After over a century, mainstream scientists finally got around to acknowledging something anyone with pets or has watched nature documentaries has known all along – animals are conscious beings.
A year ago at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference, evidence of this obvious conclusion was presented by self-congratulatory scientists, despite the fact that only one of them had actually bothered to do any field research into wild animals and that field researchers had already made the same conclusion years before. As Michael Mountain at the Nonhuman Rights Project, which seeks to change the common law status of some nonhuman animals as “things”, stated: ”Science leaders have reached a critical consensus: Humans are not the only conscious beings; other animals, specifically mammals and birds, are indeed conscious, too.”
Two of the primary reasons why it has taken so long for the scientific establishment to come to such self-evident conclusions are the nature of the study of psychology and consciousness itself, and the historical cultural values towards animals in the Western world.
The rise of behaviourism at the turn of the twentieth century as the dominant psychological model for the study of human nature represented an outright rejection of conscious and subconscious actions, reducing psychology to a strictly scientific discipline based solely on observable behaviour. Consciousness, it seems, was proving to be too problematic for the fresh-faced psychologists who were desperate for their field to be taken seriously by other scientists, with John B. Watson – one of the strongest early advocates of behaviourism – stating in his 1913 paper, Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It: “ Behaviorism claims that consciousness is neither a definite nor a usable concept. The behaviorist, who has been trained always as an experimentalist, holds, further, that belief in the existence of consciousness goes back to the ancient days of superstition and magic.”
While behaviourism doesn’t have the tight grip on the academic psychological community it once had, the dominant scientific consensus still has a tendency to reject any unorthodox views on the nature of consciousness. David Lewis-Williams described this as the “consciousness of rationality”, describing this in his book, The Mind in the Cave as follows: “The contemporary Western emphasis on the supreme value of intelligence has tended to suppress certain forms of consciousness and to regard them as irrational, marginal, aberrant or even pathological and thereby to eliminate them from investigations of the deep past.”
This suppression has manifested itself in a number of distinct ways. The study of emotions has been frequently ridiculed, for instance when U.S. Senator William Proxmire railed against researchers in the 1970s who were studying love and derided the work as a waste of taxpayer dollars, issuing them his first Golden Fleece Award. The subjective nature of emotional states by definition precludes them from investigation by an ideological model rooted in empirical data.
More recently, Graham Hancock found himself under attack from the scientific community and censored by the TED organization for his talk, The War on Consciousness – his major crime against established consensus was to reject the materialistic view which relegates consciousness to nothing more than the product of electrical impulses in the brain rooted entirely in our physiology, and suggest that the use of shamanic visionary plants can teach us “that we are immortal souls temporarily incarnated in these physical forms to learn and to grow.”…