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KLI Brown Bag
Do Cephalopods have Consciousness?
Jennifer MATHER (University of Lethbridge, Canada)
2006-05-19 0:00 - 2006-05-19 0:00
KLI for Evolution and Cognition Research, Altenberg, Austria
Organized by KLI

Topic description:
While consciousness was once the hallmark of humans, scientist have lately turned to examining whether other groups have a simpler form of this ability. Instead of evaluating them for metacognition, communication about the contents of one's mind and possession of language, one might take a more inclusive approach and look at other animal groups for awareness of one's self, parallel neural attributes to those of human brains and flexible evaluation and decision making when faced with complex situations. Baars (1997) argues for the importance of a general 'global workspace' for cognition, with an attentional spotlight overseeing sensory evaluation and choices of response. Cephalopod brains show considerable lateralization and allocation of specific areas for storage of learned information. These animals can vary attention both by moving from waking to sleep and by habituation to a repeated stimulus, though instead an octopus might change its focus to play. Octopuses are central place foragers in the field, showing a knowledge of self by maintaining both spatial memory for the location of a sheltering 'home' and working memory for recent foraging areas. Older learning studies showed that octopuses did not evaluate the shape of visual stimuli according to simple criteria but instead changed their standards according to the demands of the stimuli. They also have a flexible set of responses for penetration of the hard shells of clams, and chose their method to fit the constraints on the situation. The social squid, whom Moynihan suggested had a spatial language on their skin, do not seem to have the complexity of communication that would denote that ability. Still, there are suggestions that squid may deceive during display exchanges, although we have no idea whether they are aware of doing so. All in all, cephalopods show many signs of a simpler form of consciousness than humans can boast, enough to suggest further research and ethicalconsideration may be necessary.


Biographical note:
Jennifer Mather is a Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge, Canada. She received her undergraduate training at University of British Columbia, Master's at Florida State University and Doctorate at Brandeis University in Boston. After a five-year University Research Fellowship at University of Western Ontario, she moved to Lethbridge. She has conducted field studies of ecology and behavior of cephalopod molluscs in pleasant tropical places, including Bermuda, Hawaii and Bonaire in the Caribbean. Lately her mind has turned to topics in the area of comparative cognition, looking at communication, play, personalities and problem solving in this fascinating group of animals.