Are Animals Conscious?

Are Animals Conscious?

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For an answer we need to know what consciousness is.

The words consciousness and awareness are often used as synonyms. But from a linguistic point of view, this is wrong. They denote two different things.

Before we look at the details, here is the answer to the question in the title:

We humans are aware and conscious.

Animals are aware, but not conscious.

What is the difference between awareness and consciousness?

(I’ve researched this for years and proposed precise definitions of consciousness, awareness, and related terms. The details are technical. You find them in the book “B Kutzler: Consciousness – It’s Nature, Purpose, and How to Use It.” Here is the short version:)

Awareness is the knowing of the present moment as interpreted by your history.

Imagine looking at a birch. How come you are aware of seeing a birch?

Your history includes (a) the knowing that what you see is a tree and
(b) having learned the name of this tree. Based on this, your history interprets the visual information provided by your eyes, thus creating your awareness of seeing a birch.

The interpretative power of your history is so strong that it even may make you be aware of something that does not exist. A powerful such example is the following optical illusion:

b kutzler - blog post - the prison for your mind is all too real

Your history makes you see (be aware of) a square although there is no square in this image. I discuss this optical illusion in detail in my article “The Prison for Your Mind is All Too Real.”

Consciousness is the ability to recall.

Your history is the entirety of your past states of awareness. To recall means to wilfully access parts of a past state of awareness.

For example, you can choose to recall whom you met yesterday.

Animals can’t do this.

How do I know?

I asked a dog. And he told me!

All joking aside: Through logic.

Let’s make a thought experiment.

Imagine a zebra standing next to a water hole, recalling how it escaped a lion yesterday.

Animals maximize their chances of survival by being permanently 100% aware of their environment. They are fully focused on what they perceive and intuit.

While the zebra recalls, it is not 100% aware of its environment. Recalling “consumes” part of the awareness. The phrase ‘to be lost in memories’ expresses just that.

If you recall an event while driving a car, you are less aware of the traffic. You may miss a speed limit sign and thus end up with a speeding ticket. (Has happened to me …)

While the zebra in our thought experiment recalls how it escaped a lion yesterday, it fails to perceive an approaching lion in the present – and dies.

The bottom line: Recalling animals would have a reduced survival rate than non-recalling animals, hence they would quickly die out.

It follows that animals don’t recall.

You may argue that there exist videos of animals reuniting with trainers after years and dolphins reacting to other dolphins with whom they had shared a tank years ago. In these videos it appears as if the animals recognize the trainers or other dolphins.

Do they remember (recall) them?


They experience a familiarity. A familiarity is something different than a recalling.

When you see a person, feel that you know him or her, but just can’t recall the name or any other information about this person, you experience a familiarity – without recalling.

All life forms experience familiarities. Only humans can recall.

The optical illusion and the above-mentioned videos are examples of how familiarities bring forth behavior.

You may argue that pets are different.

Yes and no. The difference is that the familiarities of pets are very much different from the familiarities of wild animals. Pets live in a highly unnatural human-made and human-populated environment. This environment conditions pets just like any environment.

Conditioning produces familiarities. Familiarities bring forth behavior. Human-like familiarities bring forth human-like behavior. No more no less.

Human-like behavior is no proof for consciousness. It is only proof for human-like conditioning.

Neither wild animals nor pets are conscious. But they are aware.