A reader calls my attention to a Discovery News story which breathlessly declares:
A prominent group of scientists signs a document stating that animals are just as “conscious and aware” as humans are. This is a big deal.
Actually, it is not a big deal, nor in any way news, and the really interesting thing about this story is how completely uninteresting it is. Animals are conscious? Anyone who has ever owned a pet, or been to the zoo, or indeed just knows what an animal is, knows that.
OK, almost anyone. Descartes notoriously denied it, for reasons tied to his brand of dualism. And perhaps that is one reason someone might think animal consciousness remarkable. It might be supposed that if you regard the human mind as something immaterial, you have to regard animals as devoid of consciousness, so that evidence of animal consciousness is evidence against the immateriality of the mind and thus a “big deal.” This is not what the article says, mind you, but it is one way to make sense of why it presents the evidence of animal consciousness as if it were noteworthy.