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To what degree are non-human animals conscious? We propose that the most meaningful way to approach this question is from the perspective of functional neurobiology. Here we focus on subjective experience, which is a basic awareness of the world without further reflection on that awareness. This is considered the most basic form of consciousness. Tellingly, this capacity is supported by the integrated midbrain and basal ganglia structures, which are among the oldest and most highly conserved brain systems in vertebrates. A reasonable inference is that the capacity for subjective experience is both widespread and evolutionarily old within the vertebrate lineage. We argue that the insect brain supports functions analogous to those of the vertebrate midbrain and hence that insects may also have a capacity for subjective experience. We discuss the features of neural systems which can and cannot be expected to support this capacity as well as the relationship between our arguments based on neurobiological mechanism and our approach to the “hard problem” of conscious experience.

Author Biography

Colin Klein is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Macquarie University. He works on philosophy of neuroscience with a side interest in the perception of pain and other homeostatically relevant states. In 2014 he received an ARC Future Fellowship to look at interventionist approaches to cognitive neuroscience. http://www.colinklein.org

Andrew B. Barron is Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. With his team at Macquarie, he is exploring the neurobiology of major behavioural systems such as memory, goal-directed behaviour and stress from a comparative and evolutionary perspective. In 2015 he was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship to develop a computational model of the honey bee brain. http://bio.mq.edu.au/research/groups/cognitive-neuroethology/dr-andrew-barron/





Article Thread

Klein, Colin and Barron, Andrew B. (2016) Insects have the capacity for subjective experience. Animal Sentience 9(1)

Mather, Jennifer A. and Carere, Claudio (2016) Cephalopods are best candidates for invertebrate consciousness. Animal Sentience 9(2)

Merker, Bjorn H. (2016) Insects join the consciousness fray. Animal Sentience 9(4)

Tye, Michael (2016) Are insects sentient?. Animal Sentience 9(5)

Allen-Hermanson, Sean (2016) Is cortex necessary?. Animal Sentience 9(6)

Lamey, Andy (2016) Subjective experience and moral standing. Animal Sentience 9(7)

Fischer, Bob (2016) What if Klein & Barron are right about insect sentience?. Animal Sentience 9(8)

Rowlands, Mark (2016) Feel or perspective?. Animal Sentience 9(9)

Mallatt, Jon and Feinberg, Todd E. (2016) Insect consciousness: Fine-tuning the hypothesis. Animal Sentience 9(10)

Morsella, Ezequiel and Walker, Erica B. (2016) What makes us conscious is not what makes us human. Animal Sentience 9(11)

Shanahan, Murray (2016) Consciousness as integrated perception, motivation, cognition, and action. Animal Sentience 9(12)

Cruse, Holk and Schilling, Malte (2016) No proof for subjective experience in insects. Animal Sentience 9(13)

Edelman, Shimon; Moyal, Roy; and Fekete, Tomer (2016) To bee or not to bee?. Animal Sentience 9(14)

Adamo, Shelley (2016) Subjective experience in insects: Definitions and other difficulties. Animal Sentience 9(15)

Paul, Elizabeth S. and Mendl, Michael T. (2016) If insects have phenomenal consciousness, could they suffer?. Animal Sentience 9(16)

Key, Brian (2016) Phenomenal consciousness in insects? A possible way forward. Animal Sentience 9(17)

Elwood, Robert W. (2016) Might insects experience pain?. Animal Sentience 9(18)

Søvik, Eirik and Perry, Clint (2016) The evolutionary history of consciousness. Animal Sentience 9(19)

Hill, Christopher S. (2016) Insects: Still looking like zombies. Animal Sentience 9(20)

Klein, Colin and Barron, Andrew B. (2016) Insect consciousness: Commitments, conflicts and consequences. Animal Sentience 9(21)