Don’t swat that fly, it may have a conscience!

Are insects conscious? Are they aware of what is going on around them? Apparently some scientists and some philosophers are toying with this idea. It seems that now, the question is not whether these insects have some sort of consciousness, but where does this end. Some scientists believe that there could be various degrees of consciousness.

It is possible that at the basic level there is simply awareness. For example, a robot vacuum responds to information from the external world but it does not feel anything. This basic awareness may be present in the honeybee.

There are strong reasons for this argument. In part of the human brain there is something called the mid-brain and this area of the brain gives someone basic awareness of its surroundings. The insect brain does the exact same thing as the mid-brain in humans, absorbing information of the external world and sending it to the body where it can organize and act.

There could be far reaching consequences if this theory is correct; it would mean that a robot built with artificial intelligence that can integrate sensory data, memory and body awareness would have the capacity for a minimal amount of consciousness.

In the case of the honeybee, it has about one million neurons while plants do not have what it takes for consciousness. The brains of bees and flies have circuitry that is denser than the celebrated neocortex which is central to human thinking. The implication is that the honeybee may have a low form of awareness.

Other scientists thinks that the argument is possible but argue that there could be several kinds of awareness, and that insects may be aware of motion but not for feeling pain, unlike the octopus and the crab.

In short, insects may have a subjective experience of what they area but without ethical considerations. Next time you see a fly, think that it may be pondering what you are, and what that big hand of yours is about to do. Or not. They may simply register an object that is about to land on their head and not connect the dots, that a smack on the head equals oblivion.


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