Not Much Difference Between a Human and an Octopus?

Here’s something we missed about the uniqueness of human beings. In July the Francis Crick Memorial Conference, at Cambridge University, decided that we aren’t as exceptional as we once believed. At the conference a group of people, mostly experimental neuroscientists, tried to put  to rest preconceived notions of human exceptionalism. They issued a manifesto, the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals. It states:

“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.”

Michael Cook


Michael Cook likes bad puns, bushwalking and black coffee. He did a BA at Harvard University in the US where it was good for networking, but moved to Sydney where it wasn’t. He also did a PhD on an obscure corner of Australian literature. He has worked as a book editor and magazine editor and has published articles in magazines and newspapers in the US, the UK and Australia.

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  • JMC

    Show me an animal that actually knows the difference between right and wrong on its own, and not because it’s been trained that way, and then, there’s an outside chance I might buy this claptrap. But that chance would still be slim to nonexistent. I mean, aren’t we behaving like animals too much already, without being encouraged to do so? Give me a break.

  • AnnaMarie53

    Next thing you know, the Democrat Party will be putting on dive suits and registering octopi to vote!

  • MaryK

    My cat has always told me he knows more than I do.

  • Peter Nyikos

    This needs to be put into perspective. The animals listed deserve our moral consideration as far as avoiding the inflicting of needless suffering, but that is the only claim their consciousness has on us–if indeed they are capable of feeling pain. And we have made great progress in that respect over the days before the advent of humane societies.

    As long as wild animals prey on each other, it makes little sense to go any further, and to permanently prohibit the killing of any but the most most intelligent and socially organized ones. I have always been against the killing of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, etc.) and elephants, but where other animals are concerned, the primary consideration is whether they are an endangered or threatened species.

  • Sr. Scientist

    I agree, the intelligence of those scientists is not different than the octopus’