Insects have the capacity for subjective experience

Colin Klein, Andrew B. Barron

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To what degree are non-human animals conscious? We propose that the most meaningful way to approach this question is from the perspective of functional neurobiology. Here we focus on subjective experience, which is a basic awareness of the world without further reflection on that awareness. This is considered the most basic form of consciousness. Tellingly, this capacity is supported by the integrated midbrain and basal ganglia structures, which are among the oldest and most highly conserved brain systems in vertebrates. A reasonable inference is that the capacity for subjective experience is both widespread and evolutionarily old within the vertebrate lineage. We argue that the insect brain supports functions analogous to those of the vertebrate midbrain and hence that insects may also have a capacity for subjective experience. We discuss the features of neural systems which can and cannot be expected to support this capacity as well as the relationship between our arguments based on neurobiological mechanism and our approach to the "hard problem" of conscious experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalAnimal sentience
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

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  • subjective experience
  • primary consciousness
  • vertebrate midbrain
  • superior colliculus
  • invertebrate
  • insect

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