By Mae Lee Sun
On July, 7, 2012 a group of the world’s most acclaimed scientists including Stephen Hawking, convened in the UK to support and or sign the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness stating that ‘humans alone do not alone possess the neurological faculties that constitute consciousness as it is presently understood.’ The writer of the Declaration was none other than the award winning, Dr. Philip Low, a neuroscientist with a laboratory at NASA, inventor of the SPEARS algorithm, chairman, founder, CEO and CSO of NeuroVigil, a research affiliate at MIT and numerous other accomplishments including having mentors such as Nobel Laureate the late Frances Crick.
Whilst Dr. Low, conference organiser and chairman, presented with renowned physicist, Steven Hawking, I was lucky enough to be granted a very rare opportunity -to ask the full-on busy changing the world Dr. Low a few questions on the applicability of his work with the shooting and treatment of brumbies in Australia.
The RSPCA in Australia has deemed aerial culling of wild horses as ‘kind’. They say that the horses are shot clean however it is hard enough to kill a horse at a slaughterhouse let alone from the air. In the work that you’ve done on the sentience of animals, what do you make of wild horses being shot by helicopters or trapped and then trucked to slaughterhouses as it seems all notions of sentience ceases to exist when an animal is labelled a ‘feral pest’ in Australia?
“Horses are sentient creatures worthy of our respect. Australia’s wild horses are a national treasure and should be cherished and protected. That is the right thing for the horses and for Australia, a country I love and admire and which surely would not want to be perceived by the rest of the civilized world as barbaric, if the reports that wild horses are being shot at from the sky with the blessing of the government ARE actually true.”
What prompted your work on The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness?
“The data-driven realization that the neurobiological similarities between many non-humans and humans were so deep and on so many levels suggest that it would be highly unlikely for consciousness, as a neurobiological phenomenon, to be limited to humans alone.”
How / What would you advise those who are working on behalf of wild horses as well as those involved in policy making in managing wild horse populations in Australia in light of the findings in your research on consciousness in animals and compassion in humans from a neuroscientific perspective?
“Education of the public via the mainstream press is essential to generate enough public support to change laws. Not acting like barbarians should be a mainstream, not a fringe movement.”
As Emeritus professor Dr. Mark Beckoff of the University of Colorado said in an article in New Scientist that consciousness should be obvious to everyone as he said many scientists knew this many years ago. However, Dr. Low stated prior to the signing that the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, that it was not aimed or written for scientists but the rest of the world because it wasn’t obvious to them – and hopefully so that it would change things for animals. It is the first data-driven perspective on neural correlates of consciousness using quantitative techniques to show they do have advanced cognition and experience emotions and pain. Let’s hope it was written also for the Australian government and others out there who slap the word ‘feral’ on anything they want ‘eradicated’ and will do so by any means necessary.
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