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News From The Nonhuman Rights Project:
The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness*
On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at The University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observations can be stated unequivocally:
· The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving. Abundant new techniques and strategies for human and non-human animal research have been developed. Consequently, more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field. Studies of non-human animals have shown that homologous brain circuits correlated with conscious experience and perception can be selectively facilitated and disrupted to assess whether they are in fact necessary for those experiences. Moreover, in humans, new non-invasive techniques are readily available to survey the correlates of consciousness.
· The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures. In fact, subcortical neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals. Artificial arousal of the same brain regions generates corresponding behavior and feeling states in both humans and non-human animals. Wherever in the brain one evokes instinctual emotional behaviors in non-human animals, many of the ensuing behaviors are consistent with experienced feeling states, including those internal states that are rewarding and punishing. Deep brain stimulation of these systems in humans can also generate similar affective states. Systems associated with affect are concentrated in subcortical regions where neural homologies abound. Young human and nonhuman animals without neocortices retain these brain-mind functions. Furthermore, neural circuits supporting behavioral/electrophysiological states of attentiveness, sleep and decision making appear to have arisen in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, being evident in insects and cephalopod mollusks (e.g., octopus).
· Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex. Magpies in particular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.
· In humans, the effect of certain hallucinogens appears to be associated with a disruption in cortical feedforward and feedback processing. Pharmacological interventions in non-human animals with compounds known to affect conscious behavior in humans can lead to similar perturbations in behavior in non-human animals. In humans, there is evidence to suggest that awareness is correlated with cortical activity, which does not exclude possible contributions by subcortical or early cortical processing, as in visual awareness. Evidence that human and nonhuman animal emotional feelings arise from homologous subcortical brain networks provide compelling evidence for evolutionarily shared primal affective qualia.
We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
* The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was written by Philip Low and edited by Jaak Panksepp, Diana Reiss, David Edelman, Bruno Van Swinderen, Philip Low and Christof Koch. The Declaration was publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on July 7, 2012, at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals, at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, by Low, Edelman and Koch. The Declaration was signed by the conference participants that very evening, in the presence of Stephen Hawking, in the Balfour Room at the Hotel du Vin in Cambridge, UK. The signing ceremony was memorialized by CBS 60 Minutes.
The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness can be downloaded Here
News From the IEET:
- What is TRANSHUMANISM? Dr. Ferrando (NYU)
This video is part of the mini-course in the Philosophy of “The Posthuman”, Lesson n. 2, by Dr. Francesca Ferrando (NYU)
- What does “POSTHUMAN” mean? Dr. Ferrando (NYU)
This video is part of the online course in the Philosophy of “The Posthuman”, Lesson n. 1, by Dr. Francesca Ferrando (NYU).
- What Happens When We Design Babies?
In this episode we discuss the prospect of designer babies. As genetic engineering and reproductive technologies continue to advance, parents are likely to gain unprecedented control over their offspring. We discuss some of the recent progress in germ line engineering and speculate about the degree of manipulation that might be possible in the near term. But perhaps more importantly, we discuss some of the ethical and policy implications of such advances. Will designer babies pave the way for a healthier and happier society or are we in for a more dystopian outcome?
- John G. Messerly What Is The Point of Money?
Wealth is necessary in order to live well, but it is not sufficient. You may have lots of money but live terribly without friends or wisdom. You may have mistaken part of a good life—sufficient wealth to live—with the whole of the good life. For money isn’t an end in itself, it is merely a means to an end.
- Steve Fuller A Modest Proposal for Suicide as a Facilitator of Transhumanism
Perhaps the most potent argument against suicide in modern secular societies is that it constitutes wastage of the agent’s own life and commits at the very least indirect harm to the lives of others who in various ways have depended on the agent. However, the force of this argument could be mitigated if the suicide occurred in the context of experimentation, including self-experimentation, with very risky treatments that aim to extend the human condition. Suicides in these cases could be quite informative and hence significantly advance the prospects of the rest of humanity. The suicide agent’s life would most certainly not have been in vain.
- Hadrian Pourbahman Le progrès doit-il se conformer au droit ?
Avis d’un juriste sur la question.
Hadrien Pourbahman est étudiant en droit et membre de l’Association Française Transhumaniste. En début d’année, il avait effectué un stage avec Didier Coeurnelle sur le thème « Vers une reconnaissance d’un droit à la longévité », dont vous pouvez lire le résumé ici.
- Steve Fuller Tomorrow’s Problem of Good and Evil: The Challenges of Trans- and Post- Humanism
A conception of evil that carries over from the Abrahamic religions into secular modernity is that of the ‘disorganization of the soul’. The idea here is that evil isn’t something separate from good but something that arises from the malformation or malfunctioning of good parts. Thus, Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost is God’s best angel gone rogue, the template for the villains faced by comic book superheroes. Many if not most mental illnesses, from neurosis to autism, are defined as some sort of ‘disorder’. In a similar but grander vein, cybernetics founder Norbert Wiener regarded entropy – the ultimate expression of disorganization in physics – as the material equivalent of evil, the source of all suffering, decay and death.
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