The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

On 7 July 2012, at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals, Churchill College, University of Cambridge, UK, a group of prominent cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered to “to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviours in human and non-human animals”. Some of their observations at that meeting were:

Picture of spotted owlet
The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving, which calls for a periodic re-evaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field.

The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures, as subcortical neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically important for generating emotional behaviours in animals.

Birds appear to offer, in their behaviour, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Magpies in particular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.

The group of scientists concerned then declared 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.”

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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.

In view of the above declaration it is of particular interest to mention that during her classes with students in London, in early 1891, H. P. Blavatsky suggested that:

there is no dead matter. Every last atom is alive. It cannot be otherwise, since every atom is itself fundamentally Absolute Being. Therefore there is no such thing as “spaces” of Ether, or akasha, or call it what you like, in which angels and elementals disport themselves like trout in water. That’s a common idea. The true idea shows every atom of substance, no matter of what plane, to be in itself a Life.”

The many traditions of the Perennial Wisdom affirm the primacy of life or consciousness and the unfolding of its inherent qualities through the long evolutionary process.