About this Research Topic
There are growing but contested arguments that animals across a broad range of the phyletic spectrum have mental (internal) awareness, akin to but likely quite different from what humans experience as consciousness. The subjective nature of personal experience has always been a challenge to scientific research on consciousness. Yet other subjective aspects of mental activity, like perception, emotion, learning, and dreaming have advanced progressively toward neuroscientific illumination. There is no obvious reason why similar progress cannot be made on the nature and breadth of consciousness across the animal kingdom.
The aim of this research topic is to stimulate novel views and offer new strategies for how consciousness can be characterized and studied in all animals capable of it. Relevant questions include but are not limited to the following:
· Does the current cognitive science vocabulary accurately or adequately encompass what is meant by consciousness in a manner appropriate for cross-phyletic comparisons? Is there a way to escape the circular nature of definitions among terms like awareness, experience, and consciousness?
· To what extent does consciousness vary in degree and complexity across the animal kingdom? At least three levels of consciousness have been recognized in humans: primary (sensory) awareness; affective (emotional) self-awareness; and meta-cognition. Is this a useful taxonomy for all mammals? All vertebrates? Any invertebrates, and if so, which ones?
· What are the neural substrates of consciousness? Some scholars think the neuroanatomical organizations of mammalian and avian brains restrict the capacity for consciousness to just those groups, while others argue that consciousness could be generated within a variety of anatomical constructions, including even brains as disparate as those between vertebrates and most invertebrate phyla. Is there a way to assess consciousness in animals across vastly different neural organizations?
· What functional aspects of brain dynamics can be associated with consciousness, and which can clearly be excluded?
· What innovative tools and techniques might be brought to the study of comparative animal consciousness? No human is capable of experiencing the consciousness of another human, yet no one doubts that all humans are conscious; and behavioral strategies as well as instrumental technologies enable the indirect assessment of consciousness in subjects outside the observer. Which of these tools and strategies can be adapted to the study of consciousness in non-human (non-verbal) subjects?
· How should the growing impact of phenomenology in neuroscience alter the way we conceptualize consciousness? For instance, what roles do intentionality, extended (out-of-body) interaction with the environment, enaction (internal generation) of an animal’s perceptual world, motility, and spatial orientation play in the generation of conscious experience?
We welcome the submission of Reviews, Mini Reviews, and Perspectives on this topic. We also invite in particular Original Research Articles based on empirical data, and articles about actual or potential methodological innovations.
Keywords: Evolution, Cognition, Awareness, Perception, Neuroanatomical substrates
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