, because I actually
believe that animals have some level of consciousness. So for example, the approach that I sometimes
take is that there are certain things that we humans cannot do without consciousness. If we find these kind of actions also in other
species, we must assume that they also involve consciousness. So for example, you cannot plan a party for
tomorrow for your friends without consciously thinking about how much beer you need, what
kind of music you’re going to play, who’s going to be invited. You have to consciously think about the event
before you can plan it. Now we have very good evidence that animals
can plan. We have lots of experiments now on it. And we have nature observations. For example, chimpanzees will collect tools
on one location and then walk for three miles. And so then an hour later, they’re going to
use these tools to fish for termites or to open a beehive, meaning that they probably
had been planning the action. And we test that out in the laboratory. And we have evidence for planning in birds,
for planning in apes. So if they can plan, and we plan consciously,
it’s very hard to imagine that they can do these same things that we do unconsciously. I find that hard to imagine. We have other things, like thinking back in
time, thinking back to events that happened a year ago. Can you do that? We have now ways of testing that it’s called
episodic memory in animals. And animals have that capacity. You cannot think back to a specific event
in time, let’s say your wedding or whatever it is, you cannot think back to a specific
event without consciously thinking about that. And so there are certain things that animals
do and that we have now evidence for that require in humans consciousness, and I think
that’s a good indicator that the animals must also have that kind of consciousness.

100 thoughts on “What evidence is there that animals are conscious beings? | Frans de Waal

  1. Is consciousness complex thought and emotion? I’m trying to think of AI and what they would have to do to be considered conscious and then applying that to animals.

  2. Just as the thought of a tree, is not a tree, no thought is reality.
    Humans cover and camouflage reality with thoughts about it. Whereas other animals live in a more raw and true relationship with it.

  3. Many propably are concious beings. Just very simple and stupid. You can’t teach a dolphin to use a giant underwater ipad so it could write emails to you cos’ its dumber than a 2 year old human baby.

  4. Evidence, Because I say they're all conscious because i'm conscious, Its all he evidence I need you sick monsters. You are less than animals , so stupid humans are , and we feel left out of the pack because, we were removed from the animal world. even the animals didn't want us we were to destructive, and we haven't proved them wrong.

  5. You don't need consciousness to plan anything. It takes intelligence. I guess he's asking people to tell him what consciousness is because he has no idea.

  6. I won't be convinced that any animal is as intelligent or conscience as humans until you can prove to me that they are more passionate about protecting their ego than admitting the truth.

  7. Monarch butterflies for example.
    I don't think they are actually conscious of the geography they travel on.

  8. The main problem here, which he points out at the beginning, is how we define 'consciousness'.

    It certainly doesn't seem to be a precise scientific term, so it is up for grabs.

    Because of that, I will make up my own definition:

    'Consciousness is when lifeforms are aware of themselves as being distinct from their surrounding environment.'

    When he mentioned things like forward thinking or episodic memory, I think it limits 'consciousness' too much and makes it way too specific.

    Instead, I have tried to define it based upon looking at its opposite – namely being 'unconscious'.

    Being unconscious is being unaware of something or being unaware of anything at all, such as being knocked out or anesthetized.

    When we are rendered 'unconscious', the brain is still functioning, but we don't even dream, let alone respond voluntarily to stimuli.

    Then of course, there is the 'subconscious' which doesn't 'think' as such, and which we seem to experience most vividly when we are asleep and dreaming.

    But while we don't 'think' consciously in dreams (like seeing a dead person in a dream but forgetting that they'd died until we wake up), we are still usually aware of ourselves as an entity acting within a separate environment, with conscious elements thrown in during lucid dreaming or when there are flashes of 'thinking' or 'planning' during the dream.

    So that makes it 'lesser' (sub) than full consciousness, but is still a type of consciousness.

    What this means is that any lifeform that has awareness of itself in an environment beyond the autonomic responses of 'unconsciousness' can be considered to have some form of 'consciousness'.

    And that doesn't neccessarily even imply nerve cells.

    I may come back to this comment later and expand on that, but I have no time right now, this comment is long enough, and taking this any further will clearly require me to write a lot more.

    But please feel free to give feedback on my initial definition in the meantime.

  9. But who said they don't? Every living being has consciousness..

    Even plants – as it was proven by Jagdish Chandra Bose's experiments..

  10. We are created in the image of God. We are creations gifted and cursed to know the meaning of good and evil. Humans can never ever create consciousness because we do not have Gods power. We are the creatures who imagined the world and then created it. Animals are separate beings from us, we hold domain over them. If God wanted for them to be conscious creatures they would not be our food and aid. But the reverse is true – any animal on earth would eat us if possible.

  11. People=Animal
    If we consider ourselves conscious, so are our cousins. Just assume that if it's alive, it's conscious. What could anyone (without a very fragile ego) have to lose?

  12. A state of awareness that one’s own actions affect their environments and those actions have good or evil consequences. For info on what is good or evil ask the Father. Thus endeth the lesson.

  13. I have all the proof I need that animals have things all figured out. I’d argue that between my dogs, my cat, and myself, that I’m the domesticated one. They get to lay around all day sleeping, eating and licking their buttholes, while I go work for 8 hours to provide them with a warm dry space to do all that.
    Joking aside, animals might not specifically recall past memories, or project onto the future, but they can certainly adjust their behavior based off of past trauma. They also seem to express love beyond just a survival bond. That’s enough to make me aim to treat them how I wish to be treated. ✌️ ❤️

  14. Hahaa i got a 'bosman psychiatry clinic' advertisement at this one.. ..claiming 'scientific proven' DSM dogmas ?????

  15. I completely disagree that you need consciousness to plan. I'm perfectly okay with the fact that some algorithm might be able to plan things, and take all things (including the knowledge of the party) into consideration, without ever being conscious about anything.

  16. I don't mean to be a garden variety antagonistic YouTube commenter but these proofs all seem to be flimsy as fuck.
    I don't necessarily disagree with the idea that animals have consciousness but one man's shower thoughts aren't exactly a compelling foundation to build on.

  17. So you say that every animals has a soul . And every life on this planet has to pay for what they have done on earth on judgement day . Jesus please help us ?

  18. Every question and every answer you need for veganism. All done in an attempted to take down Z movement https://youtu.be/qZleymetxnM

  19. One of my cats died a couple months ago. He was the begged of the group. I made a video to show my mom and later looked to see what I had of him. As soon as they heard him meowing on the video, they all came galloping to where I was thinking he was there and getting them done treats. I couldn’t believe it and then I felt bad. I handed out treats in his honor. They are so smart. We really shouldn’t be eating them. Not cats, animals, if we don’t have to.

  20. Consciousness to me is awareness and awareness can be measured by a mechanisms reactions. I disagree with you that consciousness is being aware of thought(past or future) because I can conjure up a visual picture of a unicorn but that doesn't make me conscious of a unicorn? Humans seem to have an extreme bias that we are the greatest species and I think that plays a roll in how some see consciousness as a human trait by bypassing awareness and jumping straight to imagination which explained is not consciousness with my unicorn up above. Being aware of fictitious voices in our head doesn't mean consciousness there's probably other animals who are more aware of something we are not and we could easily take that and use it as our premise for what defines consciousness like we are doing by saying imagining the future or past is consciousness.

  21. answer : NONE/VERY LITTLE
    but a whole lot of anthropomorphisation by hippy nuts will eventually contradict this.
    rape,murder,incest, peodophilia,canabolism etc etc……..are all common place in the animal kingdom.

    we really shouldnt be looking to animals for answers

  22. Consciousnous is a gradient. The human mind is obviously at the top end of this spectrum but we are far from alone on it.

  23. Reminds me of the chimp at a zoo, reported a few years back, that would collect a pile of stones in the morning, then throw them at visitors later in the day.

  24. Of course animals are conscious. The only reason people say they aren't is so they can eat them without feeling guilty. Human consciousness is just animal consciousness but with added creativity, malice and greed.

  25. Call me stupid, but I think the fact that we have a concept of consciousness in the first place could be a clue.

  26. I'm listening to his new book "Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What they Teach Us about Ourselves".

    Highly recommended.

  27. Sometimes when I go out for a morning run I come back to find my wallet rifled through. 2 days later my cat receives a HUGE shipment of canned tuna from Amazon.

  28. Do animals have free will though? A first glance at the statement that a being is conscious says yes, but personally I have yet to see hard evidence for it, maybe because it's hard to pin down such things from neuroscience and psychology.

    Even with huge progress in the last decades we don't even fully understand the human brain yet, and it might be some time till we do, let alone understand the thing that actually makes us human and different, conceiving the future and making decisions upon that.

  29. I can’t prove anything exists outside of my own consciousness, so how is there any way I can make a definition to project onto what I perceive as others? I can’t seem to come to any conclusion other than there’s no way to prove, so if all that exists is consciousness, then I remain one with all.

  30. Big Think: "Consciousness has long been difficult to define"
    Me: "OK, Google, Define Consciousness"
    Google: "The state of being awake and aware of one's surroundings."

    You're Welcome.

  31. I know my cats have consciousness because they can empathize with me when I am sad. They can tell when something is wrong and they lay with me to comfort me.

  32. Humans are also animals. So yes, animals have consciousness. I think what people mean by that is self-awareness. If so, then yes. People make consciousness more than merely a function of the brain.

  33. AI can be programmed to plan or to have memory. I also presume animals have consciousness, but this is not solid rational thinking. It’s guessing at best.

  34. These examples are not human consciousness, they can be memes, behavior, subconscious planning, but definitely not human thinking

  35. Humans plan and remember things and are "conscious" at the same time (you could even debate that fact, as most human beings unfortunately are automatic response mechanisms) . I don't think it necessarily logically follows that planning and remembering require consciousness.

  36. I have about 50 animals. I think that if I see them 'think' i.e they look at something and consider it and then act, then its real conscious intelligence. I see it in soo many more animals than I thought, or was led to believe, from chickens to the emu sitting here on my lap (actually on my neck ha). That considering and acting isnt just an instinctive thing. In fact i still think its more about 'choice' . if we can 'choose' then we have consciousness. its down to that simplicity

  37. Either conciseness is an illusion, or it exists, but isn't something magical, and only given to humans by an imaginary, sky daddy

  38. This is an interesting argument. I just wish there was a way to point us at the research. I would like to hear what he has to say about empathy and altruism in animals.

  39. I think that animals must be conscious and have the experience of being here during their lives, but I disagree with the analysis as behaviors being evidence for consciousness. The reason is, is that we can train machines to demonstrate the same types of planning and episodic memory with a purely algorithmic approach – there's no need to invoke consciousness at all to yield advanced behaviors like coordination and planning.

  40. They have done things like put an object on a chimp's head without his knowledge, and when he sees himself in a mirror, he reaches up over his head and grabs the object off. This shows conciousness of oneself.

  41. Of course they do: the brain structure is very similar. However, I meet many people who have the consciousness of an amoeba

  42. Although I agree with Frans, in that it is clear that animals are conscious, I disagree with him in that “planning” is neither necessary nor sufficient for consciousness; my computer can plan (eg a root around a maze) but certainly isn’t conscious. Conversely, my computer cannot see “the ineffable red if a rose”; whereas I am pretty sure many animals can …

  43. I don’t eat meat because I don’t want to harm conscious, sentient animals for no necessary reason.

  44. I didn't think people were still debating this fact. My cat Buddy used to provably make analogies, and remembered lost toys for weeks.

  45. This is very easy to figure out for yourself. Grab a cabbage and cut it into pieces. Grab your dog and cut it into pieces. Now explain the difference in experience….lol

  46. I don't agree. To me there is big difference in intelligence and consciousness, animal got intelligence but they will never ask themselves that who am I question!

  47. Elephants, Dolphins, Cephalopods, as well as Cats that REALLY want something seem pretty conscious to me.

  48. THERE IS NO LIFE WITHOUT CONSCIOUSNESS! humans are probably less concious than animals because we spend so much time in our minds imagining the future and hypotheticals and then have to translate all that into words

  49. Perhaps the definition of consciousness De Vaal is referring to is a contrast between what is done with planning and analytical thinking vs. what is done through instinct. Some people responding in these comments seem to be using "consciousness" to mean being aware.

  50. variety in form is an evolution in action and produces intelligence awareness of an action to produce the desired result, animals follow a natural behaviour and produce if left to themselves a cause and effect which becomes a law of nature ie what works for them and what does not they have the memory it helps them to avoid danger read second jungle book by Rudyard Kipling 1962 The Law of the Jungle

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