Do insects have feelings and consciousness?Do insects have feelings and consciousness?

More and more research is making some surprising discoveries about insects ,Do insects have feelings and consciousness?

. Honey bees have emotional ups and downs. Earth bees plays with toys. Cockroaches have personalities, recognize their relatives and come together to make decisions. Fruit flies experience something very similar to what we might call fear.

Read more: Bumblebees like to play just for fun

Insects having emotions is not a new idea. In 1872 The expression of emotions in man and animals, Charles Darwin wrote, “Even insects express anger, terror, jealousy, and love…” If insects play with toys or run away in fear when you wave the fly swatter—if these expressions of anger, terror, jealousy, and love reflect something on the inside— then it is clear that insects have emotions, feelings, consciousness. Throw that fly swatter away now!

But we do not i know what’s inside, at least not yet. However, neuroscientists and philosophers are beginning to take the idea of ​​insect consciousness seriously.

Do insects have feelings?

In an article published last year in Science, Frans de Waal and Christine Andrews point out that science usually distinguishes between feelings and emotions. Emotions, they write, “are measurable physiological and/or neural states that are often reflected in behavior.” (That frantic buzzing when you mess with a bee.) Feelings, on the other hand, are “personal conscious states that are not publicly observable and therefore inaccessible to science.”

We’re pretty sure other people have feelings because they can tell us they do. Non-human animals cannot. Was the bee buzzing angrily? fear? Or was it just a physiological response to a threat? We cannot know because the bee cannot tell us.

Read more: The complex ways in which humans empathize with other animals

Animals aren’t the only creatures that can’t tell us what’s going on inside, though. Human babies are also silent on the matter. As de Waal and Andrews point out, it was only in the 1980s that doctors believe that human babies experience pain. Previously, operations on babies were routinely done without anesthesia.

In recent years, people have gradually offered membership in the feeling club not only to their own little ones, but to some other animals as well. In the past decade, many countries have begun to ban experiments on all great apes. The US ended chimpanzee research in 2015. The membership application for fish is under consideration. United Kingdom newly recognized government lobsters, crabs and octopuses as sentient. But the question is still very open when it comes to insects.

Evolutionary connection

Andrew Barron is a neuroethologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Barron and his colleagues are behind much of the seminal work on bee brains. In 2016, he and Colin Kleinphilosopher of cognitive neuroscience at the Australian National University in Canberra, published paper claiming that insect brains have the capacity for subjective experience.

Baron and Klein’s argument follows the research of the Swedish neuroscientist Björn Merker, whose work suggests that the more basic forms of consciousness reside not in the cortex, which insects do not have, but in the subcortical brain structures that insects do have. “These subcortical structures are quite large and have enormous processing power, with incredibly complex connections between them,” says Baron.

Barron describes this as “a behavior control system that works by creating a rudimentary model of the organism in space.” So the beetle hanging around on the rocks in your yard has a sense of where it is in relation to its environment—what Barron calls an “egocentric view of the world.” It knows where the beetle stops and the cobblestone begins. He probably feels the warmth of the sun on his shell and the softness of the moss under his feet.

Barron is careful to point out (to excited journalists with beetles on their patios) that there is a difference between awareness and self-awareness, between self-awareness and the ability to reflect that awareness. There are many levels of Sentience Club membership. But somewhere among all these types of awareness, Barron says, you’ll find the awareness of insects. If Merker is right, he says, “we could reasonably extend a level of very, very basic awareness to an insect.” In other words, what it feels like to be a beetle is probably a lot different than what it feels like to be a human, but there’s a good chance you feel like something.

Baron and Klein also argue that these structures may be the evolutionary predecessors of our own form of consciousness. “These behavioral control systems go back to the lampreys,” Barron says. It doesn’t seem right that “suddenly the nature of behavioral control changed radically the moment the cortex appeared.”

Just the beginning for insect consciousness

Jessica Ware is Associate Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History. Her research focuses on the evolution of behavioral and physiological adaptations in insects. She is not sure what the similarities in these subcortical structures mean for insect consciousness. “We don’t really have enough information to distinguish between what could be consciousness or awareness of the environment and what, with our lens as humans, could be us interpreting that as consciousness.”

Still, she likes the idea of ​​expanding the discussion about consciousness. “We’re just at the beginning of this kind of research; the doors are just opening to really explore this arena,” she says. “This means that we may have stopped looking at what it means to be conscious from an anthropocentric perspective.”

Read more: Yes, animals and insects are on trial

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