Animals ranging from parrots to elephants continue to challenge our perception of consciousness, long-held as a uniquely human trait. But the reaches of consciousness don’t stop at animals.
The ethics of consciousness, not just in humans but also animals and machines, is complex. To try and make sense of it, research is currently underway to develop a method for objectively measuring consciousness — a formula that could explain how aware any living, or artificial, being is.
The concept of consciousness — our awareness of what we experience, and what those experiences mean — has long been debated. Descartes’ exploration of what it means to think — “I think, therefore I am” — was written in 1640, but our understanding of how the brain works is still limited.
Ned Block, professor of philosophy, psychology and neural science at New York University, identified the three major theories of consciousness prevalent in modern philosophical thought; the ‘higher order’ theory, the ‘global workspace’ theory and the ‘biological’ theory.