Colin Klein and Andrew B. Barron, Insects have the capacity for subjective experience


Our target article, “Insects have the capacity for subjective experience,” has provoked a diverse range of commentaries. In this response we have collated what we see as the major themes of the discussion. It is clear that we differ from some commentators in our commitments to what subjective experience is and what the midbrain is capable of. Here we clarify where we stand on those points and how our view differs from some other influential perspectives. The commentaries have highlighted the most lively areas of disagreement. We revisit here the debates surrounding whether the cortex is essential for any form of consciousness in vertebrates, how to interpret interventionist evidence, and whether any specific behavioural criteria can be used to assess the occurrence of consciousness. We recognise that these debates will not be resolved once and for all in this discussion, and we take this opportunity to explore what new forms of experimental evidence might be needed to provide clarity. We emphasise how functional neurobiological analyses in combination with careful behavioural studies of a diverse range of animals will help progress our understanding of how neural circuits can support different forms of behaviour. Ultimately this will help us reach an understanding of how different conscious capacities could be supported by neural systems, and which animals are capable of them.

Author Biography

Colin Klein 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.


Andrew B. Barron 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.